Artist Spotlight: capsule

Artist Spotlight: Capsule (week four)

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Concluding a four-part look over the Capsule discography, guest writer Josh Anderson takes us from World of Fantasy right up to last year’s Wave Runner – thus, effectively, bringing the series right up to the present day.

Capsule’s follow-up to their well-received 2010 record Player would be the band’s twelfth LP but the first, Yasutaka Nakata revealed in an interview, in which he felt like he and Toshiko Koshijima worked on equal footing. Up until this point, he likened their relationship to that of a doctor and his assistant. The next album, it was decided, would eschew the band’s usual workflow; instead of Koshijima singing Nakata’s lyrics and leaving the producer to twist and manipulate her raw vocals to fit his electronic compositions, the two would write songs together.

The resulting album isn’t among their best. Musically, it’s uninspired—literally every song has a BPM of 128 and the all-English lyrics include lines like “Tonight it’s party time. It’s party time tonight.” Commercially, however, the album performed well. Reaching 3rd place on the Oricon weekly and daily charts, it became the group’s highest charting LP (although technically it did not sell as many units as More! More! More! or even their previous effort, Player). The album’s release was not without its problems, however. Originally slated to be released on March 23, 2011 under the title Killer Wave, the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 and resulting tsunami quickly prompted a name change. The project was shelved for two months to give the manufacturers time to reprint the packaging with the new title, World of Fantasy, but many copies bearing the original name leaked onto store shelves. To this day, “Killer Wave” can be found in online auctions and secondhand music stores throughout Japan.

Album number 13, Stereo Worxxx, followed closely in the footsteps of World of Fantasy, offering a new set of club-ready dance tracks. While overall the album is more compelling than World of Fantasy (“Step on the Floor” and “In the Rain” are highlights), it does feature the unfortunate distinction of containing the absolute worst song in the band’s entire discography, the car alarm anthem “Dee J.

Nakata’s contract with Yamaha ended in 2012, and with it came the death of Contemode. (As a final goodbye, the label’s last releases were a pair of Capsule best-of albums entitled Rewind Best.) Upon signing on to the Warner Music Japan sublabel Unborde, the band announced that henceforth they would officially typeset their name as CAPSULE (previously it had been all lower-case). Their fourteenth album arrived in October 2013, appropriately titled CAPS LOCK.

The LP proved to be one of the most interesting Capsule releases in years. It’s essentially an experimental Yasutaka Nakata solo album, with the producer challenging himself to incorporate “sounds that weren’t designed to make music.” Koshijima’s role on the project was to let her vocals be computerized, chopped, and manipulated beyond recognition. While some of the more abstract tracks end up sounding like bad Radiohead (particularly the divisive “12345678”), Nakata’s creativity pays off in other places—“Shift” and lead single “Control” are both worth a listen for their catchy and complex keyboard melodies. If nothing else, CAPS LOCK proves Nakata’s versatility as a producer. The three albums he created that year (the others being Perfume’s Level 3 and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s Nanda Collection) sound almost nothing alike.

Nakata’s IDM phase wouldn’t last long. The group’s fifteenth album, Wave Runner, was another radical shift in sound—this time to festival-ready EDM bangers. While Koshijima is back singing actual human language this time around, the album makes no effort to appease listeners nostalgic for the simpler days of the group’s earlier Shibuya-kei efforts. It’s hard to believe that the same band that made cute, calm bossa nova songs like “Tic Tac” is also responsible for the diaphragm-hammering drops of “Dreamin’ Boy” and “White As Snow.”

While Wave Runner is not bad by EDM standards, the album makes abundantly clear that Capsule’s sound will forever be dictated by whatever Nakata’s ears find most appealing at the moment. The band will likely last as long as the man continues making music, with one caveat, as he explained in an interview: “I do think I’ll retire Capsule if I’m ever able to produce an album that makes me think, ‘Once I complete this, I don’t care if I die.’” Whether or not he ever creates such an album, Nakata has satisfied a dedicated fanbase around the world for years and unquestionably left his mark on the Japanese pop music landscape.

Anderson extends special thanks to FYYSTK, a fan Tumblr for Yasutaka Nakata that provided a great deal of the information for this article series. Memories of Shibuya extends thanks to Anderson, and would like to clarify that we like High-Collar Girl much more than he does.

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One thought on “Artist Spotlight: Capsule (week four)

  1. sugarless boy says:

    great retrospective! i definitely miss the lowercase capsule days. their last two albums have been disappointing.

    Like

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