Well this was fun (XD)
Welcome back to yet another installment of the one, the only, J-Music Exchange/Rate! This one in particular is a bit of a special one for both me an Al for a very specific reason.
Before we get into all of that though, if this is actually your first time here ー
The Exchange/Rate is a tandem album review series held by myself and my good friend and fellow Japanese music fan Al from Omunibasu.Blog. Each month we both decide on a specific theme that we’ll use as the basis for what album we’ll pick out from our respective music libraries. After which, we will then “exchange” our picks to one another so that the other person may then listen to and subsequently talk about it. This project of ours has been a great way for me and Al to both broaden our horizons so to speak in terms of what we listen to as well as providing opportunities for us to learn to appreciate some of our favorite albums in ways we never would’ve thought of. It is our hope that this series does the same for you and that you either find something new to listen to and/or we give you a different perspective on some of *your* favorite albums 🙂
Now, *normally* we would decide on a theme beforehand, but this month’s Exchange/Rate is a special one as I mentioned, and that’s because this month actually marks the third year (!!!) anniversary of this series. As such, Al went ahead and came up with a fun little way for us to celebrate this momentous occasion, which is what you’ll see before you momentarily…
Allow me to present to you, the Exchange/Rate Wheel!
What you’re seeing here are a total of ten different albums all picked out by Al. Similarly, I too sent him ten albums from my own library. We each put said albums in a wheel, which we then spin to determine what album him and I will be reviewing respectively. We get one spin to decide our fate (lol), and two additional re-spins making for three spins in total HOWEVER should we opt to do the second re-spin we *must* go with the album the wheel lands on (like, we can’t go back to our first and second album that we spun). … I’m pretty sure I could’ve explained that a little bit better (XD) but fret not as I have opted to maximize the wheel to full effect so you’ll get to see how it works in practice (I do believe Al will be doing the same so make sure you head on over to Omunibasu.Blog later too see what album/s he spun from my picks!)
Ａ ｌ : Choosing only ten albums to give Leap for this chance game thing was incredibly difficult, as there were ones I had to painfully leave out, but I came out very content with the list I ended up compiling. One reason is because I based all of them on three specific criteria; them being artists that Leap has previously taken an interest in (NiziU, harmoe), stuff that he’s already familiar with and I’ve always been interested in hearing his thoughts on (Genie High, Sangatsu no Phantasia) and lastly, albums that I have been wanting to suggest for a long time but never had the proper chance to (Hanazawa Kana, Perfume)
Not only is this list a very accurate look at my general music tastes but I’m preeeeetty confident that Leap would genuinely enjoy, at the very least, a majority of these. Whichever one the wheel lands on and he ends up choosing, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what he thinks of it!
The first spin is NakamuraEmi’s Nippon no Onna wo Utau Best and if you’ve been following the Roundup for some amount of time you’d know I like me some NakamuraEmi… but I was already committed to using my three spins so….. we go again!
My second spin is U by NiziU and… this was really tempting to just take, ngl. Al and I talk about K-Pop every now and again, and his recent highlighting of them in his Roundup on Idols reallly made me curious about their sound. Alas, we have one more spin to go and, well, going by the title of this review post you should already know what I land on (LOL) but all the same…
For out third and final spin, we landed on LEVEL3 by Perfume! What’s funny is Al and I have actually talked about doing a special Perfume-themed Exchange/Rate on more than one occasion in the past but we just never got around to having that as a theme. At least half of us now gets to review a Perfume album 😛 (it’s kinda fitting too in a way right? LEVEL “3” for the “third” year anniversary? c’mon)
Perfume is a J-Pop vocal/dance group comprised of three members; Nishiwaki “a-chan” Ayaka, Kashino “KASHIYUKA” Yuka, and Omoto “Nocchi” Ayano. Their music is produced by famed producer Nakata Yasutaka, a pioneer of Synth/Electronica who first came to prominence with his work as one half of the band CAPSULE. Together Perfume and Nakata have received both local and international acclaim over the years.
CDJapan Affiliate Link(s):
０１・Enter the Sphere
０２・Spring of Life (Album-mix)
０３・Magic of Love (Album-mix)
０６・未来のミュージアム/mirai no museum
１３・Spending all my time (Album-mix)
＜Ｓｏｎｇｓ ｏｆ Ｉｎｔｅｒｅｓｔ＞
I could be wrong but, this might be the deepest I’ve gone into an album to get to the first track that I wanted to talk about for the review, where the majority of the time I tend to just discuss the a song from the first couple if not the actual first track. Of course, that’s not to say that the songs prior to 1mm here aren’t worth talking about (rather, how can it when Spring of Life and Magic of Love are in there, though I do have to go on a separate tangent for these two songs in particular later). It’s important to note too that 1mm is technically the main promotional song for LEVEL3, so if anything it does actually feel quite fitting that we start our discussion here.
While I am admittedly not as versed in Perfume’s discography as I would like to be something that I personally found interesting is that 1mm in a lot of ways feels like a conceptual precursor to an album that I’m very much familiar with from them in COSMIC EXPLORER (the album released after LEVEL3; mainly because of my fascination with FLASH) in terms of the kind of sounds that composer Nakata Yasutaka went for and seemingly experiments with for this track. Specifically it’s him playing around with Future Bass tones and giving the song this retro Vaporwave-y feel is what really makes 1mm stand out in the album.
I might catch some heat for saying this, but I am of the opinion that it’s actually very easy to forget that Perfume are idols from purely a music-based perspective (I have to qualify it like this because talking about whether or not Perfume can be considered an idol group would have to be its own discussion for another time, lol). I say as much because, and this goes for producer/composers *like* Nakata (like say, Kawatani Enon for example) who have carved a named for themselves in the Japanese music space because of their compositions independent of their artist collaborators, a lot of the times listeners listen for them and their work primarily over the singers.
Like, it actually feels weird to write about Perfume’s vocals in isolation when more often than not the “singing” feels more like it’s treated as part of the instrumentation to be used at Nakata’s disposal rather than the latter accompanying the former (if that makes sense). However, while Point still does have a lot of those same sensibilites that Nakata tends to implement in his work, they weren’t as overbearing (for lack of a better word) as they are so often are, and as a direct consequence we get to hear what Perfume might sound like to a more “traditional” Idol Music type of sound. It was honestly quite nice hearing a more singing-oriented track by them in that regard.
Handy Man is yet another track that I feel Yasutaka ended up using as inspiration for a future work (an A-side single no less) in Cling Cling, but again this is coming from someone who has only listened to GAME, COSMIC EXPLORER, and a decent handful of A-sides, so do take that observation with a grain of salt. That being said I also think I can get away with saying that owing to how similarly “ethnic” the two tracks are, which I don’t imagine they’ve put out a lot of (one might say Handy Man has more Arabic tones while Cling Cling would be more Chinese, but if you’ll notice in the PV for the latter the themes actually a mix of Chinese *and* Arabic so, lol)
At the extremes I’d even go so far as to say that Cling Cling is Handy Man but with stinkier bass and more “wob wob” Dubstep/EDM, but I digress (XD). I’m saying all (well, maybe half) of this in jest, as what I really want to highlight here is Nakata’s creativity relative to his propensity to experiment with different sounds. You might think that that’s funny for me to say after just pointing out how this one track sounds like another one that he makes in the future, but another way to look at it too is that he saw and understood the potential of what could work through Handy Man (which is a very catchy tune in its own right) to which he then took to the next level with Cling Cling.
I don’t really get to talk about album closers as much as I do openers, at least going off of memory from previous Exchange/Rate album reviews that I’ve done. I wanna say that a lot of that is because it’s actually hard to puposely try to nail a good closer while also making it an equally good standalone track. I think the ones I’ve lauded in the past too were more so because how well they fit thematically in the context of the overall auditory narrative of the album. Like, for instance the song wall by Ueda Kana which I talked about in my review of Nebula; it’s a song that only works (to great effect) because of exactly where it finds itself in the album and not anywhere else.
Dream Land is of the few so far that I’ve come across that doesn’t really have that problem in my opinion. That is to say, while it does certainly feel like it was made with the intention of closing out the album (the “winding down” sort of energy that it has aside, there’s them also going ‘come again‘ in the background towards the end of the song makes it feel as though you’re getting ready to leave which I thought was a nice touch), it’s also just a nice listen outside of LEVEL3. In particular I found the use of the kalimba (or at least what I believe to be a kalimba) really gives you this float-y mesmerizing feeling that kinda leaves you feeling refreshed at the end.
＜Ｗｈａｔ Ｉ ｔｈｉｎｋ ｏｆ ＬＥＶＥＬ３＞
I was going to start this portion of the review off by saying that I want to like LEVEL3 more than I presently do, but then I realized it makes it sound as though I didn’t really like the album all that much which is *not* true in the slightest. If I had to say, I like the majority of it. What I mean by that is, the parts of it that I thought worked worked tremendously well, whereas some parts (really just a handful of songs) could’ve been a liiiittle bit better. Specifially, Mirai no Museum, Party Maker and Furikaerutoiruyo just weren’t doing it for me, and it’s unfortunate on my part that these three songs are all make up a significant chunk smack dab in the middle of the album (lol).
They’re not “bad” songs per se (Furikaerutoiruyo in particular does a lot of very interesting stuff in terms of its composition), but they do get drag-y, and I think all of three of them being right next to each other really just emphasized that even more. Part of the reason too why it’s actually a bit of conflicting portion of the album for me is that said tracks are sandwiched in between two songs that I *do* very much like in 1mm and Point, so you can imagine it being a very mixed listening experience for me (XD) at least during this section of LEVEL3 when you take into account the fact that I listen to albums from first track to the last as a matter of principle most of the time.
Now, as we come ahead to a close here, you’ll notice I’ve been neglecting to talk what are some pretty important (to put it lightly) A-side singles that made it into the album and the reason for that is simply because… they are ‘album mixes’ and, much like my stance on that when I reviewed Photon Maiden’s 4 phenomena I really would’ve preferred if they just kept the original versions of Spring of Life, Magic of Love, and Spending all my time here in LEVEL3. The practice is slowly starting to become a pet peeve of mine now the more I encounter it so as to not let it affect my views too much on the album as a whole I’m just being neutral about it.
４ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ ５
８ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ １０
The one thing about how I’ve chosen to format my reviews for the Exchange/Rate is that the songs I feature don’t tell you the whole story. Like, if I *instead* talked about Mirai no Museum, Party Maker, and Furikaerutoiruyo, you wouldn’t think I was talking about an album that I’d rate a 4 out of 5. This is of course by desgn as I mentioned before, as (1) I’d much rather put to the forefront the things that I personally like about an album than the stuff that I don’t and (2) I don’t want to spoil the experience for you should you choose to pick up the album yourself to listen to. In that regard I do think LEVEL3 is one of those albums that people have mixed feelingss about, as are mine. That being said, on the whole I definitely enjoyed it for the most part (I mean, c’mon, it’s Perfume) despite whatever qualms I have with it.
What are your thoughts on Perfume’s LEVEL3? Let us know in the comments down below! Likewise, let us know your guys’ thoughts on the wheel and whether or not you’d like to see it again in the future 😛
I told Al it would be fun if we didn’t tell each other what albums we spun (XD) until the actual day that we publish so for the first time I’m actually in the dark with regard to what album Al ended up talking about.
I did give him an interesting list of albums to spin (at least by my own assessment, lol) and I’d be excited for any of ’em to get listened to and reviewed. Make sure to go on over to Omunibasu.Blog to see what album Al ends up spinning if you haven’t yet!