Single Review: Perfume - Moon

The post header image, featuring the text ‘?J Pop Single Review’, and an image of a vinyl of Perfume’s “Moon”.  The cover art for “Moon” features Perfume [From Left to Right: Nocchi, a-chan, Kashiyuka] stood on a large circular platform, wearing pastel coloured pleated tulle dresses.

Post album singles in Japan usually end up sounding like they are pulled from the last album. So it should come as no surprise that “Moon” sounds Plasma-ish. Heavy on the ‘ish’. Because “Moon” also sounds like a step into a new phase in a way that the likes of “Saisei” and “Tokyo Girl” did not. “Saisei” absolutely sounded like a P Cubed song. And “Tokyo Girl” absolutely sounded like a Cosmic Explorer song. And both would have been better served featuring on those respective albums than the ones they ended up on. But whilst “Moon” could be creatively sequenced to work on Plasma, I don’t think it completely sounds like a Plasma song, which is great. Because it’s a sign that Nakata is (hopefully) already moving forward with something new, whilst still carrying what worked from the album which came before.

GROWTH. We like to see it. How long it’ll last, who knows!? But I’ll take it for now.

“Moon” feels like it’s in the same wheelhouse as a song like “Time Warp”. Now, I know everybody hated that damn song. Even Perfume, because they barely performed it. But I’ve grown to like it more since its release. Where I’d always stood on “Time Warp” was that I liked the sound and the vibe, but didn’t like the vocals and the lack of a middle 8 or a bridge section. But “Time Warp” does work far better on Plasma than it ever did on its own. And when you sequence “Time Warp” correctly, it works even better. So I’m actually glad that “Moon” is cut from the same cloth as the colourful, bouncy, super buzzy, energetic 80s sound as “Time Warp”, but with the issues addressed and fixed. Well… SOME of the issues addressed and fixed.

“Moon” is one of the only singles Perfume has released where they are not singing in those annoying high-ass voices. I could not believe it when I first heard the song, because Perfume aren’t even singing in their natural ranges. They are singing LOWER. There is something to be said about Nakata not allowing these girls to sing in their natural voices or ranges which are in their comfort zones, but we’ll get to that. For now, I’m just glad we have a Perfume song which doesn’t sound like it’s being sung by Chipmunks.

A big issue with many of Perfume’s songs for me ever since Game is that they sing a touch too high and put on voices. This initially was what put me off of Game until the JPN singles came along and everything kinda started to click for me. But by the time we were in the Cosmic Explorer of it all, the singing style was outright ruining songs. I know we all like to shit on Cosmic Explorer, and Perfume’s music was most certainly in a decline at this point. But I’mma keep it real. Most of the songs on that album which were not good were because of the damn vocals in tandem with the nursery rhymes for lyrics. But when you listen to the instrumental of a song like “Hold Your Hand”, the music and the production itself is actually really good. Great even. The 80s pop radio sound is a sweet spot for Perfume. But the vocals are so high and piercing, which causes the ‘I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND’ to sound like a song for a kids show, and it just drags the entire thing down. Same shit with “Star Train”. Great sound. Great production. Horrid vocals.

But where Nakata fixes one problem, he creates another. Perfume singing low on “Moon” is great. However, Perfume’s vocals are still a little too toneless and flat, which contrasts with the music. And it’s annoying that we keep getting songs from Perfume where the vocals are so flat and aren’t as expressive as they could be, when we know that Perfume are full of personality and that a-chan and Nocchi CAN sing. Nakata allowing a-chan and Nocchi to sing with their natural voices and be more playful on songs would add so much and really transform them. It’s a real shame at a time when Nakata is putting so much fun, feeling and personality into his music again, that he isn’t having Perfume mirror any of it with how they sing.

Song structure is also something that can be wonky with Nakata these days. Songs from him of late either feature really long instrumental passages which can feel like dead space in the song, a lack of verses, or are just too damn short. And if we are really lucky, we get all three in one song. Shout-outs to “Hate na Bito”. Sometimes any one or even two of these things in a song can work. “Spinning World” and “Miracle Worker” both feature long instrumental passages and only have one verse and a chorus, and both work brilliantly. But not all songs with instrumental passages and a lack of lyrics are created equal in the house of Peroxide.

Nakata has developed another habit over the years, which is introducing musical flourishes too early in a song and then reusing them right up until the end. We got the same thing with “Flow” and a song or two on Capsule’s Metro Pulse such as “Start”. The guitars on “Moon” are great and really elevate the song, but they come in too early. So as a result, once they hit, the song feels like it’s peaking too early and then just plateaus. And then everything drops out and we get this instrumental drum break at the end of the song, which really should have been a dance break before a third run of the chorus where we THEN get the guitars. “Moon” sounds unresolved, and this is a common thing with Nakata’s songs these days. Even when what we get is good, there’s still a sense of the song not feeling structurally satisfying, because there is always a sense of something missing once it’s over. “Moon” comes and goes, which I guess could be a representation of the cycle of the moon itself. But it is one of the not-so-great things it inherited from “Time Warp”. “Moon”, much like “Time Warp”, doesn’t feel like it has a beginning, a middle and an end. It just starts and then it ends. And this is a huge issue across pop music in general at the moment - songs do not sound like full songs. It’s crazy to me that so many songs these days only feature a chorus twice.

A promotional shot of Perfume [From Left to Right: Nocchi, a-chan, Kashiyuka] for their single “Moon”. Featuring Perfume in pastel colour tulle dresses, stood on a a large circular platform.
Perfume - Moon | Universal Music

The Moon single release also features a B-Side, “Love Cloud”. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend Code of Perfume where “Love Cloud” was debuted and performed live, and it was great. Hearing it on the single release however, it doesn’t hit the same; and this was something I was a bit worried about.

That whole thing I mentioned about instrumental passages? We get them on “Love Cloud”. Now, I’m gonna give Nakata the benefit of the doubt here and say that the song was cut this way with performances in mind. Because we all know during these instrumental pockets that Perfume will dance, and they do. But when you’re just listening to the song without a performance to watch, it doesn’t always work. I’ve long had an issue with Nakata’s album mixes and changes to songs on albums being geared toward live performances, because we don’t need these versions of songs on releases. Just have them be exclusive for the tours, and give us a cut of the song which works JUST as a song.

As somebody who was at Code of Perfume, these instrumental pockets weren’t noticeable, because I was watching Perfume dance during them, and I was just so caught up in ‘I CANNOT FUCKING BELIVE THEY DEBUTED A NEW SONG AND IT’S SO FIRE’. But when listening to the song void of the performance, these sections feel empty. And we didn’t even need lyrics in these moments. Nakata didn’t necessarily even need to cut them out of the song. He coulda just given us something during them. Some ooooo’s, some aaaah’s, some elongated Loooooooove clooooooud’s, some whispers. Nakata fucking with the vocals to mimic the melody of the song as he did on “Cling Cling”. But we get nothing but some additional synths which weren’t on the Code of Perfume version of the song.

But the absolute worst thing about “Love Cloud” though is the mixing. It’s doo-doo. I had to play it on Spotify, YouTube Music and YouTube to make sure it wasn’t a platform related thing. And then I played it through three different sets of headphones and earphones to make sure it wasn’t a hardware thing. But nope. The song is just mixed like absolute shit. Perfume’s vocals sound like they’re coming from a Bluetooth speaker in the room next door; You can barely hear them during the chorus. And the sound of the song just isn’t as punchy as it should be. If truth be told, Nakata’s mixing has always been a bit of a problem. And whether it’s good or bad is a coin toss, much like his production. When it hits, it hits. But when it misses, it’s lost. The mixing on “Love Cloud” is such a miss though that I can’t help but wonder if it’s some sort of encoding error. Because I can’t understand how anybody could listen to this song as I am currently hearing it and think it’s fine. This is one of the problems when you have one person produce, mix, master and engineer. Having a second set of ears and hands on a mix can help catch and fix things like this. Although you don’t need to work in audio engineering to catch that the top line vocals are low as fuck.

The way “Love Cloud” is, I probably won’t play it much. And that’s a real shame, because I absolutely adored this song when I heard it at Code of Perfume. “Love Cloud” ticked so many boxes for me, as it was a case of Perfume further having their sound nudged in the right direction. But the mix really does undercut how good this song is. Hopefully I’m in the minority of people who are put off by how bad the mix is. I at least still have the memory and my videos of the song being performed live, where the vocals and the sound punched through far more. Perfume have released a video of the Code of Perfume performance of “Love Cloud”, where the vocals don’t sound like they’re coming from a phone under a pillow. So definitely check that out.

Nakata Yasutaka is very much in his 80s, city pop bag at the moment, and this could shift. But for now, he seems pretty comfortable in it. And I think it’s a good sound for Perfume. Perfume’s sound for the most part has been very 80s inspired since the very beginning and some of their best songs have been those which have leaned fully into it. So hopefully “Moon” tapping further into this sound is a sign of things to come, with Nakata continuing to course correct Perfume’s sound the way I felt he was with Plasma; giving us more of what we should have gotten after LEVEL3.

“Moon” is a good single release. I think it’s a shame that “Love Cloud” was mixed like shit and the single release version isn’t reflective of how killer of a song that I felt it was at Code of Perfume. And I also think it’s a shame that “Love Cloud” was relegated to a B-side when it would make a great A-side. But given how the mixing turned out, maybe it’s for the best. I hope if “Love Cloud” makes the cut for the upcoming album (which it more than likely will) that it gets a v1.1.

The issues I have with both “Moon” and “Love Cloud” however is that Nakata is still in this place where his songs for Perfume are a case of ‘This is good, but…’. I am also really feeling the limits of how he works on Perfume’s songs. Nakata doesn’t give a fuck about vocals. But this is such an easy way to evolve Perfume’s music. Let them actually sing. Let us hear the distinctions in each of their voices. Give us vocal production. The other thing is that Nakata doesn’t work with session players or other musicians. Which means in the case of “Moon”, there was no chance of it getting a killer electric guitar solo or live drums to give the song additional texture. It’s clear what Perfume’s core sound should be and “Moon” highlights this. But Perfume and Nakata need to push it further and give me more, because we’re so much closer to getting Perfume’s music to where I feel it should be.