Please show sympathy to all those involved in tengal6. The six-person pop-rap group is “supported” by Tenga, a Japanese adult-toy company (first line of their online concept: “The future of masturbation is here!”). I can just imagine the members of tengal6 dreaming of pop stardom, of seeing their own faces plastered across a sought-after display wall at Tower Records. Then I imagine the unease that must have set in when they realized their only ticket to greater attention would come from a company peddling something called a “deep throat cup.” This has resulted in some critics tagging tengal6 as “that sex-toy group,” conjuring up all sorts of icky images (and unavoidable innuendos whenever you write about them).
Show the most sympathy, though, to the producers behind tengal6’s debut album, “City.” This album is a showcase of some of the best up-and-coming music-makers in Japan today. “Perfect Star Kirari” starts with smooth, summery bass-and-horn bursts courtesy of Romantic Production, the song a warm opening into the rest of “City.” Okadada’s shimmering nod to early ’90s R&B flavor on “Girl’s Flowers” would be the highlight if it didn’t follow “Moshi,” with a sputtering beat provided by Fragment, one of the best experimental-leaning producers working in Tokyo today. Even more muddled offerings, such as Kobe producer tofubeat’s “Puchahenza!,” feature snippets of brilliance, specifically in how he deploys Auto-Tune to create a feeling of falling near the song’s end.
Less sympathy goes to tengal6’s singers, whose rapping turns “City” into a messy affair. They are capable of good stuff — see how they lock in with the beat on “Moshi” — but too often try shoving charm into their verses. They either inject too much excitement — they practically shatter glass on “Girl’s Flowers” when they rhyme about hair salons and cheese fondue — or deliver lines in a way that sounds like a bar chat that’s two lemon sours deep.
As a pop record, “City” is an inconsistent collection of good hooks and personality that’s forced way too hard. As a showcase of smart producers, this is an exciting release. As a research subject that leads potential writers to the Tenga website? Well, I think I’m going to go take a shower now.