Galileo Galilei’s sophomore album, “Portal,” manages to both document everything that’s wrong with contemporary mainstream Japanese rock music and offer a better way for guitar-centric pop in this county. This Hokkaido group falls through many of the same trapdoors as artists dotting the Oricon Charts, highlighted by a bloated runtime and emotional clichés worthy of a Hallmark card. Yet it also adds enough interesting sonic wrinkles and delivers those clichés with Brando-like sincerity to make “Portal” a step ahead of bands who suffer the same flaws.
The biggest difference between “Portal” and last year’s debut LP, “Parade,” is the increase in electronic elements. The quintet adds more digital touches alongside the chugging guitar. It hasn’t turned into a rock-dance cyborg like fellow Hokkaido group Sakanaction, though. Galileo Galilei uses the technics as bright additions to color its otherwise straightforward rock, a style not lacking in Japan today. Opener “Imaginary Friends” utilizes whirring synth as a pillow for the intimate boy-girl vocals to fall on, while songs such as “Freud” and “Good Shoes” get buffed out via prominent keyboard lines.
Bedroom producers, don’t get too excited. Galileo Galilei remains a guitars-first outfit. The worst parts of “Portal” are the slow-burning scented-candle ballads littering its back half, joyless J-pop repackaged as emotional rock that’s too schmaltzy for its own good. Galileo Galilei really shines, though, when imitating J-rock mainstay Bump of Chicken, who at its best can be catchy and anthemic. Energetic cuts such as “Kite” and “Sayonara Frontier” do just that, melding tasty choruses with the sort of upbeat vocals that make you daydream about quitting your crummy day job to chase after your true passion.
“Portal” clocks in at about an hour and is loaded with stretched-out snoozers (not to mention a ¥3,059 sticker price). Yet somewhere in there is a solid EP of electro-tinged rock from a young group capable of standing out.