Jintana & Emeralds‘ Emerald City Guide can best be described as doo-wop on a stroll through a variety of major Japanese musical influences, surrounded by an imagined, glowing vision of the past that channels the nostalgic romanticism of the ’50s and ’60s. Jintana & Emeralds utilizes these themes of Mad Men-era Americana in their accompanying visual for the album, which serves as a travel brochure—their Emerald City Guide.
I would be remiss if I did not highlight the fact that these idealized interpretations of American culture and music genres only exist due to the creativity and labor of unjustly treated Black, Asian, Latine, and Native Americans during this period. Doo-wop’s origins stem from the “harmony singing” popularized by Black artists like the Orioles, the Robins, and the Ravens. Segregation and racial violence were a daily reality for Black people living through the Civil Rights Movement, existing under the oppressive and often dangerous hatefulness epitomized through Jim Crow law. For Japanese-Americans in the 1950s, life was lived in the long shadow of internment camps, which are recognized as “one of the most atrocious violations of American civil rights in the 20th century.” This violent act of anti-Asian racism is a cause of economic disparity and discrimination to this day.
Hearing how Jintana & Emeralds absorbs the elements of fantasized vintage American culture and repackages it with their Japanese history and aesthetic makes Emerald City Guide an even more engrossing listen. City Pop, the Japanese pop genre developed in the 1980s, makes an appearance on “taiyō no sei.” The impact that other Japanese artists like Nujabes and Club Nisei Orchestra have on Emerald City Guide stand out, deepening the world-building of the album as well as the complexity of the music itself. Taking back the American vision of homogenized whiteness and putting the culture under a uniquely Japanese lens gives power back to the people who were robbed of it during the 1950s and 1960s. This act frames Jintana & Emeralds as the representation of the time, a decidedly stark difference from the lack of diversity and the blatant racism one typically sees in film, television, and print from this era. In bringing the conceptual fantasy land of the album to life, Jintana & Emeralds and their creative collaborator Fantasista Utamaro infuse their modernized understanding of the world through a dreamy filter that amends the societal ills of these decades.
On “Love Again,” the Japanese group partners with Los Retros, a fellow artist inspired by vintage sounds, with his interest leaning towards Chilean pop music and Latin American soft rock groups of the 70s. The music video for “Love Again,” directed by Mexican filmmaker Fernando Cattori, is a cultural exchange between the two artists. The retro feel of the video is punctuated by a backdrop of a Mexican village, with two expressive dancers interpreting the lyrics of the song. This cultural exchange of music, film, and ideas is a further example of this repurposing of vintage culture and style. Their mutual interest in decades past helped bring Jintana & Emeralds and Los Retros together, but their collaboration is a solidly new venture in their sound.
Musically, the album serves as a strong follow-up to Jintana & Emeralds’ 2014 debut, Destiny. A cover of The La’s “There She Goes” is an enjoyably light moment on the eclectic collection of songs, which span from romantic, heartfelt ballads to tongue-in-cheek doo-wop classics. After a seven-year hiatus, the six-piece band still captures the energy of their first album. Emerald City Guide came together unexpectedly over 2020’s lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Seeking friendship and familiarity in a time of crisis, the band members came together to reminisce about times past, which they channeled into their sophomore concept album.
As a whole, Emerald City Guide takes risks in both its sound and concept—but those risks pay off, thanks to the fully-immersive nature of Jintana & Emeralds’ creative direction and musical talent.
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