One of my new year’s resolutions was to listen to some more Japanese music, and until now this had only consisted of Hikaru Utada and Ayumi Hamasaki, two megastars of the J-Pop world. My problem is that I don’t know where to start with anything else. Fortunately, an amazing girlband just keeps popping up, Perfume.
I first encountered them on a flight back from Tokyo; there was a half-hour show of pop videos I could watch. Most of it didn’t do anything for me, but Perfume’s “Spring of Life” came on and I was totally blown away. Some time afterwards, a friend suggested I listen to them, and showed me a few other tracks, mostly earlier ones. Even later, Perfume were selected as Japan’s representatives at the ABU TV Song Festival, singing “Spring of Life”. I decided these needed to be the next act I look at.
They made their name with ultra-modern electropop songs, twinned with complex dance routines, working up through the ranks of the J-Pop world. They started on an independent label, before getting picked up by a major, and eventually breaking through after exposure on a TV advert. It’s been an upward spiral since there, and they’ve now established themselves as one of Japan’s premier electro-pop band, with a string of hit singles and albums over the past 5 years. A little randomly I’ve ended up with their 2nd studio album, “Triangle”, but I’m sure to investigate the others in due course.
09 Take off – A gorgeous floaty intro to the album, at a slim 49 seconds. I love a good countdown to kick things off!
09 Love the world – A seamless flow from the intro, and a cute plinky-plonky intro with some 80s-tinged synths in the background. I really love the sound of this, their production just hits my buttons. The vocals on the verses are a bit monotone, but the choruses are really cute.
09 Dream Fighter – The vocodered vocals are a regular feature, but there’s more of a melody in this one. It’s really cute pop music, with a relentless beat, and a surprisingly fitting bit of deep buzzing bass in the mix too. The bridges are so sweet too, and they just highlight how catchy the choruses are. Lovely!
10 Edge (⊿-mix) – My god, I am so into this. This harsh buzz of synths through it give this amazing dark sound to the track, and as the different layers of production flow into each other, it’s just incredible. Please watch the video at the bottom of this review, I think it just sums Perfume up as an act – killer dance moves, ultra-modern music, seamlessly interactive visuals, it’s just the future. It’s like the dirtiest electropop hits I’ve ever loved, but BIGGER. That little respite in the middle breaks things up nicely. I mean for God’s sake, this track is 8 minutes long, it’s nothing short of amazing to keep this level up for so long. OMG I forgot about the freaky ghost-electro moment at the halfway point, what’s that? LOVE IT!
09 Night Flight – Oh time to calm down after that excitement, right? Well, not really. If anything the tempo accelerates! This is a lot more 80s-influenced, but it’s just a rush. GOD I LOVE THIS ALBUM. OK the melody is all over the place, and a little monotone in the same way “Love the world” was, but I love the little synthy interludes. Then there’s a real change for the last third, it just goes all crazy lo-fi for a second. Lovely.
07 Kiss and music – Finally slowing things down, for something I can only describe as electro RnB – is that a thing? The robotic vocals are still in force, but the production is a lot more minimal. It’s got that nice futuristic feel to the bits between choruses and verses, but it’s perhaps a bit of a shock after the high energy tracks before it. Fortunately it’s a lot shorter than any other tracks, so it’s over quickly.
08 Zero Gravity – The tempo picks up a little, but it’s relatively laid-back still. Or at least for the cruise-ship intro, the BPM amps up shortly after. It’s still quite a gentle track, the production’s not nearly as spiky at the first half of the album. In that sense it loses a bit of the impact, but it’s still nice to listen to. The bridges have a really infectious little sample loop, and the bits after the choruses are pretty cute.
09 I still love U – Ah, there’s that sound! The edge creeps in again, and there’s a foundation of quite harsh and heavy electro beats in there. But then there’s a veneer of 90s J-Pop over the top of it. As an Ayumi fan, this feels like a familiar sound. Actually despite the modern beats underpinning it all, this is a bit of a cute throwback to an earlier time of J-Pop, and I love it! The bits after the choruses particularly are amazing (there must be a name for those bits!).
08 The best thing – Wow, that intro just grabs you from the first second – a rapid-fire shuddering beat with a strong pop melody. That might be the best bit of it, as the verses and chorus are a smooth mix, but a little more relaxed than some of the tracks I’ve heard so far. It’s a great coherent track, but it’s missing something to take it to the next level.
08 Speed of sound – What’s that, some bongo drums? Interesting change there, and the percussion is definitely a new addition to an album that relied heavily on synthetic beats (not that the drums aren’t synthetic too!). Actually they make way for an unusual track, it’s got that Latin vibe to it, but it’s almost like an extended interlude. Hardly any vocals, just some regular chanting – it’s not a countdown but sounds similar. An odd track on this album, but it’s got a great energy to it.
08 One room disco – One of the bigger singles now, and doesn’t that intro just remind you of some old 8-bit game like Streets of Rage? Love it. The body of the song is a little sweeter though, as the fun video demonstrates. It’s perhaps a bit basic in structure, and possibly a track too many with so many cute tracks like this already on the album. But that chorus is pretty great too.
07 Negai (album mix) – A piano? It’s almost a surprise to hear anything like a normal instrument on here! But no, even Perfume can’t resist the apparent J-Pop tradition of finishing practically any album with a ballad. Not that it’s not a nice ballad, it certainly has its nice bits, but I think it shows that Perfume have a comfort zone that doesn’t include slow tracks. The vocals are still heavily filtered, and while that feels totally acceptable in a high BPM dance track, it just sounds a bit strange here. The production builds up nicely to the end, but I think maybe it’s not the best fit for the group.
Well what can I say? I probably look like I’ve totally overmarked this album, and perhaps in places I have, but that first half really is amazing – or at least it’s exactly what I want from this type of pop music. It makes me very excited to hear what the other albums are like, and particularly their upcoming album that includes my favourite “Spring of Life” track.
Keepers for the iPod: Take off, Love the world, Dream fighter, Edge, Night Flight, Zero Gravity, I still love U, The best thing, Speed of sound, One room disco