On How To Live With a Phantom, the artist Shintaro Sakamoto learned how to play bass and made up slow jams to show the world he was more than capable of playing any instrument he had just picked up.
His work has been described as folk pop, the oxymoron of music genres, except that both folk and pop music can be instrumentally simplistic. Sakamato’s work on the album is anything but simplistic. His vocals, which are a bit high, are folk embodied. The crooner fits comfortably with protest songs about the benefits of anarchy and improving life for everyone, while a cigarette dangles from his lip. Even if his lyrics are not understood, the emotional range that he presents captures anger, mournfulness and joy and adequately portrays the stress and joys of living with a phantom.
Sakamoto sings in Japanese, not a big surprise because he is Japanese. Strike three in terms of accessibility to a mainstream American market. The title then provides the emotional clue. Add distant backing vocals that only ever “ooh” and “aah,” the album begins to feel a little forlorn. It feels like the response to a loved one’s death; there is sadness and melancholy but also some drunken joyful reminiscing. “A Stick and Slacks” has a grooving baseline,Â occasionalÂ slide across cymbals and kick drum beat, and Sakamoto exclaiming “Shaa bo.” The song is thoughtfully slow, building a slight tempo increase with a wavering electronic horn or stringed instrument in the background.Â It is the very definition of nostalgia; it hurts to remember but while listening you’ll nod your head and the backing vocals or the bubbling background noises will take you back.
The title track too reminds the listener that love and memory are incredibly sexy. The bass coupled with the plucked guitar notes, the subdued vocals, add to Stevie Wonder with a lot of previous relationship baggage that keeps getting brought up.
Sakamoto deserves more exposure, and How To Live With a Phantom is an album that showcases a master songwriter and experienced musician, demanding repeat listens.