album review: Perfume “PLASMA”

The world is no longer the world we knew back in 2018, when electronic-pop trio Perfume released their album “Future Pop”. Performances could not proceed, concerts were cancelled or rescheduled or aired for television consumption, and Japanese pop groups faced threats to their longevity in the scene.

And yet, even when all else was uncertain, it was certain Perfume would continue on; the rise of TikTok dance challenges, a booking spot with the Japanese adaptation of The Masked Singer, an airing of their ‘polygon wave’ tour, and a continued slew of releases onward from 2020 to 2022 were all the girls needed to make sure they were standing tall in the midst of the pandemic. Eventually, there had to be an album, right?

Thus, enter ‘PLASMA‘, a culmination of released tracks of the last three years following ‘P Cubed’, with some sprinkles of new tracks for your enjoyment. Much like its name, this album is in a state of matter all on its own, but will its musical particles be full of energy, or is Perfume just resting on empty? It’s time to check whether these last three years were worth the charge…



Perfume promoting PLASMA

PLASMA

Rating: 4 out of 5.

PLASMA” serves as the near-wordless introductory track of the album, running at two minutes, and it definitely gives you a sense of what sort of direction the album is going to go through. I’m usually never caring about these sorts of intros for Perfume albums, but this one has an addictive feel that I can’t quite shake off. Reminiscent of the synths of the eighties merged with the powerful feel of, say, the films of Tron, it almost feels like we are going into time with this new album, and what better song to easily transition into than…


Time Warp (v1.1)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Do you still remember the purity of your first emotion and your first impression?

The first actual track on this album is “Time Warp (v1.1)“, and it appears to be an remixed version of the single release. Let me be the first to say that there really isn’t anything different here, apart from some heavier bass overall and synths that go harder in the chorus. I imagine Yasutaka Nakata, the girls’ producer, thought there could be more emphasis; regardless of whichever version you find yourself, there’s no denying that “Time Warp” itself is a fantastic song.

As I mentioned in a previous review for the single here, “Time Warp” is a fresh take on an eighties sound the girls had previously tackled in the Triangle era, and it is incredibly catchy. With its throwback element, its super speed, and its joy, ‘PLASMA’ kicks off what is possibly Perfume’s return to form… a form we haven’t seen since ‘JPN’. If that’s really the case, then Perfume has successfully warped us through time.


ポリゴンウェイヴ (Original Mix)

Polygon Wave (Original Mix)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Even jagged teardrops roll down in this world full of artificial things.

Polygon Wave (Original Mix)” continues the string of past-released tracks, and it actually is quite the appropriate track to follow suit of “Time Warp (v1.1)”, as it is also a song that takes cues from past Perfume works.

As reviewed in its prior release under the Polygon Wave EP here, “Polygon Wave (Original Mix)” is the original version of their 2021 song, used as the theme song for the Japanese edition of The Masked Singer, and Perfume sure milked that song for the remainder of 2021. It’s a fun song, with an additional 1:30 minutes worth of content that is bound to get you grooving to the funk. It’s not a particularly stand-out track, especially since its single counterpart is not wholly remarkable, but its ‘GAME’-era groove and layers of synth allow it to be an enjoyable wave nonetheless.


再生

Saisei

Translation: Playback

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I’ll face it with all my heart and soul. Restart. Rebirth. Recreate.

Saisei“, or “Playback” being its English title, is the last of the first cour of songs released prior to the album until we get to some of the album’s new promotional tracks, and it remains to be a treat to the ears.

Tied-in to the mystery film, Murder at Shijinso, released in 2019, “Saisei” keeps the beat going for the album; its twinkling melody layered with heavy synth gives it a fresh sparkle, and it falls in line with there being some familiarity of its overall melody and mood to past Perfume releases. It is a piano-driven track that ebbs and flows from verse to bridge before its chorus takes over.

I can’t help but make comparisons to “Sweet Refrain” and other works of Perfume’s that give off a sort-of sentimental vibe with its combination of sounds. Perhaps, even after all these years, “Saisei” is worth several playbacks.


Spinning World

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Spinning girl, spinning world.

Spinning World” is the first of the new tracks, and quite possibly, one of their best album-only tracks to date. There’s something about this song, with its fresh appeal, despite containing elements that are all too familiar in a Perfume song.

Not that any of that is a bad thing; on the contrary, it is what enhances the track. Having taken the “Time Warp” through prior releases (and prior influences to the eighties), “Spinning World” is the end result: a electro-funk song that relies on the synths that exist in Yasutaka Nakata’s own spinning world, and the low register of the girls vocally to match the song’s downplayed energy, all while still keeping the funk and dance alive.

With no pun intended, it’s a nice spin on the many nostalgic elements of past Perfume songs. To put it simply, “Spinning World” is what we were missing from many of Perfume’s prior releases: a title track worth all the heavy rotation.


マワルカガミ

Mawaru Kagami

Translation: Spinning Mirror

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I’m only the spinning mirror. It’s you who are the light, illuminating everything.

Mawaru Kagami“, otherwise translated to “Spinning Mirror”, appropriately follows suit from “Spinning World”, as its looping intro synth spins its electro yarn into your eyes. Perhaps there’s a thematic element here (which gives me hope that there’s a coherent element to the album overall).

Unfortunately, this is not a highlight of the album, and it is perhaps one of my least favorite songs from the girls overall. This is, indeed, the studio version of the ‘polygon wave live ver.’ that was on the “Flow” single, and nothing has actually changed. It is still a fairly catchy track, giving the listener that nostalgic feel, almost like a “SEVENTH HEAVEN” 2.0 (but not as good).

Perhaps what’s led me to feel this particular way is that its intro does not match what the overall track’s vibe is – the intro is cool and almost powerful, but the entirety is reminiscent and breezes. It does not have coherence, and I am left with my head spinning as I reflect on this song.


Flow

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The times that pass will change. The future of that day is like a dream.

Flow” is one of the several singles of the album, and it follows the downplayed ‘flow’ (if you will) of the middle portion of ‘PLASMA’. The nostalgia factor remains here, as well, with “Flow” sounding like an unofficial sequel to “Furikaeru to Iru yo” from ‘LEVEL3’.

“Flow” is a gorgeous song. While I had not previously reviewed it when it came out, I was floored by its melody and concept. I’m usually not wholly fond of Perfume’s more down-tempo tracks, especially because they sound like they fill album space than they do fill you with emotion. However, this is not the case with “Flow”, which is a mesh of various synths that somehow ‘flow’ (again, if you will) together, like the wind against your face. From its heavy bass to the girls subdued vocals and ad-libs, this mid-way track flows beautifully like a stream of water.


∞ループ

∞Loop

Romanization: Mugen Loop
Translation: Infinite Loop

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The world is a loop, looping infinitely.

∞Loop” picks up the speed to have us go into the next half of the album, and it holds up just as well as it did when I first heard it from its initial release on ‘Polygon Wave EP’ here. Translating from “Mugen Loop” to “Infinite Loop”, it almost seems like it continues a particular theme that I initially didn’t track from song to song: movement.

The track moves much like another track from ‘LEVEL3’, titled “Clockwork”, with its funky instrumental that is looped frantically throughout the song, save for an interlude that also loops itself until we’re thrust into the infinite looping of the song’s last half. The slow burn of the mid-way point is no longer – we are preparing ourselves to keep going for an indeterminate time with “∞Loop” and its hypnotic electro-funk sound.


Drive’n The Rain

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Drive in the rain, a gentle new world; melt your sadness in the rain.

The joke is on us, however, when we are thrown into a track that is slower in sound, and it is for this appropriate fact: we’re driving in the rain.

Drive’n The Rain” is one of the four (technically, three) new tracks on the album, and initially, I was put off for two reasons: it is a slower track, and it clocks in at around 6 minutes. That’s a hell of a long time, and I did not think I was going to have the patience for it. Until I listened to it several more times, of course.

“Drive’n The Rain” has all the elements of a ‘Triangle’-era song (hell, even a CAPSULE song), with its sexy synth and bass to really drive it home. The funk that was in “∞Loop” carried straight over into this portion of the album, and it just fits right. The mood for the song is there – you’re most certainly driving in the rain listening to it. The song’s runtime also just makes a bit more sense now, with the track’s concept context. Now to test this song for real in the rain…


ハテナビト

Hate na Bito

Translation: Enigmatic People

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I am full of wonders you want to solve.

The next track on the album is that one new song that you just can’t get enough of; it’s a constant repeat, and it somehow manages to rack up the play count.

Hate na Bito“, translating to “Enigmatic People”, is my absolute favorite track on the album, regardless of it being new or previously-released. This is odd for me, considering that it is not only the shortest track on the album, it is also the most simplistic.

Powered by a staccato of synth with a booming background melody, “Hate na Bito” turns itself into a track worthy of space travel, with its slight twinkles and pews giving it that quirky edge. Yet, this is all that this song is: a simpler version of a song that could very well appear on the ‘COSMIC EXPLORER’ album. For a song that speaks of an enigma, it sure is clear as day that this track is ‘PLASMA’ at its best.


アンドロイド&

Android&

Romanization: Android And

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Android… don’t we get along so well? Much better than humans who see with cold eyes.

Android&” is the last of the ‘Polygon Wave EP’ tracks on the album, and following after “Hate na Bito” feels correct, as it keeps the momentum of wonderfully crafted Perfume tracks going.

As I mentioned in my previous review for it here, this track is a serve. Perfume seems to have found standing ground on tracks crafted for funk, with elements that include a funky introductory guitar and a rapid drum beat, which is bound to get that (excuse my language) booty popping. It is a chaotic hot mess instrumental-wise, but its frantic array of sounds is never disappointing or grating to the ears. As I stated before, this track tackles on sounds that could very well find itself in the ‘Triangle’ era.

If this is what an android is like, then consider me signed up for quite the funky future.


さよならプラスティックワールド

Sayonara Plastic World

Translation: Goodbye Plastic World

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I want to live in a wonderful future.

We’ve most certainly got ourselves a “Puppy love” 2.0, with the finale of the album, the previously released “Sayonara Plastic World“, otherwise translated to “Goodbye Plastic World”. This final track was tied-in to the NHK program Minna no Uta.

What has been amazing up until this point is that the trio has found themselves completely going back in time with each song, and “Sayonara Plastic World” is no exception, especially with its piano-driven melody that has pulses of synth throughout. It has the familiarity of various songs from the catalogue of Yasutaka Nakata, with an electric guitar to boot. Its lyrics also touch upon an important message regarding plastic, which I like.

It sadly isn’t one of my favorites because it does sound just a bit bland and way too similar to prior album-ending tracks. That said, this is still a bittersweet goodbye to the album; perhaps I may find myself liking this more if I plan on revisiting anytime soon…


OVERVIEW

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This is an absolute recommend.

PLASMA‘ is a delight to listen to, and if you haven’t already noticed by this point, then you’ll need to go back song-by-song: ‘PLASMA’ is Perfume’s love letter to their older works following their major label signing way back in 2005 up until now. Tinges of ‘GAME’, ‘Triangle’, ‘JPN’, ‘LEVEL3’, ‘COSMIC EXPLORER’, and even ‘Future Pop’, are everywhere, and many of the tracks do not disappoint in the slightest.

The album is also quite coherent, with its many themes of warping through time, waving through polygons, worlds and mirror-balls spinning, and driving. Movement has never sounded quite like this Perfume effort.

‘PLASMA’ is a treat, and it comes four solid years from ‘Future Pop’, which saw the girls explore beyond their limits; ‘PLASMA’, however, sees the girls explore within their limits.

Definitely give this album a try, for Perfume fans or electronic music in general; the experience with this ‘state-of-matter’ is one you won’t regret.

MUST-LISTEN: ハテナビト, Spinning World, アンドロイド&

For more Perfume reviews, visit the archive!

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