Susumu Yokota is my favourite artist. I can think of nobody who crafts such delicate and beautiful sounds from such a wide array of sources.
Yokota first attracted attention outside his native Japan in 1992 with the album Frankfurt-Tokyo Connection on Harthouse. It is a fairly straightforward selection of banging 303 trance that was popular as rave faded and before jungle took hold.
Yokota would hone and perfect this sound on the Acid Mt. Fuji and Zen albums (see below) but it was the glorious technicolour ambient (but not ambient) sounds of Sakura that would become his trade mark. Nobody has matched the world of sounds and ideas that Yokota sculpts into a coherent whole on numerous albums and singles released since that spectacular breakthrough.
His Japanese origins sing through occasionally but this music could have come from anywhere. The overall effect of a panopoly of instrumentation and samples is more coherent and organic-sounding than its diversity deserves to be - such is the delicate skill with which Yokota assembles his soundworlds.
The music and theories of Jon Hassel’s Fourth World have become more and more popular in recent years but Susumu Yokota perfected this fusion of sounds from around the world - from everywhere and nowhere - back in 1998. He would turn his attention to techno, ambience, trip hop, house and leftfield pop with equal skill and success.
Other fans might choose The Boy and the Tree, Grinning Cat or others but here are 10 of Susumu Yokota’s best albums in chronological order.
Ebi - Zen (Space Teddy, 1994)
The purest trance. Deep, smooth, calming acid techno. There is nothing particularly innovative here, just perfectly executed dreamy trance.
The track titles (translated by a youtuber from Kanji Sino-Japanese characters) tell something of a story: zen, float, bathe, saint, evacuate, space, world, create, fly, fast, three. Like a recipe for life.
Susumu Yokota - Acid Mt. Fuji (1994, re-released 2018)
Another gentle techno classic. Yokota makes the 303 sing. Sounds of the rainforest complement the acid squelch. Fans of Voices from the Lake will rejoice.
Susumu Yokota - Image 1983 - 1998 (Skintone, 1998)
The early one. An intriguing collection of sketches, using a lot of treated guitar and scratchy, decomposing sounds. Church organs and choirs would be a recurring motif throughout Yokota’s discography. Sets the scene for the beauty and adventure that follows.
Susumu Yokota - Sakura (Leaf, 1999)
The undisputed classic. Pure organic, tropical, fourth world, snippets of loveliness. Quite unlike anything before or since. It takes ambient as its starting point but somehow stands alone from almost everything else that could be tagged with that badge. It doesn’t really sound like electronic music but of course it is because there is nothing else it could be.
Susumu Yokota - 1999 (Sublime Records, 1999)
The disco one. Susumu Yokota was not only a genius creator of unique sounds with an ear for a melody, he was also bloody prolific. In the same year that he released his masterpiece Sakura, he produced this journey into boogie wonderland. There might be a better disco album out there but this listener is yet to hear it.
Susumu Yokota - Symbol (Skintone, 2004)
The classical one. Well, it samples classical pieces extensively. Chopped and screwed in typical Yokota style, this is no cheesy, trance remix of yer popular classical hits. Instead, we get angelic voices, heartbeats and pianos, string quartets, choirs, maybe a guembri, hints of North Africa and the Middle East, devotional music of all stripes.
Susumu Yokota - Love or Die (Skintone, 2007)
The poppy one. Well, kinda poppy in a Yokota style. Less heavy on the samples, this is a more straightforward electronic pop sound. Yokota’s palette might have changed but the music continues to be a beautiful, gentle and delicate love letter to life.
Susumu Yokota - Mother (Lo Recordings, 2009)
The one with singers. More leftfield electronic pop. I hear St Etienne and This Mortal Coil. Guitars, violins, piano, song and ambience in perfect harmony.
Susumu Yokota - Kaleidoscope (Lo Recordings, 2010)
A return to the classic sound of Sakura. It starts with a heavenly nursery rhyme or lullaby. Continues with angel sighs and a harp. A friendly troll groans in the background. A looped chime. Voices from a radio past long forgotten. Sprouting Symphony sounds exactly like its title. It is eternal springtime in Susumuland. A choir mourns a Stain on My Heart to a gentle factory heartbeat. Wave Drops is once again self-explanatory. There are no humourous or obfuscatory numerical song titles here. Another choir, a laugh, a cowbell, a harp. All life is here. Kaleidoscope is possibly Yokota’s crowning glory.
Susumu Yokokta - Dreamer (Lo Recordings, 2012)
The last one. In some places this is more muscular and darker than the gentle sound of your regular Yokota album (if there is such a thing). In other places, it retains that delicate mix of voices, samples and beats we know so well. Choral chants and church bells follow a strong techno groove. Sitars melt into yelps and giggles. More techno and horns of unknown origin. A Japanese water garden. Perhaps Yokota’s most diverse album, it would unfortunately be his last.