TOMOYUKI TANAKA, ALIAS Fantastic Plastic Machine, will stop at nothing to make a record. Or almost nothing. He hasn't killed any music moguls. Not yet, anyway. And he hasn't ever hijacked a Russian submarine to get better underwater acoustics. Although he might have people who do that for him. Yet the extravagant demands of FPM's cosmopolitan pop drive Tanaka to play Superman, flying all over the planet to liberate whatever musical guests strike his abundant fancy.
On his latest album, Beautiful., Tanaka started by laying down basic tracks at his home studio in Tokyo's Shibuya district, known for its consumer-oriented lounge-pop scene. Then he boarded a succession of planes, capturing septuagenarian jazzmaster Bob Dorough and Seventies singer-songwriter legend Hirth Martinez in New York, pilfering string arrangements from the Sigma Sound Studio in Philadelphia, and finally returning (in the dead of night, of course) from his sound-shopping expedition with a different sound. Tanaka had gone disco.
Beautiful. displays nary a trace of the loungecore and Sixties camp that permeated Tanaka's first two releases, Fantastic Plastic Machine and Luxury. Although his pop sensibilities and whimsy remain abundantly intact, these elements are now directed in the service of the dance floor. The opening track, "Beautiful Days," is a lush slice of house pop that brings Deee-Lite to mind--which is not surprising, considering that Deee-Lite alum and longtime friend Towa Tei persuaded DJ Tanaka to pursue a career as an audio auteur. Like Towa Tei, Tanaka incorporates sundry Brazilian influences, from the breakbeat bossa nova of "Paragon" to the futuristic, samba-inflected "On a Chair." "Love Is Psychedelic," a spoken-word tale of a drunken dance-floor epiphany, recalls Barry White with Love Unlimited Orchestra. And "I'm Still a Simple Man" puts a particularly charming twist on the Nuyorican soulsters Masters at Work.
Beautiful.'s greatest strength is Tanaka's knack for combining classic indie-pop infectiousness with a rhythmic sophistication that could leave his retro Shibuya classmates Pizzicato 5 and Cornelius standing among the biplanes.