“Hi. You’ve just got a mail that is an electrical-sound letter from a trio who’s going to rock you.” So begins Osaka techrock trio Nuxx’s sophomore full-length Lettre Mois, delivered in borderline MacSpeak before launching into the album proper. In most cases, this would be a toss-away intro, a silly little bit meant to maybe get a chuckle before the real reason one would spend 2000 yen on a CD begins. I mean, that’s what they did on their debut album Sound Ache last year. Yet here Nuxx aren’t just fiddling around with Speak-N-Spell…at the end of this album, that same voice pops up and goes on reading the “sound letter” as if that’s what we were doing for the past 40 minutes.
This gimmick highlights Nuxx’s biggest stride forward with Lettre Mois – whereas Sound Ache came off like a series of peaks and valleys, this record feels like a consistent statement complete with a beginning and ending. I’m not talking about a concept album, but something more akin to a DJ mix, except it’s Nuxx’s dance-heavy pop playing non-stop without ever prompting glances at the “next” button. In terms of overall quality, Lettre Mois and Sound Ache end up evenly matched – the trio’s newest offering lacks the monster pop moments (“Journey To The West,” “Am I Free?,” “Kaede”) that defined their debut, but it’s also free of the clunky after-school-special stuff (“I Said ‘No'”) and the just plain boring (“Night Seeing,” “Under Leaves”). This is Nuxx making a really good album you can get into for all 40 minutes.
Nuxx’s sound remains unchanged since their debut – like fellow Kansai techrock movers √thumm, they take the techno-pop of Perfume and twist the instrumentation closer to a Friday night out without hurting the pop sensibility serving as the big, gooey center. Lettre Mois sounds a bit more club-centric, the ridiculous highs of the aforementioned “Journey To The West” or “Am I Free?” missing in action in favor of a reliable ability to go hard. Basically, this album lacks a killer single. “Ring Of Pop” comes closest, a thumping rainbow-light of electronics swirling around lead singer ecco’s inviting vocal work. Great stuff, but doesn’t come close to touching Sound Ache’s highlights.
Yet they’ve managed to pace Lettre Mois just right, resulting in a work that really doesn’t sag at any point. The letter-intro swings into a robot chant that explodes like those big balls in Super Smash Brothers full of confetti into the (inadvertently quoting Aerosmith) anthem-worthy “Born To Walk.” The closest thing to a mistake Nuxx put up here is “eLECTRO cOMPLEX,” a manic rave-up that’s biggest offense is the six-minute run time. Yet, wisely, they cushion the whiplash of that song with the following number “Juillet” which is one of the best ideas Capsule didn’t get to first. And the whole album ends just right, with a closing statement from the robo letter and a slowly dissolving whirl of synths and clangs.
Just because Nuxx’s biggest musical growth comes from being able to make something consistent doesn’t mean they aren’t edging out into different sonic ideas. No major experiments like the few √thumm tried (and nailed) on their last album, but a few steps towards more adventurous material. “Stereotype” backs up what Sound Ache’s “Kaede”established – Nuxx can handle a slightly slower track just fine, although this one bops a lot more than the enveloping “Kaede” did. Penultimate song “No.247” sees them making good on the group they jacked their name from, at times doing their best “Born Slippy” imitation with various other segments and lyrics about taking a train to another planet thrown in.
And hey, let’s give “Your Day” an entire paragraph because Nuxx pulled off some Music City Miracle wonders with this one. It opens with a vocoder-ized voice singing “Happy Birthday.” Seriously. This should be terrible, right, especially when you realize the main lyric present is “happy birthday.” Yet all credit to members ize-mac and Gun-Hiroshi for making the electronics around that work, a series of throbbing electro-pulses backed by a four-on-the-floor beat that turns this into a competent substitute for whatever the electro equivalent of an Applebees’ is. An honest-to-goodness highlight here.
Sophomore albums always come loaded with all kinds of pressure, whether to strike gold again like the first time or show radical growth in some different direction. Lettre Mois doesn’t really do either of those, being neither a step back or big hop forward for Nuxx but rather an album that, overall, matches Sound Ache. It’s an LP of subtle growth at the cost of immediate hookiness – they’ve made an album lacking anything one could vaguely describe as “killer” but one that bumps way harder more consistently. Honestly, they don’t even need the letter intro and outro…everything in-between establishes this album as the trio’s “album” album.