Rapper-ish electro-pop-kinda group Suiyoubi No Campanella seem like the sort of music group that should be poised for a big mainstream breakout (recently signing to a major label helping fuel that vision), as they take a growing music trend (silliness and a lack of interest in genre borders mixed with honest emotion…see Tofubeats and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu for two examples, one far more known than the other but still) and package it with an extremely camera-ready leading singer. But who knows what the ever-dwindling crowd of people buying music will take too, and instead let’s focus on the now. “Diablo” is the highlight from the trio’s recently released “first EP,” and like “Momotaro” before it, it zips from hip-hop to dance-leaning segments, loaded with at times silly lyrics but also a sweet chorus (and that piano). Watch the video above.
1. I ultimately think PC Music is pretty great — most of the music released under that banner has been fantastic pop, and in general I side with any artist/collective who appears to have a genuine interest in Japanese music and tries to push it into the West (A.G. Cook samples DJ Kaori CDs, for gods sakes). I was pretty geeked when the video for “Hey QT” emerged online, and basically was a mish-mash of techno-pop trio Perfume’s “Spring Of Life” and “1mm.” I feel pretty safe in saying PC Music’s admiration of Perfume comes from a heartfelt place, and the same “emotions turned digital but somehow more human than before” feel Perfume kick up appears in their best releases.\
Weirdly, though, the “Hey QT” video revealed the one element of PC Music I’m not huge on, which is the ironic/ironic? commentary on advertising. Not because I love ~brands~ or hate quirkiness, but because…like so many things that try to be subversive…reality tends to be way weirder. Considering that nearly every major J-Pop single exists as an advertising tie-in for something, the idea behind QT isn’t interesting because this has been the reality I’ve watched since 2009. And I’ve seen plenty of special groups spring into existence just to promote movies or Fanta or fucking Zima.
Maybe I just bristle at it, because some of the songs that mean the most to me personally and have brought me the most joy owe their existence to pushing cell phones, alcopop and recycling campaigns. And this has never stopped me from loving them.
2. “Pick Me Up,” Perfume’s 21st single, is a special collaboration with Isetan, a famous department store in Shinjuku. This is pretty clear in the video (above), which happens outside and inside the establishment, featuring plenty of clothes available at said place. The video itself is great in a lot of ways, but I’m just here to lay out the advertising tie in.
3. Oh, hey, the reason I’m dripping these thoughts out today…the other side of the single, “Relax In The City,” leaked today (listen here). It’s good, but isn’t as interesting to talk about as “Pick Me Up.” Producer Yasutaka Nakata has been sneakily getting good at these more relaxed tunes for Perfume (remember this not-so-hot try?), and “Relax In The City” glides along very nicely. The chorus, so sweet! That said, I think the first six or seven seconds, with that static-y intro, is my favorite part.
4. But “Pick Me Up,” dear goodness…I haven’t been really feeling Perfume’s new stuff post Level3, to the point where I kinda tricked myself into liking “Cling Cling” more than I really did. Whereas a bunch of Perfume fans online freaked out because it had been, like, six months since they announced a single, I was happy they were taking a break. “Maybe they’ll return to the glory days,” I wistfully thought.
Thankfully, they didn’t.
“Pick Me Up” is what Level3 tried to be. That album mostly recycled older ideas, except now imagined what they would look like now that Perfume’s live budget could afford a big laser machine. It is an album designed for Perfume’s (great) live show, but one that fails as something you just listen to outside of a few songs. It wanted to reshape Perfume into a group capable of performing at an EDM festival. “Pick Me Up” does to, but realizes they can’t just add vaguely Garrix-esque dollops onto their music and, boom, Ultra Miami. They have to push everything up.
Where did all this drama come from? Acoustic guitar? The members of the group pushing their voices this high? With no (obvious) digital manipulation? At its worst, EDM sounds like an energy drink, all fake and gross, but at its best there is nothing more human than the rush of emotions it conveys (a quality the best Perfume songs have also always had). Perfume has been eying something like this for a while, but “Pick Me Up” actually hits the mark — it is a huge pop song with outsized emotions and a matching sound. It exists because of a department store, but everyone involved transcends that, which has always been what Perfume (and Nakata) do so well.
5. I’m one of those puritans who thinks Perfume wouldn’t be Perfume without Nakata behind the boards (whereas, say, Kyary could still be Kyary without Nakata), but “Pick Me Up” is a good argument that they probably could do OK with solo side projects if they tried.
There are very few J-pop albums that wouldn’t benefit from being sliced in half. The industry-standard dictating that every new release needs to be packed to the CD’s breaking point results in a finished product that’s bloated, and usually impossible to sit through without an itchy “skip” finger. This is, however, the model, and J-pop (heck, drop the “J”) has mostly treated the album as just another product rather than some sort of statement (and, hey, that might honestly be fine…Tiny Mix Tapes’ decision to focus on their favorite 50 releases of the year, rather than albums, sounds more appealing each day). Still, even if we reduce the CD as just another consumable good…lopping off twenty minutes most J-pop collections would result in a much more enjoyable product.
So it isn’t surprising that frantic idol unit Dempagumi.inc’s newest album WWDD suffers because of an hour-plus run time featuring a drag of a back half. Still, few albums practically beg to be trimmed down like this one* — lurking within here is a great eight-song set, capped off by one of their finest singles ever. But again, it sort of comes back to even having the expectation that a Dempagumi.inc album should be great in the first place, when they’ve mostly stood out as a killer singles band thus far. But WWDD feels like a missed opportunity of sorts, especially given that this is the album they released at the absolute peak of their mainstream popularity.
In a fitting Dempagumi-esque move (joke, in a fitting Japanese pop industry move), they are already zooming off into a new single that’s tied up with a pachinko machine, but let’s not dwell on that. There are two songs for this, one which sounds like someone trying to imitate a Dempagumi.inc song…and “Gidagida Da Zubuzubu Da,” a solid horn-guided skipper of a song. For large chunks of this, the group get as laid back as they can without stumbling into boring ballad territory…and even fit a rap in there. It sounds fun. And then the pace picks up, but never breaking a sweat, developing into a skittery rush but never overdoing it. It’s nice! Watch the video above.
*All of these complaints could also be aimed at Dempagumi.inc’s World Wide Dempa album from the end of 2013…again, a few of those songs need to go…but that one works way better overall and the highs are fucking atmosphere pushing.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s career is following a familiar (nay, predictable) arc, at least musically. She made a huge, viral splash with “PonPonPon,” achieved mainstream god-mode with “Fashion Monster” and went on a tear up until the release of Nanda Collection, and then sort of lost momentum a bit with subsequent singles and last year’s album (though sales remained pretty strong). And even then, Kyary has been and probably always will be fine, at least for the next five years…she’s Japan’s first social-media superstar, and her Twitter, Instagram and Vine are more interesting than dozens of other acts entire discographies. But still, the past year in Kyary’s life hasn’t felt nearly as exciting as those first two.
Will latest single “Mondai Girl” change that? I don’t know, and honestly am not sure I care because gahhhhh the song and video make me feel happy (which I’ve sort of needed in a very stressful, transition-filled period of my life). As of now, both are of the “short version” variety, but there is more than enough to like now. Let’s focus on the song, which builds off the chip-tune-leaning touches of last year’s “Family Party,” twisting it from wonky movie theme to a more pop focused song (that is also a TV show’s theme). Kyary’s singing has never been anything noteworthy…which is part of the point…but here she tries a few things out with her voice, and it works. Or maybe I’m just glad this stepped into my life now? Get back to me, and watch above.
Etsuko Yakushimaru kicked off the New Year the only way she really could – the Sotaisei Riron lead singer released a bleep-bloopy, melancholy number called “Lonely Planet (Post Office)” on December 31. It’s a brief song, one anchored by skittery beats and keyboard…and of course, her voice, which here deviates from her usual sing-speak delivery for something a bit more traditionally singer-like. It would be surprisingly straightforward…especially after a year where the music she released could get a bit trippy…except for a handful of electronic ripples and a final stretch that ups the drama significantly. Watch the video above.