Published Sep 19, 2014When Japanese artist Takako Minekawa stopped making music just after the turn of the century, a significant flicker of weirdness went out of the J-pop scene. Fortunately, all it took was a Ponytail gig, where Minekawa was introduced to the band's guitarist Dustin Wong, to reignite her creative spark. That initial meeting led to the duo collaborating on 2011's Toropical Circle, an album that paired Wong's shimmering guitar melodies with Minekawa's crystalline voice and chirpy electronics.
Their follow-up, Savage Imagination, draws more on the latter element, pushing the overall glitchy soundscape into a more widescreen listening experience. What they gain in headphone fodder, however, is lost in dynamics and, consequently, emotional connection. The album rarely gains much momentum, never straying too far from simply sounding like playful experimentation. Even the three-part "Dimension Dive" suite, which opens with a promising escalation of intensity, is undermined by chintzy-sounding keyboards and too much noodling in the second and third movements. At its best, Savage Imagination comes across like a breathier Battles (check out "Ancient Aluminum Forest"), but even though the back half is far stronger, there's still a depth that's lacking to the album as a whole. Perhaps Wong and Minekawa are still feeling each other out musically — there's endless potential in this collaboration, if only they'd take a more confident leap into the unknown. (Thrill Jockey)