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Album Review: Tokyo Rose – Akuma II

Back in the early-to-mid 2010s, Tokyo Rose received consistent acclaim for his initial EPs, Chases and Chases II, which harken back to the groove-oriented hooks of 80s synthpop. His eventual debut album, Akuma I, released three years later, fleshed out those nuances in a full-length setting, while also expanding them onto a refreshingly modern foundation of production. Upon its release, the album received similar praise, its listening experience akin to a blissful street cruise.

Now, the American retrowave artist has continued with Akuma II, a much-anticipated collaboration between him and Scottish-born electronic music producer Alex. Guest talent is brought on board in the form of F.O.O.L and Power Glove, both of whom pace the album exceptionally. The album starts on “3am,” a fitting title for its beginning segment. I appreciate how its composition comes together, almost like forming the cycle of a neon-tinged dream sequence. There’s a kind of subtlety in how the track comes together, with attention to the perspective of each arrangement. “Awakening” then plays its part as the following track, both in raising the momentum and featuring sharper, distorted synths. While the tanginess of the bassline is a bit less defined in its bolstering the tracks hooks, it tends to express itself to a greater extent on the next track, “Unleashed”. Besides serving as a component that fits in with the title, it exerts itself just enough to keep the involvement consistent. Up until the second half of the song, the lull where the involvement swiftly subsides is complemented by additional layers that only gradually reveal, which is refreshing. “Mean Streets” and “Danger City” showcase a darker, more hellish synth contrast to the idyllically colorful milieu that proceeded them. Between the two songs, I felt a shift of dominance in the main synth melody that worked well at this point, especially when capping the album’s first side.

On the latter half of the album, Power Glove’s feature on “Rivals” marks a subtle, yet coincidental nostalgic ode that fans of 80s culture could pick up, just from the formatting of the titles. The sinister air returns to the forefront, coupled with an intense, direct synth approach. On an interesting note, though, the sampled, fragmented vocals within the hooks provide a kind of humorous offset to the general mood. “Antagonist” is the highlight track of the album, having earned the most reception of all the tracks up to this point. It is also notably different from the others as it has a metal and industrial influence about it, as well as a predominant modern edge about the instrumentation. The buildup that extends toward the halfway point also comes across as a bit more conventional, although the beat to follow adds some nice variety in its shift to an up-tempo rhythm. While “Beasts” continues something of a metallic feel to the initial synths, there’s a decent balance between its mainstream-oriented hook, and the traditionally retro synth arrangement that adds space to the track. However, perhaps the album’s strongest moments are in the penultimate and final tracks, “Affliction” and “STRNGR,” with the first providing a nuanced intricate crossover of classic and modern elements, and the latter serving as an ultimate allusion to the uncertainty, but at the same time, beauty, of 80s metropolis nightlife.

Overall, Akuma II proves a solid follow-up of Tokyo Rose’s full-length endeavors. Although some songs exhibit clearer mainstream sensibilities, it goes to show that he aims for a sound beyond his formative throwback identity. I look forward to how Tokyo Rose continues to refine his ideas, and continues to grow, not only as a producer, but as a musical artist in the same way.

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About Jake Kussmaul

I come from a family who is passionate about all things music. I learned to sing at an early age, and by 13, had my very own Fender Strat guitar. I tried my hardest at learning all that I could. Because I was born with cerebral palsy, I had to teach myself an adaptive playing style. I learned to write and record my own music, despite these difficulties. In college, I started making great use of my writing abilities by reviewing music, as well as copy editing. I guess it's best to stick with what you know, while welcoming a fair challenge at the same time.

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