Soul Flower Union: Camp Pangaea
Together for many years now, Kansai roots-rock band Soul Flower Union have become almost a Japanese institution. They were featured on the Power of Okinawa blog earlier this year on the release of the latest of their many singles. Now a new full length studio album Camp Pangaea has been completed and is released on 15th December on the band’s own label, BM tunes. A special edition of the album containing a bonus DVD with three music videos will also be sold at their live shows and through their website.
Soul Flower leader Takashi Nakagawa’s latest offering has the usual smattering of Okinawan, reggae and world music influences but the overwhelming sound is that of a rock band with a big production. As usual all the songs are written by Nakagawa who also sings and plays electric guitar and sanshin. There are important contributions from SFU stalwart Shinya Okuno on piano, organ, accordion and synthesizer, alongside a group of musicians which includes three members of the Black Bottom Brass Band who guest on several tracks. The album runs to just over an hour of music and for new listeners Camp Pangaea is a decent enough introduction to the band.
If there’s a problem with this release it’s for those well acquainted with the band’s previous work, as the best tracks on the album will already be very familiar. In little more than a year they have released three ‘singles’ (or mini-albums) as well as a live double album Exile on Main Beach. There have also been two separate double album compilations of rarities and older recordings. This ‘release rush’ (as their press release calls it), means that all three of the recent singles – ‘Live Until You Die!’, ‘Aqua Vite’, and ‘Lucy’s Children’ – appear again on the new album. Take away these and the two instrumentals, and there are nine new songs.
Any release by Nakagawa’s band is going to be of interest and this is no exception but SFU’s inexhaustible productivity and eagerness to rush into the studio at every opportunity does mean that several of the new songs sound rather like variations on a familiar musical theme. Meanwhile, in an attempt to be profound, Nakagawa’s wordplay becomes increasingly obscure and impenetrable. (As ever, there are English translations of all the songs in the booklet – which I was involved with as co-translator). The album title alludes to the Greek word for the ancient supercontinent Pangaea, but the song given that title is probably the least interesting track on the album. Yes, there is plenty here to please SFU fans but Camp Pangaea does not quite reach the high standards set by its 2008 predecessor Cante Diaspora.