Tag Archives: Yasutaka Nakata

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┬áis 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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Perfume: JPN

CD, Tokuma (2011)

This Japan Times review of idol trio Perfume’s latest album proved a bit controversial, with some J-pop fans angry at me for comparing them to Girls’ Generation, which seemed like a reasonable comparison to make since both groups released electropop-influenced albums in the same market in the same year, with broadly similar first week sales (Girls’ Generation sold a few tens of thousands more I think, but both comfortably cracked 200,000 units sold in their first week).

Other fans were angry at me for the heinous crime of not being “objective”. For their benefit, I took the liberty of providing them with a handy fill-in-the-gaps objective music review that they can use for future releases. Another guy was upset because I treated the album as if producer Yasutaka Nakata was the only important thing about it and didn’t give credit to the talents of the girls themselves, who he believed were being stifled by their parasitical producer.

Anyway, suffice to say I don’t think JPN is all that great, although that said, it’s still better than any other Japanese album that sold more than 200,000 copies in its first week in 2011.

Perfume: Natural ni Koishite

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Strange Boutique (September 2011)

My September column was an extended version and more of an interview than just me ranting about something. I’d interviewed Yasutaka Nakata of capsule and Perfume fame earlier in the year and his latest project, producing Harajuku model-turned-idol Kyary Pamyu Pamyu had made a big splash over the summer with the song Ponponpon. For those of you who have been living in a cave these past few months, here’s the video:

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: Ponponpon

Anyway, as it turns out, she was a pretty interesting person herself and certainly came across a bit more imaginative than the usual cookie cutter idol singer does. Whether or not this actually translates into genuine independence is hard to tell. Her management and label seemed to give her a fair amount of space while we were talking, but there was always someone hovering around, and they were very concerned that her real name not be mentioned, which seems an odd thing to care too much about given the role of the Internet in her promotion. Anyway, she remains pretty much the only new, exciting thing in J-Pop, so let’s enjoy her while she lasts.

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