Kansai-based trio √thumm’s music doesn’t just mix clashing styles together, but also touches on two cultural representations of Japan today. The group attracted attention around Kansai with two albums of maximalist techno-pop, futuristic numbers resembling the modern overload of Perfume, albeit without big-company money. Yet, like techno-pop forefather Yellow Magic Orchestra, √thumm (pronounced “root thumm”) works traditional Japanese sounds and splashes of exotica to add character to its art. It also placed relaxed ballads next to the manic moments, piano-centric tunes made for rustic communities like its native Nara.
Latest album “Mimoro” is √thumm’s most refined full-length yet, at times forward-thinking or nostalgic, but sounding good for today.
The faster cuts find √thumm sticking to the formula that helped garner enough attention for it to play at Japan Expo 2011 in Paris. Opener “Time Trip” builds around stuttering synths before introducing lead singer Lio’s digitally-altered singing, her words unintelligible but sounding so good it’s tough to care. “Prophet,” “White” and several others don’t deviate far from this approach, with only the instrumental “K” missing the mark, content to zip around without actually delivering anything.
It’s the slow songs, though, that are the surprising highlight of “Mimoro.” Tracks such as “Koyonashi” and “Ukigumo” unfold slowly, with delicate piano and vocals grazed by some electronic touches to remind us we’re in 2012, but the overall song is more suited for summer in the countryside. “Cutesy” is the album’s most straightforward pop moment, a playful track that shuffles along at a relaxed pace, boosted further by particularly sugary singing from Lio. But the album’s best moment — and a contender for the trio’s strongest song — is the switch-up of “Simple Life.” Neither electro-charged pop nor melancholy balladry, it’s closer to lazy-day indie pop, with slight bass gurgles pushing up fluttery keyboard taps. It’s also the one instance on the album where the lyrics matter: Lio sings about friends and blue skies, peaking with the simple but profound line, “I love the simple life.” For a group constantly looking forward and back, it’s a vulnerable sentiment, and one concerned with the now.