Album Review: Kyary Pamyu Pamyu – Candy Racer

[KRK LAB; 2021]

In case you haven’t taken note, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is a superstar. At least in her home country of Japan, that is. Like too many artists hailing from Asia, her influence on a global scale has gone largely unsung. Yet, it’s undeniably there: alongside her longtime collaborator, writer and producer Yasutaka Nakata, she’s been delving deep into absurdly unique, defiantly odd hyperop since, well, since before there was even considered to be such a thing.

Indeed, Nakata’s own group, CAPSULE, was so far ahead of its time that they now might even seem clairvoyant. Since before the turn of the century, the duo has been digging right into that level of maximalism verging on the point of robotic artificiality; a full decade before the likes of Charli XCX began pushing her sound to its boundaries. It’s no wonder at all that the British star counts herself among Kyary’s fans.

It was through Kyary that Nakata’s music found its humanity, grounding his futuristic, nearly cold sheen within her own – it must be said – devilishly cute world. While it’s true that Nakata carries the heft of the craftsmanship, her presence is an undeniably key factor, the vessel through which Nakata reaches his greatest pop aspirations. She’s the ever-eager guide into the bizarro world of their creation.

Kyary and Nakata’s fifth album Candy Racer, then, faces a challenge. It’s one that was faced by her previous two albums as well, but one that this record feels much more ready to face: evolving now that the world has caught up with a sound once essentially their own. To this end, the album pushes much further towards the club than the two ever have before, pouncing past the pink-hued worlds of Kyary’s past right onto the dancefloor. Much of Candy Racer, particularly in its opening act, practically throbs and pulsates with frenzied life, feeling as likely to implode into a burst of shivering electricity as continue at any given moment.

This is clear from the very get go, with Kyary coming out swinging with the delirious, brief intro, “DE.BA.YA.SHI. 2021”, her chanting resembling some warm up chant for a fantastical sporting event, you can nearly see the neon as the beat lurches forward into a virtual barrage of bass. “Candy Racer”, the first proper track, splits the difference, bouncing seamlessly between a sweaty club banger and moments with Kyary’s voice properly ruling the show, twinkling sounds slipping right into the frenetic mixture.

“Dodonpa”, meanwhile, opens up with Kyary’s vocals at centerstage, but they’re gradually consumed by a pounding beat that’s supported with tapping, wooden percussion not unlike the ticking of some giant, unreal clock. It’s immediately addictive, with layer upon layer of electronic sounds cleverly blending into one teeming mass, while Kyary’s ever-energetic chanting thriving at the center. 

While still clearly the star of the show, Kyary is more than willing to cede the spotlight to let the music shine through here, at times she feels more like a component than the center of a given track. This isn’t to dismiss her presence – which is, as ever, undeniable – but rather to credit her for consistently pushing forward, letting her endless sense of whimsical curiosity guide her into the sonic landscapes crafted by Nakata.

This also isn’t to say the album entirely abandons the dewy worlds Kyary has long occupied. “Gentenkaihi” slightly tones down Candy Racer’s danceable ambitions to allow the singer to glide through a delightful romp and make it all her own. It also displays just how musically stuffed the entire affair is: this one track features just about everything in the pair’s toolbox: uniquely Japanese instrumentation, keys, guitar, layers upon layers of electronic tinkering, you name it. “Perfect Oneisan”, meanwhile, sounds akin to racing joyfully through some crystalized fortress. 

All in all, the album runs the gamut, leaving no gleaming stone unturned. Take the penultimate track, “Natsuiro Flower”, yet another left turn in an album chock full of them: through its keyboards and and chord progression, it’s no exaggeration to say it sounds akin to a Mallsoft remix to a lost Ryuichi Sakamoto-arranged 80s Taeko Onuki ballad. To put it more simply, there is certainly no moment here that takes it easy. In that respect, Candy Racer finds Kyary Pamyu Pamyu as she’s always been: indulging in pure, ecstatic, delirious maximalism. It’s a leap forward for a pair of artists that have essentially always been a step ahead. It’s so all-consuming that you just might feel exhausted by the end, entirely spent by the sheer energy on display during literally every second. Just remember to breathe.