While electronic duo capsule’s hit 2011 album “World of Fantasy” was undoubtedly a development of ideas introduced in earlier songs such as “The Music,” it was also a discrete (if frequently indiscreet) work in its own right: a near-concept album linked by a uniform 128 bpm tempo, a relentlessly hedonistic atmosphere and a focus on beats, dynamics and nonsensical sloganeering over conventional melody- and lyric-based pop songwriting. New album “Stereo Worxxx” has more in common with 2010’s “Player” — more a sandbox for musician Yasutaka Nakata to play around with and refine ideas from various parts of his earlier work.
For fans of Nakata who have been dismayed by the growing divergence between his work with capsule and electropop group Perfume, there are signs that the two wings of the family are still on speaking terms. Opening duo “Feelin’ Alright” and “Never Let Me Go” are what Perfume might have sounded like if, instead of just remaking “One Room Disco” again and again, they’d continued making songs such as “Game” and “Edge.” Toshiko Kojima’s vocals hold down a simple melodic and lyrical motif while the beats and synths move around them, driving each change in tone or tempo. In quite different ways, they’re both solid (if still incomplete) examples of how the repetitive onslaught of “World of Fantasy” and the often frustratingly fluffy pop of Perfume’s “JPN” can be reconciled.
Also like “Player,” “Stereo Worxxx” contains a couple of songs culled from Nakata’s soundtrack work, with “Step on the Floor” (from the film “Liar Game”) the most striking. Nakata’s straight-up pop songs (Perfume’s “Voice” and the aforementioned “One Room Disco” are good examples) often suffer from lingering unnecessarily long on a relatively unremarkable verse before hitting you with the sparkling chorus. “Step on the Floor” at first feints as if to do this but when it hits the chorus just after the one-minute mark, it keeps bombarding you with fresh hooks. It’s one of Nakata’s most complete pop songs and an excellent example of the marriage of multilayered arrangement and simple, effective electropop.
The wild party of 2011’s “World of Fantasy” still seems to be raging on into 2012, with Nakata continuing to integrate tribal and Japanese festival rhythms into his music. “Tapping Beats” refines ideas from “World of Fantasy,” while the other soundtrack song, “All the Way,” is basically a sequel to the title track. On the other hand, “Dee J” with its contrasting samples of a near-catatonic woman and a gurgling baby repeating the song title is like the song that Nakata rejected last March as being too ridiculous even for an album that included the frankly ludicrous “Striker” and “I Just Want to XXX You” — and really, it’s hard to hate it for that.
There’s certainly a lot to take away from “Stereo Worxxx,” but it’s definitely a transitional album with no clear sense of direction or identity. It has material to tantalize fans of both its predecessor and Nakata’s work with Perfume, but probably not enough to satisfy either. Importantly though, it makes clear that these two poles are not irreconcilable, which could augur very well for the future.