Nanda Collection

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

Warner Music Japan, 2013

http://kyary.asobisystem.com

REVIEW BY: Ken DiTomaso

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/20/2013

Nanda Collection is the second record by Japanese pop star Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, and I’m not using the term “pop star” lightly. Nanda Collection debuted at #1 on the Japanese album chart and the utterly bizarre (yet quintessentially Japanese) music videos for its singles alone have ranked up a combined total of nearly 60 million YouTube views in only a few months. If you included her earlier singles in that count, the number would more than double.

She’s a pretty big deal in Japan is what I’m getting at here. But then, there are a lot of “big deal” stars in the English-speaking world, and plenty of them suck. So what sets Kyary apart?

Like most Western pop, these songs are mainly rooted in dance beats, with four on the floor kicks and 120 BPM tempos the norm. Unlike the majority of current mainstream American pop we’re familiar with, there aren’t any cheesy ballads or diva over-singing or anything like that here. Instead, Kyary is concerned primarily with pure unadulterated fun and little else. This record is practically candy-coated. Her youthful girlish vocals are surrounded by bubbly synths, colorful arrangements, and some of the most infectious pop melodies of 2013. Kyary and company (including songwriter and producer Yasutaka Nakata), manage to uncover a surprisingly large spectrum of different textures and atmospheres to explore within the genre, ensuring that the album never grows dull.

These tunes deliver pop pleasure in perverse amounts. Not only is nearly every song anchored by fantastic hooks, but this is also an album that knows that in order to have a great song you need more than just a catchy chorus (something a lot of American pop forgets). The verse melodies on this record are often just as well-constructed and memorable as the choruses, even more so in many cases. The lyrics are rather inane from what I can gather from the brief bits of English scattered about. But thankfully most of the album is in Japanese so I don’t have to be bothered by dumb lyrics about scooters and ice cream and can just enjoy the tunes (though, I’d certainly take a song about ice cream over a lame romance lyric any day).my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Invader Invader” is the cleverest song from an arrangement standpoint, shifting from an intense verse led by de-tuned synths to a romantic pre-chorus to an anthemic chorus. It even includes a dubstep break in the bridge, which kind of comes out of nowhere. But the song still manages to maintain a great sense of flow throughout and each segment has a tune that could easily form the basis of its own song. “Kimi Ni 100 Percent” is a little toned-down in its arrangement when compared to the rest of the record, but to my ears it has perhaps the most delightful melody on the entire record. “Fashion Monster” is almost the reverse of that. It doesn’t have the most compelling hook ever, but it more than makes up for it with a propulsive beat and a tremendous synth riff, which conjures up images of Sonic The Hedgehog or some other fast paced video game. “Super Scooter Happy” also makes me think of video games; it would fit in great on a Mario Kart soundtrack, for instance. “Kura Kura” breaks from the dance beat pattern of the rest of the album, behaving as if it were played by a marching band! Complete with tuba, woodblocks, and a celesta of all things in the role of lead instrument (I think; it could also be a tack piano). The instrument also appears prominently elsewhere on the album, adding to the general cheery atmosphere.

Not every track works front to back. The chorus of “Mi” is literally just Kyary singing the word “Mi” over and over again. The melody has a casually eastern lilt to it and it’s the closest this album comes to sounding like what the West might consider to be stereotypical Asian pop music. The incessant repetition of the title gets kind of annoying. And while it does technically qualify as an earworm, the rest of the album gets its songs stuck in your head by having memorable melodies, not by repeating the same thing over and over. It still has a solid verse though, and the tune has a more pronounced beat than the rest of the album, so if you’re into club beats this song will definitely deliver.

I really only have one other tiny little gripe. I’m not the hugest fan of how the album just ends when it runs out of songs. “Otona Na Kodomo” is a fine tune, but it doesn’t feel at all like an album closer. This record has an intro song so they clearly had track order in mind when putting it together, and it really deserves a proper finale. If it were up to me I’d swap “Otona” with late album highlight “Furisodeshon.” That song has a chorus that builds to a great climax, and a middle eight that’s stuck with me as much as the chorus has. It would have made for a much more exciting way to close things out.

I doubt Kyary has any chance of breaking into the North American market since this kind of music is so far from the current American pop landscape, and her image is just too weird for some people. But she is certainly deserving if you ask me. It’s a lot harder for a tune to stick in your head when you can’t connect with the words being sung, but Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's frantically memorable songs manage it with flying colors. If you’re a pop music lover and don’t have a problem with your music being seriously cutesy-wutesy, you may want to pick up Nanda Collection at the next opportunity.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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