Plasma Review

summary: I talk about a Perfume album for too long

words: ~1,900

content: language


Omg it's a new Perfume album

Perfume's long-awaited new studio album is here! Perfume are my faves of all time, so of course I have thoughts.

Overall, I think the album is great. If you're not a Perfume fan. Now let's spend a few thousand words justifying that opinion! I hear that's what you're meant to do in a review.

Just a warning, I'm going to give my brutally honest thoughts about each song on the tracklist in order, so strap in. Also, if I mention a mysterious "Yasutaka Nakata", he's the one who produces all of Perfume's albums and writes the lyrics. Basically, this whole thing is his fault.

The Songs

The album starts with Plasma which I think is a great intro. The "aaaaaah" vocals are very angelic sounding and build anticipation. It seems very synthwave inspired as well and that interests me. I kind of wish more of the album sounded like that tbh! However, Plasma is not much of a "song" by itself. The fact it's so short means you probably wouldn't seek it out on its own to listen to.

Anyway, after this we go straight into Time Warp, which is a song I love. I think it gets overlooked, because it's so cute sounding. I personally love the sincerity of it though. This version is billed as "v1.1" thanks to a couple minor changes that have been made since it was released as a single in 2020. I don't think these changes were that necessary or meaningful, but they don't distract from the song or anything.

Next, Polygon Wave (ポリゴンウェイヴ) literally never gets old. I will be listening to this in the retirement home. Many people noted the French House influence and obviously, I live for that. My only criticism is that I wish they put the concert version that they performed at LIVE 2021 [polygon wave], which has a dreamy sounding extended intro, on the album. I love how this intro sounds, and think it could have fit well here.

I guess I'll just have to stick with watching the live performances, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. I mean, any excuse to watch this is good. Who else is doing visuals like this?? Come on.

Saisei (再生) is very cute and sparkly. I loved it when it came out in 2019, and still love it now. But the fact it came out in 2019 makes it feel so old! I more closely associate it with the P Cubed (their 2019 best album), especially thanks to the very nostalgic MV. I wish it had been left off Plasma for something new, or had gotten a complete re-tool, especially since Time Warp already fills that cute and wholesome niche.

I think Spinning World sounds amazing. I gasped the first time I heard the preview, it's so funky. But, I kind of wish it had a bridge or something since the structure is kind of odd. Like, at around 2mins 30 the girls stop singing, and it feels like Nakata forgot to write another verse. I guess it lets you appreciate the production, but it also feels a bit empty. It's certainly an earworm though and ultimately a great pop song. Sometimes I just sit in my room and repeat "Spinning girl. Spinning world." to myself. I'm normal.

Next is Mawaru Kagami (マワルカガミ) and I much prefer the version that was a b-side on the Flow single. The changes here aren't bad, but it feels like he fucked with it just for the sake of saying it's a "new" track, when it really isn't. Despite this, it's still a great song. Like all the best Perfume songs, it sounds bittersweet.

The lyrics are about being grateful to stand on the stage and perform. This takes on a new meaning when you watch them perform it at LIVE 2021 [polygon wave] as the surprise final track. This was their first concert after taking a break because of lockdown, so it really feels like a thank you to everyone in the audience. The beautiful visuals really hammer home the emotion as well.

Flow is fine. I like it since it sounds so light and well, flowy. lol. The gorgeous video really adds to the song as well. On the other hand, I kind of dislike how the drums sound. The build up before the chorus sounds really outdated, like something from 2016. I think if Nakata had taken a different approach with just that one aspect, I would be much more partial to the song.

I've seen Mugenloop (∞ループ) disparagingly compared to Clockwork from Level 3 (Perfume's 2013 album). I see it, but personally don't care cause Clockwork is a good song and Level 3 is the album of all time. Also, I think of Clockwork as kind of sexy, whereas Mugenloop is more mysterious and sad. Basically, the change in theme justifies Mugenloop's existence for me. I think the lyrics are interesting as well, which are about being stuck in a timeloop. Finally, a song we can all relate to.

The mystery of Mugenloop blends well into Drive'n The Rain. Now, an important thing about me is that I don't listen to music to "'"relax""". I listen to music to get hyped the fuck up like god intended. So, when I heard this song was going to be a 6 minute long Chill Vibe™ I couldn't help but roll my eyes. To quote Todd in the Shadows, I'm so sick of vibes!

After actually hearing the full song though, I was definitely being unfair. There are lots of tiny flourishes like the flute that make it feel really well thought out. Plus, the girls' melancholy vocal delivery really works here. Overall, I love it and think it's the perfect addition to the album. I'm sorry for being a preemptive hater and I won't do it again (I am lying).

As for the next original track, Hatenabito (ハテナビト) has an absolutely great moment from 1 min to 1 min 30. Nakata does some synth wizardry that I don't know how to describe. All I know is, I want it directly injected into my veins. However, the rest of the song seems underdeveloped to me.

This is pretty disappointing considering it's one of the few album original tracks here. If you're only going to include a tiny number of non-single songs, I feel like you should at least try really hard to make them properly fleshed out. It honestly sounds like it could have been on Future Pop (Perfume's 2018 album) and I mean that in a derogatory way. I do not like Future Pop very much.

Meanwhile, Android& (アンドロイド&) was engineered for me specifically to enjoy it. It's a funky electropop song about robots, meaning something would be wrong with me if I didn't like it. Also, look at these visuals. I am on the floor:

Finally, Sayonara Plastic World (さよならプラスティックワールド, or Sayopla for short) grew on me. At first I didn't like it out of spite after a chorus of fans proclaimed it their "best song in years". This is so confusing to me. I say this in a loving way, but if the thing you've wanted from Perfume all along was an extremely mild and only vaguely electronic sounding pop song I'm not sure why you're a Perfume fan? There are so many more J-pop acts who will provide songs like this for you much more often.

Anyway, decoupled from that, its placement as the final track really works here. The focus on piano and guitar as opposed to pure synths makes it feels like a light at the end of the tunnel. Like hope for the future. And don't we all need a bit of that in these trying times?

Thoughts on the album as a whole

Plasma really feels like such a breath of fresh air after Perfume's last two albums. Cosmic Explorer was too long and basically just a huge mess. Future pop was uninspired, undercooked and just fades into the background in Perfume's discography (It's actually been taken off Spotify over here for licensing reasons and like. No one cares 😭)

Meanwhile, Plasma really feels like it has a strong theme and identity. It's really well paced and I think the track listing is perfect. It flows (heh) so well. The dystopian but ultimately hopeful theme feels really relevant without being on the nose or anything.

Despite all of this, it somehow still feels like a compilation of Perfume's recent singles. It just doesn't feel special, since only three of the tracks haven't been heard before now. Plus, one of these songs is just an intro, while another feels unfinished. I do wonder if I kind of fucked up this album for myself. I know if I hadn't feverishly kept up with Perfume's single releases like I have the past few years, Plasma would have been much more enjoyable and felt like more of a surprise.

On one hand this is objectively my fault, but I also think it could have been fixed by just adding more songs? I know this is easier said than done, but this album is actually pretty short by Perfume standards and feels like it could be extended. It's not like there aren't any more directions Nakata could have gone. For example, leaning into that synthwave sound that the intro has as I mentioned.

Alternatively, Nakata could have really messed with the existing tracks and committed to completely revamping them. This is more risky, since there's the danger of fucking up songs that were already fine. However, a Perfume album has pulled this off well before, so it's not difficult to imagine. Not to bring up Level 3 again, but many of the a-sides from that era sound very different on the album. Some are extended, restructured or completely different sounds used. I think listening to the Spring of Life album mix vs the single mix illustrates what I'm talking about. This approach not only breathes new life into previously heard songs, it also gives you incentive to listen to the album in full since it makes it much more cohesive.

What we actually got with the half-hearted "v1.1" and "original mix" thing feels like a missed opportunity at best, and just really lazy at worst. Like Nakata knew he had to change up the songs a little, but didn't want to commit too hard. After waiting so long for the album, I was just hoping for something a bit more fresh.


Anyway, that was a lot of negative criticism lmao. Since Perfume have made my favourite songs of all time, I'm very conscious of what works about their music and what doesn't. Their live visuals and choreo delivers every time, I just wish the music was always at that same high standard.

However, If you're only a casual fan of Perfume and not a hardened cynic like me, I think this really could be the album for you! It's their best in a long time. Every track has great things about it that are worth listening to, especially if you've never heard any of these songs before. While it'll never be my favourite Perfume album, it could totally be someone else's. For that, I have to respect it.