Date of Birth

I first learned of Date of Birth, also known as the initialism D.O.B. and Dob, through Bungalow, the German label responsible for releasing, throughout the 90s, a trickle of Japanese and Japan-adjacent records that were practically impossible to find original editions and first pressings of in the States. Their quirky space-lounge-meets-Spaghetti-Western "Aim El Paso" appeared on a compilation of theirs that I coveted called Sushi 3003.

Unlike other artists on the disc, such as Les 5-4-3-2-1, Cornelius, 5th Garden, Kahimi Karie (カヒミ・カリィ), and Pizzicato Five, all of whom were marginally more traceable, though, I didn't spend much time hunting them down, and I always assumed they were just a blip on the radar, a band that simply didn't put forth much.

While I think it's safe to say they were overshadowed by many of their contemporaries, they probably slipped through the cracks, not because they weren't active, but because that's where they fit best, between the cracks; they had one foot planted in the J-pop of the 80s, one in the clubbier section of the Shibuya-kei of the 90s. In short, they didn't neatly fit in any one bucket, and the labels they were on, Portrait and Kitty, weren't as trendy as Readymade, Trattoria, Crue-L.

The other day, I stumbled upon them once again, though, when trying to find a copy of Bettenchi (別天地), a mid-80s collection of Japanese avant-garde synthpop that a young Konishi Yasuharu (小西 康陽) appeared on as Young Odeon. (Arguably, by this point, his band, Pizzicato Five, had already existed for at least a little while, but the outfit certainly hadn't yet become his full-time occupation.) One of the members of Date of Birth, Isao Shigeto (重藤功) contributed a couple tracks to that and... well, you can imagine how the rest of this episode unfurled for me.

Their debut album, a 10-inch titled Around+Around, packaged in a sleeve that wouldn't look out of place whatsoever on an indie record store shelf today, is impossibly charming and alive: bright, high-contrast spurts of drum machine pile-ups, angular pads, sparkly keys, pillow-soft vocals. It's a bolt of hooky joyfulness and cheer that is impossible not to fall for, and their subsequent records proved them to be fascinatingly varied, ambitious. Their self-titled effort from 1992, for example, is lush baroque pop with a twist of something veering towards folky... adult contemporary... cut with something spicily Latin, whereas 1996's La Lu La Roo, which Bungalow pressed, could almost pass as a Moloko LP. Stunning.

There's much more to say about these guys, and I think I'll write on them again later. For now, two closing tidbits: The artwork for that '92 effort was done by Tadanori Yokoo (横尾忠則), a man best known—or known by me, anyway—as Haruomi Hosono's (細野晴臣) other half on Cochin Moon from 1978. Also, if you notice a similarity between the Dob character the group created—and that was eventually used as the basis for a PlayStation game called Planet Dob—and Takashi Murakami's (村上 隆) Mr. Dob, that's because there might be a connection, but I can't figure out if it's just coincidental. Some debate on the subject.