Tag Archives: j-pop

Album: Perfume – “Fan Service ~ Prima Box” (2008)

I don’t want to run out of things to discover when it comes to my new favourite J-pop band Perfume, but after going to their gig in London, I immediately wanted to hear any other music I could find beyond their three studio albums. Fortunately, they have treated the fans well, and three compilation albums have been released. There is some overlap here, so for now I will start with a nice manageable piece.

perfume fan service prima boxReleased shortly before their 2008 debut studio album “Game“, “Fan Service ~ Prima Box” compiles together three singles released in the band’s early days in 2003 & 2004. Four of the tracks had already had a re-release as part of the “Perfume: Complete Best” album in the previous year, but I thought doing it this way would split the 16 collective tracks neatly in half. Continue reading

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Gig review: Perfume, O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 5 July 2013

Well I’ve never been to anything quite like that… true, I am free to throw out hyperbole like it’s going out of fashion because I really haven’t been to a mid-sized gig before, but don’t let that fool you. Perfume – one of Japan’s biggest pop/dance acts – took the unusual step of taking their “World Tour 2nd” to Europe for the first time, something practically unheard of with acts of their standing.

BObkdEYCEAElvxF.jpg largeTrue, why would they bother? The British charts’ involvement with Asian-language music begins and ends with Psy, so why not just stick to their power base? Indeed their first ‘world tour’ was a little more local – Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan & Singapore. But still they managed to sell out the 2,000 capacity O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire with adoring fans. So much so that the Empire was an upgraded venue after the O2 Academy Islington sold out in a flash. Continue reading

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Album: Perfume – “Game” (2008)

Only a week away from their first ever London gig, and I’ve finally caught up with J-Pop girl trio Perfume’s studio albums. I’m going in a weird order though, starting with 2009’s amazing “Triangle“, then 2011’s solid “JPN“. They’ve had a bit of a messy career to follow over a few labels, but this is their first proper studio album.

There are a bunch of singles before now that were compiled in the “Complete Best” album, but I’ll get to them another time – perhaps before the gig if I get to listen to them enough.

So how was “Game”? Still pretty listenable, but I feel like it didn’t quite have that magic ingredient they got for “Triangle”. Some of it is a bit samey and doesn’t really grab me. Then again, there are a few hot little numbers in there. Shall we DELVE? Yes, let’s…

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Album: Ayumi Hamasaki – “(miss)understood” (2006)

Wow, I really have been neglecting my Ayumi duties, haven’t I? It’s almost 6 months to the day since I wrote my review for “My Story”, so it’s high time to get through the next Ayumi album.

(miss)understood came at pretty much the peak of my Ayu fandom. It came off the back of the amazing “My Story”, and was heralded by another clutch of great singles. Of course, it could have done with a bit of a trim, weighing in at 16 tracks and 66 minutes, but for the most part it was a success. We’re getting to the end of the albums I’m familiar with now, as 2007’s “Secret” was perhaps the last one I gave much thought to. Hope I can break through to the other side and catch up.

08 Bold and Delicious – I remember thinking this was a completely bonkers single to launch the album with, and I suppose I still do. It’s still got a lot of charm, it’s just very strange. Clunky beats, tacky production, ridiculous “ya ya ya ya da da da da” lyrics. Then of course are the regular shouts of the song title that don’t really fit into anything. Really strange and certainly not one of her better singles, but I still have some love for it.

09 Step you – This is a lot more like it, the first single and she’s back on top pop form. A pretty typical mid-00s Ayumi pop single, lots of buzzing synthetic beats and beeps. That chorus really gets you though, and the “1,2,3,4” hook is instant. Love the video, love everything about the song. It’s missing something to put it up there with the all-time best singles, but it comes damn close.

07 Ladies night – A much dancier feel to this one, less outwardly pop but the production doesn’t feel out of place with the big singles. I just don’t think it compares so favourably to those singles, it feels like it needs more fleshing out. The verses are a bit sparse and lost in the production. The chorus is pretty low-key too. The video was alright but this was only OK for me.

08 Is this love? – The other A-side to Step You, kicking off the singles from this album. In contrast to the poppy and playful sound of “Step You”, “Is this love?” takes a rockier road. It’s got a lot of drama about it, the rock side is mixed quite heavily with synthy production, so it doesn’t really belong in either box. The chorus has punch, I like the melody. Just some of the “eeeeeee” notes grate a bit!

07 (miss)understoood – Time to chill out a bit now, as the first ballad gets underway. It’s a bit of a leap from “Is this love?” to begin with, but more guitars crash into the first chorus and the pairing of the two songs feels a bit more natural. I like the chilled-out verses, I think it benefits the song to have that contrast between those melodic verses and noisier choruses.

09 Alterna – This felt like a bit of a weird one when I first saw the video. Love that video, very strange but suits the song perfectly. Put as a b-side to second single “Fairyland”, it’s hard to think of two songs less like each other. This is J-rock more than J-pop, and for once we get a coherent and exclusively rocky track. It’s a bit stop-start, but I really like it, particularly with the little breakdown near the end.

08 In the corner – You’d be forgiven for thinking she’d totally abandoned the pop sound halfway through this album. But after some pseudo-vintage samples and a jaunty little melody, it breaks into a fairly poppy chorus. The verses are quite unusual really, not obviously pop but they blend really seamlessly into the choruses. Love the strings used on most parts of the track, and that intense little breakdown after 2 minutes.

08 tasking – As is traditional, we’ve got another Tasuku-produced interlude, which warms us up for the rest of the album. I have a lovely extended mix of this one. Love the strings, and how it builds over its brief 86-second duration.

05 Criminal – She’s barely audible on this piano-led swell of strings and atmosphere. I find this one a bit of hard work really, there’s nothing going on for the first half-minute, and then there’s a rather drawn-out chorus that’s a bit of a drag. That weird squealy guitar moment is a bit strange, and probably the most memorable bit of this snoozer.

05 Pride – The other side of the bombastic “Bold and Delicious” is certainly a change. It kicks off sounding like “Unchained Melody” or something. It’s just a dull one, I find it a real bore to get through. The only bit I really like is the outro, but maybe that’s because the song’s finishing.

08 Will – After the strange effect opening the track, we get a low-key ballad again, but that constant keyboard scale going on in the background really knits the song together. It’s quite an old-fashioned sounding track in the verses, like an old folk song. The chorus isn’t a big one but it builds quite nicely and all meshes together well.

10 Heaven – Now we’re talking, I think the video really made this one a classic for me. A really minimal ballad to start with, a few plinks and plonks breaking the silence like drops of water. Love the melody, and how the song gradually picks up more layers of production until you are left with a gorgeous love song. The breathy choruses with traditional instrument effects are beautiful, and there’s this incredible note of sadness under it all. The gorgeously simple one-shot video of Ayumi waiting for a train, surrounded by ghosts, it’s really the highlight of this campaign for me, and one of her all-time best ballads.

08 Are you wake up? – Prime bit of Engrish there, does nobody check this stuff before it’s printed? Fortunately it’s just an instrumental interlude, taking us from the uplifting melancholy of “Heaven” to a last burst of energy to finish off this album. It accomplishes that well, especially via a lovely synth-pop segment in the second half.

10 Fairyland – Another of the big singles, and I think the superior pop single of this album. A blissful paradise island is the setting for some fun in the sun in the video, apart from that bit where everyone nearly dies in a fire (!?). It simmers gently for the first few minutes, but that simple and fun chorus just explodes. It doesn’t lose momentum with the next verse, the energy just chugs along. It’s just got a great rhythm and uplifting feel to it. There’s a little breakdown near the end, but it just explodes back into that final chorus. Really great stuff.

07 Beautiful day – Never one to shy away from closing an album with a whimper rather than a bang, we have a pair of tracks to finish off. It’s nice enough, and she ventures further into some English lyrics. They do stick out a bit strangely in this song, maybe it’s the pacing of the syllables or something. It’s laid-back and cheerful, it just doesn’t have much substance to  it.

06 Rainy day – Why would you finish an album on a rainy day instead of a beautiful day? They really should have just finished this one with “Fairyland”. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just a bit of a lullaby. There’s no variation, it’s just slow stuff and doesn’t really develop towards the end at all. A bit of a boring one to finish off with.

So there you have it. Not a perfect album, there are a handful of tracks I would have happily done without, and we’d still have a decent length of an album. Quality control might not be her strong point, but a few tracks, notably “Heaven” and “Fairyland” prove (at least to me) that she’d still got that magic touch at this stage.

Keepers for the iPod: Bold and Delicious, Step you, Is this love?, Alterna, In the corner, tasking, Will, Heaven, Are you wake up?, Fairyland.

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Album: Perfume – “Triangle” (2009)

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.

Perfume TriangleI 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

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