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Review: Capsule Stereo Worxxx

Stereo Worxxx is the sound of Yasutaka Nakata giving all of Capsule’s fans something to like. For those who enjoyed last year’s World Of Fantasy, Nakata still brings 128-bpm bangers tailored specifically for a Friday night. For those who loathed that last album (picture me, two thumbs gesturing to my head), Nakata has made sure to include more direct pop into these tracks, pushing vocalist Toshiko Kojima further into the spotlight on the dance tracks and including some singles-worthy material as well. To save you a couple hundred obvious words, Stereo Worxxx either sounds like a less obnoxious World Of Fantasy or a more Player-friendly version of World Of Fantasy. As someone who hated World Of Fantasy, this new Capsule album is a big improvement, albeit one still bogged down by Nakata’s obsession with the sort of “coolness” he can’t harvest as a producer in Perfume.

I don’t want to talk about that, though. Let’s talk about supermarkets and pachinko parlors.

When you picture either establishment, what sort of music do hear? When I go grocery shopping, I’m usually met with chintzy Muzak imitating the pop hits of today or actual pop songs, albeit ones leaning towards acoustic, feel-good pap. As for pachinko, I can’t even imagine what music they play inside those, because my experience with such joints (fun fact, I currently live three minutes from one such establishment, and always walk by it after grocery shopping) is pure noise. It’s the oppressive sound of metal balls smacking against various doo-dads, which in turn trigger all sorts of electronic howling that should be investigated by the United Nations. Once, I saw a guy trying to play a concert on the floor of a crowded parlor. That most of been a horrible show.

I bring this up because the night “Step On The Floor,” the joyful pop heart at the center of Stereo Worxxx, hit the Internet, I saw two Tokyo producers talking about Nakata’s work on Twitter. One noted how “bad” a producer he was because his music isn’t dynamic (a fair point, more on that in a bit) and the other dude agreed. One called it “supermarket music” while the other argued it was “pachinko music.”

Thing is, they are right about the “dynamic” part. Nakata’s work in Capsule has always sounded like one steel cube of noise, pushed as loud as can be without turning into Merzbow. He’s only gotten less dynamic over the course of 13 albums. Capsule’s songs don’t benefit from being heard in headphones, and they are really simplistic.

Now here’s my contentious point – who cares?

What bugged me about this Twitter exchange wasn’t so much the position of Capsule’s music being bad – something something opinions – but rather the air of superiority leaking out of those posts. They might be right about the dynamics (or lack of) in Capsule’s work, but people don’t just approach music as homework, a music theory textbook cracked open to accompany every new download. People come to music as an escape, as a way to connect to something emotionally, to just have fun sometimes. Capsule excels at that stuff. If I heard this playing while I bought milk or played slots I’d be fucking ecstatic.

Take the opening two track on Stereo Worxxx, “Feelin’ Alright” and (especially) “Never Let Me Go.” They are the strongest one-two punch Capsule has constructed in a while, yet neither do anything particularly groundbreaking for the duo. The prior mashes guitar with X-Wing-worthy laser blasts with what could very well be digitized butt sax. The latter coasts on reheated Daft Punk noises and some other uncomplicated sounds, peaking with a pretty simple chorus courtesy of Kojima. Writing that out doesn’t sound fun, yeah? But Nakata arranges everything just right on both tracks so that they are at maximum catchiness and impact. “Never Let Me Go,” in particular, ends up being the highlight of Stereo Worxxx because of the pacing, those uncomplicated (but catchy!) grooves building up to Kojima’s big moment. And what a moment – the chorus might be super simple (“never let me gooooooo”) but hits at just the right time and is delivered so well (obligatory “Kojima is great” note) that Capsule manages to wring a lot of pleasure and emotion from something so simple. I bet it sounds even better at 3 A.M. with some tequila hit back.

The highlights of Stereo Worxxx milk this ability to peak at just the right time well. That’s why “In The Rain” ends up the worst song here – the climax doesn’t justify the build up at all. The other dicey moments come from the songs that could be World Of Fantasy holdovers, like “Motor Force” which imagines the soundtrack to the level where Mega Man has to fight Nightclub Man. Yet the other club-centric moments tend to improve on last year’s miscues – “Tapping Beats” would be unbearable at five minutes, but thankfully it’s just over three, saying everything it needs to and then bowing out. Even the hate-bait that is “Dee J” is totally tolerable, mainly because the sample of a baby is just of a cute baby rather than (what I initially feared) a crying one. That’s good editing!

Include the two big pop efforts (the still-great “Step On The Floor” and the slow-burning “Transparent”) and you have a pretty good album from a duo who have released 13 (!) albums to this point, and for good reason. Strangely enough, it parallels the state of mainstream American rap. Rick Ross’ music is similarly far from dynamic – big ugly beats that would make a backpacker vomit – but he’s poised to be the biggest rapper of the year because he does stuff like “B.M.F.” perfectly…and a song like that is a thrill to listen to and shout along with. Wacka Flocka Flame has achieved similar success with this sound, while Gucci Mane’s entire career has revolved around rapping over ugly Casio beats. Capsule sounds nothing like that…though Nakata should try making rap beats just for kicks one day…but his big bleating sound works in a similar way.

So that’s Stereo Worxxx – a pretty good, uncomplicated album that might not be a producer’s fantasy. If you don’t like it that’s cool, but don’t castigate those who do. OK, I’m off to the supermarket to get some bread.