by Kyle Robinson USER (69 Reviews)
February 6th, 2020 | 0 replies

Release Date: 10/25/2019 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Out of the console, into the wilderness.

Anamanaguchi’s 2013 opus Endless Fantasy was such a gratuitous record that following it up was never going to be easy. That’s why the New York City-based group wasn’t in any rush. They unleashed a digital hurricane of outtakes through the Capsule Silence XXIV “soundtrack,” and played other new songs at shows through 2016 but seemed to disappear into playing support for Hatsune Miku for a few years. Meanwhile, everyone was wondering what happened to the promise of a new album, [USA], promised at the end of the “Pop It” music video back in… 2014.

Well, now [USA] is here, and even if it doesn’t quite pack the wallop of Endless Fantasy, it’s a record that manages to be much tighter than its predecessor while also pushing Anamanaguchi’s sound further beyond the confines of chiptune. Joining them on this endeavor are a couple of female vocalists (both digital and flesh-and-blood) and a little help from Porter Robinson, who plays a supporting production role on “Air On Line” similar to Sabrepulse’s drum-and-bass contributions on Endless Fantasy.

Capsule Silence hinted at an Anamanaguchi that had transcended chiptune, but [USA] brings a harmonious balance of Anamanaguchi’s past and future, resulting in a more textured album with a wider variety of sounds. Yet the band never stops sounding like themselves in the process, the standout tracks - including “Sunset By Plane,” “B S X,” and “Up To You” - all evoking various aspects of Anamanaguchi’s prior work.

The video for “Air On Line” shows Anamanaguchi’s evolution - its surprisingly congruent blend of nature and and retro game imagery effectively capturing the band’s journey. This is Anamanaguchi’s most introverted record, but it’s also their most free-ranging. Short interludes cram enough interesting ideas into their confines that they’re the opposite of skippable - one wishes that some of these tunes, like the excellent “Speak To You [Memory Messengers]” were full-blown songs.

The opening trio of tracks best demonstrate Anamanaguchi’s growth. The title track sputters from chaotic noise into spacey piano and back to chip tune, growing less disjointed with repeated listens. “Lorem Ipsum”’s desolation gives way to an ambient coda, while “The CRT Woods” lets drummer Luke Silas - certainly the most technically-proficient member - flex his considerable drumming chops, adding a raw edge that’s been too often swallowed up by chip tune on previous releases.

Some songs combine old and new-school Anamaguchi. “Overwriting Incorporate” and “We Die” are sprawling post-chiptune odysseys of emotive nuance that benefit from longer running times, yet never drag. Listening to the hyperkinetic turbo-pop of “B S X” feels like an episode of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure sped up to 2x speed, and the band’s fundamental strong grasp of melody and blazing game soundtrack fun makes one forget that they used to do this type of song over and over again (“Akira” and “Everything Explodes” from Endless Fantasy being the previous archetypes.) Outdoing your previous work won’t lead to a brilliant album, but as part of a more diverse whole, it’s a nice touch.

If there’s anywhere the album stumbles a bit, it might be on “Up To You.” It’s placed right after the excellent “On My Own,” and its dully cynical lyrics and less-interesting melodies make it the odd one out amongst the three vocal-oriented tracks. "[ LOM ]" is an underwhelming way to close out the record, the most forgettable of the interludes; but with the incredible “We Die” preceding it, does it matter that much?

It was inevitable that changes were in store for Anamanaguchi. The mishmash of hipster and geek culture that was drawn to the band a decade ago has fundamentally transformed. Hipster culture is dead, Scott Pilgrim feels like a period piece, and geek culture nostalgia has been thoroughly strip mined by Ernest Cline, The Big Bang Theory, and other corporatist forces that turned it into a lifestyle commodity. Fortunately, Anamanaguchi has successfully navigated the turbulent geek landscape, their music sounding more mature yet charged with refreshing optimism.

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