“DocumentaLy,” rock outfit Sakanaction’s fifth full-length, stands as the group’s best effort to date and one of the biggest mainstream triumphs in Japanese music this year. The Tokyo-based band didn’t accomplish this through a sudden change in sound or any other grandiose moves often associated with breakthrough records. Rather, they did it via a mastery of the same style — driving J-rock tinged with dance music — they’ve been toying around with throughout their career. On this release, they’ve refined that approach to make an LP that’s poised to please the masses while still being a great front-to-back artistic statement.
Sakanaction’s latest would be a must-buy for the singles alone. Last year’s “Identity” leads off with a catchy (but borderline cheesy) party vibe before hitting a gooey emotional center. “Bach no Senritsu wo Yoru ni Kiita Sei Desu” hits on pure pop pleasure with throbbing electronics and a radio-ready chorus, while “Endless” initially seems like the label-mandated ballad (and first misstep) before about-facing into a jaunty bounce worthy of the nightly Disneyland Electrical Parade. The album’s clear highlight, though, is “Rookie,” the band’s best song to date and potentially the best Japanese song of 2011. Combining the pulse of Underworld’s “Born Slippy” with Sakanaction’s pop chops, “Rookie” synthesizes the group’s rock-meets-dance approach perfectly, and completes it with a massive chorus.
Yet what makes “DocumentaLy” a killer album is how good the tracks surrounding the singles sound. “Monochrome Tokyo” sets paranoid, muffled vocals against blippy sounds to create an unsettling (but floor-ready) atmosphere, while “DocumentaRy” comes out of nowhere to be a competent dance instrumental. Sakanaction invoke Radiohead’s lonesome “How To Disappear Completely” on the sparse “Ryuusen,” random electronic squiggles emphasizing the solitude of the album’s most downtrodden moment. There isn’t a dud here, only late cut “Document” seems a little too relaxed. Sakanaction have delivered their strongest album to date, and it’s a triumphant reminder of what mainstream Japanese rock is capable of.