Weapons of Dempa Destruction…
The arrival of Dempagumi.Inc’s third studio album brings with it some of the best examples of contemporary idol music. In a period where idol outfits are generally still in the ascendant, it’s always a nice surprise to still see groups raising the bar…
WWDD follows on from 2013’s WORLD WIDE DEMPA and, on its initial Japanese release in February 2015 secured a solid No. 3 position in the Oricon charts, gaining them their highest album chart position to date. Their single releases have equally been hitting the top ten consistently.
The appeal of Demapgumi can take some time to appreciate. The energy and speed and complete visual assault (check out their videos – or indeed the sleeve for the album) requires the listener to perhaps slow down to analyse the various elements that form the Dempa package. It’s a gear change from what to traditionally expect from many J-pop acts, but once you’ve adjusted to the sheer sugar rush of Dempagumi’s material, you’ll find yourself totally committed.
It’s become something of a tradition for idol albums to have some sort of overture or introduction and WWDD is no exception with the fanfare of ‘Dempa na Sekai ~It’s a dempa world~’. Part of Dempagumi’s appeal is in presenting theatre and spectacle, which this opening track demonstrates. It’s brief and to the point and does an excellent job in setting up the album proper.
‘Dempari Night’ needs little introduction as perhaps the best-known single issued from the album (which also managed a respectable No. 3 in the Oricon charts). It’s a zippy number that throws out a multi-layered pop confection of delights (there also appears to be elements of YMO’s ‘Absolute Ego Dance’ thrown in for good measure). If you could boil down the pure theatrics of Dempagumi into a single song, then ‘Dempari Night’ fits the bill.
Crafted in a much more standard idol template, ‘Dance Dance Dance’ is all synth strings and enthusiastic vocals. Although with its own energy, it sounds remarkably restrained in comparison with its neighbouring tracks. Meanwhile ‘NEO JAPONISM’ delivers a pure shot of Dempa goodness with its bonkers arrangements and squelchy electronic melodies. Composed by Naoto Hiroyama (Orange Range), this slice of pop perfection offers up clipped vocals and crisp production resulting in a solid banger (that’s also come into its own as a live track).
‘FD2 ~Raison D’Être Dai Bouken’ serves as a sequel of sorts to 2011’s ‘Future Diver’ with its video game intro and electronic rhythms providing a solid foundation for a song that’s largely driven by the vocals. Each Dempa member gets a turn as the song barrels along – at times suggesting that someone has purposely sped the tape up!
Originally one of WWDD’s digital single releases – and used as a theme for a CM for cup noodles – ‘ChururiChururira’ continues the theme of super-compressed and up-tempo melodies which also weaves in elements of traditional oriental instrumentation. It’s also a composition by Kenichi Maeyamada (aka Hyadain) who’s no stranger to the world of J-pop having previously worked with the likes of Momoiro Clover Z, Natsuko Aso and YuiKaori.
‘Mamonaku, Dempagumi.inc ga Ririku Itashimasu’ is another track that plays around with nods to chiptune and video game sounds, but takes a much more sedate approach to its arrangement. But it still moves at a pace and is a catchy little number.
‘Dear☆Stage e Yokoso♡’ presents a brief drama segment designed to showcase the DearStage venue and gives a flavour of what Demapgumi.Inc are all about in their home environment. It’s the longest track on the album as a result, but once the musical elements of the song kick in the listener is treated to a tune that has the theatrical elements that prop up the likes of ‘Demapri Night’ (but also plays down the more bonkers elements). The framing of the track, however, coupled with the sense of winding down that the melody plays with suggests that this number might have made more sense as a the closing track.
One of the album’s standout moments, ‘Bali 3 Kyouwakoku’ (Bali 3 Republic) also featured as the theme song for the idol’s group variety show Dempa Jack. The song brings in all the typical Dempagumi elements: video game sounds, nods to classic oriental musical tropes and a percussive melody that goes hand in hand with rapid-fire vocals.
Switching gear a bit, ‘Fancy Hoppe♡U・fu・fu’ (originally a B-side for ‘Sakura Apparition’) delivers a more mid-tempo number which nonetheless has a quirky charm all its own. ‘Lemon Iro’, meanwhile, sounds like an insert song that’s escaped from an as-yet unrealised anime series. This former B-side is sweet and has its own particular appeal, although it sounds somewhat out of step with the other WWDD tracks.
Back in 2013, Dempagumi collaborated with Brand-New Idol Society which resulted in the joint ‘Denden Passion’/’IDOL’ release – and now we get ‘Brand New World’, a song composed and arranged by BiS producer Kenta Matsukuma. The track’s BiS roots stand out immediately, with nods to the former’s ‘My Ixxx’ or ‘primal.’, which is certainly not a bad thing, but at the same time it’s decidedly not in the mould of Dempagumi’s own unique sound.
If you’re keen on idol ballads, then ‘Irodori Sekai’ is right up your street. It’s a gentle, warm number that wears its charm on its sleeve. A good break from the Dempa madness that’s all over the rest of the album, but engaging all the same.
‘Sakura Apparition’ closes out the album and offers a return to a more typical Dempagumi style of clipped vocals and key changes over a dense bed of electronic rhythms and subdued percussion. It’s also, perhaps surprisingly, a track written and composed by Tamaya 2060% (who also composed ‘Dempari Night’), also a member of rock outfit Wienners. As an outfit keen to bridge the gap between punk and pop however, this collaboration is perhaps not all that surprising.
As an album, WWDD delivers a good selection box of charged J-pop tunes, along with some surprising genre changes and more than a sprinkling of novelty. In an age where idol music remains popular and the choice of acts is so wide, Dempagumi.Inc still manage to stand out and offer a unique sound, while still retaining that important broad appeal.
WWDD is out now.