I’ve been making a big effort to start listening to more J-pop lately for a few reasons. The main one being that everyone seems to be covering K-pop now and I’ve lost my crown as the Caucasian Kween of K-pop, and the second is that my thirsty black soul has been craving the kind of crazy creativity and diversity that only J-pop can really deliver. I chose a good time to start delving deeper into the good ol’ JPN too, having recently stumbled upon the best new Japanese girl group since Tokyo Girls’ Style: Especia.
Following a handful of EPs and singles, Especia (that’s Spanish for ‘Spice’) released their first studio album Gusto last week. The simplest way to describe their sound is to call it retro ’80s synth-pop, but there’s much more to it than that. They flirt with disco and SAW-style dance-pop, acid jazz, the J-pop sub-genre of city pop, and Muzak — a.k.a. elevator music (think easy listening and deliciously corny Kenny G saxophone riffs). Still, their sound extends even beyond that: “Foolish” features the kind of drive-by hip-hop groove of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin & Juice” or Adina Howard’s “Freak Like Me,” while “アバンチュールは銀色に(GUSTO Ver)” is steeped in early ’90s house.
Patrick St. Michel from the amazing Make Believe Melodies has also pointed out that Especia’s sound is heavily built on the trendy new genre of vaporwave, but I refuse to go there. Even though Especia’s currently being promoted as “Japanese vaporwave idols,” I just can’t accept yet another internet-created fad genre that’s going to be forgotten in 5 minutes once the try-hards at Vice get distracted by something else shiny and bloggable, so I’m just going with everything I said about their sound in the previous paragraph.
“When I was little, I loved resorts and seeing the city at night,” Especia’s primary producer Yuki Yokoyama told The Japan Times when discussing the group’s sound. “Those images stuck with me, and I have tried to re-create that vibe.”
Especia member Monari Wakita adds: “Our target audience at first were people who wanted to feel some nostalgia for those times. But we attracted a varied crowd. This is all a new vibe for younger people.”
Just like every vaguely hip artist out right now that sits anywhere close to the realm of pop, ’80s and ’90s nostalgia plays a big role in Especia’s image. The difference between Especia and the rest of the douchebags around today is that nostalgia is their entire concept, not just a passing trend. Watching the girls bop around behind VHS static and outdated special effects feels relatively uncontrived at a time when it’s the exact opposite for everyone else.
As for Especia’s actual songs, “No1 Sweeper” is already the happiest most feel-good hit of the year for me (and I don’t even know what the hell they’re singing about), while “Foolish” has more swag than most of the major American hip-hop hits out now.
What I’m trying to say is this: YOU MUST BUY GUSTO RIGHT NOW!!!! Do it so that the world has an example of what good sax in a pop song sounds like, as opposed to whatever the hell Cheryl Cole did in her latest turd of a single.