Review Summary: SOLID CHAOS POP: how to be haphazard
Dai Dai Dai is a Japanese idol group dedicated to quote-unquote SOLID CHAOS POP.
Buy me a drink first.
The deal here is that you get blasted with as many übersaccharine Pro Tools-birthed #classicidol hooks as you can handle while the group’s five girls and one all-important Producer daytrip through whatever blends of distortion, noise, breakbeats, breakdowns and occasional metal guitars they so please. From any non-bedroom project Western artist this would be a recipe for disaster, a calculated attempt at edge that would find kindred spirits in this year’s already tired nu-pop trend. Concerted attempts at noise and novelty are, it turns out, not much fun when their implementation is as hamfisted in its shock value as it is steely in its delivery.
Coming from an idol group, things are a little different. For those unfamiliar, idol is essentially a celebrity business that runs its music output on a policy of spam publicity first, ask questions later
. Its quality control is predictably dubious and its treatment of its stars deserves a separate discussion forum, yet the scene’s anything-goes novelty complex does lead to a healthy dose of Who Gives A Shit that the po-faced Western music biz sorely lacks. What ∅
lacks in compositional flair, polished performances and firm innovation (as opposed to casual pastiche), it makes for in spades with its slapdash ethic. Ignoring obvious stylistic differences, the closest Western analogue I can think of was Dylan Brady and Laura Les’ 2019 triumph 1000 gecs
, but whereas that album was perniciously irreverent, ∅
is refreshing in how it casually shrugs off genre preconceptions and general tastefulness. The album is so comfortable in its own plasticity and so assured in its familiarity with Pop 101 that there’s scarcely a dull moment to be found in all of its forty minutes. It’s not remotely the best (or even most chaotic) weird-out I’ve heard from an idol project, but as far as making the right wrong decisions goes, Dai Dai Dai deliver the goods. ∅
is face value candyfloss for kawaii space cadets; anyone disinclined to pick bones will find it appropriately gratifying. Anyone else likely deserves what’s coming to them.
In a somewhat ironic twist, the music has its foundations too deep in the bedrock of classic Oricon/idol songwriting to end up as the mixed bag suggested by its mission statement. For instance, “Ai ne Kurai ne” and “OH HAPPY DIE” are at heart the kind of ultra-sugary pop bangers that any idol group would be content to trot out, but their hooks are convincing enough that their various bells and whistles land as infectious icing on an infectious cake. Chomp. These tracks’ synth freakouts and percussive stomp-o-thons aren’t so much outright left turns as much as joyous accentuations to an unapologetically liberal portrayal of instant gratification. This is equally applicable to some of the more arresting tracks: the opener “Subete ga Hakumei no Naka de” throws in the occasional chromatic chord shift and breakdown, but this just serves to punctuate the overload of tried and tested pop melodies that saturate the bulk of its playtime. Similarly, the digital hardcore strobefest “Kanoke dareke ka to Omotta” may seem like a departure for idol, but it might as well be labelled as a tribute to BiS’ staple track “STUPiG”, an iconic foray in the same vein from way back in 2014. In fairness, “Kanoke…” holds its own and the girls of Dai Dai Dai are conspicuously stronger vocalists than that era of BiS, so the homage feels like a worthwhile revision. “8 BIT GAG” fares even better on the digital hardcore side of things, boasting a fierce set of grooves, relentless vocal trade-offs and a dumbass title joke that I cannot help but love (the track is a revision of the 2019 single “8 BEAT GANG”). High marks on this front are also awarded to “OH HAPPY DIE.” There’s no claiming this album isn’t full of perks.
The sole, incredibly conspicuous major departure here is the thirteen-point-five-minute epic “Voronoi Zu.” This track is an extended flirtation with doom metal that sacrifices none of the album’s electrified synthstorms and breakbeat trigger happiness. Cruel of them to pick a genre long short of enough charisma to flirt back. Unlike its other short-lived fireworks displays, this one is a committed effort and a legitimately bold risk; making up over a quarter of the total runtime, it could have been an irrecoverable derailment of momentum and a cringeworthy stylistic flop. Fortunately, producer Oglaorzzy paces the track shrewdly and gives it just enough contour and momentum to justify its runtime. I am still unsure whether its main attraction is its developing atmosphere, its interplay between metal guitars and shiny shiny shiny
synths, or the bemusing stab our five squeaky heroines take at gothic/dramatic vocal stylings; it all comes together entertainingly enough.
That last clause might as well be the final verdict on ∅
: entertainment is the order of the day, and the album doesn’t mire itself long enough in stylistic gesticulation or clunky subversion long enough to feel like a product of these qualities. It’s an impressively steady rush from start to finish. It’s not all sugar and ecstasy; as much as they know the score when it comes to cheap thrills, Dai Dai Dai could certainly benefit from going further off-piste, despite what their sledgehammer sense of segue and edgy branding attempt to suggest to the contrary. Japan may be the land of the hirajoshi scale (harmonic minor metal kids, please google this), but its members sound suspiciously blithe when they dip into its dark, enigmatic intervals on “Voronoi Zu.” However, this reservation doesn’t exactly ruin the party; the cheap thrills in question are hugely gratifying and there’s something about their scattergun presentation that only makes sense coming from an idol project. ∅
is shamelessly plastic and excellently presented; it’s up there with RAY for the more worthwhile alt-idol outputs of 2020 and it will exciting to see how much more noise Dai Dai Dai will strut out from here.