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New Perfume: “Pick Me Up” And “Relax In The City”

Assorted Thoughts

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.