The story of capsule is worth noting whenever talking about their music outside of their homeland. In their native Japan they have quite the following, and their albums tend to chart pretty high up on the Oricon charts (Japan’s equivalent to the Billboard charts). They’re also one of those J-pop acts that most people familiar with the genre are aware of. Despite never officially releasing any of their records in the US they have managed to gain a good number of fans, in particular with their 2008 record, More! More! More!, which is considered a classic of the genre.
However the sounds that made More! More! More! such a classic have been progressively traded off. The duo’s 2010 record Player saw them experiment some more with hip-hop and club sounds. The combination began to irk many, however I enjoyed it immensely. It wasn’t until last year’s World of Fantasy that capsule took a complete turn towards party music. The record brought many new fans with it, but also caused many of their older listeners to flee. With their newest record Stereo Worxxx capsule hasn’t returned to their roots, but they’ve also begun to stray from the sound that made their last record so unbearable.
It’s clear that the main focus of the record is not Toshiko Koshijima’s vocals, but rather the production of Yasutaka Nakata. The opening track “Feelin’ Alright” transcends several different tactics of production. At the same time Koshijima’s vocals appear only in the form of a looped sample of her signing the words “Feeling alright.” The track weaves in and out from being contained to a burst of energy, combining two different aspects of the group’s instrumentation.
The talent of Nakata’s production is highly audible on “In the Rain.” Taking cues from minimalist EDM, the track is highly spacey and ambient-like. The keyboards that eventually come in give the track more personality and prevent it from just feeling like white noise. Eventually Koshijima’s vocals join in in a highly reverbed way, emphasizing the production over the vocals.
The duo does take a look backwards toward their more straightforward J-pop days. The fifth track “Step on the Floor” features Koshijima’s vocals in great prominence. The regular electronic tweak that is added to her voice is present as well. With its sugary hook (“I can’t stop my love for you”) it’s a treat for longtime fans of capsule.
The rest of the record continues to make the production its focal point. Tracks like “All the Way” and “Motor Force” find Nakata experimenting with different kinds of percussion and synth sounds, respectively. While they come off as simple experiments at times, they succeed in establishing themselves as full-fledged songs.
At the end of the day Stereo Worxxx isn’t capsule’s best album, and fans will continue to hail More! More! More! as their magnum opus. However don’t let that discourage you from listening to this record as it has some of the best tracks the duo has ever recorded. It may be a representation of a different capsule, but a genius one nonetheless.