Category Archives: Van Wonder

Perfume – Perfume: Complete Best

Perfume: Complete Best
Perfume
August 2, 2006
Tokuma Japan

(Okay, so my homeboy Van Wonder decided to put in some work and review Perfume: Complete Best for straightfromthecrates.com. As I know nothing of Japanese pop music or Japanese culture in general I’ll shut up during the remainder of the review. Please leave some comments for him below.)

NIHON, SUKI DESU!

Konichiwa, Van Wonder desu. Hajimemashta. ❤

Seriously, that’s how far my knowledge of Japanese goes. Which is sad actually, considering the ridiculous amounts of me singing faux-english, half Japanese lyrics that I make my neighbours endure.

There’s something weird about Japan, everyone knows it. Heck: Alphaville knew it way back in 1984. Being a Japanophile myself, I don’t necessarily have the same opinion, I agree it is pretty weird that you can buy used panties in a vending machine, that the parliament proposed a law against sexual depictions of not-so-very-legal characters in anime and it didn’t pass. On the other hand, its population is one of the most prude people in the world. The Japanese are masters of outright sexual display, without it being overly sexual. They call it ‘moe’, which means cute. Cute girls in all its variations, be it little girls in maid outfits, 48 girlsdancingperfectlysynchronizedtohorriblepopmusic. To me exemplary, and also one of the ways I got into this mess, is the pop formation Perfume. I skipped out on using the word band, because that comes dangerously close to giving them artistic merit. Harsh? Nah, I bet they can take it. They’re adults now.

When I first heard them they weren’t: they started their careers of when they were twelve years old (Angola is among the few places where it isn’t considered statutory rape, also did you know that there’s no age limit on Antarctica?). Right, so… Lolicon issues aside (Google it yourself, I’m not going to explain everything). The reason why I struggle to give them any credit for the music, is because of their producer. There’s no Western producer that comes close to the way Yasutaka Nakata murdered their voices. He’s famous for stripping away irrelevant things like personality and ‘human feel’ to make the singers he uses do exactly what he wants. They started out as a cutesy shibuya-kei trio. Shibu… ? What? Sigh, Shibuya is one of the biggest fashion areas in Tokyo and ‘kei’ means ‘style’: so that would make it ‘the style of Shibuya’. Music that focuses mainly on electro pop, incorporating new wave sounds and it also has plenty bossa nova and jazz influences. It’s one of the biggest things to come out of Japan really, with its influence sphere reaching all the way to France and if you’re trying really hard I guess England too, why the hell not?

Oh right, so Yasutaka Nakata signed them to his label when their mediocre attempt at making it  with some indie label in Tokyo didn’t work out. Fresh out of acting school they were naïve, maybe, young: yes. So they signed and sold their soul like anyone would. Yasutaka then moved them to the Akibahara-district, the electronic shopping district in Tokyo (this is where you can find that vending machine, you guys). It was while they were giving live performances on the streets of Akiba (shortening names is the shit in Japan) when they found their target audience. Horny men who were all too excited to see three adorable girls lip-synching to chiptune sounds (= using vintage computer game sounds in music).

The launch of the first album Perfume: complete best, a compilation album consisting of their singles produced at the indie label pimped by Yasutaka and some of his own compositions, was possible largely due to their successful appearances at the venues in Akiba and a minor commercial success in the charts. Because of Yasutaka’s rule over the songs it features a lot of vocoder and other computer synthesized voice editing and sounds, although sometimes you can hear small whimpers of natural sounding voice coming trough. I bet that when you play the album backwards you can hear them pleading to gain their human rights back.

Luckily for us, if you play the album like it’s supposed to it’s all fun and games, sugar-coated happy fun time land.

1. Perfect Star Perfect Style

The first track is the only new track, specifically composed for this album, and this is undoubtedly Yasutaka’s furthest move from his Shibuya roots on this album; incorporating a steady house beat throughout the song. While heavy on the autotune, this song suprisingly actually features some clear vocals from the girls during the slower, ballad like parts. Hold on, let me use my incredible intel to find the lyrics. … “The truth is, I’m unwavering, and I just can’t pull away, I still gently carry in my arms that file that remains important to me”. Assuming the translation is accurate, this would suggest that it’s a song about a psychopath at a desk job (they call those salarymen in Japan). “Even my outstretched hands can no longer reach you“. Ah, thank god, it is a love song after all. The glimpses you get of the ‘real’ voices blend together nicely with the auto-tuned tracks, a catchy, emotional song to set the mood.

2. Linear Motor Girl

And as soon as the mood that’s been set by the previous song has sunk in, this thing starts playing. Utterly tearing it apart. Easily the most juvenile song on the album and I’m not even talking about the lyrics. They’re exactly what you would expect: it’s a song sung in awful Engrish about a motor girl, who’s very fond of traveling in a linear way. The instrument Yasutaka chose for the melody reminds me of, I don’t even know: the song reeks of kindergarten and little kids choking on crayons. Not surprisingly though, as this was the first Perfume single Yasutaka produced outside of the indie label, so he was probably playing it safe.

Ugh, I wish he didn’t.

3. Computer City

Now we’re getting to the good stuff, the sixth single under Yasutaka’s guidance and we can already get a glimpse of what we’re in for. This song features heavy voice distortion right from the bat, but to keep things light there’s that same house beat as we saw in Perfect Star. … Kind of disappointing that upon further inspection it does sound precisely as the beat in the first song but oh well? How many different generic house-beats can a man create? Interesting about this song is that the lyrics focus on technology a lot, “This town was made with perfect calculation, I want to escape it, I want to break down”. Emphasizing the hard life that comes with ever changing realities, caused by fast advancement in computer engineering and new media is something we haven’t really seen around since Kraftwerk. Interesting Perfume, interesting.

Oh no wait, it’s a love song. “I wonder if the truth exists, in a paradise made of perfect calculation, the only thing that is true is my love”. 10 points for reminding me of Kraftwerk though.

4. Electoro World

We westerners would pronounce it ‘electro’, but everyone knows Japanpeoples are incapable of normal English. This song progresses on the technology-theme introduced by the last song, which is to be expected since they came out shortly after each other. Focusing yet again on the fearful aspects of too much tech in modern culture, but this time without transgressing into a sappy love song. Goodu Jobbu, Yasutaka! I simply love the voice track on this song, over-produced synth-heavy stretches of sound that really make this one of the stand-outs on the album. Also: electric guitar what?

5. Inryoku (Gravity)

Released as a b-side to Vitamin Drop, an early Indie label release, it has the same base instrumentarium as Linear Motor Girl and that same kindergarten-feel to it. Except in the case of Inryoku it doesn’t make me want to punch a preschooler in the face, it actually makes me uncomfortable happy, now why? I think it is because this song has so much more to say for itself, instead of just focusing on the obvious: omigawd, check out this innocent young girls and their cute little dances; the song incorporates a lot of chiptune and makes some sexy allusions to Shibuya-kei pioneer Fantastic Plastic Machine. His style is clearly recognizable through the chopped up lyrics at the beginning, the quirky interlude notes Yasutaka made the girls sing and the bossa nova synth in the background. Together, the chiptune and the FPM homage coat the song with a nostalgic feel, bringing me back to my gameboy days. Pretty okay.

6. Monochrome Effect

THIS SONG IS PURE HAPPY. Now, it might be because I’m just, well… me, but this song just blows my mind. So HNNNGGH happy and cute. Only the second song they made together with Yasutaka and the first one to get a semi-professional clip. Now, this is before they achieved their Akiba-fame, so the clip… is pretty interesting to say the least. Whereas later on in Electoro World the girls wake up in some kind of dystopic tech-lab, in the video for Monochrome Effect they take a ride in a giant Shark-submarine, wear jawdroppingly cute (read: moe, not sexy. Per se…) outfits and don’t display the high paced synched dancing they’re famous for just yet. It is adorable. When sad: eat sugar + watchthis.

7. Vitamin Drop

It seems as if the complete middle of the album is infected with the cutes. Vitamin Drop is also early Perfume stuff, but a lot more generic than the last song, it’s a shame that you have to sit this thing out for five minutes. Except for the translated lyrics, this song is pretty boring, but I wouldn’t want you to miss out on those for the world: ‘Closing the deep wound, Ah, Verbal abuse, Will it disappear some day?’.

8. Sweet Doughnuts

‘If I warm the inside of my heart with a microwave oven can I eat it too?’ It seems the cuter the songs get, the more morbid the lyrics are. I can’t say I really adore this song, although it does fit together nicely with the rest of the songs in the middle. Right now, I am trying to quit my Ibuprofen addiction and this song does not bode well with withdrawal headaches, but otherwise: this is a song you play when you need to get somewhere fast, forcing you to grin like a maniac upon arrival.

9. Foundation

Finally, this song offers us a chance to cool off and let my headache sorta subside. I already know what’s coming next, so I can tell you this is just an interlude to the final sugarcoated smack in the face Perfume will be handing out on this album. A nice, easy paced song, to relax the body, until: wham! Disco beats? Okay… I guess , time to get up again. Ugh.

10. Computer Driving

There’s a very sharp note playing throughout the song, that’ll hit you on the head and make you cringe every few seconds. Other than that, this b-side to Linear Motor Girl smells like crayon for sure, but there’s actually a pretty nice bass involved at some point. That, together with the addition of some new, slightly different chiptune bleep’s and bloop’s and some twists in composition make this four and half minute song highly enjoyable.

11. Perfume

Ahh. This brings me back. The first song I heard from the group, ‘Perfume’ is a ridiculously high-paced anthem-like song, it has everything a good Perfume needs to have: cute deranged singing, faster than light house beats and synths and apparently a surprise xylophone. Pretty sweet. Pretty sweet indeed.

12. Wonder2

As the final song on the album this is a foreshadowing of what Perfume is capable of in the hands of Yasutaka. One of the more grown-up songs on the album (it was a b-side to Electoro World). Clearly showcasing the evolution Perfume has undergone in the first three years, the sounds and the girls voices are somewhat childish still, but also gained a less compassionate more industrialized feel to them. Likewise the beat has lost its disco, lost its Shibuya-kei influences and has transformed into a droning electropop beat. A calm, drifting ending to our sugarhigh. Perfect.

Best tracks:

Electoro World, Monochrome effect, Computer City and Perfume.

Conclusion:

 

The album is a nice summary of the three first years of Perfume, although I strongly believe that the album could’ve done without a few of the early indie label productions. They seem shallow and just plain silly next to the later works of composer Yasutaka. That said, with the amazing progression on this album alone it’s not hard to believe that they would become one of Japan’s most influential electropop bands, paving the way for more computerized vocal experimentation such as the vocaloid software and clearly showing that it is still possible for a niche like Shibuya-kei music to gain mainstream success. But that’s looking to much ahead in the future, in 2006 their fans were still just the people passing by one of Perfume’s early street concerts on their way to buy the latest porn game.

Recommendations:

 

As I said, there’s a few way too sugary child abuse inducing songs on this album, if that is your thing: righto, good for you. They’re great songs to clean to aswell. What I can recommend to anyone who fancies electro music is the rest of the album, they make such a nice shift from our, compared to, boring repititions of the same beats and samples. Truly refreshing,