Something tells me Her Ghost Friend doesn’t believe in the concept of guilty pleasures. The duo of DJ Obake and singer Shinobu Ono create pop music with bouncy hooks that isn’t too far removed from the songs currently topping the Oricon charts. Her Ghost Friend’s brand of J-pop, though, is dotted with influences from hobbies only a 2chan user could love: from a lifetime of playing video games and watching anime. The result is a full-length that serves up a more experimental and playful vibe than the majority of artists in Japan’s mainstream music scene.
DJ Obake’s production is the main reason “Looking For Wonder” stands out. Her Ghost Friend’s typical approach to songwriting seems to be to stack a flurry of synths on top of one another and to let the candy-colored tornado that results go to work on the ears. He also programs the beats to mimic a variety of genres in an approach that doesn’t often happen in chart-topping J-pop — at least, not all on one album anyway. For every straightforward pop bounce like the one on “Niji Iro no Sneaker” (“Rainbow-colored Sneakers”), Obake explores other sounds by playing with the drum patterns as he touches on dance music (the stuttering “Natsu no Himitsu” [“Summer Secret”]), hip-hop (the piano-driven “Nichiyo Gozen 7 Jihan” [“Sunday, 7:30 a.m.”]) and drum ‘n’ bass (“Miracle Powerful Beat”).
A tendency for small flourishes also benefits “Looking For Wonder.” A horn breaks through triumphantly on the otherwise woozy “Magical Mystery Circle,” and an anime sound effect sneaks into “Nichiyo Gozen 7 Jihan.” Even a brief interlude like the 90-second-long “Utatane” (“Nap”) sounds as if it was labored over, the headphone-channel-jumping snaps of the track turning what could have been a lazy break into something that’s captivating all on its own.
All these wonky touches, though, don’t detract from the accessibility and fun of “Looking For Wonder.” Ono’s singing is far from polished — if your biggest complaint about modern J-pop is how mechanical the singing sounds, Ono’s flawed voice might be refreshing. She struggles with the occasional high note and sometimes stumbles over her words, but the mistakes make her sound relatable. She’s able to charm thanks to the occasional spoken-word or hip-hop rhyme (check out “Forever Nevermore,” where her insistence to “Yo, check it out!” and her cheery flow end up making this the album’s sweetest moment). It’s instances like those that make “Looking For Wonder” a pop success — whereas outfits such as Arashi and AKB48 play it safe with tedious results, Her Ghost Friend let loose and produce an entirely joyful experience.