The Best of Soul Flower Union 1993-2013

Osaka’s Soul Flower Union have been celebrating 20 years as a band and now release The Best of Soul Flower Union 1993-2013, a double CD compilation of their best work. In fact, this is a 3CD set and an extra disc entitled The Dub of Soul Flower Union is included in the package.

For the past two decades SFU have been extremely prolific in the recording studio. My shelf at home is almost groaning with the weight of their CDs which number around 40 and include both full-length and mini-albums, maxi-singles, live albums and compilations, as well as solo projects by Takashi Nakagawa. There are also, of course, three more albums of their acoustic chindon-inspired alternative incarnation Soul Flower Mononoke Summit which are outside the scope of this release.

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The two main CDs here contain 33 tracks and are helpfully arranged in more or less chronological order of release thus enabling the listener to gauge the development of the band from early rock beginnings through many changes and additions in instrumentation, musical styles, and personnel right up to this year. While always grounded in a solid rock foundation, SFU also embrace various other influences including hefty borrowings from Okinawa and Ireland. The sound of both sanshin and bouzouki in their music has been familiar for many years.

With such a prolific band it’s difficult to choose a definitive selection of best songs and there will be much discussion over inclusions and omissions. I would personally have liked to have seen the excellent ‘Natsu Tourai’ (Here Comes Summer) included from the Screwball Comedy album but it didn’t make the final cut. What we do have is the nearest anyone will get to a definitive guide and this will automatically become the album everyone should go to as the most important introduction to SFU.

Most of the songs are written by Takashi Nakagawa with important contributions from SFU’s other main driving force Hideko Itami. The band’s best-known composition ‘Mangetsu no Yube’ (A Full Moon Evening) is here in its 1995 single version. Outstanding among many other fine tracks are Itami’s early ‘Higurashi’, ‘Senka no Kanata’ (Beyond the Flames), the strongly Irish influenced ‘Kaze no Ichi’ (Winds Fairground), the powerful anti-war song ‘All Quiet on the Far Eastern Front!?’ and the gloriously nihilistic ‘Eejanaika’ (Never Mind) with its advice “Never mind about winning or losing. Never mind the Emperor!” The 8 dub versions of their songs on the third CD include a remix of ‘Henoko Bushi’ by Tatsumi Chibana. There are English translations of all the songs in the CD booklet.

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If there is any slight cause for complaint it’s that SFU tend to throw everything but the kitchen sink into the studio and the wall of sound which ensues can be a bit relentless.  Sometimes a little more light and shade might not have gone amiss though it all works brilliantly in live performance. More importantly, listening to SFU over these two decades has been a revelation when set beside the vast majority of repetitive and unimaginative J.Pop bands.

SFU may be less widely known in the mainstream but they are at the forefront of Japanese musicians pushing boundaries with their music and lyrics. Their activism has also led to their organising support and practical help for victims of the Great Hanshin and Great Eastern Japan earthquakes, performances for Palestinian refugees and the people of East Timor, and support for the continuing protests against anti-nuclear power in Japan and against the American military bases on Okinawa. But back to the music and SFU are surely one of the most important bands to emerge from Japan over the long period of their existence. This album is the perfect place to discover them.

The Best of Soul Flower Union 1993-2013 will be released on 25th December on BM tunes.

http://www.breast.co.jp/soulflower/special/thebestof/

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