There’s this sense to outsiders that Japan is cute. They gave us Hello Kitty and virtual pets, after all. Anime characters, even when they are in darker series, have big eyes and hair that’s pink or green. Even Pokemon, whether you love or loathe it, is undeniably cute. Kitschy J-pop acts gain a following overseas, and there’s just something undeniably adorable about it all.
This is exactly what Hi-Posi wants you to think. Deceptively darling, 4n5 is like nothing else you’ve ever heard or ever will hear.
On the first listen, 4n5, Hi-Posi’s North American debut, seems entirely too precious for its own good. With the breathy babydoll voice of frontwoman Miho Moribayashi, the bright beats and complete catchiness of these songs are almost too much to take. But as you listen, there’s something almost alien about these compositions, as if Moribayashi is in on the joke with you. She knows exactly what she’s doing.
4n5 is sung completely in Japanese, so the English-speaking listeners it has been intended for don’t have lyrics to rely on (although translations are provided, it’s hard to trust those). Instead, the overall effect of Moribayashi’s voice versus the bouncy music becomes the most important feature of these songs, from the sighing “Experimental Girl”, which introduces a few traditional instruments into the mostly synthesized world, to the spacey groove of “When the Sky Gets Sad”.
While Moribayashi’s slender voice will probably annoy quite a few, it remains 4n5‘s greatest asset. Airily, it floats along with the music, giving the entire album a certain weightlessness. It belongs in no reality other than its own, and even when it’s hard to figure out quite what’s going on, it’s always entertaining.
Hi-Posi works well, though, giving the impression Moribayashi has accomplished exactly what she set out to do. Don’t let the baby voice fool you—Moribayashi is obviously an accomplished musician. Despite the blatant “cuteness” of 4n5, there’s an underlying seriousness to this music, hard as it is to find.
Still, Hi-Posi doesn’t quite have the charisma of other Japanese exports like the obvious comparison Pizzicato Five (although the two bands really don’t have much in common) or the interesting Fantastic Plastic Machine. Hi-Posi will always remain an oddity, and while those who are interested in Japanese music may pick up 4n5, it will probably be more appreciated for its Japanese-ness than its musical qualities. That is unfortunate since Hi-Posi has more to offer than most will realize.