op quiz: when’s the last time you heard a remix album that was good all the way through? Even the best of the crop usually contains at least one clunker—often many more than that. It’s the risk you take: you’re a fan, you’re intrigued, but somewhere in the back of your head, you can’t quite trust the original material to be reworked by someone else the way you liked it the first time. Remix albums are, by nature, experiments, and as such, the point of them isn’t necessarily to better the original, but rather to simply present things from a different angle to simply see what happens.
That said, Bricolages—a collection of remixes of tracks from Ryuichi Sakamoto’s 2005 album Chasm—succeeds where most other remixes don’t. It isn’t necessarily that the material here betters the originals, as Chasm was a fine return to Sakamoto’s electro-pop roots. Rather, because Sakamoto’s work has always been diverse and stylistically varied, Bricolages doesn’t require that it be judged against the original work. Sakamoto has worked in acoustic, electronic, and classical genres extensively, and so a remix album is par for the course. Putting together a diverse set of remixers to tackle his material seems far less out of place for Sakamoto than it does for most other artists because he takes these same approaches to his own music already.
Of course, as with any remix album, the finished product is only as good as the remixers you enlist, and Sakamoto has signed up a most interesting combination. There’s fellow Japanese artists AOKI Takamasa and Cornelius taking on “War & Peace” from two decidedly different angles (glitchy and skittering versus loose and fun, respectively). There’s micromeisters Fennesz, Alva Noto, and snd. There’s twitchy technohead Richard Devine, noted soundtrack composer Craig Armstrong, Rob Da Bank & Mr. Dan, and the pride of Hefty Records, Slicker. There’s even a fantastic take on “Break With” from former Japan (the band) drummer Steve Jansen, with whom Sakamoto has worked the longest out of those assembled. The fact that he turns in perhaps the best and most unexpected work here is illustrative of why the whole project works. This isn’t so much a break from the norm for Sakamoto as it is a logical next step.
Sakamoto’s best work is all about combining disparate elements from his myriad musical tastes into a new whole. The selections here cross cultural and generational boundaries, making them not all the different from a standard Sakamoto LP. And if I were told nothing more before hearing Bricolages for the first time than, “This is the new Ryuichi Sakamoto album,” it wouldn’t sound the least bit odd to me. In fact, it would sound like his best album in years. Conveniently enough, the word “bricolage” roughly translated means “construction achieved by whatever comes to hand.” He couldn’t have found a better title for this project.