It’s time to level up…
2020 was a busy year for the “mannequins with emotion” as FEMM announced an upgrade of sorts from FEMM 1.0 to FEMM 2.0. This switch-up offered an evolution of the duo’s approach and style, but also saw the pair entertaining more collaborative efforts. This included teaming up with Duke of Harajuku (from music label tokyovitamin), which resulted in the sublime ‘Summer Dream’ and also the clipped beats of ‘Level Up’.
That evolution has continued into 2021 care of the buzzy ‘Come & Go’ (which marked FEMM’s first 2021 release back in January) and the perky pop of ‘Sugar Rush’ (see J-Pop Go review previously). The videos for these new songs also reveal a much more human aspect to RiRi and LuLa as they show a departure from their tight mannequin style to bust out more fluid moves.
404 Not Found is something of a showcase for FEMM 2.0, featuring some of their collaborative efforts while also demonstrating that the mannequin duo are still ahead of the curve with the energy and attitude of their hyperpop tunes.
Kicking things off, the angular electronics of ‘Sit Down’ combines the talents of FEMM with Japanese bass duo HABANERO POSSE. FEMM’s combination of staccato vocals and electronically-treated vocals is present and correct. But lurking among the abrasive percussive delivery are also some smooth synth lines. ‘Sit Down’ also came complete with a striking video on its release. Apparently shot in one take, the video shows a live performance in which FEMM interact in real-time with massive screens. In the video’s multifaceted multimedia world, concepts such as size, dimensions, area and even gravity seem to deviate from the laws of physics, creating a new analog performance work where the lines between virtual and real are kept deliberately unclear – the perfect world for FEMM to live in.
‘Bury Me (with all my $$)’ is an odder affair with its disconnected piano mashed up against another FEMM reverie about money (“I like cheap thrills and big bills”), while ‘Peaches’ offers a more intense slice of crunchy electronics.
The frisky ‘Play By The Rules’ serves up a more classic FEMM composition. Here, the stabby vocal delivery with its treated production run in tandem against an insistent percussive drive. Layered electronic effects drop in and out as FEMM lay down the rules (“Listen and obey”) – and who are we to disagree?
Meanwhile, ‘BOSS’ sets FEMM’s response to any potential haters (“Can’t fake your way up to my level/Take your ass and step back”) in a surprisingly pastel-coloured affair. Sounding like GLaDOS embarking on a musical career, ‘BOSS’ is a disconcerting number where the smooth synthwave style is in direct contrast to the contentious lyrics. FEMM stating “Don’t come for me with all the shade” in a dreamy, reflective fashion is certainly a mood.
Elsewhere, ‘Level Up’, another of FEMM’s collaborative efforts (here featuring the afore-mentioned Duke of Harajuku) serves up one of the EP’s slickest numbers. Here, the tweaked vocal delivery is buoyed up by some subtle chiptune melodies. The end result is a polished gem of J-pop goodness.
The striking cover art for 404 Not Found was designed by London-based illustrator Max Prentis (who seems to be the go-to designer for a lot of FEMM’s output recently, including the excellent 80s / 90s J-POP REVIVAL covers album). The sleeve apparently depicts a lonely AI character that wanders the internet in the distant future. Long after the extinction of humankind, it attempts to access websites that will never be updated, displaying only the message “404 Not Found”.
While technically, 404 Not Found was released in 2020, the EP has been given a new lease of life with a special limited edition MiniDisc release care of JPU Records this year. The format is like having a miniature art artefact, which looks surprisingly cool (although be quick as stocks are limited).
404 Not Found is out now via JPU Records: https://jpurecords.com/collections/femm/products/femm-404-not-found