Artist Spotlight: capsule, music

Artist Spotlight: Capsule (week three)

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Continuing with a look at one of Shibuya-kei’s most divisive figures – this blog earlier featured a post asking if his most famous group really counted as “Shibuya-kei” or not – Josh Anderson delves into Capsule’s commercial peak in the latter half of the ’00s in this installment of his guest series. Photo credit for this article, as with all of this series, goes to the “fuckyeahystk” tumblr – Anderson had included these credits for all earlier posts, but editorial decision had previously been to leave them out.


Capsule began their “electro” phase with the 2006 release of Fruits Clipper, an album described in a Tower Records press release as everything from “French Touch Filter House” to “UK Dance Rock.” Indeed, this is the album where listeners stopped equating Capsule with Pizzicato Five and instead began comparing them to Daft Punk. Male voices and hard, distorted synths on Fruits Clipper are evidence of Nakata’s attempt to move Capsule away from its “cute” image. (An unconfirmed rumor says that the male voice on “5ive Star,” the best track on the album, is actually Yasutaka Nakata himself.)

Perhaps the most obvious sign that Nakata sought a more masculine audience is the album cover for the band’s next album, Sugarless Girl. It’s a photo of a nude woman holding her breasts; no, that’s not singer Toshiko Koshijima, by the way, nor are much of the album’s stock vocals. In the past, when Nakata wanted vocals from someone other than his bandmate, he might have reached out to a Contemode signee. By the end of 2008, however, the only active artists left on the label would be Capsule and Nakata himself (as a solo artist). Clearly, Nakata was losing interest in running Contemode.

The band declared a hiatus in the summer of 2007, but this proved to be short-lived—Capsule would have two more albums out by the end of the year. The first was Capsule Rmx, a surprisingly strong collection of self-remixes. The second was Flash Back. In an interview with Japanese music news site BARKS, Nakata spoke of the latter album as containing music free from the constraints of others’ requests. This wouldn’t be a collection of commercial jingles or product tie-in singles—Capsule was going to make the music Capsule wanted.

That sentiment, however, was quickly abandoned when the band struck gold in 2008 with their tenth LP, More! More! More! Steady remixing gigs, a role writing the soundtrack to popular drama Liar Game, and an ever-lengthening list of production credits on the tracks of young, up-and-coming female pop stars earned Nakata a reputation as one of Japan’s top producers, but it was probably the massive success of Perfume’s album Game earlier in the year that built enough hype around “the next Yasutaka Nakata album” to catapult More! More! More! to sixth place on the Oricon weekly chart. Six of the album’s ten tracks ended up on television opening/closing themes, commercials, or video games. That’s all the more impressive when one considers that among the remaining four tracks, two are throwaway fillers. (I, for one, will never understand the band’s habit of including brief, often non-melodic interludes in most of their albums, but More! More! More!’s “Gateway” is an especially useless track.)

The band supported the album with a nationwide club tour in addition to a bevy of TV and radio interviews. For the new fans who discovered Capsule through More! More! More!, the band next released the compilation album Flash Best. Songs from the group’s Shibuya-kei era are minimally represented on the LP, and the ones that are included are dance tracks like “Flying City Plan” or “Progress and Harmony of Humankind.” The one exception is “Retro Memory,” the delightful lounge pop closer to S.F. Sound Furniture. Flash Best sold almost as well as its predecessor, reaching #7 on the Oricon weekly chart.

Player, the band’s next release, did even better, reaching #4 on the same chart. The album is a favorite among fans of electro-era Capsule. Nakata employs stock vocals, similar to his work on Sugarless Girl, but they’re used to a much more tasteful extent. Chopped vocals from an anonymous singer fill in the gaps between verses in “Love or Lies,” but Koshijima is still given room to put her talents to use. (That said, Nakata made the right choice in entrusting the stunningly beautiful “I Was Wrong” to a slightly slowed-down sample of English singer Kate Walsh.) The brief but excellent “Hello” featured prominently in a commercial for the “iida” brand of Japanese mobile phone company KDDI, and the track’s sparse instrumentation has made it popular among remixers.

The band’s unapologetically electronic sound would bring them further success in the coming years, but the brief span of time that Capsule could conceivably have been considered mainstream came and went. With the dawn of a new decade, Capsule would increasingly become Nakata’s personal playground for experimenting with sounds too risky to include on productions for his more radio-friendly artists, Perfume and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. The types of songs still to come from Capsule would prove to be wilder than anything a fan in the early 2000s could have imagined.

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