Supercar
Futurama


5.0
classic

Review

by davidwave4 USER (54 Reviews)
February 16th, 2016 | 19 replies


Release Date: 2000 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Futurama is an album that defies the circumstances of its creation, setting the blueprint for Japanese rock and electronic music for decades.

One of the most overused and destructive tropes to show up in the analysis and review of popular culture is what I like to call the “cross-cultural analogue”. When Western reviewers review things from places they’re unfamiliar with, they go to comically great lengths to contextualize them in terms of the things they do know. When African author Chinua Achebe’s brilliant novel Things Fall Apart debuted in the West, he was hailed as “the Shakespeare of Africa,” or “Kenya’s T.S. Eliot.” This mode of comparison often denies the original artists the full scope of their abilities, rendering them merely shadows of their Western equivalents. So, with all that said, I hope you’ll forgive me for the following: Futurama, the third album from Supercar, is Japan’s “OK Computer.”

It’s a loaded comparison, sure, but I feel it’s worth noting because of the context that Futurama was produced in. Japan’s popular culture in the late 90s had taken a dramatic shift away from “traditional” rock music, with the manufactured idol-pop and electronic outfits that popular the majority of the Oricon’s spots today just coming into being. Supercar, from its inception, was viewed as a rebuke to that. They were to be J-rock’s saviors. And initially they worked to fulfil that role. 1998’s Three Out Change was the first truly unique rock record to chart well in Japan in a while, debuting at #20 on the Oricon despite 2 of the 3 singles not even breaking into the chart. The follow-up, Jump Up, found even more success, debuting at #12. These albums, far from cannon fodder pop rock, preferenced the dissonant sonic qualities of alt rock and grunge music over any kind of pop sensibility. For them to do well commercially at all was a feat. Similar conditions in the West brought Radiohead to acclaim, as their first two albums heralded the “return of rock” as a popular creative and commercial force. But what’s truly remarkable is how both bands, facing the weight of “reviving” rock music, turned away from it so radically on their next two albums. Both Supercar and Radiohead, under the guidance of Koji Nakamura and Thom Yorke respectively, turned towards electronic music as a means of conveying a growing sense of alienation and dread.

Supercar’s effort, admittedly, bears a closer resemblance to the sunnier electronics that permeated the clubs of Tokyo and Yokohama at the time (think Denki Groove and TM Revolution) than to the moodier electronics of ‘90s UK. But Nakamura & Co. make up for it with lyrics that wholly undermine the saccharine exterior of the music. “Karma,” a clear highlight, boasts lyrics about Nakamura’s ambivalence in almost all aspects of his life, with him singing that he is “half-hearted in [his] kindness,” and “half-hearted in [his] regretfulness.” “Fairway,” the album’s first and most popular single, features lines about not existing and relational hesitation in the chorus. When juxtaposed with the album’s generally uptempo construction, it makes for an incredibly weird listen, but one that nonetheless feels necessary for understanding not just Nakamura and, by extension, Supercar, but also for contextualizing the album’s placement within the greater canon of Japanese popular music.

But all that comes with time. What’s truly important here is the music itself, and it by no means takes a backseat to its implications. The album feels futuristic in the way that only late ‘90s and early 2000s music does (rubbery synthesizers and programmed beats mixed with analog elements like guitars and live drums). Tracks like “Flava” and “SHIBUYA MORNING” rely more on mood and atmosphere than on any riveting melodic idea, but it works because of how well-suited the atmosphere is to the rest of the album. Songs generally flow into each other, making the whole thing feel like one extended riff on an exceptionally sound sonic idea. Even when things slow down, like on “A.O.S.A” and “New Young City,” Supercar manages to maintain a sense of propulsion.

Much of this comes from the band’s rhythm section, which artfully manages the interplay between live and synthesized drums and bass. ¬On tracks like “I’m Nothing” and “White Surf style 5,” the two are mixed together for wholly different effects. On “I’m Nothing,” a lifeless programmed drum beat gives life to Nakamura’s emotive lyrics about the end of eternity and feelings of worthlessness. The beat becomes a representation of the monotony Nakamura describes, his life continually showing no signs of promise or potential (“I’m nothing today, until the sight began to wither, I was nothing”). Conversely, “White Surf style 5’s” classic D&B breakbeat gives way to live drumming, imbuing the song’s soaring chorus with an added sense of ceremony.

With regard to technical skills, this was the point where the band reached the peak of its abilities. The guitars all across this album are stellar yet understated, giving voice to the restraint common in the lyrics. The synths, for as much fuss as was made about them, are relatively unobtrusive and give the album a necessary new dimension. The band does play around a bit with the vocals across this album, pitching up Miki Furukawa’s background vocals on songs like “Baby Once More” to add an extra layer to the more understated instrumentals. The production across the board is excellent, with parallels to other artists like Cornelius and Yellow Magic Orchestra being more than apt. While the album does have clear highlights (“Baby Once More,” “Karma,” and “A.O.S.A” come to mind), there are no tracks that feel obligatory or staid in their execution. Despite an almost unwieldy 16 track run, no single track deserves to be regularly skipped.

For a band like Supercar, it’s almost impossible to escape the endless weight of expectation and analogue. Whether it’s positive or negative, a band tasked with genre revival or reinvention is almost bound to fail. But with Futurama, Supercar tapped into something special. They were able to make a record that expanded their appeal greatly while honing in on some of the more transgressive parts of their persona. They made a rock record that only loosely adhered to the rules of rock music, a techno record that would never get play in a club. At the time, it was lunacy. But in retrospect, Supercar made one of the century’s best rock records. They broke boundaries and redefined what a commercially viable record could be. In more analogous terms, they made their OK Computer.



Recent reviews by this author
Tinashe JoyrideCorbin Mourn
Sampha Process6LACK Free 6LACK
Bonobo MigrationPink Guy Pink Season
user ratings (13)
Chart.
3.9
excellent


Comments:Add a Comment 
davidwave4
February 16th 2016


92 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Another review in which David, for the purposes of style and contextualization, makes a bold and controversial assertion. Guess it's just another weekday.

Archelirion
February 16th 2016


5613 Comments


Really excellent review David. Long, but seemingly necessarily so. Definitely gonna give this one a go on the back of this, I hope I like it!

ashcrash9
February 16th 2016


3021 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

yeah, I def gotta hear this. Highvision's awesome but I never really branched out into their other stuff. Good review - pos'd.

Jasdevi087
February 17th 2016


5369 Comments


Reminds me I still need to jam Three Out Change, and after reading this review, yeah this too

Spigot
February 17th 2016


39 Comments


Great review, great album.

Though, I don't know if it "sets" the blueprint for Japanese and electronic music for decades if it's only been a decade and a half since its release

ashcrash9
April 13th 2016


3021 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

First half of this doesn't do much for me, which is a huge shame cause the back half is fantastic.

ashcrash9
April 13th 2016


3021 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

agreed

Archelirion
June 7th 2016


5613 Comments


This was mostly pretty neat; I agree that most of the second half is better than the first by quite some way, and the last 5 in particular all rule. Everybody On News is arguably one of the worst songs I've heard in a while though.


Frippertronics
Staff Reviewer
October 9th 2017


18220 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1

Heads up, the early first two Supercar LPs and this are getting reissued. This will be the first time Futurama has been on vinyl. Wish Highvision got the same treatment, but maybe eventually considering it's probably their most popular album: http://www.cdjapan.co.jp/product/MHJL-30

dimsim3478
October 9th 2017


8025 Comments


Highvision and Answer are getting reissued on vinyl next year.

Also use Amazon.co.jp over CDJapan unless you're ok with SAL shipping.

Digging: The Collectors (JP) - YOUNG MAN ROCK

Frippertronics
Staff Reviewer
October 9th 2017


18220 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1

YEEEEEEEEEEES



already ordered Futurama via CDJapan. Since I got paid, I dished out a bit extra for DHL shipping. Absolutely love Highvision so I'm glad that's getting a pressing. Didn't even know this was happening aside from the first two until an hour ago when I did a bit of research on whether or not the albums were still available, so this is a very pleasant surprise.



It's worth mentioning these are limited edition so if they're gone, they're probably g o n e, if the deal with Fishmans is anything go by. Was lazy with the reissues last year and look at the prices now.

dimsim3478
October 9th 2017


8025 Comments


motherfuck, didnt even know Fishmans put out some vinyl last year. gonna have to see what i can track down.

these Supercar reissues are listed as 完全生産限定盤, meaning that once stock's all gone, that's it. this is pretty standard in Japan; most vinyl is super limited edition, and they rarely keep any vinyl in print. i think it's all part of their music industry's ruthless tactics (keepin you hungry for their products), although since they dont really have an international market, im somewhat forgiving about the means by which the industry sustains itself. anyway if you miss out on store stock like im probably going to, you can usually find a marked up copy at yahoo auctions japan.

also Amazon will give you a better rate on DHL than CDJapan, and probably lodge it with DHL faster than CDJapan. i know its sorta bad to keep talkin up a huge mega corporation like Amazon but they just got the best deals.

Frippertronics
Staff Reviewer
October 9th 2017


18220 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1

Yeah, the reissue for Long Season is already more costly than it ought to be. As for the Amazon v. CDJapan deal, it was just the fact I saw the latter first plus otherwise I would've done Amazon instead.

dimsim3478
October 9th 2017


8025 Comments


have you checked out Yahoo Auctions for dat Long Season reissue? theres a brand new copy there for 11000 yen, which is expensive but far from unaffordable (hell i just bought a The Cro-Magnons record for 15,500 not including shipping and proxy buying service fees and stuff).

Frippertronics
Staff Reviewer
October 9th 2017


18220 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1

I've scoured it in the past for the two Eureka Seven 12"s from 2005/06, the first of which had Storywriter on it. Honestly relieved Highvision is getting reissued because those 12"s rarely appear and while there's three on Discogs for sale and one on Ebay for sale, it goes for $200+ and for just twenty minutes of music, that's not affordable for me anymore.

dimsim3478
October 9th 2017


8025 Comments


most collectors of japanese records rarely deal with discogs or ebay because of the fucking gougers, man. theres always this one seller on discogs--kupiku--that charges stupid fucking prices for OOP japanese shit, and theres a bunch of different sellers on ebay doing the same thing. go to yahoo auctions and you can usually get what you're looking for at a price you can actually afford; way down from whatever kupiku's asking.

Frippertronics
Staff Reviewer
October 9th 2017


18220 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1

I really only deal with one JP dealer by the name of TrueAsia (on Discogs), who usually has good deals on stuff. Aside from that person, I usually stick with U.S./EU dealers if there's anything from Japan I'm looking for, but even then, the dealers get way ahead of themselves with the prices.

Frippertronics
Staff Reviewer
December 27th 2017


18220 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1

reissue of this is the tits

AnimalsAsSummit
September 12th 2018


3603 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

wow this release is gnarly

Digging: Ram Trilogy - Molten Beats



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // SITE FORUM // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2017 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy