Controlling Your Allegiance

The Japanese Popstars rope in some of their musical friends to create a 'credible' dance album

Ever since the Chemical Brothers first did it in the mid-90s with Dig Your Own Hole, there has been a place within the world of indie for the ‘credible’ dance album. With an assortment of star-studded cameos, producers have been firing pulsating dance missiles into the heart of pop music, and the indie kids have lapped it up, showing off some criminally bad dance moves along the way.

Now, after years of operating on the periphery, it is the time of The Japanese Popstars, the Derry trio who have roped in some incredible star turns for their second album, Controlling Your Allegiance.

Right from the get-go, ‘Let Go’ assaults your eardrums, tightly coiled bass and drums fighting with each other for space, whilst the vocals of Chicago house music legend Green Velvet snarl and distort. It’s raw and edgy, and sets the tone of the album perfectly, a sleek mixture of chemical beats and heavenly melodies.

Indeed, it is frequently the melodic side of the band that fares best, all manner of swirling synths and guitar textures coming together for a sound that owes as much to shoegazing as it does to club floor-fillers. The beautiful ‘Song For Lisa’ features an ethereal vocal from the titular Lisa Hannigan, whilst a wall of twinkling noise rises and falls behind her.

The Cure’s Robert Smith chimes in with ‘Take Forever’, continuing the trend of his collaboration with Crystal Castles, and indicating that the best music he has made in the 21st century has been outside of The Cure.

It’s not really a million miles away from the day job for Smith, but the fact that The Japanese Popstars somehow manage to frame him better than his own band of over 30 years speaks volumes; when it comes to credible pop music, the Japanese Popstars are not afraid to show their chops.

The rest of the album continues in this vein, with tracks like ‘Catapult’ firmly aimed at the dancefloor, whilst mellower tracks like ‘Shells of Silver’, featuring Dublin based singer-songwriter James Vincent McMorrow, reveal the album as something that rewards repeated listening.

Unfortunately, not all the guest appearances work out quite as well. Editors’ Tom Smith delivers his usual sub-par Ian Curtis impression over album closer ‘Joshua’, somewhat weakening its appeal, whilst M83’s Morgan Kibby does her best on ‘Fight the Night’, but it never really manages to elevate itself above her own band, feeling like a bit of a missed opportunity.

No matter, as the album still manages to succeed on its own merits, a well crafted, well executed series of collaborative efforts that frequently manages to satisfy more than the parent material. It seems, by roping in a few of their popstar friends, the Derry three piece will finally be able to live up to their namesakes.

Controlling Your Allegiance is out on Virgin from June 20. Pre-order via the link above.

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