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Music / Technodelic

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"It gives me a thrill, but it's also very frightening."

Technodelic, released in 1981 through Alfa Records, is the fifth studio album by Japanese Synth-Pop supergroup Yellow Magic Orchestra. The second of two albums that the band put out that year, it marks the culmination of the increasingly avant-garde direction that they had been taking throughout their discography (barring the one-off comedy album ×∞Multiplies). The songs on the album are even icier in sound than BGM months prior, with haunting, minimalist arrangements and even less conventional song structures, aided by the band's continuing embrace of advancing technology.

More specifically, for this album, the band adopted use of the LMD-649, a digital sampler custom-built for them by Kenji Murata of Toshiba EMI. The first PCM-based sampler in the world, the device was far beefier tech-wise than the rival Fairlight CMI and Synclavier that had risen to prominence the previous year, featuring 12-bit audio depth (compared to the Fairlight's 8), a 50 kHz sampling rate, 128 KB of dynamic RAM, and the ability to double as a drum machine, all of which allowed for better sound quality and wider levels of applicability than its commercial counterparts. With this tool at their disposal, YMO could get far more creative with their songs than they could've ever imagined, exemplified by the record's layered Lyrical Cold Open.

Sampling became an integral part of Technodelic, allowing the album to act as an unprecedentedly complex collage of different sounds: in fact, while David Byrne & Brian Eno's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and Jean-Michel Jarre's Les Chants Magnetiques earlier in 1981 had already beaten YMO to the punch of being the first albums to focus on samples and looped rhythms, Technodelic stood above them both by being the first album where these techniques made up the majority of it from front to back, to the point where even the band's vocals were used as samples. The 649 itself would later go on to be used by other Japanese synth-pop acts, including YMO associates Chiemi Manabe and Logic System. The album's extensive reliance on sampling also acts as a precursor to the sample-heavy approaches of various other artists later in the 80's, from the Avant-Garde Music of Art of Noise and Frank Zappa to art pop acts like Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush to the entire Hip-Hop genre, the latter of which YMO previously influenced with their debut album.

Technodelic was supported by two singles: "Pure Jam" and "Taiso", the latter of which got a music video.


Face ⌊•
  1. "Pure Jam" (4:30)
  2. "Neue Tanz" (4:58)
  3. "Stairs" (4:14)
  4. "Seoul Music" (4:46)
  5. "Light in Darkness" (3:40)

Face ⌊••

  1. "Taiso" (4:21)
  2. "Gradiated Grey" (5:33)
  3. "Key" (4:32)
  4. "Prologue" (2:31)
  5. "Epilogue" (4:21)

Raise your tropes above your head, bring them down to shoulder height:

  • Album Closure: Invoked with the title of "Epilogue"; the music itself acts as an effective summation of the album's focus on samples while still being YMO at its core, being a neoclassically-inspired closing piece punctuated by sampled factory sounds.
  • Alliterative Name: "Gradiated Grey".
  • Alternate Album Cover: The original release sported cover art (pictured above) of three Polaroids of the individual band members in Kabuki makeup, all laid against an off-white background. The European release swapped out the cover with one featuring a stock photo of a woman in Maoist China against a red background; this cover was later incorporated into Japanese reissues, becoming standardized worldwide and consequently eclipsing the original cover in recognition. Since 2003, CD reissues include both covers on different sides of the liner notes pamphlet, allowing one to flip it around and insert it back in based on which cover they prefer. The "Polaroid" cover would eventually be reinstated as the canonical one in 2019, via the 40th anniversary remaster.
  • Bilingual Bonus:
    • Several with the Japanese song titles:
      • "Seoul Music" is titled "京城音楽", "Keijou Ongaku", referring to the name Seoul used during the Japanese occupation of Korea, lending extra meaning to the chorus's use of the phrase "old Korea."
      • "Light in Darkness" is titled "灯", "Tomoshibi", referring to the light of a lantern.
      • "Taiso" ("体操", the only song title to remain identical between languages) refers to Japanese radio calisthenics, fitting with the lyrics.
    • The Japanese interjections in "Pure Jam" translate to "that's jam, isn't it," referring to the stale block of fruit jam that the narrator thinks is bread.
    • The Japanese lyrics of "Taiso" give extra meaning to the song, describing the listener outright injuring themselves in cartoonishly violent ways from over-exercising (fitting in with how the choruses end with the line "and before you know it, you'll be twitching).
  • Cerebus Syndrome: The album is even bleaker in sound than BGM.
  • Chroma Key: An intentionally shoddy variant is used at the end of the "Taiso" video.
  • Comically Missing the Point: "Pure Jam" is about a man who is appalled by the "shapelessly square" "ugliest piece of bread [he's] ever eaten" that's "wrapped in a foil like substance". It's actually a small packet of jam, which he's told insistently by various people over the course of the song.
  • Drone of Dread: A low synth rumble plays throughout "Neue Tanz", increasing in volume as the song progresses and adding to the music's unsettling nature.
  • Dual-Meaning Chorus: Given the difference between how the English and Japanese titles of "Seoul Music" refer to the capital city of South Korea (the English title using the modern name and the Japanese title using the occupation-era "Keijou"), it's possible to interpret the chorus— and by extent the rest of the song— as being about both Korea under the Chun Doo-hwan dictatorship and Korea under Japanese occupation.
  • Educational Song: Parodied with "Taiso", a track that appears to teach the listener calisthenics, only to encourage over-exercising to the point of serious injury.
  • Everything Is an Instrument: Thanks to the extremely liberal use of samples throughout the album, Technodelic features songs composed of such things as prepared pianos, two-way radios, snippets of nonverbal vocalizations, cans of soybean oil being struck, and found sounds from a factory.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: "Stairs" is a song about stairs. "Seoul Music" is music about Seoul, South Korea. "Taiso" is a song about calisthenics (which is what the title translates to).
  • Face on the Cover: The original release features Polaroids of all three band members on the front cover.
  • Fading into the Next Song: The end of "Prologue" segues directly into the start of "Epilogue".
  • Full-Circle Revolution: Implied on "Seoul Music", the Japanese title of which refers to the occupation-era name for Seoul, Keijou; the song's lyrics can be taken as describing South Korea as having experienced this trope, trading out the repressive Japanese dictatorship of 1910-1945 for the repressive domestic dictatorships of Syngman Rhee, Park Chung-hee, and Chun Doo-hwan, the latter of whom had led a high-profile massacre of pro-democracy protesters the previous year.
  • Gratuitous German: "Neue Tanz", German for "New Dance." The few lyrics themselves are also in German.
  • Gratuitous Panning: "Prologue" and "Epilogue" feature a rattling mechanical sound that plays exclusively in the right channel. A second rattling noise appears in the left just before the segue between the two tracks, staying throughout most of "Epilogue".
  • Idiosyncratic Cover Art: The disc labels on early Japanese LPs are nearly identical to those for BGM, featuring the same hot spring logo and zodiac design, albeit with a red background instead of white. Most later LP copies in Japan use standard beige labels, though the 2019 remastered LPs would reinstate the red zodiac one.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Like BGM, initial Japanese LP copies list the two sides as "Face ⌊•" and "Face ⌊••". Later copies use the typical "Side 1" and "Side 2" labeling, before the 2019 remaster reinstated the original label design, "Face" names and Mayan numerals included.
  • Instrumentals: "Light in Darkness", "Prologue", and "Epilogue" are the only songs on the album without vocals of any kind.
  • In the Style of:
    • The bass part on "Light in Darkness" was inspired by the work of prolific session musician Chuck Rainey.
    • "Taiso" was inspired by the prepared piano works of Avant-Garde Music composer John Cage.
    • Haruomi Hosono's vocals on "Gradiated Grey" were an attempt at emulating the singing style of George Harrison.
  • Limited Lyrics Song:
    • "Neue Tanz" features just two German phrases repeatedly throughout the instrumental.
    • "Taiso" consists of a single verse, repeated three times and single chorus, repeated twice, plus a bridge and outro.
    • "Gradiated Grey" similarly consists of a single verse and chorus repeated twice.
  • Lyrical Cold Open: "Pure Jam", and by extension the album, opens with the band singing "this must be the ugliest piece of bread I've ever eaten," which is layered on top of itself twice, in a round, before the instruments kick in.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Taiso" is an upbeat song about violently injuring yourself from over-exercising. This is more obvious in the Japanese lyrics, which feature Ryuichi Sakamoto facetiously commanding the listener to dislocate their limbs and render their body unusable, among other charming instructions.
  • Multilingual Song: "Taiso" features the verses and outro in Japanese and the choruses in English.
  • Musical Squares: The original album cover, pictured above, features three neatly-arranged Polaroids of the band members in Kabuki makeup, laid atop an off-white backdrop.
  • Mythology Gag: The original cover art, with its primarily white color schemes, angled text, and angled T-shape recalls the cover of band member Ryuichi Sakamoto's solo album B-2 Unit from the previous year. The shape itself even resembles the unknown object on the B-2 Unit cover.
  • New Sound Album: Compared to BGM, Technodelic is even more avant-garde and trades out the dense, TR-808-driven music for more minimalist, sample-based work. What drum machine elements are present are provided by the LMD-649 instead.
  • Non-Appearing Title: As usual, most of the album's songs don't mention their names in the lyrics; the exceptions are "Neue Tanz", "Stairs", "Taiso", and "Key".
  • One-Word Title: Technodelic, "Stairs", "Taiso", "Key", "Prologue", "Epilogue".
  • Portmantitle: The album name combines the words "technology" and "psychedelic," tying in with its sampler-reliant sound and avant-garde style.
  • Punny Name:
    • "Pure Jam", referring to both musical jamming (tying in with the album's sound) and fruit jam (tying in with the song lyrics).
    • "Seoul Music", playing on the phonetic similarity between "Seoul" and "soul" ("Seoul" is actually pronounced slightly differently in actual Korean, but English-language usage of it typically makes it sound identical to "soul" due to the Korean pronunciation using phonetic sounds not typically heard in that exact combination in English).
  • Real Life Writes the Plot:
    • "Pure Jam" was inspired by a thick slice of bread that Yukihiro Takahashi and lyricist Peter Barakan got at the café on the first floor of Alfa Records' headquarters.
    • "Seoul Music" was inspired by a trip Ryuichi Sakamoto took to South Korea; the lyrics obliquely reference Sakamoto's observations about the state of the country under the Chun Doo-hwan dictatorship.
  • Reverse Cerebus Syndrome: Contrary to the darker sound, Technodelic features more overtly comedic lyrics than BGM, which relied heavily on abstract and artsy Word Salad Lyrics.
  • Sampling: This album was one of the trope codifiers, being constructed almost entirely out of samples rather than using it as an accessory.
  • Self-Referential Track Placement: "Epilogue", placed at the very end of the album.
  • Sequel Song: YMO themselves described "Key" as one to "Cue" from their previous album.
  • Series Fauxnale: Technodelic was recorded with the intention of being YMO's final album, acting as the culmination of their efforts and capping off with the conclusive-sounding "Epilogue". However, contractual obligations with Alfa Records forced them to keep going for two more albums, so they simply took a two-year hiatus instead.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The first cover's predominantly red and white palette and depiction of the band in white Kabuki makeup recalls the album art for Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) by David Bowie; Masayoshi Sukita, who photographed the band for Technodelic, had previously shot the cover photo for "Heroes", and the band themselves previously namedropped Bowie in the international version of "Tighten Up (Japanese Gentlemen Stand Up Please!)".
    • The music video for "Taiso" recalls that of "Once in a Lifetime" by Talking Heads, featuring the band members performing in suits in a White Void Room among various Chroma Key backdrops.
  • Siamese Twin Songs: "Prologue" and "Epilogue". Apart from the similarly-themed names, the two are similar in sound and fade into one another.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: The band's second lyricist, Peter Barakan, can be heard on "Pure Jam" (as one of the people interjecting via walkie-talkie).
  • White Void Room: Most of the video for "Taiso" is set in one, riffing on the identical use of this setting in real Japanese morning calisthenics TV broadcasts.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: The words to "Key" get pretty abstract, featuring emphasis on visual metaphors to describe mental anguish and confusion.


Video Example(s):


"Taiso" by YMO

"Taiso", by Japanese synth-pop supergroup Yellow Magic Orchestra, features Japanese-language verses and English-language choruses.

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Example of:

Main / MultilingualSong

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