Nostalgic world music from longtime Hosono collaborator Soichiro Suzuki a.k.a. World Standard.
Today, we present one of the more understated but also consistently prolific artists from the extended universe of Yellow Magic Orchestra. World Standard is a long-running project by Japanese artist, musician, and writer Soichiro Suzuki. Over the last 30+ years, Suzuki has released 20+ albums, scored films, produced other artists, written articles and books on music (including “Mondo Music” which sparked the lounge boom), and also performed and collaborated on numerous projects with Haruomi Hosono.
A sort of “homage to world music excursions,” the World Standard project began originally as a duo in 1982 with Michio Kojima. Dreaming of far off landscapes while watching old European movies, the two young musicians recorded several demo tapes in a room in Kojima’s parents’ house using guitars, mandolin, ukulele, upright piano, toy trumpet, melodica, and drums made of cardboard. The sounds of everyday life (a neighbor singing outside, grandparents shuffling around the house, the old TV running, tape hiss, etc.) were intentionally mixed into the music.
The resulting album, titled Asagao or morning glory, is immensely charming and reminds us a lot of the music of Simon Jeffes and his Penguin Cafe Orchestra (Suzuki was a big fan of the group). Filled with a youth-like wonder, the music is innocently simple and familiar while also sounding as if the songs are somehow “intercepting the soundscapes of the world – like a folklore in a far-off distant country.” Listen to “麦秋 / Wheat Harvest” below:
A handful of demo tapes were passed amongst friends and would eventually reach the hands of Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Ryuichi Sakamoto and Haruomi Hosono. Somehow, the album remained unreleased officially until only recently in 2020 when Tokyo-based archival label conatala restored and remastered the original tapes and finally released the album on vinyl.
After recording Asagao, Suzuki would go on to take the reins of the project and release World Standard’s debut self-titled album in collaboration with Masaharu Mikami on Hosono’s Non-Standard label. Making full use of the newly released Yamaha DX7 FM synthesizer, the album is much more electronic, but retains the organic folk sound of the first album with mandolins, strings, accordion, flutes, field recordings, and dreamy wordless vocals from Pizzicato Five and Sandii. Musical touch points include Japanese folk, Impressionism, choral music, Kankyō Ongaku (environmental music), Indian classical, Beach Boys, and a lot more… The album was produced by Haruomi Hosono.
A new project, Everything Play, would emerge shortly after the self-titled World Standard album. A duo with Toyoaki Mishima (who is now the sound engineer for Cornelius), Everything Play continued Suzuki’s lifelong exploration of nostalgia-inducing world music with three albums (Lou Lou Mon Amour, Posh, and Everything Play) that focused on lounge, exotica, new age, and pop (The Beatles, Van Dyke Parks, Beach Boys, Harry Nilsson). The tagline for the self-titled album reads ~ tomorrow, more beautiful yesterdays ~ and ‘we are new age pied pipers!’
We mentioned he was prolific right… A second World Standard album arrived in 1995 followed by a series of ambient acoustic albums titled the “Discover America Trilogy” (Country Gazette, Mountain Ballad, Jump for Joy) in tribute to the American Primitive spirit. The project was supposedly highly praised by David Byrne and Van Dyke Parks.
There’s a lot more to cover here, but it’s crucial to note that Suzuki continues to release music today. His 14th solo album Poesia was released earlier this year… Below, we’ve put together some more favorites from World Standard. As usual, treat this as an introduction – this is just a tiny fraction of Suzuki’s discography and we hope the selections encourage you to explore even more of his music!