Aira Mitsuki x Saori@Destiny: Park of the Safari

CD, D-Topia Universe (2011)

Both Aira Mitsuki and Saori@Destiny emerged blinking into the light in that brief period following Perfume’s transition from underground idol wannabes to bona fide mainstream pop phenomenon when it seemed as if technopop was going to be big. Songs like Aira Mitsuki’s Colorful Tokyo Sounds No.9 and China Discotica seemed designed to sweep in riding Perfume’s slipstream. However, when the gates to pop stardom subsequently clanged shut behind Kashiyuka, Nocchi and A-chan, both singers went through a period of transition, embracing the plastic sounds of technopop that Perfume had started to abandon after Linear Motor Girl and pushing the techno angle of their music in a more frantic direction.

To be honest, Mitsuki’s rather fine Robot Honey aside, none of it was that striking, the tunes not really catchy enough to work as pop, and the techno elements too tacky to really function as credible dance music either. Bearing that in mind, it’s a pleasant surprise to find that this collaboration between Mitsuki and Saori@Destiny is probably the best thing either of them have done.

There’s nothing revolutionary in here, but there’s plenty of interest. The thundering beats and cheesy 80s hair metal guitars that kick off first track Gate or Exit make an arresting opening statement, with the saccharine sweet vocodered vocals offsetting it in a gaudily effective way. Discovery is in more familiar territory, although the synths and beats continue to do their own melodramatic thing in the background. Curiously, it also borrows the same stock vocal sample around which Yasutaka Nakata built capsule’s The Time is Now.

Panama is probably the best straight pop moment on the album, with the sort of breezy chorus and sweet chord progression along with which one can imagine crowds of technopop fans doing that strange choreographed arm waving thing they do (the one that always makes them look like they’re in a cult, you know the one) and a fine piece of work it is too.

Of the two solo tracks on the album, Mitsuki’s Umbrella sounds like it should be a straight idol song, with its comedy pratfall timpani recalling Aya Matsuura’s superior Yasuharu Konishi-produced Ne~e. The trouble with idol music is that it’s not just the idol’s image that you’re selling but also their character, and while hiding Aira Mitsuki’s voice behind autotune works for as long as she’s a sci-fi robot barbie doll, in this song it reinforces the former at the expense of the latter. It’s the kind of song that needs to display the singer’s real voice in all its amateurish glory.

Saori@Destiny’s solo offering, Last Song, comes over like a Perfume B-side from about five years ago, with its grinding synth intro recalling Perfume’s Game and the main song’s disco pulse hinting at Electro World. It’s not as good as either song, but it works on its own terms as a pleasant enough dreamy electropop song.

It’s far from a perfect album though. Ballads, or indeed slow songs of any kind, rarely ever work in this genre since they rely on making an emotional connection that the cyberpop sheen actively works against, and the cheesy Euro-thump of closing number Special Link (the theme song from the computer game Soul Master) suggests that both singers’ work is still stuck appealing to a specialised and predominantly otaku-based audience. Nevertheless, for all its clumsiness and rough edges, Park of the Safari seems to offer a step forward for both Saori@Destiny and Aira Mitsuki if not in terms of widening their audience, at least in terms of musical diversity and quality.

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