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Review: Bang Bang Balloon Mini-Album

Former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman once said that Perfume were “the group which had the biggest influence on the Japanese music industry in 2008.” A year later and the former thrash metal man’s words still ring true – Perfume’s hyper-electro pop still looms large in 2009 thanks to the release of the well-selling Triangle, a nationwide tour and an ice cream commercial. The sheer visibility of this trio – I can’t go more than three days without stumbling across a store playing a Perfume song – shows just how far this group has come.

Osaka trio Bang Bang Balloon give a shout-out to Perfume on their MySpace page, which also boasts plenty of references to “techrock,” the group’s preferred genre. “Techrock” looks like a sub-sect of “Techpop” (Perfume’s preferred genre), implying there is some sort of “harder” aspect to Balloon’s music. The group veers closer to pop on their latest release, a self-titled mini-album, if not pure dance music. Not that there is anything wrong with that – the 25 minutes of music on there latest release is an exciting listen that takes many elements of what makes Perfume great…and expands on it.

Perfume make great music, but listen to their music long enough and a flaw becomes apparent – for pop music, this stuff isn’t very danceable. The “pack as much possible into these tunes” philosophy leads to interesting but not very danceable numbers. Instead of jumping from one good idea to the next, Bang Bang Balloon latch onto them and ride them out. The songs on this mini-album almost sound like five electronic loops save for a few flourishes in each song.

That’s hardly a problem when nearly every song here aims for crowd-pleasing dance music. Minus the chilled-out bounce of “KaeDe,” Balloon blast out propulsive dance songs drowned in electronics and never-flinching beats. Opener “Runner’s High” is an immediate standout, the beat enveloped by glowing synths that build toward an absolutely massive chorus. Even better is “Am I Free,” which opens with warbling synths before shifting into a Postal Service-worthy flurry of bloops and beeps. It lasts nearly six minutes and takes no major left turns, but remains entrancing the entire time.

Balloon’s secret weapon, though, is lead singer ecco. Her vocals at first seem like just a nice bow to put on the electronics underneath, just another layer. However, her singing adds a huge dash of humanity to the CD – ecco’s voice carries equal parts enthusiasm and ennui, making this mini-album much deeper than what one would expect from a techno-pop affair. Her voice undergoes heavy Vocoderring on every track, but unlike the robot-perfectness of Perfume or T-Pain, Balloon’s vocal experimentation sounds much more rough – ecco sounds like she caught in waves of static and wants to break out. This combination of pretty and patchy come together to make the choruses for “Runner’s High,” “Am I Free?” and “Tribal Star” absolute knockouts brimming with catchiness and feeling.

As the electronic-heavy pop sound becomes more and more popular (and thus a cash-in), it’s refreshing that Bang bang Balloon are taking parts of the sound and dropping them into a dance-heavy context to create something genuinely exciting. Coupled with their absolutely energetic live show, Balloon are pushing the idea of techno-pop into exciting but still fun directions. This mini-album offers a brief but thrilling glance at a group to keep your eyes on.

I have no idea how you can get your hands on Bang Bang Balloon’s mini-album outside of their live shows. Their official website might have some info…if you know Japanese.