New Japanese Vibes (10) – Perfume ‘STAR TRAIN’

Japanese techno-pop trio Perfume released their new single ‘STAR TRAIN’ this late October as part of their 15th anniversary. Known for their relentless, energetic synth-laden dance pop, this song conveys more of their delicate personality, while retaining some of their musical character that made them popular in the first place.

Among the characteristic android-tinged vocals of the trio and the vibrant synth patterns, the presence of pounding piano chords and guitar strumming in the verse conjure up subtle glimpses of Munford and Sons-esque anthemic expressions. A sparkling chorus lifts the mood instantly with a chorus melody (evocative of an anthemic Coldplay or U2 number) powerful enough to conduct a sing-along with an audience. The word play Perfume makes between ‘Star Train’ and ‘Start Line’ in the lyrics adds a nice personal touch, perhaps conveying the message that although they have been in the business for 15 years, this is just the beginning and there is more excitement to come.

Other Info/Context

  • This song was written as the title track for their documentary WE ARE Perfume – WORLD TOUR 3rd DOCUMENT, celebrating their 15th anniversary.
  • Check out my post on Perfume here.

© Isaku Takahashi

Perfume

The trio from Hiroshima, consisting of Aa-chan, Kashiyuka and Nocchi are a significant name in the dramatic change of the musical landscape of ‘idol-pop’. They sell themselves with their clear-cut dance moves, heavily processed android vocals, a wonderful array of electronic synth and drum palettes, and a fascination towards futuristic imagery.

It would be fitting to start off with one of their early hits ‘Polyrhythm’, the song that first attracted major attention. It is electro-sound at its full potential: extensive use of vocoder engineering, an array of dazzling synthetic textures and a heart-pounding beat.

Although a rhythmically ‘user-friendly’ version (one with the bridge taken out) exists, for me the polyrhythmic bridge is the highlight of the track. Admittedly, it does drag on slightly, but it’s a novel way to create a buzz of excitement to the latter stage of the song.

My all-time favourite Perfume tune is ‘Laser Beam’. There is a slightly mysterious quality to the melody in the verse, but I feel it creates some tension towards the voltage-driven chorus. Musically the track is immersed in glitch, laser-like synths, an aggressive bass line and a foot-tapping four-on-the-floor beat. The trio unleashes a meticulously drawn choreography (partly influenced by the ball pitch of Japanese baseball player Ichiro), executed in pristine condition.

‘Spring of Life’ is a musical jab of aggressive techno beats and punishing sequences of steps and moves. The bubbly, energetic radiation is driven by the rhythmically pulsating distorted synths, rich vocal layers and a gear-shifting chorus accented by the opening lyric ‘spring of life!’

Their latest anthem ‘Pick Me Up’ sees a transition towards a more Euro-centric groove, perhaps in their efforts to sustain their growing international recognition. A surprising touch of Avicii is present when the acoustic guitar makes a prominent appearance in the first verse. The pre-chorus is successful in providing a gradual crescendo into the explosive, catchy chorus. The vocals are less processed than their earlier musical output, which adds an honest, human touch to the song. Despite the fact that elements of realism are slowly crawling into Perfume’s artistry (in the sense that their actual voices play a productive role rather than being sonically manipulated), they sustain their futuristic spirit with a music video set around a strange, unearthly environment.

Perfume‘s producer Yasutaka Nakata is clever in the way he packs complex musical and visual ideas into a package that is easy to consume within the mainstream. Perhaps Perfume is a testament to Nakata’s ability to refashion kitsch idol pop from a mechanised machine-line system into an exciting melting pot of artistic innovation.

Other Listening:

  • One Room Disco
  • 1mm
  • VOICE
  • Magic of Love
  • Chocolate Disco

© Isaku Takahashi