Mid-year Review: 2016 in Japanese Music

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We’re in the middle of June (actually heading towards the end of the month), and so I decided to make a recap of the most noticeable music the Japanese Music Industry offered to us in this first half of 2016.

I can’t deny it: these six months were pretty good in terms of new music. For several reasons, including being introduced to certain niches of the Japanese industry, there have been quite a few records that I enjoyed a lot, only framed by a few disappointments here and there. Let’s start with the good side.


The Good

There have been some very interesting surprises in the last six months, and some (predictably) great albums as well. First off, Seiko Oomori‘s relentless, and sometimes genial TOKYO BLACK HOLE, is a great collection of heartfelt and well crafted tracks, who gather an impressive number of influences and puts them under Seiko’s magnifying glass, with an enjoyable and various output as result. With this great piece of work, Seiko ultimately elevated herself as relevant and influential figure of today’s J-pop scene, a status that will become even clearer in the coming months. J-rock outfit Soutaiseiriron brought an equally brilliant record with Tensei Jingle, by far the album I enjoyed the most this year, thanks to a perfect flow and light-hearted vibe that make me come back on these colorful tracks on a daily basis; Definitely one of the most enjoyable and rewarding records of this year and, on a personal level, one of the best ones since I discovered the Japanese scene six years ago.

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Fully deserving a place in my personal ranking, Bokutachi no Iru Tokoro.‘s Gomi is yet another great piece of J-rock that’s worth all your time, with great accessibility and masterfully crafted compositions. Shifting to a completely different genre, Hiromi Uehara’s record SPARK, enriched by the contribute of bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Phillips, is another gem not to miss, where the piano singer graces us with Jazz-y and pleasantly melodic tunes that could brighten the darkest of days.

From the Japanese Indie sphere, a niche I’m still very new to, the acts that surprised me the most are Indie-pop/Rock outfits Acidclank and CRUNCH: the first recently released an EP composed by two wonderful tracks that made my mind fly all the way to Tokyo (this is how you conquer me), while the latter released an interesting collaboration with American track-maker Alex Ruby, that led me to the group’s remarkable Blue Blue Blue EP (this one released in 2015).

Deserving a paragraph on its own, the biggest surprise of 2016 so far definitely came from FAMM’IN, a unit composed by Avex artists FEMM, Faky and Yup’in, three acts that I consider mediocre at the best. Still, the newly born unit released what is without a doubt one my most looped tracks right now: circle is a deep, fresh and unpredictable trip through electronic elements, traditional Japanese instruments, enigmatic build-ups, unexpected trap beats, and distant atmospheric vocals. Describing this track with words could never give a proper idea of its nature, so the best way is just to enjoy it on your own.

On the Alternative Idol side of things, there have been quite a few interesting releases as well. Probably the hottest unit of the niche at the moment, BiSH continues to walk the road opened by their predecessors and pioneers BiS, with relentless and pop-ish influences merged with Punk rock/Metal, all packed in Fake Metal Jacket, a solid record filled with enjoyable tracks and live anthems that are making the group more and more popular by the day. In the meantime, Maison Book Girl proved once again their value with summer continue, a festival of acoustic layers and electronic bits that, despite not really bringing anything new to the table, it still manages to stand out as a very enjoyable record. Ultradark Idol Unit Necronomidol didn’t miss the opportunity to shine either, as the EP from chaos born brings back the group on track with well crafted tracks and masterful application of several influences, a needed (and much appreciated) effort following a record that split the fandom into two at the beginning of the year.

The not-that-good

Sadly enough, the two records that partly disappointed me belong to two of my favorite mainstream acts. First off, Perfume, that with COSMIC EXPLORER delivered a wave of mixed feelings to their fandom: It’s a nice record, but at the same time not consistent enough, especially considering the standards they always managed to keep up with in the last ten years: this album features some very good tracks, but suffers from a bad tracklist and rushed (and unnecessary) album mixes, that split the album between new convincing tracks and old singles treated in a not-so-convincing way.

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Of course, BABYMETAL’s METAL RESISTANCE is the second album that didn’t meet my expectations. I gave this record a 6.5, and after almost three months, I hardly see how I could have given this record a higher rating. As a BABYMETAL fan since 2011, I am indeed convinced this album is extremely overrated: Is it bad? No. Is it great? Neither. It’s overall quite nice, very good in a few occasions, and bad in others. The real problem though, lies in the exaggerated will of making this project sound as aggressive as possible, killing part of its nature and desperately pressing the accelerator, until the whole thing unavoidably crashed (Tales of the Destinies). No, this is not evolution: this is losing sight of things and blindly head towards a single direction. I admit it makes me sad to say this, especially because I’d still see them live everyday, and because From Dusk Till Dawn is one of my favorite tracks this year, but seriously, this whole album is not what the world claims. And to those saying I am a “first album elitist” (still laughing), I just can say that I can hear the difference between a masterful record and a mediocre one.

The Bad

Ayami Muto, the best solo Idol in recent years, has retired. Kyary didn’t.

Also, stupid scandals getting in the way.


– Alex

ELEVENPLAY delivers an outstanding performance at America’s Got Talent

I’ve already talked about Elevenplay in the past, the Audiovisual project led by a team of talented artists that includes MIKIKO (Perfume’s choreographer and stage director) and Daito Manabe from Rhizomatiks (also collaborating with Perfume). Their live performances are nothing short of impressive, and anytime I see a new video from them, I can’t help but feel like I’m on another planet.

Surprisingly, these beautiful girls and their team appeared in the globally famous talent show America’s Got Talent. I honestly don’t like this kind of show, but seriously, who cares… these guys killed it, and shown something the people in the audience probably never saw before. Watch the video above to see what I’m talking about.

As they’ve been doing for quite a while now, the performance features drones and performers dancing and moving to music in perfect synchronization, in an exhibition that literally blown away the judges and everyone in there.

It’s honestly amazing to see a beautiful and particular project like this one getting such a huge global exposition, and it makes me genuinely happy for all of them. Hopefully, this will bring to more appearances and performances overseas for this project, as the world needs to see this kind of exhibitions.

It’s projects like Elevenplay that makes me love Japanese artists like nothing else in the world, and I can’t wait to see more amazing performances from this team. Just beautiful.

– Alex

 

Perfume – COSMIC EXPLORER | ALBUM REVIEW

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Release Date: April 6th 2016
Format: CD
Number of Editions (3): Regular Edition (CD only), Limited Edition (2CD + DVD), Limited Edition (2CDs + Blu-Ray)


A Cosmic conflict.

Right after the astonishing Dome Tour in 2013, many were starting to wonder how long Perfume would have continued their career after all these years and milestones proudly achieved. Indeed, the three girls from Hiroshima could have just easily called it quits and relax, but following their hardworking instincts and passion, they instead decided to keep going on through another stage of their story, performing in Japan twice for their “Gurun Gurun Tour” and 15 Years Anniversary celebrations and touring overseas for the third time, with a successful U.S. live debut particularly worth of mention. It’s a fact that Perfume is still hot, surely not as they were back in their GAME/Triangle momentum, but still more than relevant in the mainstream scene. But most of all, they’re still one of the best artists when it comes to deliver genuinely enjoyable Techno-pop music.

The trio’s new studio album COSMIC EXPLORER reinforces this opinion, as catchy melodies and Dance beats permeate most of the fourteen-tracks present in here, occasionally flirting with EDM influences under the crystal clear production of their historical producer/hitmaker Yasutaka Nakata. Despite the mixed feelings about the various singles composing this era (that take half the space in this record) the direction in this album is clear, standing in between the J-pop softness of JPN and the Techno/EDM euphoria of LEVEL3, comfortably taking advantage from these two approaches the group mastered over the years.

Despite adopting familiar sonorities, this record partly offers a previously unheard vibe due to a different approach applied to the classic formula that formed the musical identity of the group in the post-Tokuma era, with a noticeable focus on instrumental sections and vocals: The space-inspired vibe of the title track COSMIC EXPLORER is a prime example of this new approach, with synths reminiscing of the early Yellow Magic Orchestra works based on a standard structure that emphasizes each part clearly, showcasing an almost unusual focus on every section, offering a more mature approach for the Perfume standards, and a very enjoyable as well. A similar formula is followed by Next Stage with YOU, kicking off with a funky guitar coupled by the classic Nakata soothing bass (reminding of the pre-2010 capsule works) followed by a chorus emphasized by catchy vocals melodies, and despite diving too much into the instrumental side that can lead to boredom on the long-term, it remains a pretty nice listen, even though a better balance between sections could have made it better. Baby Face follows the same pattern but in a more balanced and thoughtful way thanks to a worth mentioning arrangement, successfully bringing cute and sweet vibes without interrupting the Dance-ish flow of the record, also exposing one of the constant elements of this album which is the use of vocal extensions.

Always present in the recent forms of the Perfume sound, EDM too finds its fair share of space in this record, and while the input from western artists is clear, almost every EDM inspired track here (excluding the hard-hitting Trance vibes of STORY) features that touch of the Nakata productions to distinguish it from the club bangers populating the western charts: The dreamy Miracle Worker is the prime example of this approach and one of the best tracks on the record, featuring fresh synths and addicting joyful melodies built around a simple verse/build up/instrumental structure: Nothing technically outstanding, but it works wonderfully, and it’ll be a sure favorite for all the lovers of recent Perfume compositions, that will probably appreciate the FLASH album-mix as well, that fixes the flaws of the original version by adding a drop and enriching it with a more consistent arrangement. It’s genuinely nice to see these tracks coming out as well done representation of EDM-influenced Perfume tracks, and along with all the other new numbers featured here, they successfully represent the personality of this album.

Or, more precisely, what this album could have been in its entirety. Indeed, if pretty much all the new tracks do the job fine, the already released seven tracks all stacked up in a row in the second half of the album sadly come into conflict with the new material. It’s no secret that the Perfume singles released in this era were of mixed quality, and except for that pop masterpiece that goes by the name of Pick me Up and the B-side TOKIMEKI LIGHTS, all the remaining tracks feel out of place, creating an annoying stylistic gap: One moment you’re listening to an album focused on instrumental sections, uplifting vibes and melodic vocals, and a few tracks later you’re into the shallowness of STAR TRAIN, Sweet Refrain and Hold your Hand. What’s even worse, this would have been a much easier issue to face if the album mixes featured here weren’t even a bigger problem, as most of them barely have any sense: While the intent is to clearly sacrifice the original vibes to give these tracks a rhythm-boost to fit the album, messy results like the Cling Cling mix and some unnecessary ones like the Sweet Refrain revisitation genuinely make wonder if all of this was really necessary. The treatment reserved to these tracks is rushed and badly organized, from the mixes, to the choice of the B-sides, and even the order they’re placed in the tracklist, as shown by a simple yet decent number like Relax in the City, that suffers from its placement after three relatively calm tracks, unavoidably losing charm in the album’s progression.

With twelve tracks released throughout four singles in almost three years, Perfume had all the necessary material to choose the right numbers and make them fit into the album’s context, and it’s a shame they chose some of the less appropriated ones and just thrown them in a completely random order in unnecessary revisitations, and sadly enough, it’s a mistake that unavoidably compromises the overall flow and cohesiveness of this record. An avoidable misstep for sure.

All in all, COSMIC EXPLORER is an album with several good tracks: The new compositions showcase a consistent and refreshing approach thanks to the focus dedicated to instrumental sections and vocal melodies, pleasantly spacing from the group’s EDM-ish side to more deeply structured numbers, while old tracks like the hit Pick me Up and TOKIMEKI LIGHTS fit the album greatly. Sadly enough, the lazy way the rest of the already released tracks have been managed prevents this album from being a totally cohesive work, staining its flow and making it less enjoyable when taken in its entirety. Nonetheless, COSMIC EXPLORER delivers various enjoyable moments that all the Perfume fans will appreciate, while newcomers may want to take a look at the trio’s previous works to get a more consistent portrait of the group.

Vote: 7.5 / 10


Tracklist

01. Navigate
02. COSMIC EXPLORER
03. Miracle Worker
04. Next Stage with YOU
05. STORY
06. FLASH (Album-mix)
07. Sweet Refrain (Album-mix)
08. Baby Face
09. TOKIMEKI LIGHTS (Album-mix)
10. STAR TRAIN (Album-mix)
11. Relax In The City
12. Pick Me Up
13. Cling Cling (Album-mix)
14. Hold Your Hand

– Alex

 

Perfume release short MV for FLASH, features lightsabers, but only for hardcore fans

Techno-pop legends Perfume released earlier the short version Music Video for FLASH, their newest track released digitally a few weeks ago that kinda split the fandom for… no reason, since it’s what they’ve been doing for a while.

The MV is your typical “indoor” Perfume video, focusing on the girls in beautiful black outfits dancing and doing martial art moves with a few – but functional – CG effects: The whole thing is simple yet very classy, and the dark color palette kinda reminds the oppression of the Spending all my Time MV, which is definitely good. A sneak peek of the full MV has surfaced on a Japanese TV program, showing the trio enriching the dance with lightsabers (traditions are important) while showcasing their outstanding dance skills as usual. Bless the Twelve I’m part of the chosen ones that pre-ordered the Limited Edition with the Blu-Ray, so I will be able to enjoy the video in its full version, while all the other fans will look at me enviously, cause no thing such as the Internet, Full MVs and 1080p exist if you don’t get the most expensive version.

The track is a Techno/Dance number with a few EDM build-ups opening the way to a catchy chorus, and while structurally it surely sounds a bit rushed, I think it’s very enjoyable and does the job right, even though I’m expecting more depth in the upcoming album mix.

Perfume will drop their new studio album COSMIC EXPLORER on April 6th, and you can expect a review of it here on my blog on the release date, so stay tuned!

– Alex

The Audiovisual Art of Elevenplay and Rhizomatiks

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In the live context, on-stage performers are naturally the ones who always get the most credit from fans and followers. But in certain areas of the industry, these artists, while undoubtedly showing a certain talent in front of the audience, most of the times showcase a concept that couldn’t possibly be brought to life without the work of all the creators working behind the scenes, that while are surely recognized, sometimes are not able to show their pure and genuine artistic vision. And so, sometimes (alas, rarely) these creators gather together to create a more direct and completely uninfluenced experience entirely powered by their talent, taking the role of stars of the show and exposing a genuine artistic output of their creative talent.

One of these is Elevenplay, a project created by well-known choreographer/stage director MIKIKO, the mastermind behind the dances of groups of the likes of Perfume, BABYMETAL, Sakura Gakuin, Ayami Muto, and many other relevant acts of the Japanese Music Industry. Displayed by a unit of professional dancers performing on stage, Elevenplay’s main purpose is to show top notch technology applied to music and dance, where visual art team Rhizomatiks gives a constant and outstanding contribute to make these performances absolutely stunning, with globally acclaimed artist/programmer Daito Manabe supervising the project together with MIKIKO.

What makes Elevenplay special is the genuine artistic nature of it, and the innovation it brings in the audiovisual field with genial concepts and stunning performances. Basically, it’s the reason why Japan stands out in the world for technology and innovation in live shows: In front of jaw-dropping numbers featuring girls performing and communicating with iPads, dancing in perfect synchronization with programmed drones, and many other technologic wonders fusing with dance and music, Elevenplay is one of those projects that delivers a stunning showcase of these artists’ talent and something you won’t find anywhere else in the world. It’s one of the best artistic outputs from this country, and it’s simply the best Japan has to offer in terms of Audiovisual art.

You can enjoy some performances from Elevenplay down here, and also on the two YouTube channels managed by the group and by Daito Manabe (I highly suggest to watch all of them). This is the real potential and reason why I love the Japanese scene so much, and I’m sure you will love it as much as I do. After watching these jaw-dropping performances, be sure to leave your impressions down here in the comments!


Elevenplay (Audiovisual artistic project from MIKIKO, Daito Manabe and Rhizomatiks)

– Alex

The mysteries behind Perfume’s “Spending all my Time”

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Sometimes I need a break from all the new music my ears absorb everyday, and despite being one of the things I love the most in my work, I think our “favorite artists” perfectly fit in this need of laying down with familiar sounds, which is basically the reason why yesterday I found myself watching the entire Perfume videography. I didn’t watch some of these Music Videos for years, and looking at them again I still feel that unique sensation you get when discovering something special, representing a pleasant and much needed revisitation imposed by the fact that my favorite artists are the ones I listen to the less. While this may surely sound like a contradictory statement, I’m convinced that an artist permanently looped every single day kinda loses its charm, at least in the way we perceive it once our ears get overly used to it.

And so, while browsing Perfume’s YouTube channel to watch their most recent videos, I stumbled upon 2012’s hit Spending all my Time, second single under Universal Music and the one that divided the entire fandom for its western sound and notorious repetitiveness. Despite loving overly repetitive compositions (‘sup Daft Punk) at first I couldn’t enjoy this track as I was failing in finding a real meaning in it, but once I listened to a decent quality of it (e.g not a radio rip) and finally watched the Music Video, I totally fell in love with it.

The video in particular is the main reason why the artistic value behind Spending all my Time was and still is so stuck in my head today: It’s hypnotizing, cryptic, mysterious, all qualities that are a magnet for the fans eager to understand the concepts behind a group. Just trying to grasp the several meanings and messages both these girls and their artistic team tried to convey blows your mind, and shows not only the talent of Team Perfume, but also the artistic power of visuals applied to music, a field where the three girls from Hiroshima represent Japan’s finest.

This song and its music video were released shortly after Perfume announced their label shift and finally opened to the world, releasing their singles globally other than finally being present in Social Networks, all basic actions denied after years under a label that helped them be the huge act they are today but also clipped their wings when they tried to avoid the stagnant routine of Japanese groups.

The Spending all my Time music video is (probably) the representation of their pre-Universal situation, and it’s made in such a cryptic and detailed way that after three years fans still haven’t completely figured out all the meanings behind this greatly shot video. Several interpretations of these looped (but slightly different every time) scenes have surfaced over the years, though: A-chan knocking and trying to open a locked door is seen as a metaphor of the girls’ will of spreading their music to the world yet finding themselves trapped inside a room, where the room itself is a metaphor of the dangerous stagnation of the artists’ routine in the Japanese market, that sees several acts struggling to spread their works overseas due to some labels’ rigidness. A-chan and Nocchi joining their hands can be interpreted as the will of getting in touch with their fans outside Japan, while Nocchi and Kashiyuka doing cryptic gestures with their hands to each other is seen as the impossibility to communicate with foreign realities due to language barriers. Kashiyuka’s hands movements destroying objects (pointing several times to her head) translate into the power of their music and love tearing down the barriers between different cultures, while her hand movements on the table and the consequent oppressive look at an imposing figure in front of her implies the will of “flying away” and adventuring into new territories denied by someone higher and more powerful than her (that can be interpreted as their previous label). Lastly, the scene where A-chan is making objects fly while staring at them is particularly interesting: I see these objects (the flower in particular) representing the identity of Perfume as one of the biggest and most influential groups in Japanese music, manipulated by A-chan as the founder of the group: In a particular scene, she’s sitting down with the flower floating in front of her while she’s looking the other way, a metaphor of A-chan acknowledging the power of what she created in her country yet still looking somewhere else (overseas) to then look back at the flower, showing the desire of expanding the project she created abroad.

There are more and more details to be analyzed in this video (the numbers on their arms, Nocchi’s powers, and so on) and yes, trying to find the real meaning behind this cryptic music video it’s genuinely funny. When music and visuals are merged with such synchronicity and offer a wide interpretation of an artistic output it’s not only pleasant and satisfying, but also a great representation of the group’s personality, conveying feelings in an indirect way to let the fans use their imagination and consequentially making them feel closer to the artist. It’s pretty fantastic.

Oh, and I’m glad they finally unlocked that door in the end.

– Alex

5 Beautiful Japanese Music Videos you need to watch

The Japanese Music industry can distinguish itself from the rest of the world for several reasons: Its huge dimensions (it’s the second biggest music market in the world), its variety, the innovative concepts several groups can deliver, and much more. One factor that should’t be ignored as well is the quality of these groups’ videographies, which averagely sets on high levels if compared to the rest of the world, and several Music Videos bring so much innovation and creativity within that you’ll be surprised and overwhelmed by all kinds of feeling, wether it’s happiness, melancholy or simply fun.

Here’s a list of five music videos that rank among the best the industry has seen in the last years, and I will post even more in future articles. Be sure to stay tuned, and enjoy these beautiful MVs and songs!


5. Sakanaction – Aruku Around

One of the classics from the band that conquered the Oricon charts and shown the world how to fuse J-rock and Electronic Music with elegance and mastery. Not only Sakanaction‘s music is accessible and elaborated, their music videos are all up to the quality of their tracks, and with Aruku Around the band from Sapporo enriched their videography with a one-shot video (meaning there isn’t any kind of montage or cut) that’s a continuous stream of surprising moments, where lyrics are emphasized by the interaction of frontman Ichiro Yamaguchi with everything that surrounds him. Joyful, funny and breathtaking, a must watch and a great song to get into this particular band.


4. toe – Goodbye

A beautiful, melancholic track and trademark tune from this excellent Japanese indie math rock band, the one that all their fans eagerly wait for when attending their concerts in Japan and around the world: Goodbye is a perfect representation of the toe sound, coupled by one of the very few Music Videos the band ever released, an impressive showcase of the stop-motion technique that’s second to no one, fitting the melancholic mood of the track greatly other than being one of the most particular videos you’ll ever have the pleasure to watch.


3. m-flo – All I want is you

While the Hip Hop scene in Japan is still waiting for its moment to truly come out and become accepted in the mainstream industry,m-flo are one of the rare exceptions that made this genre accessible to anyone thanks to the inclusion of electronic elements and female vocals, and one of their most famous tracks All I want is you brings one of the most fascinating Music Videos of the last years, whose message is clear: Despite being only one of billions of people in this world, we are all connected, and our life can change from one moment to another. An amazing video that will entertain you from the beginning to the end, every single second: A must watch!


2. Perfume – VOICE

The Techno-pop trio from Hiroshima is not only one of the most influent mainstream acts of the Japanese music scene, but also a quality guarantee when it comes to Music Videos: Bringing innovation, creativity and plain joy, Perfume‘s discography is one of the richest and most valid in the industry, and with VOICE the three lovely girls expose not only their cuteness and adorable personalities, but also the talent of the team of artists working behind the scenes that made A-chan, Nocchi and Kashiyuka’s talents reach stellar levels: A lovely and pleasant watch that will brighten your day!


1. Utada Hikaru – Sakura Nagashi

Utada Hikaru is an amazing singer and artist, and with the beautiful masterpiece that is Sakura Nagashi, she proved once again to Japan and to the world what she’s capable of, what stream of emotions her voice can still unleash inside of us despite the distance she voluntarily took from the music industry years ago. The emotions this song deliver are enormously emphasized by the Music Video, a beautiful montage of shots taken in nature and in other different places, focusing on heartbreaking moments in a crescendo of emotions that follows the vibe of the track perfectly, to the point you’ll find yourself in tears and realize how fragile we humans are. This is audiovisual art at its best, and no one other than Hikki could have delivered these strong emotions with such delicacy. Absolutely brilliant.

These were only five of the must-see Music Videos the Japanese music scene can offer, and more will come in my next article dedicated to this particular aspect of the industry.

What do you think about these videos? Did you like them? What are the MVs that deserve to be in this list? Be sure to leave a comment down below!
– Alex

Japanese Culture and Western Artists: When two worlds collide

Schermata 2014-10-27 alle 21.51.50The interaction between Western artists and Japanese culture and the way the first try to showcase the culture of the latter has been lately kinda superficial and sometimes even misleading, bringing to different critiques over the time. The most recent case is the infamous Avril Lavigne music video/song Hello Kitty, that literally unleashed a storm made of critiques and accusations towards the american singer where words like “racism” and “disrespect” came out. Going a little back in time we could also cite Gwen Stefani and her Harajuku Girls thing, but it’d be useless as the problem is totally the same: The superficiality and ignorance some western acts treat the theme of the Japanese modern culture.

What makes me and probably many fans of the Japanese Music Industry go insane (in a negative way) is the fact that artists with such a huge fame could seriously expose Japan’s culture and music in a proper and successful way and bring it to the global audience, something that would translate in more people getting interested in this huge music industry at the whole advantage of the artist itself that would gain more credibility. But still, some of them rely on the “WTF Japan” and “Oh look, that’s bizarre!” factors, purely born from their reluctance of properly understanding a completely different culture and society from theirs and using the most eye-catching factors of it as a toy to hide their irreparable lack of creativity and personality, which enriches the general and wrong opinion merely labeling Japan as “The Country of Manga and Anime”, something that makes all the Japan lovers go nuts as they all know that this country is way, way more than that.

Still, despite some of these artists being really famous, we’re luckily talking about isolated cases: Indeed, we can say that there have been many other acts that exposed the culture of the Land of Rising Sun in a proper and absolutely beautiful way.

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The first example that comes to my mind is Daft Punk’s masterpiece Discovery, an album featuring a concept created by the French duo along with legendary anime and manga creator Leiji Matsumoto, with a wonderful visual/audio experience as result that goes by the name of Interstella 5555, an amazing combination of top-notch electronic music and stunning animations. We could also cite Persefone, a Progressive Death Metal band that with their concept album Shin Ken narrated many aspects of the Japanese mythology and Shinto traditions with both aggressive and calm tracks featuring traditional Japanese instruments, with a stunning result full of pathos. Different but not less incisive events have been Lady Gaga’s choice of inviting globally successful artists like BABYMETAL and Vocaloid character Hatsune Miku to open her concerts in the United States, or Slipknot calling well known J-rock bands MAXIMUM THE HORMONE and MAN WITH A MISSION to join the lineup of their Knotfest 2014 event.

So while it may be fair to get really mad in front of certain situations and behaviors from some globally famous artists, we should not forget that many others are exposing the Japanese culture with love and creating excellent works influenced by this beautiful culture. Luckily, today another artist can be added to this list, and that’s the American alternative rock band OK Go.

The four guys from Los Angeles just released a new Music Video for the song I won’t let you Down in order to promote their fourth studio album Hungry Ghosts just released a couple of weeks ago. OK Go are a well known band for their innovative and creative Music Videos, and this time they went all the way to Japan to collaborate with some of the best names in the field, including Creative Director Harano Morihiro and Video Director Kazuaki Seki, that teamed up with the band’s singer Damian Kulash Jr.  (historical co-director of all the band’s MVs) to create something really unique, and the result is plain stunning.

This video has been recorded with a drone, and it’s a one-shot video: This means that there are no cuts, the whole thing has been recorded in just one continuous session. You can only imagine the absurd amount of work and organization behind all of this, and the concept reminds one of Kazuaki Seki’s works for J-rock/Electronic band Sakanaction, where the amazing MV for Aruku Around was a one-shot video as well: It’s the same technique and genial concept, just brought to a way higher level.

Fun fact: The three girls at the beginning of the video are the members of the popular Japanese Techno-pop unit Perfume, whose creative director is once again Kazuaki Seki.

Just look at all that beauty. Japan is everywhere in this video, and seeing a Western band embracing its culture and fusing it with their own music and concept is a joy for the eyes and gives hope for a future where Japanese and Western artists will work even more together, to the point where both will be globally recognized at the same level. We will then forget about all of those “artists” that abused of Japanese culture to try to look cool, and unavoidably failed.

– Alex

Perfume – Cling Cling | SINGLE REVIEW

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All the Perfume fans around the world have been waiting for new music from their favorite group for a long period of time now: Since the day the quiet but solid Sweet Refrain was released during last November, right before the beginning of the huge and successful 4th Tour in Dome LEVEL3, Perfume have been unusually quiet during the first half of this year, but still managed to work really hard behind the scenes: Not only they wrapped up the above mentioned sold out Dome shows and a small national tour featuring great japanese acts, they released a majestic Live Blu-Ray concert, a long awaited collection of music videos, and announced a new national tour for this summer and also the Perfume World Tour 3rd, that will see the three girls from Hiroshima traveling around the globe in three different continents for the first time, for another huge milestone that went from dream to reality.

Seeing all the things they did and planned this year despite the absence of new music, it’s no wonder why the fans have been more patient this time, and the long waiting has finally come to an end with Perfume’s twentieth major single Cling Cling, a release that definitely dragged attention not only for its heavy oriental influences in both the name and the art direction, but also for its particular structure: If you thought Spending all my Time‘s tracklist was a unique case in the girls’ discography, then you’ll probably go insane in front of Cling Cling: Four all new songs including relative instrumentals for a total of eight tracks and a bonus DVD for each version, for the biggest Perfume single ever released, to the point where it’s fair to ask if we’re in front of a very special single or a true EP.

However you consider this release it’s no doubt that there’s a lot of stuff going on, and with four new tracks and lots of different musical and artistic influences in each song there’s a lot to analyze to understand what approach our girls and their historical producer Yasutaka Nakata adopted for this special release, leaving us with a pretty difficult question: Was the eight months waiting worth it?

[A-SIDE] Cling Cling

The A-side of this single is also the most particular song of the entire package: Starting with the girls singing the chorus part, the sound develops towards a syncopated dubstep beat (a constant in recent Nakata productions) to then evolve in a house tempo, an alternation of rythms that characterizes the two verses of the song and give a nice variation of vibes for the whole duration of the track, between a slower and slightly melancholic feel and a more house/danceable vibe that will make your head bang; All of this is helped by synths and melodies that fill the entire composition marking even more each section of the song with unexpected variety if compared to the average Perfume track, with a various but consistent sound as result.

One of the biggest improvements in Cling Cling (and in each track of this single) resides in the vocals: Nakata, while still slightly altering the girls’ voices, make a way smarter and constructive use of their singing with a wider use of back vocals and extending them with benefits in the overall atmosphere of the song, especially in the slower parts, a detail that while it may not seem fundamental on the surface it is of primary importance in a song where the mood plays a huge role. Indeed the atmosphere in Cling Cling is a factor directly linked to the art of this single: The overall oriental influence is heavy and immediately noticeable both in the sound and in the visuals, and while the track can be generally considered catchy, it also shows many improvements and also what is possibly the new sound identity of Perfume: The song catches your ear immediately, but it’s also also deep and complex from a musical standpoint, it’s fast but also slow, it’s melancholic and happy, the singing is funny but also reflective in some parts: It’s the combination of two different approaches and moods combined together without compromising the overall flow and consistence of the song, also helped by a a standard but well thought structure that reaches its peak in the transition between the second verse and the last chorus, with a bridge that flawlessly leads the song to its final part. To make a simple comparison, it’s like fusing the mellowness of Sweet Refrainand the house/oriental-influenced vibe of Handy Man, and the result is nothing short of amazing.

Long story short, Cling Cling not only represents its status of A-side greatly, but shows a new side of the Perfume sound created by the fusion of different influences and helped by a smarter and now more influential singing by the girls, with a catchy yet complex song as result that’s worth every second of your time.

Hold your Hand

After the catchiness and the atmosphere brought by Cling Cling, it’s now time to relax withHold your Hand, which is the classic sweet and thoughtless song by Perfume that we all need from time to time. With a classic intro-verse-chorus structure, this track doesn’t actually do anything in particular to be an unforgettable piece of the Perfume discography, nor it pretends to be like it, a condition probably due to its tie to the NHK drama whereHold your Hand finds its place as main theme. Yet, despite its simpleness, it’s still a pleasant song to listen to, and while it doesn’t perfectly fit into the main context of this single, the cute melodies, the lovely mood and the sweet singing by the girls helped by the above mentioned smart use of back vocals give to this song a nice feeling, representing the right track when you’re in the mood for a thoughtless and easy listening track.

Because, let’s admit it: Between beat storms and dance masterpieces, we still need some cuteness once in a while, as Perfume is also a pop group. And Hold your Hand fits this role in a way too simple but still lovely way.

DISPLAY

The promised club anthem and tie-in for the new generation of 4K televisions created a huge hype around its dubstep beats and edgy synths (not to mention the masterful video editing work), and since the one and a half minute preview has been released more than a month ago every fan out there was legitimately waiting for a strong track to dance and headbang with: But the final result has been pretty different from what everyone was expecting, and not in a good way sadly. Just to be clear, the part of the song you’ve been looping for the last month is still there and yeah, it’s still one of the coolest things in recent Perfume productions: The vocals make everything epic, the beat is still hammering the way we love it, and the synths frame a musical portrait that’s neat and genuinely cool… The problem comes with everything that surrounds it.

Even though the song starts pretty well, everything that follows is pretty much inconsistent and plain boring: What you’ll find after the beginning is the same beat and melody that we’ve listened in the first seconds of the Panasonic commercial looped until the part featuring vocals and dubstep beats we’ve been loving in the last weeks kicks in: Repeat this another time, add a long and boring filler, and you have DISPLAY, a collage of the same thing repeated twice with no sense of a logical musical structure or entertainment that places this song far from techno anthems like Party Maker, Sleeping Beautyand Spending all my Time; Because while these songs are surely repetitive, they aren’t boring, and there’s a huge difference between being repetitive and being boring in music, and sadly DISPLAY finds its place in the second category. This will probably make mad those who where expecting something more from this song and instead got the same CM theme looped twice filled with the same beat over and over again, or make happy those who just want something cool to play when they’re in the right mood (and DISPLAY may fit such situations), but even them will probably get bored in front of such laziness and musical inconsistence where it’s hard to get a convincing impression. After all, you can’t save a song just by doing it well for barely half of it.

DISPLAY went from one of the most anticipated and exciting tracks of this single to the poorest one, and it’s a real shame since the expectations were pretty high and there were plenty of good reasons to be hyped for it. For the moment, it’ll be only a missed opportunity that may find justice in a future album mix and a song that makes sense from a mere promotional point of view, but not musically. A real shame.

Ijiwaru na Hello

After the bad surprise hidden in the previous song, what we would really need now is, well… a good and genuine Perfume song. AndIjiwaru na Hello is here to please our ears, as it can be definitely considered not only one of the best songs on this single but also one of the most convincing and lovely Perfume tracks in a while, and it’s like Nakata traveled with a time capsule back to the time where the pop side of Perfume was still reigning above the techno influences, and added a bit of its more recent composition style to it. Let’s forget about tie-ins, commercials and syncopated beats that lurk every corner of the industry, this is the Perfume sound everyone loves and made all the fans fall in love with these girls: Ijiwaru na Hello it’s shiny, upbeat, happy, it’s everything that you would expect from a group like Perfume. The structure and each section of the song are perfectly balanced and flow in a way that will make you listen to this song so many times you’ll even forget about the other tracks on this single, all framed by classic and not-invasive house beat, synths and shiny samples that make the atmosphere of this song funny and plain lovely, while the bridges after the choruses and the one leading towards the end of the song bring back the more electronic side of the girls’ sound without breaking the overall mood of the song, creating the right balance.

Ijiwaru na Hello is a track wisely developed that will satisfy all the Perfume fans out there and a great ending of a single that gave us amazing moments, but also raised a few eyebrows. There are many terms that could be used to describe this track, and all of them are positive, but the most appropriated would definitely be “Happy”.


Verdict

Perfume’s twentieth major single is a release that offers many great moments, but also a couple of doubts: There’s Cling Cling andIjiwaru na Hello, two tracks that represent the new sound of Perfume with all its improvements and the old fashioned tehcno-pop style in a modern key that it’s impossible not to love. And then there’s Hold your Hand andDISPLAY, two songs whose weak points reside in their nature of tie-in compositions, and while the first one can still deliver nice vibes in a simple structure, the second one totally fails in convincing from a mere musical standpoint despite its cool and edgy nature and a couple of well developed moments. All of this represents a clear will of experimenting and improving a formula that evolved and changed during the years without leaving behind the origins, but also a dangerous commercial influence that’s clearly present and heavier than ever in half of this single. This would normally result in a fifty-fifty verdict, but the greatness and maturity showcased in the first and last song cover the still acceptable second track and the chaos of the third one.

All in all, Cling Cling is a single that’s worth your time and money, and while you may not find much inspiration in the central tracks, all the rest is pure gold and talent, leaving a final impression that’s more positive than negative.

Vote: 8/10


Tracklist

1. Cling Cling
2. Hold Your Hand
3. DISPLAY
4. Ijiwaru na Hello
5. Cling Cling – Original Instrumental –
6. Hold Your Hand – Original Instrumental –
7. DISPLAY – Original Instrumental –
8. Ijiwaru na Hello – Original Instrumental –

– Alex

Perfume – LEVEL3 | ALBUM REVIEW

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Two years. Two long years have passed since the good yet not totally satisfying JPN came out, and many things have changed in the Perfume world since then: The label shift from Tokuma Japan Communications to Universal Music Japan and the foundation of the Perfume Records label,two World Tours that saw the girls performing overseas from the main capitals of Asia to the historical cities of Europe, the long desired opening of the WORLD P.T.A. Fanclub, the coming of Daito Manabe to the Perfume Team, two Live DVDs and the adoption of the Blu-Ray format, four singles that made discuss (both in positive and negative) the entire fandom, and last but not least, a closer interaction with the fans through social networks and a new Global Website dedicated to the fans around the world.

Two years, and a career that everyone thought was already at its highest peak got even higher and successful, expanding the horizons while maintaining the origins, without trading the soul for a bigger success.

And now we are, dealing with the result of many important decisions that made this period of the Perfume career extremely important, and this result is called LEVEL3. A new album that means a lot both for Perfume and their fans, carrying a heavy weight on its shoulders which is the necessity of proving that everything has changed for the better, that all the brave steps our girls took to fulfill their dreams once again were worthy and necessary to keep on living, showing that they could reach the Next Level even at the top of glory.

LEVEL3 is an album that is not afraid to express its nature in every second, and you can understand how things will go in this journey since the very first moment, when Enter the Sphere opens the gates of the album; Our ears get an immediate familiar feeling as theGlobal Website track starts to rock the speakers, and we can notice how this great composition has been tuned down a bit and enriched by more details and a proper structure to fit its main role of Introduction song. But the real surprise comes when the voices of A-chan, Nocchi and Kashiyuka reach our ears for the first time: “Enter the Sphere”, as our girls sing, is a clear reference of theiropening to the world they’ve already conquered in good part, while everything in the background is a pure cascade of techno synths and melodies. It’s a wonderful feeling, something that every Perfume fan was waiting for a very long time, and as we get used it a well done mix introducesSpring of Life in its album-mix version. A new groove introduces what is one of the best revisitation of this album, not only adding new electronic elements that finally make the song more coherent but also modifying its structure, mainly focused on the famoustechno bridge, now inserted at the beginning to make the transition with the first track flow better and extended during the bridge part to give the final electro touch to make the song finally flow the way it should have since the beginning, and it’s such a clear improvement that you’ll hardly come back to the single version after hearing this new mix.

After an exciting beginning, the journey continues with Magic of Love (album-mix), now elaborated to fit better in the contest of the album. The new melody created by Yasutaka Nakata is the highlight of this new mix, and its mellow mood will be there for most of the track’s length, replacing the more instrumentally complex parts and offering a calmer and slightly melancholic feeling smartly set up to make the listener ready for the first new track of LEVEL3, which is Clockwork. With a relaxing and calm vibe, this song is a good companion for the ears and the spirit, the typical track you want to listen when traveling or doing something you love to do, and even though the girls’ voices are more processed than the previous songs the melodic singing is enjoyable and enforces the simple yet lovely melodies of this song, making this thoughtless and pleasant track a must for your listening sessions. The fun goes on with the long anticipated promoting track of the album, which is the amazing 1mm that all of us already learned to love thanks to the 80′s vibeand the well known catchy chorus, featuring our girls’ voices as highlight of the show once again, making this song one of the catchiest ones of the album: No matter how many times you already played this track, your finger will just refuse to skip it… Something that maybe can’t be said for the following track, which is the controversial Mirai no Museum. As described in the single review back in February, this is not a bad track at all: It’s lovely, catchy and definitely well produced, the singing of the girls is clearer than ever and the instrumental fits the contest it has been created for perfectly, but sadly it’s a song that didn’t fit the role of A-side in the single as it doesn’t fit the role of middle-section trackin this album, and while it gains a little bit of exposure, it breaks the musical line that was going just fine until this moment. We’re talking about a clear mistake made some time ago of which we can see the reflection now, but looking at the bright side, this is probablythe only true issue of the entire album; Not a bad song, but it could have received a proper identity and more appreciation in the circle of the B-sides.

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Moving along we find ourselves right in the middle of the album, and you’d better get ready to throw away your Doraemon hat and hide your parents, your dog, your cat, your grandma and everyone around you, because Party Maker is going to destroy everything getting on its way. Let’s be honest: For many years most of the Perfume fans pretended “A song like GAME and Edge”, a track that could break the walls with a powerful bass and feature a dark vibe without losing the Perfume touch; Party Maker not only satisfies these requirements, it goes way further, it smashes through the boundaries of the Perfume sound and brings it to a higher pointwhere all the world can see it, where no one can ignore it. The continuos chord progressions, the fresh synths going on and the break preceding the brutal bass drop are literally an overload of unexpected and surprising feelings that will literally give yougoosebumps. It seems like Nakata got free of the chains he had for years and went into beast mode, bringing what everyone wantedto hear from Perfume since Triangle, doing it better than ever. Party Maker is a true piece of Techno/Dance music that is already the anthem of LEVEL3 simply because it couldn’t be otherwise, and the result is stunning.

Ok, you can bring all your loved ones back now that the storm is over. Why not relaxing with a sweet, tender song? Because Furikaeru To Iru Yo is just here, and it’s a lovely song you don’t want to leave for any reason. This is an interesting track to analyze: The beginning is delicate, almost traditional-sounding, until a dubstep beat coupled by a dark electronic synth makes its entrance in the track, surprisingly fitting the atmosphere greatly and leaving space to the sweet voices of the girls, proving once again the talent of Yasutaka Nakata as producer; This is also the song emphasizing the natural voices of the girls the most, that find home in the lovely instrumental well balanced between heavy beats and delicate melodies. This track warms your heart like a walk in the lovely street of Nippori or a hot matcha latte in a Starbucks during winter time. Lovely.

Now it’s time to get back on track with the party, and the B-side triplet Point /Daijobanai / Handy Man is one of the best representations of the musical flow that cross the entire structure of LEVEL3. Surprisingly matching the previous Furikaeru To Iru Yovery well, the Drum ‘n Bass groove and the colorful instrumental of Point surround the listener between heavenly sounds and the sweet singing of the girls, while Daijobanaibrings the fun back with its thoughtless melody and speed, guaranteeing a viral factor emphasized by the instrumental that plays with the girls’ voice (one of Nakata’s favorite games). After the glitchy effects ofDaijobanai, it’s time for her majesty Handy Man to take its place in the album, where arabic melodies mixed with western electro influences create one of the most addicting songs of this era, proving once again the variousness of this album. One hit after another, these great B-sides build an impressive wall of sound, convincing the listener of how this album is basically an unstoppable sequence of good quality songs.

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We’re reaching the end of the album, but there’s still a lot of good music to go through. The new Sleeping Beauty, introduced by a dragging dance intro, creates a dreaming atmosphere based on a classic dance beat and a flying melody supported by a synth that will make more than one fan remember the good old Butterfly, as the voices of the girls gently caress the instrumental constantly developing new melodies, and even though the synth in the central part might sound a bit too acute at first, this track grows through its length between chord progressions and the minimal yet enchanting singing of the girls, with a more than convincing result. Spending all my Time (album-mix) brings back the techno sounds after the dreaming atmosphere of Sleeping Beauty, and we can notice how this version takes a lot (almost everything) from the amazing Cannes Lions/World Tour 2nd version, adapting the structure to fit better the album concept in a nailed combination between the original version and the mix used for the mapping projection performances created by Rhizomatiks, bringing the very last Techno vibe of the album before the ending of this stunning journey called Dream Land. The ending track of LEVEL3 uses delicate sounds and instruments to lead the listener through the main part of the song made of alternated techno and dubstep beats, well balanced as usual, while the lovely voices of our girls fly on a classic Intro-verse-bridge-chorus structure, essential to guarantee the quiet needed after such a long journey made of heavy beats and wonderful melodies.

The moment has arrived: The volume goes down, the sound slowly disappears… this epic journey is over. But one thing is for sure:LEVEL3 will keep playing in our minds for a long, long time.


Verdict

The era preceding this album has been very particular and controversial, and no one had a clear idea of what to expect until the very last moment. But now that this long awaited album has finally arrived, there are no doubts anymore: LEVEL3 is a masterpiece not only of the Perfume discography, but also of the Techno-pop genre. It has some issues here and there, but we’re talking about details that could never ruin such a masterfully crafted product.

Everything is extremely well balanced, and all the new and old sides of the Perfume sound are here as witnesses of their long career; No matter if you prefer the cuter sounds, the most powerful beats or their more standard J-pop sound, all of these aspects are present in LEVEL3 and perfectly mixed together, maintaining a constant Techno/Dance soul that guarantees a clear personality to the entire album. You could blast your speakers at your home party thanks to songs like Enter the Sphere, Party Maker andHandy Man, or relaxing with Furikaeru to Itu Yo, Sleeping Beauty and Dream Land when you want to take a break and lay in your bed before sleeping. It’s an album that all the Perfume fans will love and a perfect opera to introduce new fans who want to discover the magic of this group composed by three talented and beautiful girls.

For many years we have used GAME and Triangle as terms of comparison when talking about Perfume albums. LEVEL3 emerges and reaches the same level of the old school Perfume classics and goes even higher, as expression of the Perfume sound at its best and pushing the boundaries further at the same time. After listening to this album it’s undeniably evident how these girls, after thirteen years of career, released their most mature and complete album, a milestone that not every artist out there can reach.

LEVEL3 is the past, the present and the future of Perfume, the perfect portrait of this group and of their long and successful career. It’s time to leave the past behind and realize that, right now, LEVEL3 is the best Perfume album out there.

Absolutely brilliant.

Vote: 9/10

Tracklist

01. Enter the Sphere
02. Spring of Life (Album-mix)
03. Magic of Love (Album-mix)
04. Clockwork
05. 1mm
06. 未来のミュージアム (Mirai no Museum)
07. Party Maker
08. ふりかえるといるよ (Furikaeru to iru yo)
09. ポイント (Point)
10. だいじょばない (Daijobanai)
11. Handy Man
12. Sleeping Beauty
13. Spending all my time (Album-mix)
14. Dream Land