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Review: Capsule Player

The differences between Yasutaka Nakata’s Capsule project and his role producing disco robo-divas Perfume aren’t much. Both outfits pump out electro-fried pop songs along with the occasional “club friendly” number. Nakata mostly stays behind the boards for both bands, letting female vocalists take the lead while he messes with the results. Hell, listen closely enough and you’ll hear the same sounds in both group’s song catalog. Capsule and Perfume both bask in the same sonic territory, sounding like the result of Sanrio opening a dance club in the Blade Runner world.

Capsule’s latest album Player, though, does an excellent job highlighting the biggest difference between Nakata’s two primary groups. Perfection is the name of the game with Perfume – there are CD singles and ice cream bars to be sold. Capsule, existing in a place where they still end up soundtracking one of the biggest Japanese movies of the year without having to worry about landing on Music Station, can get away with playing around a little bit more. Player, a good album marred by poor pacing, showcases Nakata’s more experimental approach to pop sprinkled across 10 tracks, some of which are among the most pleasurable this project has created.

Two of the best pure pop songs Capsule have ever done bookend Player. Strange, considering both songs serves as tunes in the recently released Liar Game movie in Japan. “Stay With You” opens with skippy keyboards and claps before diving into a well-thought-out fury of dancey electronics and vocals digitized to pure sonic cotton candy. Even better is album closer and advance single “Love Or Lies.” It’s 80’s echoing opening and sliced up vocal sample bring to mind a whole bunch of modern day music trends – “Love Or Lies” is basically a Delorean song, a great one at that, worthy of more blog love – while still retaining the electro-action Capsule is so good at.

It’s all in the construction. The American band most comparable to Capsule would be Passion Pit – Nakata even offered up a remix of “The Reeling” last year – thanks to both musical endeavors tendency to load their songs up as much as possible. Restraint rarely finds a way into their music. But whereas Passion Pit approach the studio like wide-eyed Bible Camp kids ready to wild out, Capsule take their time to make sure everything fits just right. “Love Or Lies” has a dubstep-aping vocal sample, a rap and a freaking banjo – but everything gets used in a tasteful manner, the song never getting too claustrophobic. Same goes for album standout “Can I Have A Word.” It opens with Disney-credit strings and boasts all sorts of dancefloor appropriate noises…but Nakata paces the whole thing perfectly, allowing primary Capsule singer Toshiko Koshijima’s silver voice to shine.

Those songs feature traces of experimentation, but it’s on the rest of Player where Nakata’s more adventurous tendencies emerge. “I Wish You” resembles a J-Pop R&B ballad broken down like a Jenga tower being reconstructed…with carefully selected blocks missing. Fellow slow jam “I Was Wrong” opens with some skeletal Fever Ray percussion before edging into a more traditional standards structure. The vocals undergo slight surgery though, a fact only revealed in the higher pitched chorus and the way the singer’s voice sometimes splits from word to word. The pop-miniature “Hello” charms with its Simon-speed electronics and recycled drums (at least they picked out the best part of “Love The World”). Electro-banger “The Music” fluxes between pop and European house, standing out as the albums best long cut.

Speaking of…the biggest lesson one can take away from Player is that Nakata is far better at pop than house music. It should have been clear after “Edge (Triangle Mix)” off of Perfume’s Triangle which attempted to ruin that album’s otherwise superb flow. But nobody told Nakata, who manages to drain this LP dry two different times with similar songs. Following the excellent “Stay With You” comes the title track, a dance beat that would have been nice at four minutes extended to seven minutes. In one of the album’s rare moments of piling too much on, though, “Player” also includes a dollar store grime rapper with absolutely nothing to say except “get funky” and something about rainbows. This might have been tolerable for one verse – maybe – but having to hear about 4/4 beats for seven horrible minutes makes this song totally skippable. The album regains momentum, and things are looking solid as “The Music” ends. Then up pops the grating “Factory,” a second long-running club track and not a very good one at that. It’s jarring, and takes away some otherwise excellent momentum.

Save for those two dancefloor duds, Player ends up being another catchy collection of electro-pop from a guy really hitting his stride with multiple groups. Props also need to be dulled out to Koshihima, who manages to do something none of the folks in Perfume can do – break through Nakata’s heavy production and sound unique. The differences between the two bands are still scant, but this album highlights the crucial deviations.