It’s not the highest of honors, but I’d like to award awkwardly named boy band Kis-My-Ft2 as the best pop act under the Johnny & Associates umbrella.
Again, this isn’t an accomplishment worthy of a trophy, especially considering the competition includes the phone-it-in balladry of SMAP and the dinner-theater cheesiness of Arashi and Sexy Zone. Still, as evidenced by several tracks on the seven-member group’s third album, “Kis-My-Journey,” the project’s willingness to embrace contemporary global sounds makes it more compelling than the stuff being put out by most other male pop stars topping the Oricon charts, even if it’s a hit-or-miss collection that’s heavy on the misses.
As on last year’s “Good Ikuze!” the most interesting element on “Kis-My-Journey” is the group’s embrace of EDM (electronic dance music) signifiers: hyperactive pacing building up to moments of electronic release, often via bass freak-outs. The producers behind these songs, who mainly have backgrounds in writing for megagroup Exile or various K-pop outfits, give Kis-My-Ft2 tracks that add some punch to its pop. “Seven Journey” is fleshed out by bright synths and a zippy pace, while “Striker” achieves a catchy number out of Skrillex-aping clatter. The squiggly rush of “3.6.5″ goes down easy, and features the CD’s one great instance of building a song for maximum emotional payoff.
Unfortunately, Kis-My-Ft2 still mainly wades into the territory that makes Johnny’s acts so loathsome. Here’s a fun drinking game: Every time a song starts with a piano twinkle, take a shot — because what follows is a lifeless ballad or lifeless-ballad-turned-midtempo chore that you’ll need to be drunk for.
“Tana Kara Botamochi” is all over-caffeinated screams and chants that emphasize the biggest weakness on “Kis-My-Journey” — the vocals. Nobody expects idols to sing well, but given how prominently high in the mix their voices are, you’d expect them to be better than what we’ve got here. Kis-My-Ft2 is able to squeeze in some good hooks, but ultimately this is still a Johnny’s project that plummets into all the usual sonic pitfalls thatall those outfits face.