Capsule’s World of Fantasy: Not Exactly a Killer Wave

Rewind a bit back to March: Capsule was gearing up to release their new record–the boldly titled KILLER WAVE–but given the events of March 11th, the duo couldn’t exactly put out a disc with a title like that. As such, KILLER WAVE was changed to WORLD OF FANTASY, and its release date was pushed back to the end of May. Since then some tracks from the album were officially released, and a leak of the CD surfaced. While I could have reviewed the early leak of the CD, I decided to wait until it arrived at my doorstep, only indulging in short fan-created previews.

Talk on the Contemode fan community indicated that the duo’s vocalist Koshijima Toshiko would have a more active role in the CD’s creative process than in some of the group’s more recent releases, and a post-release interview with Nakata reinforced this notion. It’s naïve to think that Nakata’s vocalists are super active in his creative process, but Capsule’s discography boasts a lot of CDs that, at the very least, come off as group efforts. Capsule CDs are typically one half solo work by Nakata, and one half vocal songs fronted by Toshiko. While I do enjoy Nakata’s solo work to a degree (his earlier stuff is better) I think the best Capsule songs have Toshiko at the forefront, backed by Nakata’s sleek electronic instrumentals. So, for a fan like me who regards Toshiko in the same way Perfume fans swoon over Aa-chan, Nocchi and Kashiyuka, how does WORLD OF FANTASY stack up against a more “classic” Capsule offering like, say, Fruits Clipper?

Well… it’s slightly better than PLAYER.

Before this album even arrived at my doorstep, I had mixed expectations. PLAYER–the group’s previous outing–was more of an onslaught of unpleasant aggressive sounds than anything resembling music, only bookended by two good pop songs: Stay with You and Love or Lies. Incidentally, both were made specifically for the Lair Game TV drama, which Nakata also did the soundtrack for.

Despite previews inspiring some degree of confidence, along with the news that Toshiko would allegedly have more of an active role in the CD’s production (no stock vocals, they said), I was skeptical, especially after listening to a set of extended song previews, along with two full tracks off of the CD. It was looking kind of dicey, but I wanted to believe. I wanted to keep hope alive.

After listening to this disc a few times, seems my gut feeling was right: This isn’t a great CD. While not aggressively fucking you in the ear with tracks as terrible as Factory and What do you want to do, World of Fantasy is simply boring more than anything. It’s not particularly offensive, but there’s hardly anything interesting going on in there, either. Worst of all, Toshiko isn’t really allowed to shine outside of a few samples, only barely getting a verse in during PRIME TIME, with vague mirages of actual lyrics found in the CD’s title track, and maybe KEEP HOPE ALIVE. As such, Nakata’s comments about him and Toshiko finally coming together for this album reek of BS to me. I wasn’t in the studio with the two of them, but the album more than speaks for itself.

In a couple of discussions with different people I know, we all came to the conclusion that between PLAYER and WORLD OF FANTASY, Nakata’s trying to recreate the experience of being a bangin’ club with his latest releases. One party–a club-goer–naturally thought this was a great direction for Nakata to go in, while the other party–a Colony Drop writer–was disappointed. If you haven’t guessed by now, I agree with the second party.

While I’ve become slightly acclimated to the disc’s title track simply through prolonged exposure for the sake of this review, I still think it’s entirely too repetitive, and actually seems kind of insulting in the face of types of things Nakata used to do with Capsule. Surprisingly, the rest of the CD’s rhythmic tracks are better, but only by a slight margin. I WILL opens with a shocking punch to the face of tribal-sounding beats, which sadly gives way to typically boring house music once the song settles in. WHAT IS LOVE (sadly not a Haddaway cover), has a divine moment of inspiration where Nakata creates a wonderfully harmonious blend of sounds by perfectly layering the various rhythm tracks, with Toshiko’s vocals popping in and out. The song almost stands well enough on its own without any real lyrics, but only just. I CANT SAY I LIKE YOU is pretty low-impact and boring, but has a few interesting rhythms that cut in and out between Toshiko repeating the title of the song. I JUST WANNA XXX YOU is only good because there’s something cute about Toshiko saying the song’s title between lines of mangled Engrish, and there’s some slightly decent layering of rhythms, but it’s pretty low-impact as well.

What’s somewhat frustrating about these tracks is that if you squint, you can almost see how they could be good vocal Capsule songs, which is what I wanted out of this CD in the first place. Each song already has a chorus section, the main stretches of repetitive rhythm could easily have some lyrics written over them, and a little more in the way of musical accompaniment could be thrown in to smooth things over. If you listen closely to pop music–and vocally driven music in general–you’ll notice that the instrumental backing is usually quite repetitive. That said, I’m not a musician, so perhaps this is a horrible idea.

The strongest of these rhythmic tracks is STRIKER, demonstrating that Nakata still knows how to make good rhythm driven music with lots of variation–tracks in the vein of Fruits Clipper’s Megalopolis and More! More! More!’s e.d.i.t.. STRIKER brilliantly cuts in and drops out a diverse set of beats, and has a few good buildups and payoffs. It actually feels something like a flowing piece of music, and not just the same beat repeated over and over for an arbitrary number of minutes. What’s more, it has a hard, aggressive edge to it. However, rather than applying this edge in a rather slapdash manner–like some tracks in PLAYERSTRIKER is focused, finely tuned, and thought out. I also enjoy hearing Toshiko belt out “It’s time for party time, it’s party time tonight,” and her yelling “STRIKER” cuts straight through the eardrums.

KEEP HOPE ALIVE is one of the few vocally driven tracks on the CD, and it sadly comes off as a little weak. The instrumentals are only interesting in that they’re something of a departure for Nakata, but they don’t really do much to stimulate my entertainment receptors. Toshiko gets to sing a few verses in this one, but it’s all in (what I assume is) English, so it feels rather insubstantial. It’s not a bad track, but it won’t stick in my mind like a Sugarless GiRL or a Glider. I’ve already talked about PRIME TIME in my previous post, and it’s still the same, I just wish there were more songs like it on this CD. And after listening to it for a while, it doesn’t capture my imagination in the same way as other Capsule songs.

The limited edition of the album comes with an extra CD with extended mixes of WORLD OF FANTASY and STRIKER. Despite being longer, I kind of like the extended mix of WORLD OF FANTASY a bit more, simply because it cuts in OPEN THE GATE (Nakata’s typical short instrumental album opener) in the middle to break up the monotony. Conversely, the longer version of STRIKER seems somewhat less focused than the shorter cut. The album’s packaging is nice: While not housed in a jewel case, the CD’s paper cover is slick, boasts some foil printing, and on the whole has a good sense of design–not surprising, considering the level of design prowess found in other Capsule releases.

While WORLD OF FANTASY doesn’t contain much in the way of stock vocals (some sneak in during WHAT IS LOVE) it still feels like an album driven by stock vocals, except in this case the vocals are from Toshiko. Sure, she’s integrated more into the CD than she was in PLAYER, but she’s not saying anything more than random words and phrases repeated ad nauseum. For comparison, Toshiko feels more integrated in an album like Sugarless GiRL, where exactly half of its tracks are Nakata doing his own thing: The difference between WORLD OF FANTASY and Sugarless GiRL is that each of Toshiko’s songs are well written and thought out pop songs, while WORLD OF FANTASY is primarily repetitive house music.

The biggest disappointment with WORLD OF FANTASY is that it just feels lazy; almost as if Nakata came up with a few beats for each track, decided to run them for a few minutes, and left it at that. I appreciate WORLD OF FANTASY slightly more in the context of that Japan Times interview, but it still doesn’t do much to excite me. It’s my personal theory that Nakata’s been spending more time coming up with actual pop songs for Perfume to sing, and as a result his Capsule work falls by the wayside. In other words, WORLD OF FANTASY’s quality is simply a result of him needing to get an album out every year. An acquaintance of mine argues otherwise: He claims that since the amount of production work that Nakata’s been doing has gone down in recent years, he’s lost his edge. Taking a quick look at Nakata’s history, this theory does hold more weight. Nakata is doing less of that sort of work now, and seems to have moved onto DJing. Pizzicato Five’s Happy End of the World was actually quite similar to this: It’s an album primarily made for Yasuharu to strut his stuff as a DJ, but it has more of on ongoing musical narrative–almost symphonic in nature–and has more vocal songs strewn through it than WORLD OF FANTASY does. Never mind that I think that Pizzicato Five–and the Shibuya-kei movement as a whole–had a message that was way stronger than a CD filled top to bottom with house music could hope to deliver.

I suppose Nakata’s right. Perhaps I am just a casual music listener put off by this new direction he’s going in. And if it makes him money, more power to him. He’s got my bucks already. But if he’s to continue in this direction, the rest of my Capsule dollars will be spent at Book-Off buying their older CDs to fill out my collection.

That said, a Book-Off in DC is only the stuff of fantasy.

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