Yokan System ‘Whispering’ (Ample Play)

Japanese duo construct fizzy pop album that’s too good to whisper about

‘Whispering’, the debut album from the Tokyo-based duo of Mai and Tsukasa is a ridiculously polished affair, the kind of deft electronic pop music that most artists take years to accomplish and that makes other recent attempts in the genre sound woefully inadequate.

The album contains 13 short tracks, all chock-full of shimmering, luminescent brilliance and haunting voices. Like all good pop music should, the songs range from downbeat, introspective moments to the neatly euphoric, all of which are deceptively simple, not structured from overly complex building blocks, just sharp, infectious, bold melodies and gently insistent vocals sung in Japanese and English. Think of it as being like minimalist furniture constructed entirely from brightly-lit neon tubes.

In spite of the impressive, naggingly insistent quality of the finest moments here – the pairing of ‘Sympathy Doll’ with its recollections of New Order circa ‘586’ and the mysterious ‘Ipanema’ being cases in point – this isn’t throwaway, listen-once, pick the best/delete the rest pop music befitting the instant gratification tastes of some music fans. ‘Whispering’ has its fair share of hidden depths, whether through evoking the rigid forms of abstract art on ‘Klee’ or somnambulant concerns on the pulse and thud of ‘A Dream You Never Wake Up From’. ‘Yokan Teresa’ steps away from the electronic framework and adds frantic guitar work that sits somewhere between Factory Records jangliness and Talking Heads on ‘Thank You For Sending Me An Angel’.

To go from that burst of six-string randomness to ‘Yapa’, which seems to co-opt the synth arpeggio from Kraftwerk’s ‘The Robots’, takes some doing, but Yokan System don’t seem to get troubled by that type of thing. When you can write impressive one-note melodic refrains like on the brief middle eight of that track, any nod to electronic music’s forebears is totally acceptable. At the other extreme, ‘Tete’ has the feel of Yokan System operating on the edge of control, trying to wrestle wayward synths as they judder and bolt recklessly forward.

If one criticism can be levelled at ‘Whispering’ – and I admit it is somewhat tenuous – it’s that after a while pop music this slick can feel a little like eating too many brightly-coloured sweets. Sometimes you just need a burst of something optimistic, cheerful, energetic and fun. Album highlight ‘Sea Moon’ is a case in point being the type of affirming pop that lifts your spirits and causes all sorts of warm, fuzzy recollections to spill forth. This is what good pop music is supposed to do, and Yokan System do it better than most.

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