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Thursday, April 26, 2012
80Kidz Turbo Town
Special to The Japan Times
I understand why Japanese bands are tempted to bring Western artists on board for an album. It increases the odds of Western media picking up on them, their websites can use the featured guest (and the Japanese connection) as page-view bait. So I don't fault 80Kidz for recruiting four international acts to sing vocals on new album "Turbo Town" — Yes, Giantess were in the NME! Frankmusik got a lot of YouTube clicks one time! However, this move detracts from a solid third album full of songs that don't need foreign star power to shine.
When left alone, the dance-rock duo churns out great music. 80Kidz have mostly moved on from the bleating Justice-inspired music they rallied around in 2009, instead choosing to get more emotionally vulnerable. Opening track "Lander" is a moody, piano-centric stage-setter, while "Apollo 80" comes off as a lovely electric dirge. They haven't ditched the club in favor of diary writing — these songs, for the most part, still aim to move hips — but even aggressive cuts like "Mind The Gap" find time to incorporate minor-key stretches. 80Kidz have also better incorporated rock elements into title track "Turbo Town" and closer "Gotham," highlighting electric guitar in both with riveting results.
80Kidz do enough good work on "Turbo Town" that the four guest-vocal tracks don't sink the album, but they certainly disrupt the momentum. Remove the track list and it's tough to tell the difference between guest singers, as they all sound whiny and overdramatic. "Dream City Dream," the best of the four, manages to sound a cheesy in a high school sort of way, while album lowlight "Lightwaves" features nasal singing meant to soundtrack the most melodramatic prom ever. It's telling that the song with the best vocals comes courtesy of a sliced-and-diced sample, on the slinky "Lucy." It's one of the most interesting tracks on "Turbo Town," and a reminder 80Kidz are more than capable artists who don't need their friends spiking the punch.