Artist Spotlight: capsule, music

Artist Spotlight: Capsule (week two)

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Josh Anderson’s guest series on Capsule continues with a look at a less often-discussed period of the group’s history, between the initial lounge-pop phase of the first few releases and their more well-known (and popular) forays into dance music.

As Capsule’s discography grew, Yasutaka Nakata weaned himself from his penchant for collaborating with Contemode label mates. That said, the band’s fourth album, S.F. Sound Furniture, is not without a handful of collaborative tracks—most notably the phenomenal “Uchuu Elevator.” Also of note is the track “GO! GO! Fine Day,” which features electro pop trio COPTER4016882, whose continuing struggle to break into the mainstream may have something to do with their impossible-to-remember name.

Nakata, however, would not give up collaborations completely before scoring a particularly big one—albeit with a non-musician. Starting with S.F. Sound Furniture, a single from each of the next three Capsule albums would be made into an animated music video directed by Yoshiyuki Momose, of the Studio Ghibli subsidiary Studio Kajino.

If the music released through Contemode was supposed to be an “accessory to fashion,” as Nakata claimed, the retro-futurist world depicted in these videos hint at the type of fashion he had in mind. Turns out it’s somewhere between “The Jetsons” and 1960s Paris. The characters depicted are beautiful, thin, pale-skinned young people who zip in and out of shopping malls, fashion shows, and trendy social mixers in their space pods and flying cars. Story-wise, there’s a loose continuity between the three videos; one wonders if any sort of influence was gleaned from Daft Punk’s Interstella 5555, the feature-length anime music video to their seminal album Discovery. The same can be wondered in regard to the goofy 1999 Dreamcast rhythm game Space Channel 5 (aesthetically, at least).

The albums themselves also form a loose conceptual trilogy. S.F. Sound Furniture is technically the first in this “sci-fi trilogy,” but album number five, Nexus-2060, pushes the idea further. The concept involves the year 2060, where people travel to a satellite resort called “Space Station No. 9” via an international space airport located above Tokyo. Promotional photos from this era show the band looking out at space landscapes through hotel windows. The album cover of Nexus-2060 features Nakata’s vector art illustration of the “space-age resort,” an image that makes a prominent appearance in the 2nd Ghibli-produced music video, “Space Station No. 9.” In the song, Koshijima’s mostly wordless vocals accent thunderous, groovy percussion.

The final track to be Ghibli-fied was “Flying City Plan,” which follows the template of the first two songs; the only real vocals are spoken word introductions establishing the futuristic setting. (“This is an emergency. Prepare yourself for ejection,” says a pitch-shifted voice before the song erupts into a house beat.) Before appearing on the band’s sixth album, L.D.K. Lounge Designers Killer, “Flying City Plan” served as the opening to a brief EP entitled Aeropolis. The EP title refers to the “Aeropolis 2001,” a proposed 500-story skyscraper that would tower over Tokyo Bay. Its planners, the Obayashi Corporation, “also proposed building a city on the moon by 2050.” Some of the ambition of the day seems to have rubbed off on Nakata; the era of Capsule’s sci-fi album trilogy also saw the producer take on a myriad of side projects. In 2004, Nakata teamed up with model Nagisa Ichikawa to form the very Capsule-esque group Nagisa Cosmetic; that same year would see their only release, a seven-track self-titled EP. In 2005, Nakata took on a particularly weird side project when he agreed to design three “limited time lunch meals” for the Shibuya-based Cafe Unice. This came with a(n admittedly cool) lounge pop single named after the cafe.

Nakata’s branching interests affected Capsule, as well. The band grew increasingly electronic with each album, but it wouldn’t be until 2006’s Fruits Clipper that they went full-on electro. L.D.K. Lounge Designers Killer is the last album of theirs to maintain any tenuous connection to the traditional Shibuya-kei sound. Although tracks like noisy house cut “Lounge Designers Killer” and the drum and bass-flavored “Progress and Harmony of Humankind” were steps in a new direction for the band, songs like “Twinkle Twinkle Poppp!” or (the fantastic) “Teleportation” wouldn’t have sounded too out of place on Phony Phonic, and the calm, delightful “Tic Tac” is the most overtly bossa nova track they’ve ever made.

The title of the album may hint at Capsule’s sonic evolution. L.D.K. Lounge Designers Killer is particularly enigmatic English (even for a band that has songs with names like “Super Scooter Happy” and “Fruits Clipper”), but the author of a Yasutaka Nakata blog offers this compelling theory: “The album title is a bizarre interpretation of the common acronym LDK, which in Japanese housing means ‘living dining kitchen,’ referring to a home which has living room, dining room, and kitchen areas. It may also be a reference to the fact that this was the last Capsule album to incorporate lounge pop (‘lounge’ + ‘killer’ = killing their lounge sound, etc).”

Capsule’s shift in style was undoubtedly driven in part by Nakata’s desire to try new sounds, but another factor played a role—Nakata was tired of creating music that he viewed as effeminate. “I only make that so-called science fiction type stuff aimed at girls,” he explained in an interview with Japanese music magazine MARQUEE. Capsule’s growing male fanbase bothered Nakata, especially when they praised his music for its “cuteness” and listened to it with the “same sort of feeling” as the girls for whom it was meant. “Its not really like Im demanding for men not to listen to it,” Nakata explained, “but I didnt want them to listen to it the same way girls would enjoy it. You enjoy this kind of thing while using more imagination, and in a mans case, he isnt going to sit there giggling to himself while he listens to it. Still, thats not to say that I hate men who love music—I like them perfectly fine, and thats why I thought I should offer them something more interesting.”

That “something more interesting” meant the four-on-the-floor electronica that would dominate the band’s sound from that point forward. While Capsule’s foray into pure electro—and thus, supposedly, “masculine” music—would alienate some fans, it would also bring the duo their first taste of mainstream success.

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