Waverunner provides a definitive answer to the question "what would it sound like if a veteran Japanese pop producer made an EDM album?"
Yasutaka Nakata doesn't like to sit still. The 35-year-old producer, most famous for his work with Japanese pop idols Perfume and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, started off imitating the lounge-jazz pop of groups like Pizzicato Five, moved on to Daft Punk and Justice references, recently made an IDM album, and now finds himself making massive, festival-ready EDM. It's hard to believe that a man whose last album as Capsule invited Four Tet comparisons is biting Afrojack now, but that last album was have been just as unimaginable in the context of the one before, and so on and so forth backwards throughout his entire improbable career.
As Nakata's musical ADHD makes it incredibly unlikely that we're going to hear anything like it from Capsule again, Waverunner (the group's 15th studio album) is best evaluated as a curiosity -- a definitive answer to the question "what would it sound like if a veteran Japanese pop producer made an EDM album?" Unfortunately, though, there's not much to identify the album as distinctly Japanese -- as one of the unfortunate side-effects of Nakata's creative restlessness has been a dearth of recognizable traits across his discography, Waverunner often seems just shy of completely anonymous. Vocalist Toshiko Koshijima's heavily-processed singing (mostly in Japanese with choice English phrases doled out at random) is just about the only thing to connect it in any meaningful way with the Capsule albums that came before, but, then again, it more or less always has been.
As disappointingly anonymous as the songs resulting from its application may be, though, it's hard to deny that the EDM formula works. The 4/4 time build-and-drop structures (although Nakata wrote the song "Polyrhythm" for girl-group Perfume back in 2008, there are none of those to be found here) are as predictable as they come, but the lack of surprises isn't enough to rob the album's floor-fillers of their power. A particular highlight is the reggaeton-inspired "Dancing Planet", not coincidentally one of the few tracks without Koshijima - her warbling vocals are the very definition of "acquired taste", particularly as Nakata so often drowns them in a veritable sea of post-production effects. Although Koshijima appears on "White As Snow", it manages to be another high point through some of Nakata's most aggressive production yet. While his work has traditionally been kneecapped by mixing heavy on the midrange (in keeping with Japanese advertising agencies' conservative policies), the songs on Waverunner benefit from some truly massive bass. It's a wonder Nakata doesn't have his own line of Beats headphones yet, although if the album takes off that might not be true much longer.
All in all, Waverunner is a perfectly solid, if predictable, collection of EDM tunes. It's doubtful that we'll be hearing much more from Nakata in this vein, given his track record, and while that's not necessarily any big loss, it does make one wonder where he might go if he gave himself more time to explore the genre. He's certainly not too bad at it.