If I were to apply James Ulmer’s concept of The Hot List to my music collection, NUMBER GIRL, Shiina Ringo and UA would occupy my A-list. Quruli has been hovering around the B+ list for the last two albums, while THE BACK HORN could probably be considered a C-list band.
ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION, for the most part, has been a B-list band for me.
Kita Kensuke’s voice certainly puts him the same class of singers as SPITZ’s Kusano Masamune and Remioromen’s Fujimaki Ryouta. But the band’s highly-polished post-emo music tends to blur after a while. It’s melodic as hell and very appealing in measured doses. But historically, I’ve perceived AKFG’s sound as little more than watered-down eastern youth.
Then the band recorded World World World.
ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION stepped up their game. They focused on songwriting, hammering every hook, crafting every guitar line. The performances became more urgent, the polish working in their favor.
On first listen, World World World sounds like what came before — a wall of guitars propelled by a driving tempo, backing karaoke-ready melodies. But under the surface, something was different. Rather than intersperse the last few singles with a bunch of new tracks, ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION created a complete work, one with a real sense of architecture.
When "Tabidatsu Kimi e" segued seamlessly with "Neoteny", that was my cue — ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION became the band I unconsciously suspected it could be. They were no longer some 2nd-gen commercial version of a reliable indie aesthetic — in my eyes, they became ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION.
World World World is the album to make believers out of doubters. Bounce described it as "edgy" and "melodious" before its release, and why should I reinvent the wheel? The album is exactly that.
I had to look up which songs were actually released as singles, because just about every track on this album could conceivably be one. "No. 9" opens with an insistent hook that narrowly misses being an earworm, while "Night Driving" and "Travelogue" are unavoidably hummable.
"Raika" is the most ambitious track on the album, opening with pounding pulse before breaking into a bouncing rhythm. Half-way through the song, a dance beat breaks up the rhythm in a surprising and welcome way.
Oddly enough, the more poignant tracks of the album served as singles. "Kodogaru Iwa, Kimi ni Asa ga Kudaru" and "Aru Machi no Gunjou" both start out quietly before jumping back into the album’s quick clip, but they seem unlikely candidates for a work with such a large scope.
World World World is immediately likable, but subsequent listening just get better. At some point, the album becomes a drug, and it’s tough to stop listening to it once it starts. It’s even made me reconsider the back catalog to see if what is in World World World could be found in earlier works.
I don’t know if ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION will eventually become an A-list band for me, but World World World certainly opens up the opportunity.