Album Review: Perfume - Plasma

The post header image, featuring the text ‘?J Pop Album Review’ and a shot of a vinyl of Perfume's album Plasma.

These Perfume streets over the past 8 years have been rough and treacherous. I’m talking double lock the front doors and lock the car doors whilst you’re sat in that bitch.

Ever since Perfume drew a line under their fourth studio album LEVEL3, fans have had to wade through patchy-ass singles and albums, which seemed to not only lose sight of who Perfume were musically, but showed no direction toward who they should become. And whilst some fans are just happy to have Perfume still releasing music, regardless of the quality; I want to see growth and evolution in what Perfume releases, because I know these bitches are better than “Hold My Hand”, “Star Train”, “Tokyo Girl” and that Panasonic washing machine song.

Plasma doesn’t do anything brand new. Some (I am some) would call it safe. But it does provide two things which were desperately needed at this point. 1. A course correction. 2. Some hope that maybe Perfume’s producer Nakata Yasutaka finally got his shit together, and realised the error of this ways on Perfume’s last two albums.


Perfume’s singles since 2020 has been one of Perfume’s most consistent run of singles in a while. I say 2020, because despite “Saisei” finding its way onto Plasma, this ‘new era’ truly started with “Time Warp”. A song that barely anybody liked. Even Perfume themselves barely seemed to like it, because they didn’t promote it worth a damn. They wore those Shein dresses and outlet boots once. Maybe twice. And then that was a wrap on “Time Warp”. I liked “Time Warp”. But it didn’t have enough going for it to make it stick. Also, the vocals were (once again) way too high. And Nakata was still on his ‘no bridge, no middle 8’ bullshit, which made the song feel incomplete. But I did like the sound. Buzzy and 80s is a sweet spot for both Perfume and Nakata Yasutaka. “Dream Fighter”, “Night Flight”, “Laser Beam”, “Spice”, “Spring of Life”. It never misses. Well, there was “Next Mercedes With ¥ou”, but we’re not gonna talk about that. And “Time Warp” somehow sounds so much better when it’s played within the album, and not just because of the small changes Nakata made to the album version.

But when Perfume released “Polygon Wave”, everything changed. For the first time in a while, it seemed pretty unanimous across the Perfume fandom that it was the best song Perfume had put out in a while; even if it was just “Polyrhythm” without a polyrhythm. And when we got “Android&”, it seemed as though perhaps “Polygon Wave” wasn’t a fluke after all, and that Nakata may have had his sandaled foot in a bag. And in-between these, we got some of the best Capsule singles we’ve had in years; two of which I feel should have been given to Perfume. But we’ll get to that. It seemed like Nakata went to an Okinawan island, got some good dick, and got his groove back. Bless his gums.

We’re not gonna talk about “∞Loop”.

By the time that “Flow” came about, with its B-side “Mawaru Kagami” in tow, I could hear how all of these singles and the songs from the Polygon Wave EP (‘cos I always knew they would end up on an album) would sit together. So it was no surprise that when I listened to Plasma that it sounded like an actual body of work. Credit where it’s due, I did not like Future Pop one fucking bit. But it did hold together well as an album. A doo-doo album. But still an album. Unlike Cosmic Explorer, which despite featuring better songs, just didn’t work as an album at all. You could even argue this about LEVEL3. I liked LEVEL3. But I think the strength of some of the songs, the direction taken with the album as a whole, and how it opened and closed, really saved what was a pretty uneven listening experience. Plasma is one of Perfume’s most consistent sounding albums since Triangle - an album that Plasma shares a lot in common with. Perfume’s team are going to have an easy time creating a tour setlist with this album. They could honestly just do the whole album. If Perfume’s team get the setlist right, it will be *Looks into the camera* The Best Thing. They’ll probably still fuck it up though. The Perfume Live 2020 / 2021: Polygon Wave setlist was a shambles. But we’re not gonna talk about that.

But as is common with Japanese albums, Plasma ends up being half of an album concept, and then half singles which were recorded and released before there was an album concept at all. Whilst Perfume got lucky here that Nakata was creating so many of these songs whilst he was in the zone and had a theme in mind, there are still reminders that this wasn’t the case with every song. It certainly wasn’t the case when Nakata cooked up “Saisei” and “Time Warp”, although “Time Warp” still manages to fit the album because of its sound, even if it doesn’t quite have the sauce of some of some of the other songs.

a-chan of Perfume, posing against a blue backdrop, wearing a red dress.
Perfume - Plasma | Universal J, Universal Music

I know that it’s pretty standard to the point of almost being a custom in Japanese music, for every A-side single and B-side to make an album, but this really does need to change. I will always admire Namie Amuro for her approach to her final studio album _genic, where she infamously did not include any singles, and just put out an album of all new songs. I’m not saying Perfume shoulda done this with Plasma. “Polygon Wave” was too popular and too well branded for it to not make an album. Also, it fits Plasma perfectly. But Perfume are most certainly at a stage in their careers where they can be more selective with which songs make their albums, and get away with leaving singles off. And Nakata of all people should be more mindful of this. He’s been in this game too long not to be. Sometimes it’s not always a case of a song needing to be left off. Sometimes it’s a case of a song just needing to be reworked. And whilst a couple of songs on Plasma do get tweaked, they aren’t the songs which needed to be.

Plasma works as an album. But it would have worked better had Perfume and co. been more selective with what made the cut, and had Nakata added a couple more new songs and reworked others. “Saisei” works on Plasma far better than I thought it would. But it’s still an outlier. It’s a bit too cutesy, too Kyary sounding, and sounds too much like a reprise to P Cubed; and the latter is exactly what it should have been left as. But the biggest thing that separates “Saisei” is that it doesn’t have any ties to Plasma sonically. All of the other songs on the album are connected by having a particular bounce and elements of funk. And then you have “Saisei”. “Flow” is a bit of an odd one. In its current form it could sit on Future Pop and would work better there than it does on Plasma. It’s a shame, because “Flow” is a nice song, and of a vibe and tempo that we don’t often get from Perfume. And it’s one of the only instances on Plasma where we get Perfume giving us something that they’ve never really given us before. Sure, the vibe is similar to “575”, but it still feels like new territory for Perfume. I’m reluctant to say that Nakata should have v1.1’d “Flow” to fit Plasma better, because I really do like the sound of it. It should have just been left off altogether. It also slows the album down in the worst way with where it’s sequenced. But we’ll get to that.

Including two of the songs from the Polygon Wave EP was also…a choice that was made. The inclusion of “Android&” makes complete sense. It’s fire. The sound of it fits Plasma. Mikiko already done choreographed the damn thing. But “∞Loop” shoulda stayed as a Polygon Wave EP exclusive, along with the remixed version of “Polygon Wave” and “System Reboot”. “∞Loop” is just a lesser version of “Clockwork”. In fact, “Clockwork” would work better on Plasma because it’s funkier. And, yes. “Polygon Wave” could be seen as a lesser version of “Polyrhythm”. But “Polygon Wave” at least manages to have something different enough going for it, which is the funk. I can shake my ass to “Polygon Wave”. I can’t really shake it to “Polyrhythm”.

Kashiyuka of Perfume, posing against a blue backdrop, wearing a red dress.
Perfume - Plasma | Universal J, Universal Music

Aside from the late forming of album concepts, the bigger issue at large is that Nakata still has no set musical identity for Perfume in the same way he does for Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. When I listen to any of Pussy Pam’s albums, I can hear that she has a sound. And from album to album, Nakata is very aware of this musical world that he’s built for her, and what to do with it as she moves into new phases of her life and her career. Nakata also writes songs which are very much about Kyary, her life, and things going on within it. This is not the case for every song. But every album usually has at least one song which is about an experience Kyary has had, or a juncture she’s at in her life. On Nanda Collection it was “Furisodeshon”. On Pikapika Fantajin it was “Yume no Hajima Ring Ring”. On Candy Racer it was “Gentenkaihi”. Nakata doesn’t really do this with Perfume. Kyary’s albums feel like they are soundtracking her life, both as the persona of Kyary and the girl behind it, Kiriko. Where-as with Perfume, the songs just feel like something for Perfume to dance to…and that’s it. They don’t really tell you anything about the group or their journey. Even fictionally. Even in the cases where it would be easy to take a song and to try and tie it to Perfume’s experiences, such as “Sayonara Plastic World”; either as pop stars living in an age of social media, or as robot bitches dealing with an overflow of information, or a combination of the two.

I completely understand that Perfume has this whole thing about their personas as Perfume, versus who they are separate from the group. But over the past couple of years we’ve seen Perfume be more active on social media, and really branch out into their solo ventures. a-chan likes hosting and is a sucker for love stories. Nocchi likes video games. Kashiyuka likes staring at people making things. Surely there is SOME way this can be worked into the songs. This is Nakata Yasutaka’s pen we’re talking about. It’s not like he doesn’t have the range or the creativity. Surely it wouldn’t be a stretch to write a bop about a bitch in love, bussin’ down in an Animal Crossing village, or a ceramic cup. I mean, shit. We already got “Ceramic Girl” once before. Instead we get songs about nothing, about living in a digital world and life with Hermione Granger’s time turner. And these sound like far more interesting song ideas than they actually turn out to be on Plasma. But at least the songs sound good, I guess.

Perfume have been in this game too long and experienced too much shit for their songs to be saying so much of nothing. I don’t need the songs to be deep and introspective. I just need them to have a point of view which is that of Perfume, and for Perfume to sing them with some form of gusto and feeling. The songs on Plasma too often feel like they’re written for Perfume at the point they were at in 2008, but from the perspective of Nakata and not Perfume themselves. And I think this is quite telling of how Nakata had approached Perfume’s songs during 2020 / 2021, and why Plasma is the first Perfume album which acknowledges and references songs from earlier in their careers. But Nakata’s insistence to not create a sound for Perfume or centre them in their own songs is something that’s been happening more and more with Perfume’s music post LEVEL3. Perfume don’t feel like necessary factors on any of their own songs. And it feels like a conscious effort or decision has been made to not highlight individual members at all any more. Most of Perfume’s songs now aren’t divided up by member, as was the case on Game and Triangle. And in the instances where they are, Nocchi gets the smallest parts. And as was the case with Future Pop, Plasma features a whole bunch of songs which feature instrumental passages where you get zero vocals from Perfume. But Nakata doesn’t side-line Perfume on Plasma anywhere near as badly as he did on Future Pop. We even get vocals (and a different style of vocal) from them on the amazing album intro “Plasma”. There is a MUCH better balance here though. I will give him that.

Questionable song structures are also…a thing. And I can’t make sense of it. On Future Pop, every song was some type of mess structurally. Nakata was punching that clock and phoning every single one of those songs in; but at least he did so consistently across every song. But here, there is no consistency to Nakata’s approach when it comes to song structures. Some songs are just cut short, and clearly sound like they are missing a whole 30 to 60 seconds of music, such as “Time Warp” and “Hate na Bito”. Others are just structurally strange, and not in a cool way. Exhibit A: “Mawaru Kagami”, which goes through the closest thing to an album mix as we get on Plasma. The production and the mixing is a big improvement over the original version, but the structure is worsened by the replacement of the early bridge with a musical passage which makes the song sound like it’s about to end straight after the first run of the chorus. But then you have songs like “Spinning World” and “Drive’n the Rain”, which not only feel whole, but feel like experiences, in the way that Perfume’s songs used to.

Nocchi of Perfume, posing against a blue backdrop, wearing a red dress.
Perfume - Plasma | Universal J, Universal Music

Plasma manages to feel like an encapsulation of what Perfume have done, with some sprinkles of a new direction in which they could go. Although the problem with Perfume’s sound from album to album, is that it doesn’t always go in the direction in which it should, because it’s all dependent on whatever Nakata is into at a given time, and not what was done before or what’s best for Perfume. He’s not as protective nor as precious of Perfume’s sound as he is of Kyary’s. But Plasma at least shows some acknowledgement from Nakata that perhaps he wasn’t paying enough attention before. Plasma is the album I expected to come after LEVEL3. So much so, that Plasma genuinely feels like a re-do of Cosmic Explorer; being everything that album should have been, and that I think fans wanted. You could slip “Cosmic Explorer” and B-sides such as “Koi wa Zenkei Shisei” and “Ijiwaru na Hello” into Plasma and it’d work. Which also highlights the lack of growth between albums, that songs from 2013 and 2014 could slot into an album released in 2022 just fine.

But what Plasma also manages to do (as LEVEL3 also did), is make Perfume’s sound cool. As in, ‘I could recommend these songs to people and not have them turn their nose up’ cool. ‘I would play this in the club’ cool. ‘If I was in the car and had the aux cable connected and one of these songs came on, I wouldn’t scramble to change the song’ cool. And it succeeds in this. With JPN, there was a shift where Perfume’s sound went from cool, stylised and being a complete contrast to their image, to being more cutesy and what people would expect of Perfume given their image and who they are on paper. And then everything went a bit sideways from then on, as Nakata struggled to balance the two. But Plasma has Nakata balancing them the best he’s done in a very long time. Songs such as “Polygon Wave”, “Spinning World”, “Kashiuber’n the Rain” and “Google Pixel&” all do a great job of tapping Perfume right back into that space of ‘Perfume have no reason having songs that hit like this’, whilst also being a solid fit for Perfume now that they are grown women. But Nakata can’t seem to let go of the cutesy sounds that I feel has not only held Perfume back, but has caused conflation between Perfume’s material and Kyary’s. Instances of these songs are very few, and don’t drag this album down in the way that “Houseki no Ame”, “Everyday”, “Tiny Baby”, “Baby Face” and “Mirai no Museum” did. But there is still that feeling of ‘This sounds like a Kyary song’ with the likes of “Time Warp”, “Saisei” and “Hate na Bito”. This is why I wish that Nakata had been selfless and given Capsule’s “Hikari no Disco” and “Virtual Freedom” to Perfume, as these would have sat perfectly on Plasma with the songs that capture the album vibe and theme. “Virtual Freedom” even has a set of lyrics that would have made it form a trinity with “Polygon Wave” and “Android&”.

The sequencing on Plasma is pretty iffy, but this is a given with Perfume albums. Game and Triangle only get away with raggedy sequencing because all of the songs are good, and they all share a sound, and this works in Plasma’s favour too. Whilst Plasma still manages to maintain a form of *Turns and looks into the camera* Flow - re-jigging the songs on Plasma really does make a huge difference and makes the album so much better. But the track order doesn’t ruin the album the way it did Cosmic Explorer, and came close to doing with LEVEL3. But it does make you wonder why nobody in team Perfume cares about the running order of these songs, especially when there are clear instances where things don’t really work. Like, why is “Time Warp” the first song to follow “Plasma”, when it should have been “Mawaru Kagami”? Why is “Android&” the second to last song on the album, when it should have been sequenced higher up and come after “Polygon Wave”? Why is “Flow” smack back in the middle of the album? But aside from that “Infinity War Loop”, there isn’t a bad song on this album. I have already made my own re-sequenced version of Plasma which doesn’t include that song, and I often find myself just running Plasma from top to bottom, which isn’t something I tend to do with any of Perfume’s other albums. Even in their re-sequenced forms.

Plasma definitely feels closer to being the body of work and musical representation that Perfume have needed for a while. To such a point that I would recommend it as a Perfume album worth listening to, to somebody who is new to the group. I certainly couldn’t say this about Future Pop or Cosmic Explorer. Plasma also has songs which can absolutely go down as Perfume classics and sit alongside some of their best songs. Where-as Future Pop and Cosmic Explorer featured no such song. Cosmic Explorer can’t even claim “Flash” off the back of how successful it was as a single, because the single version was stupidly left off of it.

Perfume - Plasma | Universal J, Universal Music

As a fan who did not like Perfume’s last two albums at all, it’s nice to be able to say that I like this album. Plasma is a much needed course correction for Perfume. But I wonder if it was a conscious course correction, or just luck that Nakata was in a good place when he made these songs. And looking at Plasma in the context of Perfume’s entire discography, it leaves me torn. Because Plasma manages to simultaneously feel like a case of Perfume having come full circle, yet also having regressed. How dusty Future Pop and Cosmic Explorer were is going to have some fans loving this album out of sheer gratefulness of it not being bad. But there’s nothing about Plasma that Perfume nor Nakata couldn’t have given us in 2011. There’s no real growth in Nakata’s approach to creating music for Perfume, even though Perfume have sat in interviews and said that things were done differently this time around. Perfume sound the same as they did 13 years ago. Nakata sounds the same as he did 13 years ago. There’s no vocal growth. There’s no lyrical growth. There is no evolution here whatsoever, and this is what sticks in my craw; because I want Perfume to be able to reach their full musical potential before they call it quits, and I feel they are so far from realising this potential, whilst at the same time closer to it as a result of Plasma. And I don’t think they’ll ever reach this potential if they continue to work exclusively with Nakata Yasutaka. When Nakata is good, he’s amazing. But when he’s not, the results are dire. And until he really starts to form a connection with Perfume, and Perfume start to take some agency over their own music, they are never going to grow at the rate and in the ways in which they should. Plasma, much like LEVEL3, creates a great launchpad for Perfume’s sound to grow, but only if everybody involved wants it to. Hopefully Perfume and Nakata will take some time, sit back, really look at this album and think ‘How can we build on this?’. Because the prospect of Perfume and Nakata moving in the right direction from Plasma is an exciting one. But given Nakata’s history, it’s not a prospect that’s expected.

I want Nakata to push himself with his songwriting for Perfume, and move out of his comfort zone. I want Nakata to truly think about what Perfume’s sound should be and how to expand it. I want him to consider what Perfume want to actually sing and how they want to sing. a-chan is probably giving herself stomach ulcers over not being able to sing with her natural voice and show Japan that she has range. It’s wild to me that a-chan’s voice isn’t better utilised. So many of these J-pop girl groups out right now are full of members who can’t sing. And yet the one group who isn’t known for vocals has a member who really can. Two if you include Nocchi. Nocchiah Carey really needs to be put in therapy, to remind a bitch that she can actually sing; because Nakata and a-chan seem to have convinced her that she can’t, and has her sounding like Marge Simpson on these beats. Just the simple act of having Perfume sing with their natural voice would transform a lot of these songs. “Spinning World” would sound even cooler. “Drive’n the Rain” would sound more sultry. “Hate na Bito” would sound less like a song from the Teletubbies.

The selfish approach Nakata has when it comes to Perfume’s music is a double edged sword. And I think it’s become easy and too default of a response to claim he’s the best thing ever when he delivers something good, and to just brush shit under the carpet when he delivers something bad. I know “Telsa’n the Rain” is gonna have fans willing to suck Nakata’s dick and toes, and claim he can do no wrong. But you can’t let an amazing song or two and the bar being low overlook the fact that Nakata still isn’t pushing himself or Perfume enough. Not after a whole decade. As good as Plasma is, Nakata is still better than this, and we all know it. Plasma sees him tapping back into that potential, reminding me why I fell for his productions and Perfume’s music in the first place. But now I need Nakata and Perfume to really take off into the stratosphere and into the future, in the way they should have done with those last two albums.

With Perfume and Nakata now being 7 albums deep, Plasma really does highlight what sounds work best for Perfume, and those that don’t, in the exact same way that LEVEL3 did. Songs with a funky, almost R&B-ish edge work wonders for them (“1mm”, “Spinning World”). As do vibey mid-tempo numbers (“Furikaeru to Iru Yo”, “Dream Land”, “Flow”, “Drive’n the Rain”). And City Pop could also be something that Perfume could throw back to, as there are songs on Plasma which touch on this sound to great effect. But again, where a Perfume album goes from here is dependant on whether Nakata builds from this album, or if he just goes off on a whole other tangent and slam dunks the next album into a wheelie bin.

Plasma is a good album. It is a very large step in the right direction from Future Pop, but I can’t help but think that it’s not enough steps far enough from where Perfume were in 2013 or 2016. Plasma is a baseline for Perfume. But it’s a baseline they were at 10 years ago, and a baseline they’ve been too close to for too long. When you take Plasma just as it is, it’s fun, it’s cool, it’s slick and sounds good in all the ways that Perfume’s last couple of albums did not. I mean...shit. Plasma leaves a better first impression on a first listen than JPN and LEVEL3 did. But when you look at this album in the grand scheme of Perfume and Nakata, Plasma doesn’t feel like it’s enough, and is far from what Perfume should be releasing at this point in their careers, despite being more indicative of what they should be releasing. And it’s difficult for me not to feel this way, because Plasma itself also looks back on Perfume’s earlier material, which makes me do the same, to then see they’ve not moved all that far forward from Triangle. But all in all, Plasma is a good album and a solid body of work. And if Perfume and Nakata were to throw things back to any of Perfume’s past albums, they at least picked the good shit. It honestly wouldn’t have taken much for Plasma to have become one of Perfume’s best albums; which is why it makes me sigh that Nakata chose to straightjacket himself and Perfume with their approaches to some of the songs. But hopefully Plasma will be the start of something, and Perfume and Nakata getting back on the trajectory they were on before they rode that Cosmic Explorer shuttle straight into an asteroid and fucked it all up.

If somebody were to say to me that Plasma is their favourite Perfume album, or that they think it’s one of Perfume’s best, I wouldn’t dispute it. Because I can definitely hear why somebody would love this album. It deserves to be loved. It’s really damn good.

When y’all were caping for Future Pop, I did not get it at all. But for Plasma, I definitely get it.

Verdict: Spinning Gurl

▪ Plasma 🔥
▪ Time Warp (v1.1)
▪ Polygon Wave
▪ Spinning World 🏆
▪ Drive’n the Rain 🔥
▪ Android&