PERFUME LEVEL3

Japanese electronic outfit PERFUME have managed to achieve domestic success with a series of sharp tunes founded on the legacy of Technopop. Now the trio are looking further afield to carve out a global path as they wave the flag for J-Pop…

LEVEL3 is Perfume’s 4th studio album (and their first on the Universal Music Japan label) following on from 2011’s JPN release. Expectations have been high for LEVEL3, which made it all the more surprising that initial web commentary on the album revolved around the fact that Kashiyuka had changed her hairstyle for the album sleeve. Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth, the question being asked was whether or not LEVEL3 can meet the high standards that Perfume and producer/writer Yasutaka Nakata have set for themselves.

Opening track ‘Enter The Sphere’ will be instantly recognisable as the background music originally used for Perfume’s global website. Here it’s been beefed up with vocals and expanded into a full tune – and a powerful one at that. This is a track that could have seamlessly appeared on a Capsule release with its percussive rhythms and crunchy synths. It serves as a perfect intro to the album and demonstrates Nakata at the top of his skills.

If there’s a constant in the world of pop music, then it’s the remix. It’s become something of a tradition for Perfume albums to incorporate remixed versions of their single releases. Where a track could previously be tweaked to enhance its own strengths (see ‘Laser Beam’), LEVEL3 tends to favour restructuring large elements of the original song with mixed results.

So ‘Spring of Life’, which originally kicked straight off with its trademark vocal intro, opts for a lengthier intro on the album mix which builds into an ominous bass synth rhythm. As remixes go, it’s a serviceable number that provides some surprises and yet still manages to keep the zip of the original. Meanwhile, Perfume’s 23rd single release ‘Magic of Love’ survives more or less intact on LEVEL3, albeit with some additional electronic melodic overlays and effects.

‘Clockwork’ unveils the first new tune proper on LEVEL3 and it’s a slow burner of pop perfection. ‘1mm’, which was issued in September as a digital release to promote the album, opens with a captivating tumbling percussion that brings to mind the likes of ‘I Still Love U’ from their 2009 album Triangle. As a song, ‘1mm’ offers up a densely layered selection of reedy melodies and traditional harmonic vocal trills.

‘Mirai no Museum’ was originally written as the theme song to the animated movie, Doraemon: Nobita no Himitsu Dōgu Museum. It’s also the single release that attracted derision from some quarters of the blogosphere. It’s certainly a switch from what’s regarded as the traditional Perfume sound and is more closely aligned with a traditional idol pop sound which, critics may have forgotten, is precisely the type of music that Perfume originally started out with. Also, it’s a tune for a cartoon about a cat so it’s unclear what the critics were expecting here, possibly the second coming of Yellow Magic Orchestra or something.

The real error here is ‘Mirai no Museum’ being included on LEVEL3 because it’s a complete gear change from the rest of the material on the album. A shrewder decision would have been the inclusion of the top notch B-Side track ‘Hurly Burly’.

If there’s a point at which LEVEL3 really comes off the rails however, it’s ‘Party Maker’. The longest track on the album (it clocks in at over 7 minutes), this number starts off in good form but then seems to veer horribly off into a by-the-numbers thumping club mix before rescuing itself, briefly, at the midway point.

‘Party Maker’ had originally seen life as the music for a cm for Chocola BB drinks and the brief powerful pop16-second segment used there is what we were all expecting to hear on LEVEL3, expanded into a satisfying 3 or 4min version. It’s not difficult to conclude that ‘Party Maker’ probably was originally constructed in such a fashion, but the nature of LEVEL3 to mix and rearrange everything means that the tune for this song is frustratingly obscured here.

Taking the pace down a bit, ‘Furikaeru to iru yo’ offers up a more restrained Perfume number that’s enhanced by a subtle use of sub-bass effects. Meanwhile, ‘Point’ delivers a euphoric Technopop number whose bright and airy pop moments and clipped melodies showcase a track that originally began life as simply a B-Side number to ‘Spending All My Time’.

‘Daijobanai’ gives us a fast choppy tune with percussive fills. It’s yet another Perfume gem that was previously a little lost as a B-Side track (and for ‘Mirai No Museum’ no less, which didn’t please hardcore Perfume fans).

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If there’s one particular standout moment on the album it’s the inclusion of ‘Handy Man’. It’s another of Perfume’s finer B-Side tracks – this time for ‘Magic of Love’ which, we would argue, is far superior to it’s A-Side equivalent. ‘Handy Man’ has a relentless driving rhythm to it guaranteed to get the feet tapping. Attendees at Perfume’s UK debut might recognise this track in its instrumental form as it formed the intermission music at the halfway point of the gig.

Into the final third of the album we get ‘Sleeping Beauty’, Nakata here appears to be veering back into a more loose form of song construction. More of the reedy melodies that were evident on tracks like 1mm, but with a compelling arpeggio driving the song along. The vocal elements are very subtle (essentially just a breathy rendition of the song title) and give a dreamlike element to the track.

‘Spending All My Time’, here curiously relegated to the last but one track on the album is another Perfume number that upset elements of the blogosphere due to its use of English lyrics (and the sheer audacity that Perfume should actually embark on their plans of seeking global success). Here, the album mix version of the single starts off well but unwisely strays back into the clubby morass that bogs down ‘Party Maker’. The insistent melody of the original was an adequate club-friendly tune and it seems bizarre to want to deconstruct the song in pursuit of a better dance tune that never quite arrives, although rendered in a live setting reworking the song still curiously remains an inspired gesture.

Lastly, ‘Dream Land’ presents a nice album closer with its washes of sound, glissando effects and charming music box rhythm.

LEVEL3 is an adequate enough Perfume album that’s not going to disappoint the fans, but it does feel at times like it’s just falling below the expected standards. Some revisions on the track listing (providing room for the likes of ‘Hurly Burly’ and new release ‘Sweet Refrain’ for instance) would have resulted in a much stronger album release in J-Pop Go’s opinion.

There’s clearly a scheme here to reinvent the trio as a much more dance-orientated outfit, which is a worthy enough goal but retro-fitting existing Perfume songs may not be the best way forward. There’s clearly room for both a Perfume remix album and a standalone album of pure Perfume songs and we can’t help but feel that this would have been a much shrewder path to take with LEVEL3.


www.perfume-global.com
www.facebook.com/Perfume.global
www.twitter.com/perfume_um
www.youtube.com/perfume

LEVEL3 is released 28th October 2013 in the UK via Wrasse Records.
Available via:
iTunes: LEVEL3 (digital release)
Amazon: LEVEL3 (CD release)

Text by Paul Browne
28th October 2013
This article originally appeared on the J-Pop Go site.

GIRL ONE & THE GREASE GUNS Hitting The Brick Wall

Having already engaged our curiosity with their previous release ‘Jessica 6’, Girl One And The Grease Guns have returned with a new single release entitled ‘(Here Come) The Catastrophe Machines’.

Making good on their manifesto for “causing confusion with a mixture of pure synth pop and more experimental electronic sounds”, the latest offering delivers a chaotic wall of noise, painting a chilling vision of dystopia, further illustrated by a rapid-fire video of sequences culled from a variety of arresting visual images from nuclear tests and slasher films to Dr Who.

However, secreted away on the B-side is a surprising gem of pure pop goodness titled ‘Hitting The Brick Wall’, which continues Girl One And The Grease Guns’ talent for crafting compelling electronic tunes.

‘Hitting The Brick Wall’ pulls together a percussive rhythm, driving bass and captivating organ melody, while the lyrics deal with themes of frustration and despair. It’s a combination that suggests everything from early era OMD to 60s girl groups with the layered harmonics of the vocals (delivered by the cryptically named Sissy Space Echo) also recalling more recent outfits such as The Pipettes. It’s no surprise that the band have claimed they’re drawing inspiration from the classic synthpop era of the ’70s/’80s, but their material appears to swerve neatly around the nostalgia porn that lesser electronic acts tend to fall into.

The video accompanying ‘Hitting The Brick Wall’ is a wonderful slice of ’60s exploitation cinema featuring Mimsy Farmer dancing away under the influence of acid, adding an intriguing visual counterpoint to the song’s pop sensibilities.

As an electronic band, Girl One And The Grease Guns remain an enigmatic outfit with no concrete details on the real brains behind the tunes. But that cryptic element only adds to the appeal and they’re clearly going to be both puzzling and delighting audiences for some time to come.


‘(Here Come) The Catastrophe Machines’/’Hitting The Brick Wall’ is released on by Squirrel Records as 7 inch vinyl single and download 13th November 2013.

http://www.squirrelrecords.co.uk/girl-one-and-the-grease-guns/
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Girl-One-And-The-Grease-Guns/440754999339179


GARY NUMAN – Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind)

Steel-edged electronic soundscapes from the synthpop legend…

Without doubt, Gary Numan has achieved genre-defining status. With an influence extending way beyond his chart-topping 1979 hit ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric’ and ‘Cars’, Numan has continued to pioneer electropop music, integrating the uniqueness of his ever developing style, while later touching upon other areas such as jazz, funk and even scoring music for film (co-composing the music for The Unborn with Michael R Smith in 1991). He has influenced artists as diverse as Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson.

Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind), his 20th studio album, reveals a strong marriage between his recent dimly lit industrial-styled collaborations and an undiluted electronic past. In this instance, with Ade Fenton producing, the abstract sound paintings burrow deeper into hidden cavities, unveiling gritty sharp rhythms that expand into some of the most eerie spaces you could imagine. And while the atmospheric makeup consists of some, down-tempo, heavily textured electro, there’s plenty of room for Numan’s verbal imagery to work its magic.

The title track itself is a transient theme beckoned by haunting female vocal samples. A storm has broken and it’s like waking up and finding yourself lost amongst the echoes of some strange desert landscape. Beautifully experimental, with a constant unfailing rhythm to back the intimate and cinematic, there’s an incredible depth of wooden textured strings and occasional moments of beauteous ambience. With powerful outbursts of light and shade, it sets the scene for most of the album.

Without doubt, Splinter is wholly a work of varying modes of transport, ‘Here in Black’ introduces itself with a launch into what could be the perfect action soundtrack before slowing up to make way for sinister whispering vocal touches. ‘Everything Comes Down To This’ has that signature deeply moving undercurrent, offset against some spine-tingling lighter synth washes. But it’s the darkened areas that loan themselves throughout – ‘I Am Dust’ reveals strong drives towards deepened electronic vibrations and pulses – the most simplistic way to describe the track’s very powerful ‘live anthem’ feel.

Leaning towards a slight eastern mirage is ‘The Calling’. Suitably seductive and trance-like, with majestic synths, there’s a tender symphonic drive on the mid section that’s both light-hearted and uplifting. There’s the techno touches such as ‘Love Hurt Bleed’ with an anthem that could have you punching holes into the air in no time. Contrast is showcased with the very modernistic ‘Who Are You?’ – with a heart that beats fast among lasers of distorted overdrive and a big chorus.

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The atmospheric ‘My Last Day’ is the epitome of vintage Numan – heavily weighted synths that appear layer upon layer, opening up space and blending easily against contemporary beat structures. Later, everything melts back into the gentle wash of lonely piano –a prime example of the delicate touches and detail that really takes this album to higher spheres. Speaking of delicacy, ‘Lost’ proves that Numan does indeed continue to challenge himself. Bathed only by gentle, sparse accompaniment, he emerges with a brave, yet telling, vulnerability.

During recent years, Numan’s live shows would transform the simplicities of his earlier synth pop anthems into a powerhouse of industrial electronic rock, and Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind) takes full advantage of Numan’s power points – wired in such a way that the shards from his explosive live energies provide perfect ingredients for yet more additions to a long and noteworthy catalogue. The result is an electronic album through and through that hails far from a miniscule attempt to revisit those long established prerequisites – think plenty of steel-edged electronic soundscapes, themic contrasts within development and reprises and experimental swathes of melodic synths.


Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind) is released on 14th October by Mortal Records in CD, deluxe CD, vinyl and download formats.

The album is being streamed at http://noisey.vice.com/en_uk/read/youneedtohearthis-album-premiere-gary-numan-splinter-songs-from-a-broken-mind

Gary Numan’s ‘Splinter’ Tour includes:

Atlanta Masquerade (25th October), Asheville Mountain Oasis Festival (26th October), Washington Black Cat (27th October), Brooklyn Music Hall of Williamsburg (29th October), Sunrise BB&T Center (October 30 – with NINE INCH NAILS), Orlando Amway Center (31st October – with NINE INCH NAILS), Bristol 02 Academy (7th November), Dublin Button Factory (8th November), Sheffield 02 Academy (11th November), Newcastle 02 Academy (12th November), Glasgow 02 ABC (13th November), Manchester Academy (14th November) Oxford 02 Academy (15th November), London Roundhouse (16th November), Brighton The Dome (18th November), Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall (19th November)

www.numan.co.uk

Album artwork photography by LaRoache Brothers at Woolhouse Studios.


NORTHERN KIND Credible Sexy Unit

For fans of the Vince Clarke-ian style of synthpop, a new album from Northern Kind will always be an event. Indeed, the Internet-based launch night (dubbed the ‘Antidote to The X-Factor’) pulled in over 11,000 streams on SoundCloud in just one hour. And with Erasure’s Andy Bell tweeting “Loving the sound of ‘Credible Sexy Unit'”, the stage is set for the much-anticipated return of Leicester’s finest electronic duo.

Recorded at their private studio in Leicestershire, Credible Sexy Unit is Northern Kind’s third album, following 2009’s Wired: and 53 Degrees North from 2007. From the off, Credible Sexy Unit lays down its template with ‘Yours’, a fantastic slice of jaunty sing-along synthpop (which includes a cheeky 4th-wall breaking line imploring the listener to “refer to chorus of the song”). As with Wired:, the time (and money) spent mastering this album at Trakworx in San Francisco is instantly evident, lending the tracks an analogue richness and a hint of Californian sunshine that lends Northern Kind’s one boy + one girl + synths ‘n’ software formula a suitable distinction from contemporaries such as Vile Electrodes. In fact, I’m even beginning to see Northern Kind and Vile Electrodes as two sides of the UK synthpop coin: one dark and a little bit naughty; the other full of hope and bright guiding light.

But back to the album: ‘Piece Of Me’ affords vocalist and writer Sarah Heeley the chance to show off her range (with only the daintiest touch of vocal manipulation), and the beautifully smooth ‘Out Of Time’ has the kind of chorus that makes you go “Yeah, exactly”! ‘Life’ brings back the Yazoo-iness Northern Kind are so good at, even adding a sly Mode nod with the line “I just can’t get enough”. Single from a couple of years ago ‘Dreams’ has a slightly re-imagined and fuller sound, and the song hasn’t lost any of its shine. That chorus of “I – wish – you – well” still reminds me of The Bee Gees!

‘Free Prescriptions’ is the one song on this otherwise consistently good album that somehow doesn’t ring true. It’s a bit like when The Human League interrupt the fun to “do a political one” on a pop album: it just feels a bit out of place. While some might bemoan the overriding upbeat nature of Credible Sexy Unit, hearing Sarah proclaim “Take 2, take 3, take 4; take that, you’re an NHS whore” leaves a slightly bitter aftertaste. But then I live in Scotland where we still have free prescriptions, so perhaps I’m missing the point of this song entirely. ‘The Bridge’ is an intriguing instrumental, with a smoky, Arabic feel and echoes of Oribital’s ‘The Box’. It’s good to hear Matt Culpin experiment a little – the Vince Clarke Well must surely dry up soon – and this track shows one fascinating possible future direction for the band.

When Northern Kind debuted some of Credible Sexy Unit at a gig a few months ago, Sarah introduced ‘The River’ as her favourite from the album. Gently uplifting, ‘The River’ is vocally comforting and synthetically complex; there’s something spiritual and beguiling about this song. I love it! The reference to Vile Electrodes earlier in this review might have confused you, but here’s the payoff: take a listen to Da Vile’s track ‘Drowned Cities’ and then listen to Northern Kind’s ‘Daggers’. Both nod back to Front 242 circa 1993, but whereas Vile Electrodes take a dystopian progression, Northern Kind are ever the optimists and “move on towards the light”.

Ironically, ‘Heat’ cools things down both in tempo and instrumentation, bringing the vocals to the fore. A tale of disappointment and a lover failing to live up to expectations, “why aren’t you intellectual?” demands Sarah. The second half of the song is instrumental so we must draw our own conclusions. Me, I reckon she packed up and drove away. Finally ‘Euphonic’ – Northern Kind’s very agreeable single from 2011 – closes the album on a perfect upbeat number. I’ve heard this song countless times while waiting for ‘CSU’ to come out: it’s testament to the band’s skills that it still sounds so fresh and vibrant.

Taken as a whole, the songs that make up ‘Credible Sexy Unit’ form exactly what you’d expect from Northern Kind: retro-amped chipper tunes, superlative singing, enduring song writing, and a professional attitude that belies their indie sensibilities. ‘Credible Sexy Unit’ will surely please any discerning synthpop fan, especially those seeking a bit of cheerful enlightenment.


Credible Sexy Unit is available as a CD now from http://northernkind.bigcartel.com/

The download edition will be released on 21st October 2013 via Amazon, iTunes and other digital outlets

http://northernkind.co.uk/

http://www.facebook.com/northernkind


Text by Jer White @ Pansentient League
7th October 2013