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Let’s randomly appreciate some J-Pop


Let’s move away from the world of gloomy indie and hip alternative stuff for a while and look to a different realm of music, ie mainstream pop charts. There’s no shame in loving what happens to be popular and Rambling Fox openly accepts and adores chart pop whenever there’s an occasion to do so. Which, sadly, isn’t as often as one would like. The world of pop music has always been subject of trends, fads and following them and these things go in a rollercoaster motion: a new trend finds its way into public acceptance almost by accident, a year or two are spent replicating it and then the market descends into a rather tepid lull where the inspiration to find new life from the said trend is beginning to wear thin, public love begins to fade and a few stragglers still attempt to cheaply cash in to the fad while the world starts waiting for a new trend to arrive and sweep us off our feet again. The Western pop scene is currently in that final period, with the eurodance boom having arrived, conquered and now living its last days while wobstep has attempted to half-arsedly resuscitate it.

If you are open to straightforwardly, unashamedly commercial pop music then you owe yourself to give a look in Japan’s way. Or more accurately, in the direction of one specific man: Yasutaka Nakata. Nakata has been a humongous power player in Japan’s music scene for the last half a decade, first making his name with his own group Capsule before becoming a superproducer for several other acts, with Perfume in the forefront as Nakata’s primary pet project. Perfume have in a short time become one of Japan’s biggest pop events and despite the obvious loveliness of its frontwomen – A-Chan, Kashiyuka and Nocchi – it’s essentially all thanks to Nakata and his utterly insane/genius production and songwriting ear. Perfume’s songs not only drip with effortlessly cool futuristic robot sheen and a backdrop of countless flawless details, but frequently they end up being the subject of ambitious musical ideas (from bizarre song structures to countless rhythms all played on top of eachother and cramming as many chord changes as possible in one section of a song) and making them work to perfection. The result is a tour de force of pop, a rollercoaster of utterly fantastic tunes and marvellous production. To match the hi-tech shine the girls’ voices are autotuned and heavily processed to match the sound, effectively not even pretending that this is about vocal performance or lipsynch avoidance and simply going with it. Which isn’t to say that the frontwomen’s roles are minimal because this is where the glorious visual side of Perfume comes to play. Their performances are choreographed to madness and frequently feature complex moves performed to minute detail and teamwork, which is often awe-enducing to watch.

And there’s lasers. Lots and lots of lasers.

With the recent announcement that their latest album JPN is now available on iTunes worldwide with possible other Western moves planned for the future, there’s hope that they might make a dent to the currently stale Western pop market and hopefully inject some of their free spirit here as well. If the world needs another pop producer to constantly copy, I’d rather it be Nakata than Guetta.

Because hyperbole is better served with music to back it up, join us after the cut for clips and such.

Perfume have three albums to date. Game (2008) is the weakest one of the lot, essentially a practice round for the whole thing rather than anything fully-realized, although it does contain the breakthrough hit “Polyrhythm”. ⊿ (2009) is the (already-)canonised classic, a humongous pop battle cruiser filled to brim with in-your-face excellence. JPN (2011) is the sort of album a pop group at their top makes: the element of surprise and the woah-enducement factor aren’t necessarily there but the ride is steadily excellent, and often the album feels like a singles collection in itself (which probably stems from the fact that half the album ARE singles).

This live clip of “Edge ( mix)” is a fairly excellent way to crack Perfume open. Perfectly executed choreography meets a battle cruiser of a song that takes about 30 seconds to build up and then unleashes a jaw-dropping, eight minute dance goliath that just keeps ranking up on intensity as it goes. Phenomenal; that chorus is the very definition of euphoria.

“Dream Fighter” is Perfume in a nutshell, and a marvellous example of Nakata’s attention to detail. The best part? The bit where the rather excellent chorus seems to end… and then cranks up the gear and returns instantly with a whole new surge of power.

“One Room Disco” was my introduction to Perfume. The combination of in-your-face, cacophonic synth stabs that come out of nowhere, the incredibly cute, bubblegum-esque verses and four-to-the-floor chorus was an instant hook. And the video is great.

Speaking of videos, Perfume are generally a great videos band. The one for “Voice” is one of those things that never fail to lighten you up and cause a smile.

It’s a tough competition, but “Nee” is their biggest earworm. You’re welcome.

The first album isn’t too exciting, but it has “Polyrhythm” which is an undeniable classic. As its name says, its gimmick is that it keeps on piling rhythms on top of one another. The best thing is, the gimmick never gets in the way of crafting a perfect pop song.

Chances are all these have made your head ache because you have an allergy for techno-pop and high-pitched, autotuned voices. I’m sorry for your loss. Rambling Fox will soon return to your usual musical desires. In the meantime, I’ll continue dancing out to some extraordinarily well made pop songs that are filled with excitement and joy.


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