My thoughts on “charm”, the third mini-album from Papipupepo wa Muzukashii.
Release Date: February 7th 2020
2. Nanka Osharena Kawashima-san
3. Black Shakai
4. Goodbye My World
5. Yōkoso Gōsutohausu e
6. Nanka Osharena Ohaminanoshiyu
7. Love Get You! -Otanjōbi no outa-
8. Help Me ne?
9. Nanka Osharena Yeah
While we’re still waiting for things to heat up in the Idol world this year, at least as far as the more well known groups are concerned at least, I figured why not check out a few more releases from some less well known ones in the meantime. The goal this year is still to check out the more obscure and underappreciated stuff after all because that’s usually where some of the most interesting music is hiding. Or in this particular group’s case, one of the more interesting gimmicks I’ve seen lately.
Papipupepo wa Muzukashii are a bit of a mouthful I must admit but seeing as the 6-piece have been active for almost 2 years now I probably should have gotten around to checking them out by now. They describe themselves as an Electronica group with “catchy, cute and cool” songs, with member Kawashima Yuka serving as producer and main lyricist. Oh yeah, one of the members (Don Guri) also performs wearing a large latex giraffe mask so if you’re looking for a quirky gimmick then that’s what I was referring to earlier. Don’t ask me, I have no idea either.
“charm” is the group’s third mini-album, which means I’m very much behind the times as I haven’t even really listened to any of their songs at any great length before. As such I’m coming into this review with a fairly open mind as to have any real expectations would be rather silly. Seems like we have 6 full length tracks included, along with 3 much shorter ones so I’m interested to hear what sort of structure there is to this release. Apart from that though I think it’d probably be best if I just hit play and started writing. How does that sound?
Things get off to a very bright start with the mini-album’s title track “charm” wasting no time in throwing a bunch of warmth and fluffiness our way. There’s a very heavy focus on the vocals pretty much immediately which I feel is something that doesn’t happen often enough these days. Very positive vibes coming from the tone of the delivery, though it is a tad over-exaggerated, and some rather catchy lyrics too so off to a good start here. A synthesizer melody is eventually introduced, along with a mild but rather pleasing beat, and it’s most of the way there but to my ear it’s a little bit shrill, which creates a mildly grating effect. It’s not a major feature of the track though so not a huge problem overall. As things get going a bit more the song settles into this pretty relaxed mood, so if you’re into that chill, kind of ambient leaning stuff then you’re probably going to have a good time here. They do pick up the tempo and energy for the choruses though, which is great besides the slightly pitchy vocals that come through on occasion. That aside it’s a pretty strong chorus with good vocal hooks and a catchy melody, neither of which are ever a bad thing in my book. Not exactly smashing the mold with this one but it’s a pretty enjoyable example of the genre.
Just in case anyone got too excited by the previous track, Papipupepo give us a minute to compose ourselves by dropping in an interlude in the form of “Nanka Osharena Kawashima-san” as the mini-album’s second track. It’s a little weird in the sense of it being a somewhat disjointed instrumental track, which features a few uncomfortable pauses between synth patches. It has that chill vibe to it still but with a slightly rougher texture to things. Not much in the way of vocals here, as one might expect from a track like this, with the only thing of note being a repeating vocal line that ends up being somewhat catchy by the time the interlude fades out. Not really a whole lot to say here, it’s a quirky little thing that you can easily skip if you choose to but you’re not going to regret it if you don’t either.
Getting back into the meat of things, next up we have “Black Shakai” which opens up with a rather shimmery, ambient synthesizer so back to the chill vibes once again here it seems. Well perhaps not, as after the vocals repeat the song’s title a few times there’s a bit of a transition which brings with it a fairly significant change in tone. The relaxed ambience is replaced with harder synths that have a mild Dubstep dimension to them and some Rap style delivery for the song’s vocal lines. It certainly gives the track a darker feeling which I’m assuming is part of the “cool” element of the group’s description. I don’t particularly dislike what they’ve done here, it’s a pretty typical implementation of the style but this sound is pretty common and has been for several years now. The build up to and the chorus itself is a much more melodic, Pop leaning affair so there’s definitely something in here for you if you’re not a fan of the harder EDM style, but it does kinda make it feel like two halves of separate songs being mashed together. I like the instrumental melodies and the vocals are pretty pleasant too, don’t get me wrong but yeah it’s a little bit disjointed still despite the effort put in to make the transitions as seamless as possible. Perhaps “Black & White Shakai” would have been a better title for this one given the contrasting nature of the track’s two styles.
I found the mini-album’s fourth track “Goodbye My World” to be of particular interest, mainly because of all of the subtleties to the mood of the song. It starts out with a fairly bright synthesizer and some airy, melodic vocals which don’t seem all that out of place given what else we’ve been hearing from this release thus far. As things move along a bit though, the song begins to develop a bit more of an eerie, unsettled vibe which they don’t fully lean into at any point but it’s still a very obvious undercurrent for the bulk of the track’s duration. From the rhythm of the main synthesizer melody to the slightly tense nature of the vocal delivery, all these little touches add up to create a rather interesting listen. Granted I could be reading way too much into this but I think most people would agree with me if they gave this track a listen. Considering it sits more towards the Ballad end of the spectrum, doing something like this is a pretty cool way to freshen up the concept as while the lyrics are decently catchy throughout, and especially so in the chorus, if Papipupepo had gone with a more typical approach I don’t think this song would have been quite so memorable. It’s kind of like a more Poppy, upbeat version of a Necronomidol song if I had to describe it in a way that most of you would understand. Well worth a listen in my opinion.
Speaking of leaning into the eerie vibe, that’s exactly what this release’s fifth track does. I suppose it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise given that the song is called “Yōkoso Gōsutohausu e” after all. Ghostly wails, dramatic beats and a bit of piano pounding do a pretty good job of setting the scene as the track gets started, though the slightly playful nature of the spoken word vocal lines is breaking the spell that’s attempting to be cast just a little bit. Things do lighten up considerably once we reach the song’s first proper verse though so I guess they were just easing us into it. Much of the components of the song remain, like the synths and piano for example, they just get made a bit more upbeat and playful and it’s a pretty effective change of pace as long as you weren’t hoping that the whole track would sound like the opening. The vocals do go against this a bit, holding onto quite a bit more of that unsettled feeling while still being rather catchy due to a number of really nice hooks. I did feel like the chorus was a bit weak on this track though, but it did have quite a lot of stuff to compete with to be fair. Still, it did stand out as one of the less interesting aspects so if that’s important to you then keep it in mind I suppose.
It’s time for another interlude, this time coming by way of “Nanka Osharena Ohaminanoshiyu”. It’s done in a pretty similar style to “Nanka Osharena Kawashima-san” but with a slightly different, repeating vocal line and I suppose a comparatively more melancholic instrumental. It still has that chill, ambient thing going on for the most part, which is fine by me, with a little bit of a Field Recording thing going on in the background too by the sound of things. The track is like 90 seconds long and very repetitive by design, so there isn’t a ton to get your teeth into here. It’s a nice little break in the action but not something you’d really need to go out of your way to hear as an essential Papipupepo track or anything like that.
Seeing as how “Love Get You! -Otanjōbi no outa-” explicitly states in its title that it’s a birthday song, it should perhaps come as no surprise that it has quite the party atmosphere to it. It gets you in the mood right away, with a very earnest, pounding beat being the big feature of the song’s opening instrumental. Balancing things out a bit are some melodic vocals, sung in a slightly exaggerated fashion that gives the song this very hyperactive, almost childish mood. Not content with that, the instrumental introduces an even more lively synthesizer melody as the song really starts to build up a head of steam. It does give the vocals plenty of room to breathe in the verses though, and it’s a nice performance overall providing you’re into cheering backing vocals and that sugary sweet sort of tone. Some pretty strong hooks either way though I’m sure we can all agree. There are a few parts where it does feel like the song runs out of steam a bit but I suppose you need a bit of a breather here and there otherwise you would be wiped out after listening to this track. The chorus here is alright but I don’t feel like it stood out in any particular way either. Certainly not a snoozefest but I preferred some of what was on offer during the verses instead. A nice song on the whole with a ton of charm that could certainly appeal to a wider audience.
The last full song on the album (we’ll get to that in a bit) is the somewhat oddly titled “Help Me ne?”. A nice, rapidly repeating synth beat forms the basis of the song’s opening instrumental, choosing to keep things pretty simple but by no means less effective. We also get vocals right from the outset once again, with a nice catchy structure and bright tone to their delivery. After a very mild drop the instrumental turns into this somewhat glitchy, pastel sounding composition which I thought was pretty interesting and also not too far removed from the sort of stuff we’ve been hearing out of the rest of this mini-album. The vocals carry on doing their thing, at times seeming to float along while the lighthearted chaos continues on in the background. There’s a small but noticeable build to the chorus where things take on a pretty traditional Idol Pop tone, both in terms of the tone of the vocals and the tempo of the much more “normal” sounding synthesizer instrumental. It’s once again fairly straightforward stuff but it’s a well explored style at this point so the results are obviously going to be pretty good if you stick to the formula. A solid enough note to end things off on but I do wish they’d leaned a bit more into the glitchy pastel stuff here than they did in the end.
That’s not quite the end though, there’s still room for one more interlude courtesy of “Nanka Osharena Yeah”. If you guessed that it was going to be in a similar style to the other two featured on this release then you’d be correct. Another rather pleasant, repeating beat that sounds like it’s coming through an old radio is the accompaniment to…well, some “Yeah”s I guess because that’s pretty much all of the lyrical content on offer here. It’s a pretty nice way to end things off I suppose, a bit of a palette cleanser before everything fades out and the mini-album draws to a close. Probably my favorite of the three in all honesty, though I still maintain that they’re not required listening by any stretch.
“charm” attempts to strike a delicate balance between having a wide appeal but while also experimenting a little bit along the way. It does it fairly well but there are times where a chorus will fall a little flat or an idea might not have come off quite as well as it could have had they just leaned into it a bit more. That said, the mini-album is sure to be an enjoyable listen for anyone interested in Electroncia and its related sub-genres.
I’m not sure Papipupepo wa Muzukashii are ever going to be a group that I’m super gung-ho about, but this release was interesting enough that I’ll make the effort to check out whatever they end up putting out next to see how it sits with me. No idea when that might be but they seem to be on a bit of a roll of late so hopefully if you enjoyed this mini-album then we won’t have to wait long for some more material. I still don’t get the giraffe mask gimmick though, not that I’m sure many people do either anyway.