Idol group E-Girls have a knack for covers. On last year’s “Colorful Pop,” they opened with a song borrowing the main synthesizer line from Yellow Magic Orchestra’s “Rydeen” before later transforming Japanese disco tunes and Bananarama singles into tightly crafted blasts of electro-pop. It made for one of 2014’s biggest J-pop surprises, but didn’t assert anything about the group beyond their name being attached to some catchy tracks.
Their third album, “E.G. Time,” strives to be all about E-Girls — just as the title implies. They still fit in some covers — a hyper take on an early Dreams Come True single and the theme song to the cartoon “Chibi Maruko-chan,” which sounds like it has been reworked by the Vengaboys — but the focus is on carving out a spot in the contemporary scene. And it works. “E.G. Time” is 2015’s first great J-pop album, and a welcome alternative to the infantile idols also capable of topping music charts.
A huge part of the album’s success comes from the decision to nix the ballads. Slow songs sapped “Colorful Pop” of its energy, and tend to be the low points on most J-pop releases. “E.G. Time” barrels forward from start to finish. They invert EDM (electronic dance music) on the twinkly “Mr. Snowman” so that the bass gurgles just below all the prettiness, while proper first track (and theme song) “E.G. Anthem -We Are Venus-” unfolds like a laser-light show, featuring lively funk interludes.
The most refreshing aspect of E-Girls is how they buck most of the major idol trends. They shun idol-standard amateurism in favor of K-pop-like precision, and no track captures this better than album highlight “Music Flyer,” produced by Perfume and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu producer Yasutaka Nakata. Backed by a bleacher-stomping beat, the 26 members of the group borrow a technique AKB48 have used to annoy many — they sing in unison. But whereas AKB just sound louder, E-Girls turn it into a focused, wordless chant. It’s forceful and catchy, and like “E.G. Time” as a whole it’s the group establishing themselves as a top level J-pop act . . . and doing it with their own style. (Patrick St. Michel)