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Could Wednesday Campanella’s ‘Superman’ be the album that saves mainstream J-pop?

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Wednesday Campanella “Superman” (Warner Music Japan)

Ambition can be one hell of a tightrope to navigate. Electro-pop trio Wednesday Campanella (Suiyoubi no Campanella in the Japanese media) has eyed the upper echelons of J-pop for a few years and has had glimpses of the top thanks to a solid track record of dance-grounded cuts — though charismatic lead singer Kom_I’s popularity has played a big part. “Superman,” Wednesday Campanella’s first full-length release from a major label, continues that delicate walk between on-the-edge indie and TV-friendly pop.

Wednesday Campanella relies on dance music as its main focus, and “Superman” largely draws from the recent U.K. future garage boom for its starting point. Kenmochi Hidefumi and Dir.F handle the sonic side of the group’s output, constructing club cuts anchored by radio-ready hooks (“Aladdin”) and on-trend vocal samples (“Onyankopon”). However, the group is at its best when pushing into stranger combinations — “Kamehameha the Great” is tropical pop split in half with a big bass drop — building on existing electronic trends but nudging them in different directions.

Ultimately, “Superman” hinges on Kom_I (pronounced koh-mu-eye), and her vocal zig-zagging sells the album. It’s safe to say nobody has had this much fun with language in J-pop since Sotaisei Riron’s Etsuko Yakushimaru, an artist who is also more interested in how words sound than what they mean. On “Superman,” the tracks serve as vessels for puns and interesting turns of phrase — “Audrey” is an extended series of references to Audrey Hepburn’s filmography, while closer “Ame-no-Uzume” injects Shinto mythology into bubble-era imagery, specifically the nightlife of clubs like Juliana’s. All of it is made better by Kom_I’s delivery — on “Chaplin” she even manages to make a recipe sound cool.

When a buzzworthy indie act makes the move to a major label, there’s a concern that vampiric executives will come along and suck all the artistic urges out of the performer. It seems like Wednesday Campanella’s members wore their crucifixes. “Ikkyu-san” is the one track that may warrant some alarm as it retreats into J-pop’s current fetish for disco and funk, but Kom_I keeps it from being predictable.

“Superman” doesn’t just maintain Wednesday Campanella’s indie cred — if we’re lucky it could present the mainstream with an exciting new voice.