ALBUM REVIEW: Perfume, PLASMA
Updated: Aug 9, 2022
When people think about city pop and J-pop, sadness is typically not a theme that comes to the forefront of the mind. Maybe the perspective is different for hardcore listeners or native Japanese speakers, but typically, Americans associate this type of music with dancing, having fun and anime compilation videos. In the same way a person may scroll Instagram for a quick laugh or an aesthetic without even giving it a second thought, many outside listeners of this genre don’t stop to examine its real merit. Groups like 1986 Omega Tribe deliver lovely slow jams with beautiful imagery like “A mermaid swimming sadly is reflected inside the glass”. Tomoko Aran’s “Dilemma” is far speedier and more scorned, “I pick the withered flowers while crying and go home / The hypocritical man turned around, I hated him”. Like typical R&B, funk, and pop-rock music, the juxtaposition of the flashy instrumentals and tearful lyrics paints moods that are three-dimensional.
Perfume’s latest banger of a record, PLASMA, follows in the same tradition while keeping things fresh. Track for track, legendary producer Yasutaka Nakata (of Capsule) lays down some of the most impressive production I’ve heard on a pop record all year. There are traces of Drive-style synth wave on the opener and “Mawaru Kagami”, future funk on the stunning “Polygon Wave” and more traditional disco as on “Android &”. The overarching soundscape is that of a video game, a virtual world that the three girl group members, Ayano Ōmoto, Yuka Kashino and Ayaka Nishiwaki, are all trapped in. His beat work and their buoyant performances work on their own, but it’s the lyrics that really sell this project for me. PLASMA challenges the listener to contemplate about the bleak future with a groovy backdrop.
The closer, “Goodbye Plastic World”, is maybe the most overt example of this. On a planet where we are eating a credit card a week via microplastics, where everything seems fabricated, what makes reality real? Perfume accepts their fate, giving into this false virtual reality, even though it contains “Frighteningly Optimized Addiction” and “Maybe someday [they’ll] forget to even think”. Leading up to this moment, we have hybrid rock and J-pop tracks like “Saisei”, with lyrics that paint the universe as a MMORPG version of The Truman Show. “Loop” is more Groundhog Day in its narrative, with the collective world memory resetting like a computer reboot. Even in moments of serene beauty, the environment seems to be fabricated in some way. It begs the question, on a planet so chaotic and full of pollution, isn’t it more responsible and utopian to live in a perfectly generated existence?
If everyday felt like “Flow” sounds, I would hit the “escape to VR” button in a heartbeat. Utilizing more contemporary, bass-synth heavy production, Yasutaka Nakata gives Perfume a wide open sky to fly freely in. I had been listening to this song nearly everyday as a single before doing this review, and it still stands out as one of Perfume’s very best. The angelic vocals, the Mario coin sounds, those drum patterns, it’s all so undeniable. With each new song, we are transported to a different world or setting, and I love each one. “Drive’n The Rain” riffs of moody, ‘70s organ-funk like Boz Scaggs with some really nice rain and thunder effects to sell the scene, while the sticky keys of “Spinning World” are pure DDR good times.
If this record was all vibe and fun with no lyrical substance, I’d still give it a standout. On first listen, I knew this was a special record. But like Kali Uchi’s Sin Miedo, closer examination is rewarded with a really cohesive and worthwhile concept. The imagery across these 12 tracks creates a sprawling open world for the listener to spend hours in. It feels more appropriate to rate this in the way that IGN reviews really well constructed games, and for that reason I have to give this an A-.