TAMTAM - modernluv


Like most countries, Japan has a grand history of love songs and albums full of them. You know, the ones with a singer front and center on the cover and everything’s really syrupy sweet. However, as soon as you see the cover for TAMTAM’s “modernluv,” you know you’re getting something different. 

“Different” might be an understatement for TAMTAM. I don’t mean that in a weird or difficult to understand way, it’s more that they draw influences from so many genres and output something that you can’t simply pigeonhole into “pop,” “soul,” or “dub.” I guess that’s why they use words like “alternative” or “indie.” On the face of it, they’re a regular band of four members on synths, guitar and drums (bass is outsourced) with a female lead singer, and they’re all talented, professional musicians. But each member is into different things, ranging from 90’s era R.Kelly R&B and Neptunes production, to reggae, Balearic beats and traditional Japanese pop heroes like Makihara Noriyuki and Yuming. They make free use of organic instruments and digital samples, so you might hear a standard drum kit on one track with the natural shimmer of the cymbals, then next track you’ll hear an TR-808 kick drum loop. Vocalist Kuro shows great stylistic range, being able to sing sultry soul, singer-songwriter pop, dub and R&B, which are all on display across these tracks. And on top of that, TAMTAM deploy vocal sample manipulation and digital production techniques courtesy of producer/engineer Nakamura Kohsuke, incorporating the latest trends in hip-hop and future bass. None of it is overdone, all these elements are well balanced and augment one another rather than serving as gimmicks. 

Their closest peers in terms of musical creativity might be WONK or Suiyoubi no Campanella, and they can make songs like that (see “Morse” and “Nyhavn” respectively), but they definitely have their own style which is more mellow and thus more accessible, which suits the theme of the album. Modern love isn’t straightforward or very extraordinary - you won’t find any typical love songs here. Modern love is more about figuring out how to connect, how to close distances. A romantic gesture in 2018 is the magical timing of receiving a message at the exact moment you’re thinking of your partner (“Esp”). Life isn’t some Monday night TV drama of happy couples in co-existence, it’s being forced to work late and breaking promises to be home early (“Sorry Lonely Wednesday”) even just one day a week (welcome to Tokyo working life). Despite time being such a premium in this day and age, in the end, all we want to do is just spend time together with our loved ones (“Night Owl”).

Regarding “modernluv”, vocalist Kuro comments: “Originally love is a universal thing neither modern nor classical. However, by daringly calling it modern, it will become old with the passage of time, but it also expresses when it was born. There are lots of works on love in the world, so I wanted to mark that this album was produced in Tokyo in 2018, for someone listening to this sound in the future.” Love may be timeless, but “modernluv” captures the love of our time, before it paradoxically becomes a thing of the past.

Track list
01. Modernluv
02. Esp feat. GOODMOODGOKU
03. Dejavu
04. Morse
05. Goooooo
06. Fineview
07. Nyhavn
08. Sorry Lonely Wednesday feat. 入江陽, Yuta Fukai
09. Deadisland feat. 塩谷唯摩
10. Night Owl

Royce Leong