Album review: Natsume Mito - Natsumelo
The first comparison that will undoubtedly be made with Natsume Mito is to that of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. Not just visually, but musically. Both girls have had their albums produced by Nakata Yasutaka, but they also share songs which are slapstick and downright silly, with the occasional song about coming of age. Neither Pamyu Pamyu nor Natsume seem to have gotten into music to leave any form of musical legacy, but purely for the hell of it and to soundtrack their own careers. So I doubt Natsume cares too much about such comparisons and that she's just grateful for the ride. Pamyu Pamyu on the other hand may have some things to say, given that Natsume's debut Natsumelo is much of what her third studio album Pikapika fantajin should have been.
As is often the case with any album helmed entirely by Nakata, the production on this album is meticulous. Natsumelo features what are quite possibly some of Nakata's best productions in quite some time. Some songs have feel disjointed and awkward structurally, but the payoff is always a killer hook which anchors everything. Nakata has been shoe-horning EDM into many of his works over the past 2 years, running it so far into the ground that he'd give David Guetta a run for his money. But thankfully, he avoids it here.
Natsumelo is a very consistent body of work which flows nicely. As is often the case with J-Pop albums, most of the track list is made up of A and B-sides released over the course of a year, so not much is new. But with that said, Natsumelo still holds together pretty well and comes off as though it was considered as a whole, and not just a collection of singles; as was the case with Perfume's Cosmic explorer - a 2016 release which Nataka Yasutaka had also produced in its entirety.
But whilst meticulous production is a trait of any album produced by Nakata, so is running out of steam and Natsumelo sputters in its latter half. The tailend of the album is where the songs feel less distinct and merge in this samey sound of dance folk music. It's a stark contrast to the first half of the album which features strongly defined songs which feel unique and singular, yet sit together nicely. The first 6 songs on this album are all killer, no filler, and feel like Natsume's own songs. The 6 which follow sound like Pamyu Pamyu songs which were yanked from Pikapika fantajin sessions and they just don't hold as well.
The best way I can think to describe Natsumelo is that its like a concoction of Pamyu Pamyu's Nanda collection, earlier Capsule albums and early Perfume B-sides.
Nakata still keeps up his old tricks, although he gives them new twists here. "Hanabira" is a four on floor dance number, but with a quasi mid-tempo BPM count. Think Perfume's "Clockwork" or Capsule's "Hello". The piano chords and the acoustic guitar give it a great texture. There's a lot of repetition in this song which could have easily killed it given how musically sparse it is, but it works.
"8 bit boy" skirts with chiptune, a music style that many artists in the genre cite Nakata as an inspiration. Nakata's music has often skirted close to the genre (Perfume's "Laser beam", Pussy Pam's "Ninjari bang bang"). But here he goes full pelt with it, and Nakata being Nakata, he completely shuts it down. It's a great song and you can tell he had a lot of fun making it. For fans who have been wanting Nakata to throw his shit back to the electro pop days of Perfume's Game and Ami Suzuki's Supreme show, rejoice in this song. As amazing as it is to hear Nakata go crazy with a bunch of whizzes, blips and NES sounds, the best part of this song is the intro, which is dying to be sampled, and that the genre and style which underlies the entire song is Disco. The difference here is that instead of bass, guitars and strings, you're getting it with a bunch of retro video game sound effects. "8 bit boy" makes me want a disco record from Nakata...badly.
A symptom of Nakata productions is that artists don't always stand above his music, but Natsume manages to, despite not having the best voice. Her voice isn't as shrill as Pamyu Pamyu's which makes it easier to listen to. She isn't putting on a voice which as Perfume do, so there's a sense of grounding in how she sings. Whilst Mito is auto-tuned on some of these songs, it's subtle and she doesn't have a tonne of effects on her voice that make you question whether it is her singing or text-to-speech software. The roughness around the edges of her voice compliment the precision of Nakata's production nicely. Mito holds her own on these songs in ways that Perfume and Kyary didn't always manage to on their last albums.
Those who avoided all of Natsume's singles which enjoy this album much more than those who did, due to all of the material being pretty much new to them - as was the case with me when I finally came around to give Natsume a chance.
If I were Pussy Pamyu, I'd be pissed, because Nakata turned it out for Nastume Mito in a way he did not for Pikapika Fantajin and all of the singles which followed.
Natsumelo is not a masterpiece. But it's a pretty good album which is better than it deserves to be.
■ Maegami kiri sugita
■ Odekake Summer
■ 8 bit boy
■ I'll do my best
■ Hanabira ★ J's fave