Friday, 20 June 2008

CD検討: Perfume 「GAME」

Because of the very nature I decided to give this blog, I've limited myself with my reporting duties. I think I can count on my two hands the number of artists that I can effectively cover without leaving the realm of denpa/akiba-pop. Not that I can't do whatever the heck I please with this blog, but there are already a number of sites where one can obtain information about general Japanese music and the interweb is certainly filled to the brink with Utada Hikaru fansites. Which is why I've decided to concentrate on denpa, not to mention that the genre drives me nuts, in a good way. Enter Perfume and their most recent release, "GAME". Mostly because of their earliest singles, the trio has been closely associated to akiba-kei, despite being produced by one of the most influencial shibuya-kei artists of the past 10 years, more on that later. Additionally, the band was backed by Haruko Momoi in 2005 when she produced AKIHABALOVE (アキハバラブ) both in single and DVD form. So I guess it's safe to say that they somewhat fit the bill and that I can report about them without fear of unleashing the fury of my numerous readers.

But the last thing I want to do today is come up with the history of Perfume as a band, I'll leave that to the excellent PPN wiki. Suffice to say that before the multiple GAME-related singles started to come out from late 2006 on, they were a relatively unknown trio. When "Polyrhythm" came out in late 2007, that's when things really picked up for Perfume. It helps that the song was (appropriately) chosen as a theme for recycling by the NHK, Japan's largest public TV network. However, it was also then that they really started coming into their own, after a compilation of cute but certainly not time-proven singles that went by the name of "Perfume ~Complete Best~". As I will demonstrate throughout my review, Perfume went from drab, generic JPop to complex, mature electronica that remains unpretentious, a rare quality in the genre.

Several elements can be listed to explain the appeal behind Perfume as a band. The girls are cute, the songs are catchy and there is a huge 萌え aura surrounding everything they come out with. But for myself and other musical elite know-it-alls, the mere presence of 中田ヤスタカ (Nakata Yasutaka) at the helm more than justifies the entrance fee for this wild ride. I don't mean to bash anyone here, but if it wasn't for that man, I wouldn't even be writing this review today. It seems that in North America, "artists" get the majority of the credit for their songs, but if the pandering masses knew but a figment of what goes on behind the scenes, they would scream their deception through boycotts, as they should. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the slimy music industry is fucked. But at least, the Japanese seem honest about admitting that bands like Perfume are but a front for real artists to express their creativity. Not that I want to take away any of the credit that the Perfume girls do deserve... but have you seen them live? That's right, they lip-synch most of the time due to their elaborate dances, but when they don't... yeah. Thank Jeebus for that studio magic. One quick word about the cover: I love it! Whether they are holding oversized glowsticks or are giving their own twisted homage to Star Wars, I don't know. But I can't help but be reminded of Travis Touchdown from No More Heroes, who would definitely be a huge Perfume fan if he was for real. Let's RIP into those songs!!!

1. ポリリズム
As I've said before, this is the one song that gave Perfume their first taste of househould success, and it's not hard to see why. Instantly, the impressive production values hit your senses: everything happens for a reason here. Don't be fooled by the slow start, the song is only building up momentum as it quickly steps up the pace. On the other hand, if you can't get past that song then don't press on, as most of the album revolves around the same elements that made "Polyrhythm" a success in the first place. Do yourself a favor and check out the PV.

2. plastic smile
This one is a bit more energetic and happy-sounding than "Polyrhythm", but is still very much in line with the opening track. Far from being filler material, "plastic smile" possesses multiple hooks but will not surprise you as the structure is fairly simple and is reused until the very end. This is perhaps one of the weaker songs of this album, but it is not a dud and as you will read, they may just have kept the best ones for the end.

You can call me crazy, but this song greatly reminds me of The Cardigan's "My Favorite Game", not just in name, but musically as well. In fact, I could draw many parallels between "GAME" and "Gran Turismo" (the album, not the game!) not the least of which is that both albums marked a significant shift in style for both bands. But back to the matter at hand, I love how "GAME" starts with a phat bass line (as much as I hate the term, it's appropriate here) over caustic percussion and later on, a guitar screaming its head off as if choked to death. In the middle of this orchestrated confusion, the girls take turn singing until the crushing chorus is introduced. There is no clear direction in this song, only the feeling that despite being in the dark surrounded by evil bloodthirsty creatures, things are gonna work out just fine. After all, this is just a game we're playing, right? Love the song.

4. Baby cruising Love
Compared to the three previous tracks, this one opens much less busily, with some clear singing over a relaxing piano line. But it isn't long before that heavy "GAME" bass rears its awesome head again, transforming what would normally be a lousy ballad into an above-average electro song with plenty of heart and some real drums to boot. The chorus itself is a powerful head-bobbing magnet but like most songs so far, there aren't any surprising moments, just a whole lot of fantastic parts elegantly glued together.

5. チョコレイト・ディスコ
Old-time Perfume fans will surely appreciate this one the most! It does sound as though "Chocolate Disco" would belong more on the previous "Complete Best" than on "GAME", but with the new heavy and uncompromising style that was adopted, it fits in quite snugly. Again, the deep booming bass accounts for a huge chunk of the difference, but the snappy cadence is also quite noticeable.

6. マカロニ
I said there were no duds, right? Guess this one is as close as it gets, though. "Macaroni" has very little going for it and if it wasn't for the pouncing drums, it would be a real bore. Even the girls sound a bit drowsy when doing what they do best. But hey! For the first time so far, some creative liberties were taken towards the end of this song, as a number of dissonant sounds are thrown left and right in an attempt to wake up the listener.

7. セラミックガール
"Ceramic Girl, It's brand new world!" It's funny how songs always sound tons better when they're placed after a monotonous one. Kinda like how average papers get scored higher after correcting a terrible one. I guess only teachers will get that one. But average is not a bad thing here, considering the overall quality of the record. Furthermore, "Ceramic Girl" introduces some of the fastest lyrical delivery so far. While nothing compared to what Mi~ko and KOTOKO can accomplish, it does have a invigorating effect that can't be ignored. I also like how the beat can sometimes go wild in this one, without disturbing the flow.

8. Take me Take me
THIS SONG IS PEDOBEAR APPROVED. Sorry but I couldn't help myself. Maybe they had something entirely different in mind when writing these lyrics, such as being taken to the movies or the amusement park. But a trio of fresh-on-the-market ladies singing "take me tonight" to legions of underaged girls and obsessed otakus just screams wrong to me. Not to mention the beat is highly suggestive in itself, yet of course it has nothing on the grand-daddy of them all, Ravel's Boléro. Still, Madonna and Britney Spears would be proud of their international influence, but then again so should 中田ヤスタカ. Despite the trashy vibes one can get from the lyrics, the song remains highly enjoyable with its minimalistic orientation and soothing attributes.

9. シークレットシークレット
Holy shit, if "Take me, Take me" was soothing, then "Secret Secret" is downright spellbinding. This one takes all the positive elements from the eight previous tracks and brings them together in a graceful manner. There is absolutely nothing bad to say about this song. Perfect beat, perfect execution, perfect delivery. What did I say about saving the best for last?

10. Butterfly
So are you done listening to "Secret Secret" in a loop? Great, 'cuz here comes your next favourite Perfume song. In terms of creativity, this one takes the cake. It opens to the sound of the Amazonian jungle, complete with tribal percussion and an arpeggio that sounds like it was taken out of a... well you know those fantastic dreams of flying that come up every once in a while? Don't lie, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Well this song would be the perfect soundtrack to such dreams. And if you really don't dream about flying, then you will after listening to this. The harmonious arrangement that Yasutaka-san came up with will work wonders next time I can't fall asleep and I say this with the utmost respect. There's a difference between soporific and hypnotic, and "Butterfly" doesn't induce the latter. Sadly this one doesn't have a PV, which is odd considering how good a video this would make.

11. Twinkle Snow Powdery Snow
Just to remind you that you're still listening to the akiba-kei Perfume, not the Amazonian goddesses from "Butterfly", they threw together this song that, again, draws from the best elements that everyone has to offer. This one is delivered allegro, no effing around with unconventional techniques or anything crazy. In the end, it comes out sounding like a lounge version of an original song, except this is the original song as well. Very clever!

12. Puppy love
As the last song of such a beautiful record, "Puppy love" has a lot going for it. It delivers admirably but even if it hadn't, I would still be satisfied given what I have experienced going through this album. It's almost a bonus that the song doesn't suck, as "last songs" are wont to do. If you've had your share of electronica by now, then never fear as this one opens with carefully palm-muted acoustic guitar over some real drum and bass. It quickly works itself into a relaxed tempo that is just the perfect send-off.

Two recurring factors instantly come to mind for this conclusion: one - Perfume will never be known for giving deep meaning to their lyrics. This is simply feelgood music, much like comfort food and watching hockey are simple pleasures of life that can turn your shitty day around. Two - 中田ヤスタカ is a fucking musical GENIUS. Could you imagine if he started collaborating with MOSAIC.WAV? The best part is that you can enjoy tons more of his musical prowess by listening to capsule (his original band) and really, any artist from his "contemode" label. However, if you want to enjoy cute voices over complex electronica arrangements, capsule may be a little too rough around the edges for you, making Perfume's 「GAME」 the top contender in this category.

1 comment:

電波の世界 said...

So hey, I know I'm (fashionably) late to this GAME party, but I would still like to hear your opinions. Especially since the album has been out for 2 months now, how well has it held up for you?