Capsule–the cool individuals behind all manner of catchy Japanese electronic music–were meaning to set the world on fire with an absolute bombshell of a record slated for release near the end of March. But with a title like KILLER WAVE, the album has obviously been delayed indefinitely. After literally coming out of nowhere then disappearing nearly as quickly, fans of musical genius Nakata Yasutaka and quirky vocalist Koshijima Toshiko have been pretty bummed out. But during the time between its announcements of release and delay, we got some record covers, track listings and two full songs! And even after the fact, some mysterious videos appeared on YouTube with 30 second samples of some of the songs in their most base, stripped down forms. These videos have since disappeared.
But yeah, KILLER WAVE promised a Capsule album where Toshiko’s vocals would be front and center at all times; a welcome shift away from the group’s previous album, PLAYER, in which Toshiko’s role as the vocalist seemed somewhat marginalized. In short, people were mad excited for this disc.
While I personally think more Toshiko is certainly a Good Thing, I was still cautious about being super hyped up for this release. Nakata’s style has changed greatly since Capsule’s first album near the turn of century, and has shifted more towards repetitive layering of rhythms than anything terribly melodic. For instance, PLAYER has three seven minute tracks that are essentially the same short beat repeated ad nauseum. So naturally it didn’t help that the first track off of KILLER WAVE to be made public was more of the same.
WORLD OF FANTASY is the first cut on the disc after OPEN THE GATE, which people presume is Nakata’s typical minute-or-so-long opening bit (for those not in the know, Capsule albums are typically bookended by a pair of short opening and closing tracks.) Honestly, it doesn’t inspire. I’ve become acclimated to the track after a few listens, but it errs way too heavily on the side of generic, repetitive electronic music. And don’t get me wrong–it’s a hot beat–but it’s not even in the same realm as songs like Starry Sky or FRUITS CLiPPER that break out into wonderfully complex musical excursions. Nakata mixes it up by layering a sample of Toshiko’s voice on top, but after a while that becomes pretty repetitive as well. The song has subtle shifts throughout its six minutes and fourteen seconds, but in the end it doesn’t go anywhere. Since Fruits Clipper (the album, not the song) Capsule’s hot vocal tracks have always been padded out by repetitive instrumental tracks, but I think it’s really lame to open your album with something like that. I mean, it sets a good baseline, but doesn’t set your mind ablaze like a track in the vein of more more more would.
PRIME TIME, the last track on the disc before the closer, CLOSE THE GATE, does way more to heighten my expectations. While it didn’t catch my ear as quickly as Capsule’s older stuff, the track became really catchy after a couple of listens. In fact, I’d say it’s almost on the level of a Starry Sky or a FRUITS CLiPPER. The cut opens by dropping a heavy beat, with some synth motifs and Toshiko’s vocals layered on top. While I was initially put off by Toshiko’s unusually heavy vocals, I came to like them in my second listen through. It’s a departure for her, so it’s rather interesting. After about a minute or so of that, the track shifts gears into a more fast-paced and melodic interlude, the likes of which wouldn’t feel out of place in an album like Sugarless GiRL. This section is undoubtedly my favorite part of the song; a wonderful combination of Nakata going wild with the instrumentals and Toshiko belting out lyrics with tons of vigor. Eventually the song just busts loose, with Nakata once again having his way with the synth, while layering samples of Toshiko on top. While a pretty strong track overall, my only complaint is that Toshiko’s role as a vocalist still seems somewhat marginalized: the lyrics (in whatever language they are, I’m guessing English) are pretty repetitive, and she doesn’t get to sing any real verses. I hope KILLER WAVE grants her at least one song to let her shine.
At this point, it’s really hard to tell where KILLER WAVE will go, but hopefully we’ll get more in the way of strong tracks like PRIME TIME and less cop-outs like WORLD OF FANTASY. And goddammit, that track titled WHAT IS LOVE best be a cover. I would pay money to listen to Toshiko bust out “baby don’t hurt me” in her fractured Engrish.