The Gleaming Sword
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The Gleaming Sword

Fingerprints of Future Funk — Miki Matsubara Pocket Park

Miki Matsubara’s debut lives on through the internet’s power of suggestion.

Sometimes I wonder what Miki Matsubara would have thought about TikTok. Her life — veiled by well-placed shadows and largely occuring pre-internet — spoke to a preference for solitude. In 2000, she sent an abrupt message to her band and label that addressed her plans to cut communication — later it’d be revealed that Matsubara was suffering from late-stage cancer.

At the time of her passing in 2004, Matsubara hadn’t properly released music in 16 years, dating back to 1988’s Wink. She had, however, endured through her compositions for others, including soundtracks for Gundam and Gu Gu Ganmo anime, as well as other musicians like Yumiko Takahashi (“My Melodies”).

Her own discography also kept with the times. Wink bought into the synthesized thump of R&B on tracks like “B.S.T.” and “In The Room” while 1981’s Cupid was distinctly funky, with tracks like “Oasis” and “10 Karat Love” footing the bill for some plucky horn sections. But her debut album, Pocket Park, remains among her most popular, seeing a reissue in 2020 after earning a collective head turn thanks to Tik Tok trends and YouTube’s algorithm.

Social media algorithms are responsible for an uptick in a number of late-20th century Japanese hits, thanks in no small part to internet genres like future funk. Notably, “Mayonaka no Door/Stay With Me,” the Matsubara track off Pocket Park that made its rounds last year, doesn’t explicitly fit the criteria for conventional city pop. Where artists like Toshiki Kadomatsu and Anri graced instrumentals that were thick with post-disco bass lines, Matsubara’s debut reaches back even further.

Kicking off with an English sung chorus, “Stay With Me” is an alternative take on Philly soul. Despite the inclusion of punchy horns, a steady string section accompanies Matsubara’s bold vocals for the bulk of the track. The strings nudge the song away from the danceable pop (though symphonics were plenty prevalent in disco) that dominated later in the decade, instead embracing a cushy, soft rock tint.

Arguably, Matsubara’s soulful style on this album (which continues with the equally angelic “It’s So Creamy” and anthemic “His Woman”) was influenced in part by the album’s music director, Kozo Araki. Three years earlier, Araki was the conductor for Tatsuro Yamashita’s “Spacy,” a similarly soulful rock album that spawned the eventual future funk sample “Love Space.”

The absence of heavy-handed bass is what makes “Stay With Me” delightfully unique future funk fodder. Producers new to the genre often fall into the trap of spicing up already pulse-pounding pop songs with amplified bass and a bump in tempo. “Stay With Me’s” slower tempo and spacious instrumental allow for more of a creative playground. Thus reworks, like Android Apartment’s 2015 flip of the track, take greater care with remastering the groove, in this case chopping up and highlighting the horns while adding a refreshed bass line to accompany the slight tempo boost.

Android Apartment’s “Stay With /me Tonight”

Pocket Park, both in name and sound, hints at a lingering sense of loneliness. As an architectural feat, pocket parks are often tracts of green spaces in urban centers that break up an otherwise concrete cityscape. But unlike so many other city pop albums that embrace all things metropolitan, Matsubara is sternly focused on her personal relationships. Even when she does dive into the city, as on “Manhattan Wind,” it’s with a breezier, choral-friendly melody that eschews the foot-tapping bass of traditional disco.

Though Matsubara has a deep discography worth perusing, the reemergence of her debut offers a healthy glimpse into the larger conversation around city pop. Just as “Stay With Me” conjured up fond memories for the Japanese parents of TikTokers last year, it similarly speaks to a bigger longing for connection that’s been stressed in our digital age. The song, and much of Pocket Park, is both a reflection of the times and a yet another reminder that things really don’t have to change much at all.

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Brandon Johnson

Brandon Johnson

Forever hunting for my new favorite music sample. Founder of tripleot.com & abrandbox.com. 🌴🦩

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