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Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012
BEST OF 2012
Special to The Japan Times
Back in March, I wrote that MiChi's sophomore album "Therapy" was 2012's "first great J-pop album." It wasn't the last, as full-length releases such as Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's "Pamyu Pamyu Revolution," Her Ghost Friend's "Looking For Wonder" and Shiho Nanba's "Otome Shikkaku" are among the finest CDs released over the past 12 months. Yet as December crawls to a close, 2012's first great J-pop album is now my favorite Japanese album of the year thanks to the sonic risks taken by MiChi (real name Michiko Sellars).
"Therapy" starts off as a very confrontational work, the first words MiChi sings being a cutting, "Don't let the men tell you what you need," before commanding the listener to "Get off your ass and get moving." Equally ear-grabbing is the backing music, an aggressive beat borrowing inspiration from American brostep. Many highlights on "Therapy" incorporate strains of electronic dance music, such as drum 'n' bass ("Together Again") or a more nocturnal take on Perfume's style of electro pop ("Love Is"). Several more prominent J-pop acts would borrow similar moves later in the year — Koda Kumi and Ayumi Hamasaki dipped their toes in the brostep well — but MiChi's songs here don't sound gimmicky, and instead they build great pop songs with triumphant choruses ("Yeah Yeah Yeah!") around fidgety electronics.
The most telling moment on "Therapy" comes on the title track. The tempo slows down as MiChi indulges in some currently "unhip" musical elements — spoken-word vocals, wooshy electronics edging toward New Age territory and samples of children giggling. These could have been treated with an ironic distance, but MiChi sounds committed to them, and this seriousness gives the song an extra punch when the beat eventually speeds up. Instead of settling for sounds that have proven commercially safe, MiChi tried integrating elements that are usually foreign to J-pop throughout "Therapy" — and she ended up with the best Japanese album of the year because of it. (Patrick St. Michel, www.makebelievemelodies.com)