URBANGARDE - Shoujo Fiction

review - 04.04.2018 08:00

A deliciously traumatic celebration of URBANGARDE's tenth anniversary.

Ten years of utter trauma – horrific in any normal sense, but when it comes to the genre-twisting band URBANGARDE, these words are a welcome descriptor. For a solid decade, URBANGARDE has used its often bizarre music to diagnose Japan’s many social ills, and with great success. The band maintains one of Japan’s most fervent fanbases, and its members have delved into a variety of solo activities, from albums to regular spots on children’s shows. URBANGARDE's newest album, Shoujo Fiction, is a raucous celebration of all these accomplishments, gleefully indulging with laser-like focus in what made the band famous.

An ominous techno intro gives way to the poppy first track, Atashi Fiction. Yoko does most of the vocal work, but Temma makes frequent appearances as the two duet over retro synthesizers and a very melancholy tune. Kei's piano solo is a highlight, and provides an energetic expression of the song’s overall downcast atmosphere. Following comes the single Akumade Akuma, bringing with it a surprising dark vitality. Temma is in his element during a rap section, and the familiarly pop composition serves to highlight a demonically-corrupted undercurrent in the instrumental track.

Returning from a previous mini-album comes the third song, Femme Fata Fantasy. The band’s signature, flowery synthesizer comes into play, and heightens the extremely robotic tone of the rest of the piece. Tokyo Kid then bursts onto the scene with the aid of guitarist Shin, and leads listeners on a manic and unbalanced tour of modern Tokyo. The fifth track, Video no Youni, brings the band’s retro edge to the forefront. Despite a 70s-influenced style, very modern synthesizers and vocal effects create an anachronistic work that feels right at home in URBANGARDE's often retro discography.

Temma and Yoko are fond of playing with words, and nowhere on the album is that more apparent than the next song, Otona byou. Though the sound is more easygoing and jazz-flavored than the rest of the album, a clever rhyme scheme and interesting cosmetic metaphors keep things engaging despite slowing down. Internet Sou, however, brings the mood back up with its unbelievably peppy sound that wouldn’t feel out of place in a children’s show. The vocal work even includes actual children, lending an innocent contrast to a rather grim song about society’s over-reliance on online communication.

The biggest surprise on the album, however, is the eighth track, Tetsukuzu Tetsuo. URBANGARDE is no stranger to playing with genres, and this track is unabashedly heavy metal. There are light brushes with an industrial sound, playing up the junkyard imagery in the lyrics and making for one of URBANGARDE's most aggressive songs. It’s also an opportunity for Temma to shine as he sings, screams, and even roars over the whole electric din. Kiss ni Tsuite arrives soon after to subdue the beast. A slow, piano-driven ballad, the track hearkens back to 80s J-pop giants like Shizuka Kudo with its emotional flair.

Vocal duties are once again roughly fifty-fifty for the tenth song, Shoujo ni Shiyagare, another synth-heavy track. Like much of the songs on Shoujo Fiction, there’s a clear 8-bit influence in the instrumentals that keeps the nostalgia flowing, even despite the darkly critical lyrics about Japanese girlhood. Closing the album is Daihakai Koukyougaku, meaning “Symphony of Great Destruction”. The poppy, driving sound stands in stark contrast to the malevolent title, but Shin and Kei lend the instrumentals the weight necessary to earn it. Like the first track, however, this is URBANGARDE at its purest, vivacious and desolate in equal measure.

URBANGARDE has made a smart choice in celebrating its tenth anniversary with Shoujo Fiction. Taking a step back from the bleak, world-in-flames darkness of their concept album, Showa 90 nen, the band has instead opted to focus on a more stable sound. In this way, Shoujo Fiction becomes a true compendium of all its achievements. Looking back musically rather than thematically will help engage listeners both new and old, and sets a strong precedent for the future. Though URBANGARDE is a widely popular band working primarily on the lighter end of pop-rock, the group’s punk rock mentality always cuts through like a razor blade into a wrist. If Shoujo Fiction is any indication, that blade is still just as sharp today as it was a decade ago.

Watch the music video for Atashi Fiction below:

Official Website: http://urbangarde.net/
iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/urbangarde/263314261
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