“Am I an adult? Or am I a kid?” sings Kyary Pamyu Pamyu on “Furisodation,” a song about the Harajuku blogger-turned-model-turned-pop-star turning 20 earlier this year. That’s the question that looms over all of her sophomore album, “Nanda Collection.”
The album is obsessed with the messy transition from youth to adulthood, the sound of Kyary figuring out Kyary. At times she’s a ninja, a monster, an invader and a lush. “Nanda Collection,” though, is consistently compelling, the year’s finest coming-of-age document and 2013′s best pop album so far.
It helps that producer Yasutaka Nakata still sounds like he’s having fun experimenting with the music. Like last year’s great “Pamyu Pamyu Revolution,” Nakata stuffs “Nanda Collection” with catchy hooks and a love of individual sounds (the syllable “mi” on the taiko-rhythm-game-meets-Eurodance of “Mi,” or “nori” in “Noriko to Norio”). Yet now, he’s unafraid to let his productions sound confrontational. “Ninja Ri Bang Bang” features the sound of swords being drawn, slicing through an otherwise jubilant tune, while “Invader Invader” includes bass-heavy interludes reminiscent of dubstep/EDM artists like Skrillex.
Nakata’s production is the perfect sonic backdrop for Kyary’s age crisis. Her debut album embraced childlike glee, highlighted by the energy of her breakout single “Ponponpon.” Now, though, she can see maturity on the horizon. “When I grow up, will I be happy?” she asks again on “Furisodation,” while she gets self-conscious about her eye-catching garb on “Fashion Monster.” Kyary still has some youthful escapades — “Saigo no Ice Cream” revolves around a store running out of the frozen treat — but even the bubbly “Kimi ni 100 Percent” features the maturity-dodging line, “Starting tomorrow, I’m going to buckle down and get serious.” She tries finding herself in the past, whether through traditional Japanese imagery (“Ninja”), or 1990s Shibuya-kei (“Super Scooter Happy,” a near-faithful cover of a 2004 song by capsule). She tries on ambition during “Invader Invader” with the line, “Let’s conquer the world!” Later in the album, though, she’s fretting. “What do I do? What can I do?” she sings.
Her resolution comes on the excellent album closer “Otona na Kodomo.” Over glossy music anchored by a Chicago-house piano line, she sings that she’s slowly figuring out being a grown-up, while maintaining her youthfulness. It ends with the lines, “Sorry that I can’t be obedient, and sorry that I can’t live up to your expectations.” And thank goodness, because “Nanda Collection” wouldn’t be one of the year’s best if she did.