Review by Kartune
People often joke about wanting to party when emending doom is staring you in the face because it’s less fun to sit miserably as you wait for the atomic bombs to drop. I mean, if you’re gonna live your last days, might as well enjoy them right? (I’m going out in a blaze of glory though… or just eating pizza in my bed while watching Community). That’s pretty much the feeling Japan Soul captures on their debut record Plastic Utopia.
“The conceptual premise of Plastic Utopia is that we have slipped into an apocalyptic alternate universe caused by a rift in time that began around the year 2000. 9/11, Iraq, the great recession, accelerated climate catastrophe…it feels like in the ’90s we were on course to avoid all these terrible calamities. Things are no longer as they should be.” – Japan Soul
It probably felt like that in the 90’s because no one really made a big deal out of it. The signs were there, it’s only now the results of our self-destruction are more noticeable (If we ignore it we can go back to that awesome decade and maybe Fresh Prince will come back on). It wasn’t that long ago when we became an industrial nation, and in the name of progress, we’ve left a mess in our wake.
On the first track War, Japan Soul start the party right, with some great harmonizing vocals acting as instruments for the track. And when the pianos start to enter the picture, there’s no stopping you from moving. “Facing defeat and we don’t believe it!” The lyrics are perfect for describing the present American mind-state. Most other places (Syria for example) perceive the so called defeat and are fighting because there’s no other choice. You could say we are living in Utopia, while parts of the world are living a hell we can’t even imagine.
The next track Plastic Utopia calls for us dancing fools to finally rise up.“Don’t understand why we throw words into the void.” Pretty much sums up everything about this song. It’s kind of like when politicians promise you policy changes then a year later you’re wondering why their now supporting the policy they planned to change. Or when oil companies say they totally are gonna clean up waste from fields that are damaging the ecosystem, then actually don’t (That is until enough people call them dicks and then they do the bare minimum). Hey even I make promises I don’t keep, but that’s all in the past. The point of the track is that we still have time to change shit. The instrumentals here incorporate the R&B/funk of the 80’s (especially in the vocal department) with awesome 808s drums to back it.
Somethings Going On is a track that I’m sure Daft Punk would have sampled if this LP came out years ago. The synths here are brash and in your face (or in your ear, which technically the waves are going inside your face so take that!), distorting the sounds to definitely make you sense the urgency as Jason sings out the title.
Japan Soul use Lalalaland focus on the idea of people deceiving themselves into thinking their self-contained microcosm is all fine and dandy. And those lies leak further into Transparent. I mean transparency is a great thing. Definitely needs to be implemented in government and just about everything else you have a hard time trusting. “He became a virus that infected everyone…. If you could read between the lines, all you’ll find is destruction and lies” The story they build here are about us giving up our privacy for the sake of comfort, but at what cost. It’s such a deep song and yet minimal in the way it’s executed lyrically.
Fight With Love is as the title suggest. If there are two things that can get us through hell, it’s hope and love. I like to fight fire with fire because, like in Pokemon, it evens out pretty well. But in reality, peace is always the best way to rid the world of wrongdoing (You don’t have to look to far in the past to see the truth in this sentiment). Also the track is a perfect soundtrack to “Seeking a friend for the End of the World” (I’ll go to all ends of life to get with Keira Knightley man!)
My favorite track on Plastic Utopia is Hey Yah Hey (Doesn’t sound anything like Outkast, get that out of your head!). There is a distorted vocal in the backdrop that blast this record into the god-damn stratosphere for me. And I may be wrong, but in the concept of the album, this is possibly the part where the time rift occurs! Anyway, it’s a beautiful track. It uses the midpoint as an opportunity to give more imagery of what alternate reality “Plastic Utopia” exists in, with “helicopters hovering over you” in a year where it felt like things were moving far too fast. We are a lost generation in an ever-forward moving world.
And following is my least favorite track, Shanghai. It’s necessary in order for the album to slow down. This song deals with escapism, where you finally free yourselves from the shackles of your own self-deception (Hopefully escaping with Keira!). There’s nothing specifically wrong with this track, just out of all of them, this ones the least likely I’d replay when listening to the record again.
The album starts to pick back up on One More Night. There’s a crazy distorted machine-like snare that takes over the beat and transports you on a digital train ride to wherever your chosen destination lies. This track is not as focused on lyrics, as much as it is using the vocals as instruments with it’s constant repeating of the title.
And we come to the end of the record with Nosara. “Where strangers turn into lovers”. What I love most, is Japan Soul’s capability of resolving all the themes they’ve established earlier on. Nosara is the real paradise, and it doesn’t seem so out of reach. Also, it mixes indie rock, disco in rhythm, and electronic funk (like most of the tracks) all in one, and it’s a welcomed assault on your eardrums. In addition, this track features the best melodies you’ll get out the record.
In the end it’s not all destruction. There is hope forever, cause the human condition can’t live without it. Filled to the brim with social commentary and an incredible pop sensibility, Japan Soul have built a conceptual record that is architecturally sound. I give Plastic Utopia between 8 and a half Mad Max’s out of 10.