Lucy Van Pelt, having been whittled down from its original five-member lineup to four in the wake of their original bassist’s departure, went through even more changes as the band entered its third year. Signing to EMI and rechristening themselves “advantage Lucy” (a name previously used as the title of their second mini-album), the band were among the last of the golden-age Shibuya-kei acts to successfully make the transition from the indies to a major label – and possibly the most graceful.
If any of advantage Lucy’s four members had any ideas about going for maximalism on Fanfare, their first full-length on EMI (and greatest commercial success, breaking the top 40 on the Oricon weekly chart and remaining there for three weeks), none of those ideas made it to the finished product at all. Sounding every bit as lo-fi as their indie releases that preceded it, Fanfare found the group using the freedom afforded by extra studio time and a larger budget to indulge in the kind of genre experimentation that would have been too risky with their early releases’ brief running times. While the group’s retro-minded approach was always in line with Shibuya-kei, on Fanfare their sonic palette expanded to the point where they were making music every bit as dynamic and varied as their contemporaries like Cornelius and Pizzicato Five were – and doing so without ever sacrificing their lo-fi aesthetic.
The one area to get an upgrade was in the clarity of Aiko’s soft vocals – although still close to being drowned out on songs like the rambunctious “solaris“, for the first time in the advantage Lucy discography it was no longer a given that you wouldn’t be able to make out half the words out of Aiko’s mouth. The clarity was an improvement across the board, and the increased focus on the vocals led to interesting experiments like the loop-heavy “Mahiru” – a far cry from anything on In Harmony, but not in a bad way at all. Whether or not it was actually the case, one gets the distinct feeling when listening to Fanfare that Aiko had conquered her earlier stage fright, and was making a bold statement as a true frontwoman for a group she was previously just a “vocalist” for.
The genre experimentation, as so often is the case in Shibuya-kei, led to a bossa nova song – and what a bossa nova song it was. “8-Gatsu no Bossa”, the album’s delightful Brazilian-inspired highlight, finds the often-melancholy group at their most playful. With some light Latin percussion and only one acoustic guitar (a rarity for the group, which often played shows with three members on guitar at a time), “8-Gatsu” is the best example of what made Fanfare such a brilliant first full album; rather than spending unnecessary time overcrowding a song with extra bells and whistles, the group made something outside of the ordinary and did so without ever making it too busy. Other groups in the scene provided more than their share of flash, while the members of advantage Lucy knew their strengths and played to them admirably. And, as anyone who’s seen a band playing sample-heavy material in a live setting can attest, there is a lot to be said for not going that route on recordings.
Part one, part three, part four.