Perfume: Relax In the City/Pick Me Up (Review)

Showa Day 2015 (April 29) brought with it the release of “Relax In the City/Pick Me Up,” a new double A-side from Perfume, the Japanese EDM trio from Hiroshima that’s making a name for itself globally. The two songs may get equal billing as A-sides, but the packaging focuses entirely on “Relax In the City.” Yet, if you like Perfume for their Yasutaka Nakata-driven electronica/dance flavor, you’ll find that the real gem is “Pick Me Up.” And, in fact, even the B-side (yes, we’re dealing with three-dimensional space here),「透明人間」(“Toumei Ningen” or “Invisible Man”), outshines the headliner.

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The choice of “Relax In the City” as the true A-side probably comes down to three things: the packaging design (the release comes in the form of a box modeled after the “house” in the music video); the commercial tie-in (the song is being used for Sapporo Brewery’s Green Aroma beverage promotions); and the desire to secure a more lyrical hit for the group following their last single release, the heavily stylized “Cling Cling.”

The set, which takes up a lot of shelf space and is essentially an empty box (but one that is meant to be a collectible and used for whatever you like), includes a CD, a DVD, and a 40-page photo book. The CD contains the three tracks along with instrumental-only versions of each for your next karaoke night. The DVD contains the music videos for the two A-sides and the 44-second teaser for the EP. The photo book captures a day on the “set” of the “Relax In the City” video, which was shot over the course of 13 hours in a grassy field alongside the ocean in Okinawa.

Speaking of which, the video itself is a mixed bag. Aesthetically, it is indeed relaxing and refreshing (though not set in the city), but there are serious sync issues with the visuals and vocals. Artistically, it’s a nice picture, and the scenery transforms naturally with the song and over the course of the day-long shoot. The girls look beautiful in a much more elegant and tranquil setting than usual, but in the close-ups the disconnect between the vocals and lip movement pulls you out of the scene a bit.

The video for “Pick Me Up,” on the other hand, is one of the best things Perfume has produced in quite some time. Set in an Escheresque version of the Isetan department store in Shinjuku, the story finds A-chan, Kashiyuka, and Nocchi returning from a night out only to become caught up in strange happenings inside the store. In a moment reminiscent of the Doctor Who episode “Rose,” mannequins come to life and the girls find themselves surrounded as they attempt to find their way out. More eerily, they discover mannequins inside that look like them and they must free these doppelgängers in order to escape. The story and visuals are perfectly matched to the lyrics: “I wanna make my life … I want to journey up towards the sky … jump lightly … I can be free.” The video ends with the girls back on the street and the text: “A night in Shinjuku is sukoshi-fushigi.” (“A night in Shinjuku is a bit strange.”)

This set continues Perfume’s trend of unique packaging and bonuses—especially since their move to Universal Music Japan in 2012—and is at least as strong as their last EP release, July 2014’s “Cling Cling.” Given that Perfume’s last album, Level 3, had five singles hit #1 on the Japanese charts—and that Nikkei Entertainment just named Perfume the #1 girl group in Japan (once again)—“Relax In the City” will likely connect well with listeners even if it is stylistically a departure from their norm. But keep your eyes on “Pick Me Up.” Perfume is one of the few Japanese groups finding success outside of Asia, and if they can get this track in the rotation in clubs in the United States, they could have a true hit there as well.