After a few false starts, I finally get around to writing up something approximating a review for “NEO JAPONISM’s new album” that would only have been accurate if I’d waited a minute to include the second album released a mere week later, and then subsequently two additional tracks that appear on neither album but did get MVs. Correct — I waited myself into complete uncertainty as to what or when anything would happen, and then lost impetus for the project. But now that I think we’re safe from any extra releases, why not dig in and actually talk about this stuff?
Now, it must be said unconditionally out loud that I am a complete mark for NEO JAPONISM. They were part of the absolutely incredible debut class of 2018, did the whole member-overhaul thing that brought them back from the brink late last year, and have basically always been fire. I will not repeat the vile slander that a certain member of Team whose initials are P and M has levied against them; it is a bad opinion and I will not sully this space by repeating it, no matter its objective accuracy.
It is nonetheless true, though, that musical acts (and especially idol groups) grow and change over time, and to me not everything here worked the way I would’ve liked. The fire’s contained in some places; the scuffy, jagged edges got filed down. Rocking, which used to feel like NEO JAPONISM’s raison d’être, more clearly shares top billing with idoling now. It is not the case that many of the things that I learned to love most about NEO JAPONISM are gone, but that the whole package has metamorphosed into something more crowd-pleasing and less chika-inflected. As I indicate in the title, this is and is not a review, so I apply here two blanket statements: Your personal mileage may vary; and, I recognize that this whole body of what we can call the Summer 2020 NEO JAPONISM Content Dump is not meant for me, so whether I love it is immaterial to every person associated with this act, including all of the actual wota.
So let’s dig in.
Barely a week after I wrote this, NEO JAPONISM dropped the first in a multimedia barrage that is impressive in a lot of ways (not just volume, but also VOLUME!):
Does this track appear on the album that they’d just released? Friend, it does not. In fact, it doesn’t appear on anything that we’ll be exploring! It is a true digital single that you don’t even need to pretend to worry about buying, for it streams for free. Is it a good song? It is a fine song. Despite having dope-as-hell cover art, it doesn’t quite connect for me in the way that a lot of their earlier catalog did, and in retrospect feels kind of like a warning.
Next! The HERE NOW album, which is worth your time to listen to in full, several times, while performing any and all activities including nothing but listening to HERE NOW:
This is the album where NEO JAPONISM’s usual energy got placed. I’m not complaining! This is a group that I need to rock the hell out, with big loud guitars and completely unrealistic drum lines and distortion and stuff. This album kicks ass, like completely. Of course it doesn’t spare the idoling — this is, at the end of the day, a pretty safe idol group — but this is where the sounds that I like live. A lot of this feels like vintage petit pas!, from the anthemic “brave your heart” and “TO THE FUTURE” to the sure-let’s-call-it-animetal “Genwaku no Catharsis”. I could listen to this album all day and tell people all about this neo-favorite act of mine. Highly recommend.
Again, like an entire week later, NEO JAPONISM made good on their earlier promise and released a companion record. I think this disqualifies the thing from being a double album, though does that point even pertain? Reader, it does not, but I’m trying to create a more meaningful text space between these albums, and … yeah, that’ll about do it:
OVER TIME is simultaneously too much idol and not enough loud rock for my taste. “WAKUSEI UTOPIA” is probably my favorite track from it (‘cuz it’s weird!), and the “Connect -Hello World” / “Disconnect -Goodbye World” sequence is certainly nice to listen to. That being said, a clear choice was made by producer-san, and the result was one album that kicks tons of ass and another preferable to people who like to wave light sticks. It’s certainly an okay choice to make, but it also does create a clear juxtaposition, and I know where I stand on all of that.
And last but not least, we have the “Spica” single, also a completely digital release, also completely divorced from association with any other releases save for the fact that it’s released by the same group.
This is what you call “threading the needle”, friends. As if all of the material up to the point of this release had been to set it up, here you have a song that goes in pretty hard for the idol tropes in the vocals but could also be mistaken for more classic NEO JAPONISM. No complaints at all! Maybe I wish there were, like, a second whole album of songs like “Spica” no matter how much it might remind certain people of Kentacore! You stop your vile slanders, Apermaidenpay!
So that’s NEO JAPONISM’s summer o’ new releases! Most idol projects would be hard-pressed indeed to get out that much stuff in such a short timeframe, and considering that at it’s worst it’s acceptable pop rock and at its best the kind of rib-kicking mayhem that got me to love NEO JAPONISM in the first place, it’s quite an accomplishment. If I were doing this as a proper review, I’d probably give the summer as a whole four heartbleeds on average, rounding up just a little bit to get there. And that’s okay! I plan on writing a thing about the actual best record of the summer pretty soon, and it’s not dissimilar to, well, a lot of this.
And as for NEO JAPONISM in general, I thing this glut of stuff may have something to do with the very slick new branding and upgraded production values that you can see in all of their media. Methinks somebody with money to burn has them bullseyed as a new contender and is willing to put resources behind making that happen.