Takako Minekawa's Trivial Reality
by Matthew Schaefer
If you've never heard (or heard of) Takako Minekawa, let me give you a quick rundown. On her latest album, Cloudy Cloud Calculator, the Japanese chanteuse sings sweetly and gently over music that sounds much like a cross between Kraftwerk and the demonstration mode on a Casio keyboard. Not that this is bad, mind you. Her brand of electronic composition offers a blend of melody, mechanization, and rhythm that hearkens back to the days when the Moog was king as much as it looks toward the future of pop. And with bilingual (Japanese and English) lyrics that cover a number of interesting topics, Takako-chan provides for some unique listening.
I recently met up with her in San Francisco where I had a chance to discover what I considered to be a bit of a mystery about Takako -- what the hell are her songs about? Math, kitties, dessert, milk; Takako has a singular ability to focus on the particular. She must, I assumed, have a point to make.
The burning question in my mind was "what's up with the cats?" Not only does the CCC album contain the track, "Cat House," but her previous work produced the homage, "Fantastic Cat." According to Takako, she has "cats living in her brain -- lonesome, aloof cats." Not quite understanding how these sad felines could inspire such pleasant songs, I further learned that Takako's mental cats actually serve as her muses. This, however, really led to no insight on why she sings about cats.
Laying this aside, I turned my attentions to Takako's song "Kangaroo Pocket Calculator." On this track, a woman's voice methodically discusses the magical properties of the number 47. It's simultaneously fascinating and spooky. Takako explains that she "never liked math at school, but reading the textbook on numbers and mathematics reflected reality" to her way of thinking. Furthermore, she found that math actually "stimulated reality." In this case, it apparently found its way into her music. But is it science or numerology? And why not 48?
Despite these two highly obscure sources of lyrical content, Takako maintains that her songs do reflect reality -- at least as she perceives it. Takako says that the actual source of her lyrics comes from "reading, seeing, stories, any circumstance, and what I encounter. But I'm not really writing about daily life, but rather the trivial aspects of it." So perhaps that solves the mystery of Takako Minekawa -- making important the most trivial of the trivial. It's not that she has a point to make about cats, it's just cats. And there's no reason why 47 is a magical number. It's just 47.
This kind of flat acceptance is crucial to appreciating Takako's music. It doesn't fit nicely into any genre (unless you're the type to consider "electronica" a genre), it doesn't make any pretension in its lyrics. Her music's strength lies in its simplicity -- an attitude that Takako reflects in her personality. When speaking of the future, Takako's more interested in a single musical triumph than a series of mediocrities. Takako says she'll "be really happy to create one piece of music in her life in her own way."
Takako Minekawa's latest release is Cloudy Cloud Calculator, on Emperor Norton Records, 102 Robinson St, Los Angeles, CA 90026, http://www.emperornorton.com