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Are We Human

"Dream Fighter," the 2008 single by Japanese pop group Perfume, functions both as pop song and as prism: relentless, glossy, varicolored, as if a rainbow were condensed and harmonized. The song is composed of bright escalating synth arpeggios that sound like unwoven crystal. I do not experience synesthesia but when I listen to "Dream Fighter" I almost hear colors, in innumerable variations, caught in a varied and distracted bloom.

These are integral features of the production work of Yasutaka Nakata, who writes and produces for Perfume as well as Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, the singer/model, and Capsule, his techno vehicle with vocalist Toshiko Koshijima. As a producer, Nakata's idea of J-Pop is formally strange. It exists in its own recreated world, one where it's eminently possible for every song to resemble Daft Punk's "Digital Love." His melodies are deeply affected by the work of Yellow Magic Orchestra, a group consisting of Ryuichi Sakamoto, Haruomi Hosono, and Yukihiro Takahashi, who in the late '70s and early '80s internalized and regenerated electro, synth-pop, and ambient music while somehow prevailing as one of the most popular bands in Japan. In fact, Nakata's compositions can almost be isolated to thoughtful YMO worship and a cultivated instinct for the rhythms of house and techno.

His work for Perfume, though, is distinct from Kyary and Capsule because of its flexibility. Though Capsule began as a mechanism for grotesque lounge music à la Stereolab, it has of late hardened into hammering techno barely relieved by Koshijima's fried vocals. Kyary's music conducts around her fashion and aesthetic, which, when held up against Perfume's, exhibits something more deliberately cute, alien, and sinister.

Perfume, instead, are robots, hooked up to and articulated by uncanny machines, and capable of being multiplied indefinitely. They danc...