Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Perfume Goes on the Most Intense Shopping Spree

Previously on Nia's Wonderland, we relaxed in the city except not really because we relaxed in a light-up cube far away from civilization. Well, today we're going back into the city.

And we're going shopping. Metaphorical shopping.

What makes a double A-side work? My favorite double A-sides tend to be the ones where each A-side contrasts the other. For instance: one A-side is a calm, lighthearted little tune. The other A-side is an upbeat dance song with an insanely catchy hook. In other words: Relax in the City and Pick Me Up!

I honestly had no idea what to expect from Pick Me Up. I kind of knew what to expect from Relax in the City once I saw the cover art and especially after I heard the first snippet. But for Pick Me Up? Completely in the dark. Until one day the heavens opened up and a promotional snippet for Pick Me Up was released unto the world! Glorious day! In other words, Pick Me Up kicks ass, and I love it. Just listening to this song feels so damn satisfying. It's what I've wanted to hear from Perfume since this era started. Pick Me Up is stronger, more consistent, and more memorable than any of the other A-sides from this current era. Not to dismiss some of the other A-sides, but Pick Me Up works so well. I think the hook is great, the vocals sound amazingly clear, and Pick Me Up is consistent with Perfume's sound without sounding like a rehash of an old song. Think of Pick Me Up as the Laser Beam to Relax in the City's Kasuka na Kaori. Only Pick Me Up is not a 2015 version of Laser Beam.

There is a lot going on in Pick Me Up, a lot of which I like. This song could have sounded way too busy, but it strikes a nice balance. Pick Me Up alternates between a slow and fast tempo; I like how the verses start out very calm and slow but then get progressively energetic into the chorus. It makes lead-up to the chorus work really well! And the chorus itself is amazing. The chorus was the first part of Pick Me Up I listened to, and I was sold. Mainly because I couldn't get the chorus out of my head! Trust me, the hook in Pick Me Up will get stuck in your head. Whether you like that or not is entirely up to you. Personally, I enjoy Perfume's energetic dance songs so Pick Me Up is right up my alley. I also like that Pick Me Up is a dance song but it doesn't sound like a remnant from Level3. At least to my ears it doesn't.

A lot of the smaller components of Pick Me Up make the song stand out. For instance, the vocals. I never really say much about how the girls sound because most of the time their vocals are too edited. Amazingly though, I can actually distinguish the girls' solos in Pick Me Up. Like Nocchi's solo she belts out in the first verse. I can totally tell that's her singing. As nice as the girls sound as a unit, hearing them sing separate is always refreshing. And there's a surprising amount of high notes in this song. Nothing too extreme, but for a Perfume song, the girls sing relatively high. Especially compared to their last single! Lyrically, there's a good deal of English lyrics in Pick Me Up. Half the chorus is in English! That's more of an observation, but it does make singing along to Pick Me Up very easy! Some of the English lyrics sound a little strange such as, "Bright my life." What does that mean? Everything else sounds pretty normal, and I never pick too hard at English lyrics. Still, the meaning of"Bright my life" will elude me to the end of time.

Oh, and the instrumental! I love the instrumental to Pick Me Up. I feel like with a lot of Perfume A-sides, the instrumentals end up being just as good if not better than the vocal versions. The instrumental version of Pick Me Up is just as easy to dance to. Pick Me Up is very much a dance song, but there's this one part in the beginning verse that's only an acoustic guitar. It was so weird to hear that in a Perfume song, but I loved it. I guess because it's very different from how Perfume sounds. This is off topic, but I'd love to hear Perfume cover more of their songs on acoustics. Perfume has performed both Computer City and Inryoku acoustically, so I know they have the potential. Again, the brief guitar bit in Pick Me Up was one of the highlights of the song, and definitely my favorite part in the instrumental.

I have to say Pick Me Up really picked up the slack from Relax in the City. Get it? Oh dear, I need to pick me up some better puns. Anyways, I loved Pick Me Up! It's everything I wanted to hear from Perfume and an immensely satisfying listen after nine months of no new Perfume music. So yeah, no contest to which A-side's my favorite A-side off this single. I still enjoy Relax in the City, but Pick Me Up just has a lot more life pumping through it. I love Pick Me Up, and I think it can tide me over for the inevitable nine more months until Perfume releases something else!

But wait, there's more! A good song is one thing, but a good music video is another. A good song and a good music video though? That's a miracle. So get in losers, we're going metaphorical shopping!

We start in Shinjuku Tokyo, which is surprisingly lacking in people...

Although American alternative rock band OK Go is there!

You might remember Perfume appearing in one of their music videos!

Perfume appears in O.K. Go music video, O.K. Go appears in Perfume's. It's a nice quid pro quo!

But lo! The sound of Kashiyuka's voices pierces the night!

Followed by a temporary of lapse of gravity! Also those heels are really cute, and I want them.

Now it's time for Perfume to float out of Shinjuku, down the rabbit hole, and into Wonderland!

This is definitely not Wonderland.

Those clothes are cute but not, "Hidden away in an alternate dimension" cute.

I'm keeping my eye on this army of faceless mannequins. I do not trust them.

Wait a minute.... Perfume as mannequins... I've seen this before...

This is Secret Secret all over again!

Nocchi is killing her solo here, but what the heck is she wearing?

At least mannequin!A-chan got a pretty stylish outfit.

Yes, that is the appropriate reaction to being surrounded by faceless gray mannequins.

Why A-chan, what green eyes you have!

Now these outfits I dig. I love the skirts in particular!

That's right, run! Run away! Run far, far away!!!

Run to... the staircase room from Labyrinth?

Seriously, I don't think this is where the store would be.

It's weird, I didn't really like these outfits until I watched this music video.

A-chan's seeing triple!

Oh man, this is like the powerup in Laser Beam! Except with equations!

I'm so happy projection mapping was incorporated into one of Perfume's music videos!

Step right into the Store in Shinjuku, where the customers enter but never exit... alive.

This is the visual equivalent of finding the perfect outfit in a store, but it costs too much.

Buy me, Kashiyuka. Buy me!!!!!

Seriously, the need for clothes in this PV is intense.

What to do when an outfits costs too much? SHOPLIFTING!


Jump lightly? More like shop lightly. Please do not actually go out and steal clothes. I do not condone that.

A-chan is a law-abiding citizen, much to mannequin!A-chan's dismay.

I wonder if the projections in this video are actual graphs/equations.

Either way, they're rad as hell, and I love them.

Welp, looks like A-chan's busted.

Meanwhile, Kashiyuka makes a break for it!

And Nocchi gazes into the void!

Gaze upon it! Yikes, I would hate to be the one to jump into that thing.

Oh dear. This music video just jumped into horror movie territory.

Kashiyuka, do you need those clothes that badly?

I guess Nocchi does! Into the void they go!!!

And... back into Shinjuku? With shopping bags? Wait a minute.

This is like Natural ni Koishite! Except with faceless mannequins out to get you.

At least they got some clothes for their trouble.

Apparently, a night in Shinjuku is also life-threatening! But you get free clothes so it's worth it!

So if I end up walking by a store that transports people into an alternate dimension where they get free clothes, I would be totally okay with that. Just saying, next time I go out to the mall, I am completely up for that. Okay? Just putting that out there.

Who knew shopping could be that exciting? Or were they shoplifting? To be fair, I never saw A-chan, Nocchi, or Kashiyuka with money. Did they talk about having money in the beginning part? Because if they didn't, then I'd like to think that they robbed a store and that the store's security was an army of faceless mannequins who were previous shoplifters who got caught. Also witchcraft and science work somewhere into this story of mine. I doubt that's what the director was going for with this PV. Or maybe it was? The guy who directed Pick Me Up also directed Natural ni Koishite and Secret Secret, which explains a lot about this PV. I feel like Pick Me Up is a darker version of Natural ni Koishite. But it works! I think it's funny how some of my favorite Perfume music videos literally revolve around advertising. Like Secret Secret? Chocolate. Natural ni Koishite? Clothes. And now there's Pick Me Up. Although I'd hope shopping at Isetan is easier than this PV makes it look...

I can definitely see the advertising element of this PV, but it never feels forced. Had I not known Perfume were wearing outfits designed by Isetan, I probably wouldn't realize they were selling clothes until the very end. Even then, I wouldn't dwell too hard on it. While I am talking about the clothes, I have to admit I wasn't a huge fan of the clothes in this PV. The main outfits were great along with the casual outfits, but none of the mannequin outfits looked fantastic? Maybe I'm just not cultured enough to appreciate fashion. Mannequin!A-chan's main outfit looked really cute! But Nocchi and Kashiyuka's... not so much. Oh well, to each his own, and by no means does that make me enjoy the PV any less!

This is probably one of my favorite Perfume videos in their more recent years. I like how the music video for Pick Me Up works in a very engaging, very creative storyline while still selling its product. If I had money to spare, I would totally buy some of those shoes Perfume are wearing. I loved the visuals in this video, especially the main projection mapping in the dance shot. It looked so cool, just as cool as their concert projection mapping! Also, I loved the color palette in this PV? It was very bright, but then also very dark depending on which scene? I liked the contrast. All the different outfits and scenes gave the PV some nice variety too! The visuals in general were top-notch. I heard that the budget for this music video was bigger than normal for Perfume's music videos. If that's true, it definitely shows! I loved the scenes with the staircases, along with the army of faceless mannequins. Man, that scene was actually kind of creepy. Okay, it won't keep you awake at night, but for a Perfume music video, those mannequins were unnerving.

Also, the story was a riot from start to finish. I love music videos with plots, even if they're basic. Pick Me Up, however, was not. I don't completely know 100% what was going on in this story, and there's certainly a lot left up to interpretation. Who were the girls running from? Did OK Go lure them into the store? Were the mannequins projections of their ideal selves? It's up to the viewer. Personally, I interpreted the story as Perfume being broke with expensive taste. So they luck out when they find a magic store and decide to shoplift some clothes. Only security in the form of magical evil mannequins arrives, but the girls escape with their finds! There is probably an artsier interpretation of Pick Me Up, but I'm sticking to my version. Overall, the PV for Pick Me Up is fantastic. The story is creative, the visuals are stunning, the choreography is tight (as usual for Perfume), and screencapping it was a treat. And now I really want to go shopping...

It's been awhile, and Perfume delivered an awesome song and even more awesome PV. That gets Pick Me Up five succulent apples! Pick Me Up is a breath of fresh air and one of Perfume's strongest A-sides of this era. And with that strong A-side is an even stronger music video! I was completely into this strange story where the girls are zapped into this shopping dimension with evil mannequins and alternate versions of themselves. Pick Me Up could have been too weird, but it works!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Nia's State of the Wonderland - June 2015

Man, it feels like ages since I've done one of these! Well, the Wonderland is back! Kind of. I'm done with classes for now, but in a little under two weeks I will be traveling to Scotland to study abroad. This is my first time ever traveling outside of the United States, so I want to take advantage of that as much as possible! I am bringing my laptop with me, so I'll try to put a few review while I'm abroad. That's the thing... I can't change how busy I'm about to be. That was a big reason why I couldn't blog these past five months. There was a lot going on in my academic and personal life. So I'm trying not to strain myself with blogging, but I don't want to drop off the face of the planet. Nothing's changed about the State of the Wonderland in the past five months. These are the things I want to write about, and my current progress on them. Also, I brought back the Time Capsule Reviews! Poll style is just like it is last time. It ends on June 15, and I promise this time I'll actually write the review...

13 Weeks Later EP Single Review
- Bellring Shoujo Heart knew I wasn't going to write anything for the next five months, so they generously waited to release their next EP! I'm kidding, but the timing of 13 Weeks Later is blissfully convenient. There are six tracks on this EP, so my breakdown of each track will probably be shorter than the typical single review. Not that I'm complaining about Bellring Shoujo Heart releasing more music. Six tracks gives me plenty to talk about with them! I might also talk a little bit about Undo the Union in passing. I wanted to review that album so badly. Oh well, better late than never!

2015: What I've Liked and Disliked (So Far)
- Quite a bit happens when you don't blog for five months. I feel like my transition back into blogging has been very abrupt, so I'm using this as a bridge between last year and this year. This will hopefully fill in the gaps about news, releases, and my own personal junk. I swear the personal junk won't take up much of this post. This is one of my priority posts, and I hope to get it out as soon as possible. I've got the general outline, and I know what I want to address in this post. I've written bits and pieces of this post; like the rest of the year, I just need to bridge it together!

Bokutachi wa Tatakawanai PV Review
- Two people requested this, and I feel bad about letting two people down. So... this is happening. No, this does not take AKB48 off my Blacklist. And also no, I am not going to tear into this music video like some people might think. Even if my opinion of AKB48 has been sliding downhill like an avalanche, I'm approaching this review like I would anything else I would review. This is one of my priority reviews, given that it's a request, so I'd like to get it out soon. I just haven't written much of it yet.

Brand-new Idol Shit Album Review
- I will be addressing the return of BiS BiSH in my 2015: What I've Liked and Dislike (So Far) post. Naturally, I'll withhold most of my opinions about their music once I get to reviewing their debut album. I have listened to the entire album, and I've given every song a rating, along with a final verdict. All I need to do is go into detail about the ups and downs of each song and the album as a whole. So yeah, I basically need to write the entire review. How hard could that be? It's a lot easier than living up to BiS' reputation!

Mondai Girl Single Review
- I know it's been months since Mondai Girl was released. However, someone requested I review this so it's happening. I swear this is the last request I've gotten to review something. Everything else will be more current stuff! Expect pretty much your standard single review with apples and verdict. As soon as I'm done reviewing Perfume's stuff, I'm moving on to this review and Bokutachi wa Tatakawanai. I'm not sure which I'll finish first. It all depends on which one I'm more motivated to write about...

Navy Blue Single Review
- I wasn't the only one who took a break from something to focus on my schoolwork. Curumi Chronicle just got back from her hiatus and will be releasing her next single in June! Said single is Navy Blue. This single isn't out until later in June, so I may not end up reviewing it until July. I will be in Scotland by the time of the release, and the release is around the time my first block of classes will be ending. And there might be other stuff going on. All the same, I am extremely excited for the new Curumi Chronicle single!

Relax in the City/Pick Me Up Single Review
- So here's how all my Perfume reviews are going to go. I posted my PV review of Relax in the City a few days ago. Next up is the PV review for Pick Me Up. Then finally I'll post the single review of both A-side and the B-side. I'm sure by the time this review's done, you'll pretty much know how I feel about the two A-sides... but the B-side is a surprise! Will I like it? Will I hate it? I'm not even sure yet! My Perfume reviews are my top priority, then the two other requests I've gotten. And then comes everything else like normal!

Pick Me Up PV Review
- When I'm not typing this up, I'm working on my review for Pick Me Up. I'm a little frustrated, because there's not as much progress on this review as I would like. I wouldn't say I have writer's block; I'm just struggling with what to say about this song. I know I'll figure things out, hopefully soon. I think what I might do is screencap the video then come back to writing about the song and the video. That usually triggers words and sentences, always a plus when you're trying to write a review. It's kind of ironic because I thought Relax in the City would be a harder review to write...

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Relax in a Cube

So... long time no see?

I wish I had a really cool story to explain why I haven't posted anything in six months. Maybe something along the lines of preventing an apocalypse or being kidnapped by fairies. But nope, I've just been really, really busy with schoolwork. I'll elaborate a bit later. Now that I'm done with this semester though, let's not dwell on my absence and bounce right back into J-pop! Starting with what else? Perfume!

For the record, Perfume went a longer time without releasing a single than I did releasing a blog post. But their return to the music world was an anticipated one! Return they did with a double A-side, their first one since 2011. Relax in the City/Pick Me Up came with two music videos and a B-side, so there was a lot to look forward to with this single. The release also included an edition that came with a cube to put CDs in. If I were rating this single solely on presentation, that cube bumps the rating up to five apples! While I did not express my excitement on the Wonderland, I can assure you I was very excited. Of course, with great excitement comes great apprehension. The A-sides of this era (whatever that era may be) have been very hit-or-miss. Sweet Refrain was a drag, and Cling Cling was enjoyable but lacked long-lasting impact. So with two A-sides, which one hits the mark this time around? Let's start with Relax in the City. I'll get to Pick Me Up later.

When I first saw the promotional picture for Relax in the City, I immediately thought, "Kasuka na Kaori. This song is going to sound like Kasuka na Kaori." But to my surprise Relax in the City turned out to be- oh, who am I kidding, this is Kasuka na Kaori 2015.

Remember Kasuka na Kaori? That A-side everyone chooses to forget in favor of Laser Beam? I know Nakata is an active member of the recycling community, but I don't think most Perfume fans wanted him to recycle the blandest sound of the JPN era. Look, I'm saying that as someone who likes Kasuka na Kaori. I really do. Is it my favorite Perfume song? Not even close. But I think it's a light, soothing song, and I love listening to it on days when I have nothing to do. Unfortunately, not many other Perfume fans share my same enjoyment of Kasuka na Kaori. Relax in the City has the same calm sound as Kasuka na Kaori along with the same lack of energy. If I were to pair this song with one of Perfume's albums, it would fit right in on JPN. Relax in the City brings little new to Perfume's sound, and if you listened to JPN, you know what you're in for.

I could end the review right here, but... I really like Relax in the City.

Objectively, I know it's not a great Perfume song. Relax in the City has a great instrumental but lackluster vocals. The style is reminiscent of Perfume's JPN-era songs without offering anything new. When I first heard Relax in the City, I did not care for it. I didn't hate it, but I thought I would forget about it and skip it over whenever it came up on my shuffle. After its release though, I started listening to it. Of my own free will, might I add. I don't know what it is about Relax in the City, but it's such an easy listen. As much as I love intense, energetic music that I could cut down zombies to, I also love relaxing music. And that's what Relax in the City is: relaxing. Those music box notes that start off the song set the tone, and from there, Relax in the City is a sweet, simple song. It's almost like a technopop lullaby. That's why I wish the vocal arrangement reflected more of the dreamlike quality of the instrumental. I think had the vocals been different, Relax in the City might have been a more popular song. Or it could have been even worse, but who knows?

If you end up not liking Relax in the City, I completely understand. Relax in the City is not Perfume's best A-side, even if I personally enjoyed it. What may also contribute to my enjoyment of Relax in the City are the other two songs on this single. Without getting too ahead of myself, Pick Me Up and Toumei Ningen both have more energetic, dance-oriented sounds. While Relax in the City would have paled on an album like JPN, on this single it ironically stands out because it sounds calmer compared to the other two songs. So even if you don't like Relax in the City, you can at least have something to compare Pick Me Up and Toumei Ningen to. Now which A-side is the better of the two? Well, in my opinion- there I go again, getting ahead of myself! I really need to pace myself; I haven't even entirely reviewed the first A-side.

For those of you who don't like Relax in the City, you can just watch the music video on mute. Or you can look through the screencaps I lovingly put together!

As you can see from the opening shot, we will not be relaxing anywhere near a city.

I know that pose... it's from Electro World!

Wow, I guess they literally grew out of Electro World.

After getting up, the girls walk to the cube and Kashiyuka grabs a cup.

Wait, no, A-chan grabs a cup! What sort of witchcraft is this!?

I do like the setting of this PV, even if it's very reminiscent of... guess. Just guess.

Did you guess correctly?

But unlike Kasuka na Kaori, Relax in the City has shots of the girls flying!

Probably on broomsticks given the earlier incident.

I can't tell if I like or dislike these outfits.

In some shots, they look really pretty but other shots... not so much.

The hair and makeup looks beautiful though.

It's so nice seeing the girls with slightly different hairstyles; I wish they'd do waves more often.

I guess you could say Perfume really thought outside of the box for this PV.

Did you miss my puns? Admit it. You missed them!

Ooh, I love the lighting in this shot. Very ethereal.

I wonder what happened to that cube after they wrapped shooting. There's no practical reason to keep it standing, but I'd like to think it's still there.

Oh my god, this looks beautiful. It looks like the cube is glowing!

In this lighting, the outfits look really pretty! See my dilemma!?

Wait... are those eyeballs on A-chan's sleeves? I changed my mind.

Nocchi gazes out the window into the great unknown...

I guess they're just gonna leave them out there in the dark. No worries, A-chan's got eyes on her sleeves.

The cube was my favorite character in this PV. A giant glass cube in the middle of nowhere is not realistic by any means, but it makes for some very pretty shots. And the decoration inside the cube is adorable; it fits with the spring/summer look the PV's going for. So yeah, the cube is great... but I feel like it was underutilized. Most of the shots inside the cube just show the girls standing there and posing. Sure, there was that bit with the cup, but otherwise, the cube shots were basically glamor shots. I think that was the idea behind Relax in the City: make a pretty music video showing the girls being pretty and doing pretty things. Okay, great. But "doing pretty things" basically amounts of posing and looking at the camera. On an aesthetic level, that works. The cinematography and lighting of this PV are gorgeous; I love when the little lights come on outside the cube. It looks very fairytale-ish.

Relax in the City is a pretty to look at, but that's pretty much it. There's no choreography, the girls are pretty inactive for most of the music video, and a lot of the shots are long and slow. This isn't the first time Perfume's had a music video like this. Macaroni and Kasuka na Kaori were also very lowkey music videos, and Macaroni is one of my favorite Perfume music videos. Like with the song, Relax in the City's PV is very similar to Kasuka na Kaori's. The only problem is Kasuka na Kaori got a better PV. Relax in the City's pitfall is a lack of variety. While it is a beautiful music video, it does not hold my attention. Kasuka na Kaori, while still a calm PV, had a lot of different shots showing the girls doing a lot of different things. Relax in the City lingers on its shots for too long. Trying to screencap this music video was challenging because there's so little in it.

I don't want to write Relax in the City off as a bad music video, because it isn't. From a technical perspective, the shots where the girls look like they're flying are amazing. The one-take in the beginning, while a little forced, was also really cool. I wish they'd kept that up for the entire music video. The girls look beautiful, and for some people, just looking at Perfume doing nothing may be enough. Wow. That came out creepier than it meant to. With all the positives of this PV in mind, it is still not one of Perfume's best music videos. Of all the music videos of this era, Relax in the City is the weakest one in my opinion. Relax in the City is a pretty music video, and watching it won't make you feel like you've wasted five minutes of your life. Perfume can and has done better though. Luckily for me, there's still one more music video on this single...

I can easily give Relax in the City three and half apples. Again, not one of Perfume' best A-sides, but I have a soft spot for it. The music video is also nothing to go crazy for, but if you just want to watch a nice-looking music video with some decent cinematography and a giant cube, watch Relax in the City. Also, you know what bothers me? The song is called Relax in the City, but the music video was was off of the coast nowhere near a city. What are you trying to tell me, Perfume!?