UA: turbo

The story of my change of heart toward UA’s turbo is the story of my change of heart toward reggae music.

turbo is often described as UA’s dub album, and while there are tracks with an obvious reggae influence, it’s not the album’s overriding aesthetic. Thing is, the description of the album keyed into a bias I already had — I don’t like reggae music.

When I downloaded "Private Surfer" from Napster at the start of the century, I said "Ugh" when I discovered the track was reggae. So I explored UA’s other albums, eventually buying most of them, and I even acquired turbo from the Evil Sharing Networks just to be a completist. But I would make no effort to drop the cash for a physical product. That was in 2000.

In 2002, I found myself working at a record store, burned out from the dot-com industry and a casualty from the bubble economy blow-up. It was a rare occurrence for my tastes to line up with my co-workers, and when reggae came on the in-store player, that instant bias would rear its ugly head. But the reggae selected by said coworkers was actually enjoyable.

I began to see the appeal of the music and wondered from where the basis of my bias came. I realized it wasn’t reggae on the whole I didn’t like — it was reggae performed by Hawaiian musicians I couldn’t stand. Jawaiian? Perhaps the most insidious genre mash-up ever devised.

If you’ve ever heard Willie K mangle John Lennon’s "Imagine", you have experienced the horror that is Jawaiian. Our asshole brown-trash neighbors back in Honolulu would blast Willie K regularly. I had to turn up the volume of Kronos Quartet’s Black Angels to counter the assault. The US Military ought to include Willie K in its psychological warfare tactics.

The inundation of bad reggae music in Hawaiʻi — perhaps a redundant description — pretty much fueled my distaste for the genre. Once reaching that epiphany, I found myself open to reggae performed by musicians who knew how to play it.

What would finally turn my opinion around about turbo was the work of another Japanese band — Dry & Heavy. The store had copies of One Punch (on vinyl) and Full Contact (on CD). I played them both, to great reception by both coworkers and customers.

So I turned my attention back to turbo, the album I resisted based solely on prejudice. As it turns out, turbo is perhaps the most cosmopolitan and the most focused of UA’s pre-AJICO albums.

Despite my initial reaction, "Private Surfer" is one UA’s most appealing singles. "Otoko to Onna" has a terrific bass hook, while "Strawberry Time" and "Gogo" marks the first time Asai Kenichi and UA would collaborate. AJICO would not be far behind.

"Ringo Oiwake" combines Japanese melodies with tropical guitars and a slinky bass, while the dub remix of "Kazoe Tarinai Yoru no Ashioto" gives the original techno single a refreshing spin.

Where the diversity of 11 and Ametora sometimes felt scattered, turbo is thoroughly grounded. The reggae influence threads through each track, some more pronounced than others. "Laundry Yori Ai wo Komete", for instance, feels much more pop despite the heavy bass and organ.

turbo does have one glaring weak spot: "Summer Melancholic". It starts of interestingly enough, but it doesn’t really go anywhere and eventually drags. The album regains its momentum immediately afterward, thankfully.

It’s taken a number of years, but turbo has emerged as a particularly favorite UA album. I’d wager to say it’s overtaken Ametora and 11, although I won’t go so far to say it ranks up with Golden green or AJICO’s Fukamidori.

I’m just glad I managed to learn from my misgivings to appreciate a real gem.