We all know the feeling – it’s late at night (or the early hours of the morning!), you’re sitting at your computer scouring the depths of YouTube for who-knows what, when you stumble across something that catches your sleepy brain’s attention. Interestingly, this is how I find almost all of the music I listen to, though sadly this is not the end of my discovery of underground J-pop sensation Moso Calibration, as I managed to forget that I ever stumbled across them.
Fast forward to the other week, where I was flicking through the pages of NEO, a UK-based Japanese culture magazine, when I stopped on the double-page spread discussing the music the staff had been listening to. The page’s feature was heavily promoting a little J-pop group whose name felt familiar yet so distant in my mind. Of course, that group was Moso Calibration, and this is where we find ourselves now; me reviewing their debut album GREATEST HITS WORLD ∞ SELECTION.
Moso Calibration are a pop five-piece hailing from the Akihabara district of Japan, the heart of Japanese pop and otaku culture. The members were all staff at Dear Stage, an Akihabara live music venue (where hit J-pop groups like Dempagumi.inc had their humble beginnings before selling out national arena tours), where sadly they were given an ultimatum: sell one thousand copies each of three CDs, or they would be out of work. Bravely, they stepped up to the plate and released a number of singles locally to tourists and visitors to Akihabara under the self-named concept of “MOSO EDM”, fusing the bright and peppy melodies and lyrics of traditional J-pop with the bass-heavy synth trademarks of typical EDM.
Fast forward to 2017, where Moso Calibration are now signed to Sony Music Records and working with hit producer Yuyoyuppe (acting under his electronic moniker DJ’TEKINA//SOMETHING), best known internationally for writing and producing a number of BABYMETAL’s biggest tracks. GREATEST HITS WORLD ∞ SELECTION is Moso Calibration’s first album release under Sony Music Records and contains fourteen tracks, one of which was never released in Japan, and serves as the only way to truly experience everything Moso Calibration has to offer.
Before we reach the music, I do have a few complaints aside from any on the musical front. First, calling this debut release their “Greatest Hits” feels not only disingenuous but also a little bit pessimistic – it implies to me that the staff behind Moso Calibration have little faith that they’ll produce any better songs. I would have much preferred it to just be a self-titled release over being branded a “greatest hits” compilation, but no doubt Sony Music Records have their reasons. Additionally, GREATEST HITS WORLD ∞ SELECTION is being marketed as a fourteen song album, which personally I disagree greatly with – seven of these fourteen songs are instrumental versions of the other seven. Calling it a fourteen track release where 50% of the songs are simply instrumentals feels like Sony Music Records and the regional distributors padding the song list a bit. There is nothing wrong with a seven song debut CD!
These are ultimately minor issues though, and whilst they do not impact my personal enjoyment of the music or album itself, they definitely set off alarm bells that Moso Calibration’s debut may not be quite all it’s marketed as. Thankfully, having listened to this album for the last few days, I can confirm that isn’t the case!
GREATEST HITS WORLD ∞ SELECTION opens with Chi chin pui pui ♪ (ちちんぷいぷい♪), a cheery and upbeat future house-esque track where producer Yuyoyuppe’s electronic expertise shine bright. Starting with a synth and percussion crescendo somewhat atypical of traditional J-pop, the intro suddenly pulls out and slows into what we come to expect from a J-pop verse; cute and melodic female vocals drive this part of the song. These are mostly forgettable in the sense of being nothing unexpected or out of the ordinary. The pre-chorus, however, is where the song begins to take off – a pumping synth percussion kicks in behind infectious “woah-oh-oh-oh”s, as the pre-chorus builds through repetitive and catchy chants of “Koi yo!” (Japanese for “I’m in love!”), climaxing as the members shout the title, “Chi chin pui pui!” at which point Yuyoyuppe hits us with a big thumping house drop. This is the highlight of Chi chin pui pui ♪ for me, and is where the track really gets me dancing. I would like to use this time to bring the music video to your attention, where at this point Moso Calibration have some fun and easily replicated choreography!
Following Chi chin pui pui ♪, we have Unbalance Umbrella (アンバランスアンブレラ), a track that I would say is a lot more traditionally J-pop than the former, yet still a wonderful one! Unbalance Umbrella opens with the chorus – one that is once again sweet and cheery and incredibly catchy. This is a great decision to get you singing along with the melody when it comes around again. The chorus is followed by a nice simple hook matching the vocal melody from the chorus, before the members come back in with the verse. The song structure is very traditional (as expected from a J-pop/EDM fusion). The bridge is a lovely little respite from the electronic and dancey sound, when the track slows down into a kind of spoken-word segment over a simplified version of the hook. All of this comes together to a lovely song that’s very easy to listen to, and one that’s one of my favourites from the album!
The third track on GREATEST HITS WORLD ∞ SELECTION is a slight departure for Moso Calibration; irony (stylised in all lower-case, it’s not a typo!) is in fact a cover of an earlier J-pop release! Released in 2010, irony was the official debut song of young J-pop duo ClariS after being signed to Sony Music Entertainment. irony as performed by ClariS reached mainstream success within the Japanese otaku community as the opening song for anime studio AIC Build‘s hit show Oreimo (known by many as My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute to my displeasure). I’m not a huge fan of a debut album featuring a cover song as I feel there’s an element of leeching off of the success of others, however to my relief this cover and rearrangement does enough to make Moso Calibration’s version feel unique.
Moso Calibration’s irony started life as the B-side on their Japanese single release of Unbalance Umbrella, so it being stuck on their debut album must be a result of the original’s popularity. irony is a house banger, slowed down when compared to the original, but in my opinion to its favour! The verses build to a chorus that kicks in hard and catchy (like many ClariS originals!), followed by a really nice rendition of the irony hook that sticks in so many anime fans’ minds. The composition and structure is identical to ClariS’, though with it being led by more thumping percussion and tinkly synth melodies it feels different enough to be worthwhile! I definitely feel like ClariS fans should make space in their music libraries for this cover! However, it’s also worth noting that the instrumental for irony isn’t actually a Moso Calibration original, as Yuyoyuppe has this track uploaded to the SoundCloud account set up for his DJ moniker, DJ’TEKINA//SOMETHING – the primary difference being that the DJ’TEKINA//SOMETHING version uses ClariS’ original vocals. Some may feel that Yuyoyuppe recycling instrumentals so gratuitously is shady or cheeky, and I’d be inclined to agree myself. Regardless, if you like ClariS’ vocals more than Moso Calibration’s, that exists!
The music video, whilst being a little… simplistic, is pretty fun, showcasing animated versions of the members over a mesmerising visualiser.
Following irony, we have Bang Bang No. 1, which I feel is a curious one. Bang Bang No. 1 is much less J-pop and EDM than any of the other tracks, to the point where I’d argue that it wouldn’t feel out of place being put out by one of Korea’s big K-pop acts – perhaps this stems subconsciously from the stylings of the music video which give me big K-pop vibes, but there’s no distinct EDM-style synths, crescendos or drops like all of the prior songs, nor is it particularly saccharine and cute like the J-pop of before. Personally I feel this is a fairly weak song, lacking a real standout chorus or any semblance of hook to give you time to feel the instrumentation, though considering this is arguably the middle of the album where weaker tracks tend to lie, perhaps it’s somewhat expected. I can’t help but feel like Bang Bang No. 1 feels like Korea trying to write an anime opening, and it’s not a particularly strong song in my eyes. Not bad by any stretch, but nothing special.
Track five is Gaki yaba ∞ bokka-n!! (激ヤバ∞ボッカーン！！) and is wildly off-piste when compared to the rest of the album (moreso than Bang Bang No. 1!) – producer Yuyoyuppe got his start as a producer of heavier rock tracks under Yuyoyuppe and his musical act Draw The Emotional, and Gaki yaba ∞ bokka-n!! is most definitely Yuyoyuppe getting his rock fill. Opening with a very typical sounding drum and bass percussion, before an incredible mix of drum and bass and rock kicks in, blasting guitars backing a catchy hook. This drum and bass/rock fusion continues into the verse, where the song remains just as catchy, guitar-driven and still dance-y. Then the pre-chorus hits, and boy do we get another layer added to the fusion: this time Yuyoyuppe throws in some dubstep “wubs”, because why not? Thankfully these work to the song’s favour to add an extra reason to headbang and dance over the guitars and drum and bass over English chants of “K.O.”, fitting the song’s apparent theme of overcoming adversity. Following this, the upbeat, almost motivational chorus hits, where you’ll find yourself singing along to the group’s “Yeah! Oh Yeah!”s shouts. Gaki yaba ∞ bokka-n!! is definitely one of my favourite tracks from this release, and anybody who likes genre mixes and fusions should give this a listen – J-pop, drum and bass, rock and dubstep have rarely sounded better! Also the music video is a super fun Street Fighter-inspired animated fight where Moso Calibration fight themselves!
Following this is another anime track, sakurairo diary (桜色ダイアリー), however unlike irony above, this is an original! Moso Calibration and Yuyoyuppe wrote this song as the ending theme for the second season of Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata (How To Raise A Boring Girlfriend), an anime made by anime studio giants A-1 Pictures, and honestly it shows. sakurairo diary is an incredibly conventional piano-led J-pop piece that sounds exactly like any typical anime ending theme. I’d be lying if I said I felt it was bad, as the melodies and vocal performances are lovely and it is a joy to listen to, as typical as it may sound. The chorus is incredibly catchy and will get your foot tapping and head bobbing with it peppy cheerful melody over piano and strings. As an anime fan myself, when I first heard it i wasn’t impressed, however the more I’ve listened to this song for this review, the more I’ve found myself really enjoying it. It sounds simply like a really good example of a J-pop song written for an anime – traditional and typical, but certainly great!
The music video is also really sweet, presenting as home video footage of the members exploring Japan. It’s very pastel coloured and themed around the softness and pinks of cherry blossom season and rather visually pleasing.
The seventh (and in my opinion final) track on the album is, potentially disappointingly, yet another ending theme for season 2 of Saenai Heroine no Sodoketaka, this time appearing only in the final episode. Seishun prologue (青春プロローグ) is another piano-led traditionally J-pop piece, this time a lot more downbeat and relaxed than sakurairo diary. Personally, I greatly prefer the peppier sound of the latter over Seishun prologue. The vocal melodies and phrasing in the verses are interesting, with short bursts of staccato syllables breaking up the peaceful piano, though sadly the song as a whole doesn’t particularly go anywhere from this. In the context of an anime, this song would be right at home, but as a musical piece entirely detached from the source material, it doesn’t stand out nor do anything exciting. Thankfully, the last chorus does save this lack of excitement a little bit, featuring a nice slick little key change (and boy, am I a sucker for a key change!). It must be noted that these final two songs do serve as lovely breaks in the high-intensity house and EDM sounds of the songs prior, and do serve as a nice respite from the rest of the album!
Finally, the back half of this album is nothing but instrumental versions of the seven tracks from above. As mentioned in the introduction, I have no issues with sticking instrumentals on CDs (personally I actually love having both instrumental and a capella/vocal-only versions of songs!), however I’m not keen on marketing claiming GREATEST HITS WORLD ∞ SELECTION is a fourteen-song album. All personal issues aside, the instrumentals stand alone as great DJ’TEKINA//SOMETHING tracks without the Moso Calibration vocals! I like to use instrumental music as background for working or writing, and having such catchy J-pop/EDM instrumental pieces available just gives me more to stick on as enjoyable background music! My favourite instrumentals, for the record, are Chi chin pui pui ♪ and Gaki yaba ∞ bokka-n!! and these will definitely have their place in my library and playlists.
Overall, GREATEST HITS WORLD ∞ SELECTION, despite small gripes I have with the marketing being somewhat misleading, is a really strong international debut by Moso Calibration. Like all albums (debut albums especially), it has its weak points where it loses my attention somewhat – notably Bang Bang No. 1 and Seishun prologue – however these are not enough to detract from the highs of future-house banger Chi chin pui pui ♪ and the headbanging good-times of Gaki yaba ∞ bokka-n!!. I do feel that Yuyoyuppe and Moso Calibration have played it safe with this debut; the EDM/J-pop fusion feels less like a magnificent all-in dive and more like a delicate paddle in the shallows. I hope that future Moso Calibration releases focus a lot more on using Yuyoyuppe’s experience as a producer to their advantage and separating them from the crowd of indie J-pop groups!
GREATEST HITS WORLD ∞ SELECTION is distributed internationally by JPU Records and is available from August 5.
01. Chi chin pui pui♪ (ちちんぷいぷい♪)
02 Unbalance Umbrella (アンバランスアンブレラ)
04. Bang Bang No.1
05. Gaki yaba ∞ bokka-n!! (激ヤバ∞ボッカーン！！)
06. sakurairo diary (桜色ダイアリー)
07. Seishun prologue (青春プロローグ)
08. Chi chin pui pui♪ (instrumental)
09. Unbalance Umbrella (Instrumental)
10. irony (Instrumental)
11. Bang Bang No.1 (Instrumental)
12. Gaki yaba ∞ bokka-n!! (Instrumental)
13. sakurairo diary (Instrumental)
14. Seishun prologue (Instrumental)