Album review: Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - Japamyu

Album review: Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - Japamyu | Random J Pop

I went into Japamyu expecting a variation of Perfume's Future pop, a third of which sounded like a Pamyu Pamyu album anyway. But thankfully it's not the case. Japamyu still sounds very much like a Kyary Pamyu Pamyu album, but in a different gear.

Kyary and her fans are awarded a consistent album. It certainly flows well. Whilst the sound of Japamyu as a whole doesn't sell the concept that Kyary said we'd get, it's a consistent album. This isn't much of a shock though, as all of Pamyu Pamyu's albums have been pretty consistent musically. The problem here is that the album as a whole is very pedestrian for somebody who was once anything.

Speaking on the concept, it's far more subtle than I expected it to be based on what was disclosed in the official press release for the album when the title was announced. Oddly, the album intro is called "Virtual Pamyu Pamyu", which sounds like the intro or player select theme to a retro video game; the Japan-centricities of which do not come through until more than half way through the song. The album only features four songs which push the Japancentric sound. Nanda collection featured two such songs ("Ninja re bang bang" and "Mi") which pushed that agenda far more than the four songs do here combined. The album could have been called literally anything else and it would have been fine, because the 'Japan sound' doesn't ground this album or permeate it to such an extent that it needed to be referenced in the title. It's a small thing, but something that has become a theme with Nakata lately; where album titles allude to one thing, with the music not necessarily following.

But what Japamyu highlights more than Nakata's penchant for dipping in and out of an album concept, is that Kyary's music is heavily reliant on what she's doing outside of it. Nakata needs something to work with in order to give Pussy Pamyu a larger than life song that creates an entire world unto itself. Pamyu Pamyu revolution and Nanda collection were fuelled by all of the TV commercials, magazine shoots and product tie-in's that Kyary was being pimped in constantly. Her albums acted as soundtracks to everything that she was doing in her career at those points. But Pussy Pam hasn't been as active as she once was and it's having a knock on effect on the music.

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is a character and Nakata's music plays a large part in giving her somewhere non-visual in which to live and exist. But on this album its like they're both on NyQuil. Kyary is not presenting much of a character on this album at all. We are at that point where Kyary is getting older and the line between Kyary Pamyu Pamyu the character and Kiriko Takemura are starting to blur. This album sounds like we're getting a diluted Kyary and bits of Kiriko, and that's kinda the problem. No work was really done to cultivate a half-way house, a sound, or a narrative that doesn't completely eradicate the Kyary sound that everybody knows, but also shows a new direction as to where it could go next. Kyary's sound doesn't have to become subdued and boring as she gets older. The music just has to be good. It can still be fun, crazy and bold - just in different ways.

Japamyu is a pretty boring album. But its reflective of what Kyary has given us over the past couple of years, which is Instagram posts of her nails, her food and her hammer toes; which isn't much for Nakata to work with. Sure, she's done a couple of tours. But it seems as though Kyary, her team and Nakata aren't sure how to present or navigate this. They're trying to go with a 'business as usual' approach, when it's not business as usual at all. Kiriko is getting older and is seemingly out growing Kyary. But the actuality is that Kyary isn't just a character anymore, it's who Kiriko is. They've now converged as one and the same. But again, nobody seems to know what to do with this.

This is the issue that you can encounter when you start a music career as a character who is bigger than the music and then you try to scale it all back and show that you're more than the character. Even Lady Gaga struggled a little with this; shifting from a crazy outfit wearing pop hussy on The fame monster, to the low key tank top and denim cut offs chick we got on Joanne. But at least she had other things going on around her to supplement the musical and visual shift and promote this new phase of her career. She released a Netflix movie to show her life off of the stage. She did the Super bowl half-time show to remind everybody who she is when she's on that stage. Lady Gaga showed the world that 'Lady Gaga' is a spectrum. Kyary on the other just put this album out in the middle of zero promotion and no life nor career context, which is crazy for her to have done when both have been so detrimental to the success of her previous albums. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is more than just the music. Kyary and her team create these worlds and Nakata soundtracks them. But if Kyary and her team isn't delivering this, then Nakata can't only do so much with the music, and I feel that's what's happened here.

Album review: Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - Japamyu | Random J Pop

Kyary also finds herself in the same boat as Perfume, in that her music is tied solely to one person. Yasutaka Nakata. The problem when you tether your entire musical existence to one person, is that if their creativity wanes or the quality in the output dips, you're fucked. And that also plays its part here. There's nothing that is as much of listening trip as "Kyary ANAN", "Fashion monster" or "Invader invader". But the music here isn't bad and he at least gave Kyary complete songs with actual choruses, which is more than what he gave Perfume for half of Future pop. Although "Enka natrium" comes close with its half arsed chorus and beat switch, which interrupts verses that pop with killer bounces and a tight flow from Kyardi P. Nakata seemed to be at such odds with what to do here, that he decided to album mix "Sai & co", of which there was absolutely no point. Because all he did was slap 20 seconds worth of the original instrumental before the first verse. If "Sai & co" made the cut, then "Mondai girl" also should have. It was a solid song and would have made a great album opener coming straight in after "Virtual Pamyu Pamyu" given the video game / old school Final Fantasy battle theme style intro of the song.

Japamyu is a shame, because it's not a shit album. There are some genuinely great moments here. Kyary rapping on "Kimi no mikata" and "Enka natrium" is refreshing. She genuinely sounds good and it's far less jarring than hearing her sing. "Enka natrium" also has a section where Kyardi P drops the typical Kyary high pitched affectation and her flow feels much more dynamic and animated. It shows that Kiriko Takemura and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu aren't mutually exclusive.

Yasutaka Nakata shows a vested interest in Pamyu Pamyu and has done since the beginning. The two of them are actually friends. They hang out, they regularly appear on each other's Instagram feeds, turn up to each other's gigs and naturally, they seemed completely at ease with each other during an interview where they talked through each song on the album. Nakata has a completely different relationship with Kyary to what he has with Perfume and this shows in the music. Everything feels tailored specifically for her. So there's no sense with any of the songs here that they would work better with anybody else. Whilst nothing on this album is great nor memorable, there is definitely still a chemistry there between Kyary and Nakata. Even though the sound of this album is pretty much a flat-line from start to finish, he still retains the elements that make a Kyary song a Kyary song, even though it's dialled down greatly here.

Kyary and her team need to start to decide how to proposition Kyary going forward. If it's something that any of them even want to even bother with. It honestly wouldn't surprise me if this was the last album we got from Kyary. But I also feel that they'd probably want to release one more. I would genuinely be interested in hearing what a follow-up album would sound like. Whilst this album reveals that the music is heavily reliant on what Kyary is doing outside of music, it also shows that there is potentially more to Kyary than we've gotten in the past. But how to transform this into great music appeared to be the obstacle here. Everybody is trying to hold onto the Kyary we knew 5 years ago, whilst also respecting that she's not who she was 5 years ago. So we end up with this awkward album where its like a coming of age album, but not quite. Because nobody quite knows what the direction of Kyary is now or where she'll be in another 5 years. Either that or everybody knows, but are burying their heads in the sand in the the Pamyu Pamyu brand is strong enough to sustain everything. But the chart entry of 12 on the Oricon weekly chart has shown that it isn't.

Japamyu is a good pop record. But as was the case with Pikapika fantajin, nothing really sticks out here and there are no strong distinctions between the songs. Japamyu is an okay enough album for a bit of background noise. But there's nothing of real note on this thing. Whilst Pamyu Pamyu Revolution will be remembered for its whimsical foolishness, Nanda collection will be remembered for its ridiculousness and Pikapika fanatjin will be remembered as that album that had that song where it sounded like Kyary was chanting 'F U C K!', there's no defining factor of Japamyu other than how bland it is.

RATING: 4 / 10

Album highlights:
■ Virtual Pamyu Pamyu
■ Oto no kuni
■ Kimi no mikata
■ Enka natrium