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New Especia: “Aviator”/”Boogie Aroma”

Before I write anything else, I should mention…I really liked Especia’s Primera mini-album from earlier this year. As someone who still listens to Gusto a lot and feels the same joy from it as I did in December, Primera pretty much delivered on everything the group has done well — glistening City Pop revival stuffed with saxophones and funk. Save for two songs (the eight-minute opener, the awkward rap skit), it’s one of the better idol pop releases of the year.

Yet…it still somehow felt like a letdown? The aforementioned eight-minute intro, acting as a single, set the group’s major-label adventure off to a rocky start, and that was before the hyper awkward rap (that somehow got censored on the CD version?). Coupled with a video that embraced all the eye-rolling elements of vaporwave — oooooo Arabic, how weird! — and what felt like sort of a shift towards something more idol-ish, where all the interesting wrinkles of Gusto ironed out. It probably says more about my “fandom” for the group — Especia are probably the only idol group of the current decade I’ve actively rooted for to do well, because of how good their music and image has been — but everything they did seemed to be moving away from every element that had made them stand out a year earlier.

A big reason why the double whammy of “Aviator” and “Boogie Aroma” sounds so immediately good to my ears is…actually because of my eyes. The songs themselves are really good in the way most Especia songs mining Bubble Era Japan are — both numbers are catchy pop numbers loaded with neon-tinted synths and sweet, sweet sax (“Boogie Aroma,” for the record, especially stands out — maybe because it is a little more reserved, which makes the chorus pop all the more, or just the way they sing “feel so good,” but it sticks around just a little more than the perfectly fine “Aviator”). Yet I’m flinging myself back on the bandwagon for all the reasons idol music fucked up the Japanese music industry…because the emphasis moved away from the actual music in favor of non-music stuff. The songs are great — and let’s take a minute to note that certain music magazines and music stores are pushing something called “new City Pop,” but that none of the bands associated with it (some of whom are very good and just the victims of marketing!) actually come close to what actually constitutes City Pop like Especia does — but I’m really charmed by the video(s?).

Please print this out and stick it in my face next time I roll my eyes at your favorite idols.

Would I have been more forgiving of that dumb eight-minute single if the video had been Especia dancing around with a fake deodorant? Or backed by visuals trying to sell me a made-up boom box? I’m really happy they are back to imitating the elements of vaporwave imagery that made for an interesting tension — part of their charm was how it was them playing around with the micro-genre’s obsession with Japan, but as actual Japanese people, resulting in a weird take on the aesthetic that feels off in its own orbit. Oh, and the music still sounds really good so that’s a plus. Watch above.