Embracing new sonic formats before they became popular all over J-pop.
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5 Jul 2017 - 12:06 PM  UPDATED 5 Jul 2017 - 12:06 PM

Tokyo Girls’ Style have a knack for beating the rest of J-pop to nascent trends. Back at the start of the decade, when they were a five-member outfit hewing to traditional idol aesthetics, they embraced funky bass lines and glitzy synthesizer sounds, years before similar sounds associated with ‘80s city pop became favoured by mainstream artists. Recently, after pivoting away from being pure idols and seeing one member leave, they’ve explored busy sounds associated with “future bass” and “tropical house,” and those same elements are popping up more and more in hits today.

We aren’t here to trace if the group’s latest single, “water lily,” is predicting future trends in J-pop, or if it’s the first to channel the wordless, vocal-mutated hook popularised by “Where Are U Now?” and found in, like, most huge U.S. hits now. It’s ahead of most for sure, but not because it is simply picking up on sonic developments happening abroad. Rather, Tokyo Girls’ Style take a familiar structure, and make it work for them.

The verses find the group singing over spacious keyboard notes and a rumbling beat, with the four members of Tokyo Girls’ Style singing about longing. They aren’t knock-out vocalists, but they boast sweet, reeled-in deliveries that have always worked well against the electronic backdrops they are given, and which shine when they come together. Here, that’s on the pre-chorus, raising the drama within and making what follows hit all the harder.

The centre of this song is a drop, one full of pitched-up voices ricocheting off of the beat. Ultimately, though, these musical freak outs only work as well as what came before them, and “water lily” wisely keeps things so sparse leading up to this burst that it hits all the harder. The downside is, you can only do this trick so many times, and by the third time it emerges near the end of the song, its impact has been dulled significantly, though they try to mask it a bit by switching up the beat for the song’s final stretch. Still, the one real downside is the song’s energy stalls after about three minutes.

But that initial rush works extremely well, and shows Tokyo Girls’ Style picking up yet another sonic format and making it fit for them. The question now is can they take disparate styles and form something a bit longer.

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