When The Japan Times asked a bunch of musicians last December to name the most influential Japanese artist from the past decade, Asian Kung-Fu Generation’s Masafumi Goto went for Shutoku Mukai. It was a telling, if not particularly surprising, choice. Goto and Co. were quick to pick up the baton from Mukai’s Number Girl after the latter split up in 2002, taking the group’s febrile alt.-rock template and fashioning it into something a little safer and considerably more marketable.
Now onto their sixth album, the band could probably go on churning out workaday guitar anthems for another decade without anyone complaining, which makes the occasional moments of innovation on “Magic Disk” all the more heartening. The first few minutes of opening track “Shin-Seiki no Love Song” might be the most adventurous thing they’ve attempted to date, with Goto half-rapping over a backdrop of shuffling drums and backward-looped guitars, though they rather blow it by segueing into a more straight-ahead rock section.
“Maigoinu to Ame no Beat” (“A Stray Puppy and the Beat of the Rain”) deploys triumphant brass stabs of the kind that used to be de rigueur in the late 1980s, while “Kaku Seibutsu no Blues” (“Fantasy Creature Blues”), complete with string section, veers dangerously close to the AOR of Remioromen or Mr. Children. Anime producers in need of a closing theme might appreciate the more predictable high-energy rush of “Yes” and the title track, but anyone hoping for the playful experimentation that propels Mukai’s best work will be disappointed.