Japanese trio Perfume doesn’t look like it would be an electronic dance music group.
The girl group’s doll-like aesthetic is sharply juxtaposed with futuristic beats, creating an effect of a delicate comet that does not look dangerous but still burns through the night sky.
With “Cosmic Explorer,” their latest release, members Ayaka Nishiwaki, Yuka Kashino and Ayano Omoto take their signature techno-pop sound to new heights. Their winning formula of producer Yasutaka Nakata’s blend of house and trance, coupled with a compelling space theme, enhance Perfume’s mature, twinkling sound.
Indeed, “Cosmic Explorer” sounds like it was inspired by an intergalactic spaceship ride through the Milky Way. It is refreshing to be exposed to heavy drops and hard-hitting experimental trance music by a female group, whose brand of robo-pop is always a welcome change from the sugar-coated music of other Japanese girl groups like AKB48, short for Akihabara48.
The opener, “Navigate,” creates a lush atmosphere that sets up a sparkling tone for the rest of the album. It gives off an otherworldly vibe, and its seamless transition to title track “Cosmic Explorer” is satisfying rather than abrupt.
If Daft Punk composed the score to Mario Kart’s “Rainbow Road” track – a course where players dodge opponents and obstacles on a glittery, colorful path to interstellar victory – they would probably come up with the title song. Heavy beats in “Cosmic Explorer” induce a rush of euphoria, as the chorus runs through constellations of synthesized chords sparkling with the members’ girlish voices.
“Cosmic Explorer” and “Next Stage With YOU” sound like Daft Punk mixes, yet they effortlessly sandwich the Avicii-esque track “Miracle Worker.” The credit for the album’s elegance even when switching between styles goes to Nakata, who is a master at pulling from the styles of different DJs and creating a personalized mix suited for the members’ voices.
Where the album glitches, however, is with “STORY.” The almost six-minute marathon works in isolation and without context, but its industrial, mechanical sounds seem out of place when surrounded by upbeat songs that showcase more of the members’ voices. The song is also close by to the bitterly boring “Sweet Refrain,” whose stale rhythm plods along like a last-place Mario Kart finisher.
However, the best song on the album – one that sets up a string of great tracks – is “Baby Face.” It is upbeat, cheerful and musical, and its placement in the second half of the album helps break up the monotony established by “Story” and “Sweet Refrain.” Notably, it also displays a lot of singing by the members, who often are overshadowed by the sometimes overwrought production and relegated to the background while Nakata takes center stage.
Luckily, the competition between production and vocals isn’t as much of a problem as it was in the early years of Perfume, when the trio was still trying to establish its voice, style and image. While the songs can get repetitive toward the end of the album, the string of established hits in “Cosmic Explorer” is equal to a “Rainbow Road” victory.