REVIEW: LM.C Innovates Oshare Kei into the Digital Age with "Future Sensation"

"This isn't your dad's pop rock." That's what I would recommend LM.C fans say when introducing new listeners to Future Sensation. If you were surprised by vocalist Maya and guitarist Aiji's experimentation on their 2015 album VEDA, then prepared to be outright blown away by the latest studio album from the prolific oshare kei duo. After hours of nonstop listening and with no end in sight, I'm confident in saying that LM.C has successfully curated 12 years of experimentation in musical style into one of the most magical releases of the year. Ultimately, I can't think of a visual kei release that better embodies LM.C's self-ascribed moniker of "new century electrorock" than Future Sensation.

Future Sensation Album Art (Same for Both Types)
1. In Future, New Sensation
2. ChainDreamers
3. Virtual Quest
4. Intersection
5. Hangover
6. Hollow Hotel
7. Door!
8. Nothing
9. Twinkle Star
10. Brainwashing
11. Dystopia

The diversity of Future Sensation's sound really can't be understated. It's clear that the goal here was to make it nearly impossible to tell where the rock elements end and the dance elements begin. As someone who's still replaying the album and struggling to decide whether I'm hearing pop music or rock music at many moments, I would consider that goal to be achieved. However, there are still plenty of moments on Future Sensation featuring the punk rock electric guitar riffs and catchy rhythms that the band is known for. But what's most impressive to me is how effectively LM.C has packed every part of each song with something innovative and engaging. The album may just barely cap out at 45 minutes, but the quality and variety packed into every hook, verse, chorus, bridge, and outro of Future Sensation made me feel like I'd listened to an entire discography by the end.

The album kicks off with "In Future, New Sensation", an instrumental opening track that feels like a punk rave in space. As Maya delivers an impassioned spoken monologue in Japanese, multiple types of pulsing or flowing electronic melodies are layered on top of each other in the background. The track doubles in intensity and variety halfway through, creating a trippy atmosphere that caught me rather off guard, before dissipating in preparation for the next song. LM.C made a clever decision by making "ChainDreamers", the first full track on Future Sensation. Quintessentially LM.C in nature, the song is incredibly catchy but strikingly earnest in tone. It serves as a solid recap of LM.C's sound, preparing the listener for the wild experimentation to come. Aiji's guitar work is varied and engaging, and this is a trend he continues throughout the album. Maya adopts an interesting inflection for the vocals on "ChainDreamers": it almost sounds like he's singing with a lump in his throat—as if he's fighting back tears as he sings—and this adds an extra layer of emotion to song. This song could absolutely be used as an opening to a mainstream anime series ("Boruto: Naruto Next Generations" was what first came to mind personally).

"ChainDreamers" is followed by "Virtual Quest", a track with a rocking sound that's all about attitude. The song's crooning electric guitar melodies and wailing synths notes have both been heavily distorted into similar-sounding tones and set against rocking rhythm guitar chords. Even the longer notes in Maya's clean vocals on "Virtual Quest" are occasionally auto-tuned to gradually transform into a sound that's almost identical to the distorted electric guitar. Or does it sound like the synth notes? It's all so hard to tell apart! The rapid back-and-forth between the rock and EDM ("electronic dance music") elements helps ease the listener into Future Sensation's river of ambitious experimentation. And with good reason: after "Virtual Quest" ends, the album throws you for your first loop by pivoting to "Intersection" and switching genres in the process. This track uses subtle, pulsing EDM beat and smooth electronic drums beats in place of the previous track's rock drums, which have dropped out entirely at this point. A slighty auto-tuned Maya sings over and around Aiji's engaging electric guitar melodies, and various flavors of pulsing EDM synths and bass beats pound away in the background. While "Virtual Quest" has a mostly soothing atmosphere, it also features a sneaky start-and-stop effect with its pacing, and this kept me engaged with the track all the way through.

Things start to really get wild on "Hangover". In just the first few seconds, the track mashes together juicy dupstep, rhythmic electric guitar playing, and auto-tuned "oh-eh-oh's".  In spite of its shockingly authentic dance-pop sound, this track is one of the most distinctly LM.C tracks in spirit. During the buildup to the chorus, the song's tone suddenly turns borderline-ominous. The song steeply builds up in intensity—no really, there's literally an EDM buildup happening in the background—before bursting into an energetic dance-pop chorus that would make "Super Duper Galaxy" proud. I can definitely picture fans dancing along to this song at future concerts. "Hollow Hotel" delivers another surprise in the form of a spooky "haunted house" sound. Toy piano, static noises, and crashing sound effects play in the background alongside a throbbing bass guitar line. In the foreground, Maya and Aiji take turns delivering lilting vocal and guitar melodies throughout the song. The track ends with a sudden and chaotic breakdown: you lose track of all the different sounds that were just playing together quite gently, because they've now come crashing together. The moment passes quickly however, and the track closes with a few haunting notes from the toy piano.

One of the most unique and diverse tracks on Future Sensation is "Door!", which uses crashing industrial backing beats to keep a catchy rhythm going (drums have continued to be largely absent from the music for the last few tracks). DJ scratches and vocal sampling are also used periodically alongside a subtle yet funky flavor of EDM. The repeating and distorted electric guitar hook is very well done, as is the squealing, highly-distorted solo. I actually felt like I was listening to a funky pop remix of Muse's 2015 album Drones (which won a Grammy that year, so definitely consider that a complement). The experimental track is followed up by "Nothing", which suddenly brings the listener back to a somewhat more traditional LM.C sound. Maya and Aiji once again apply an engaging start-and-stop effect to the track's pacing while keeping the song's mood upbeat throughout. The drums are now back on the track, and the guitar riffs are much more pronounced. The electronic music is still quite present however: the heavily-pounding rock chorus is paired with a screeching dubstep melody, the bridge switches between at least 3 different styles of EDM, and a rapid synth melody plays during the frantic and sudden outro.

I would say that "Twinkle Star" is the primary ballad on this album, although the constant changeups in Future Sensation make it hard to put any of its tracks in just one box. This track is primarily a rock ballad, although it does feature some notable pop elements and variety of orchestral effects. The electronic elements take more of a back seat to some impressively-varied guitar playing and drumming with one major exception: Maya's voice is positively dripping with auto-tune effect. The result is a relaxing track that almost sounds like it's mildly clashing with itself, although it actually kept me paying much closer attention than usual (I often zone out durring ballads). Depending on personality, I think some fans will find this effect to be a turnoff, while others may actually find it more engaging than your standard rock ballad. "Brainwashing" picks up the pace a bit but keeps the emotional nature of the ballad it follows. This is another song that I would consider to be "very LM.C" in its energetic attitude. The punk rock vibe makes a return, and the electric guitars stay in the spotlight. Layers of high-energy dubstep and synth notes gradually accumulate in the background and occasionally punch through to steal the show. The anthemic chorus is sure to make fans dance in the same way that many of LM.C's fan-favorite tracks do, so I wouldn't be surprised if "Brainwashing" becomes a fan-favorite itself .

I didn't expect LM.C to ever end an album with a slow and epic closer track like "Dystopia", but Future Sensation has a way of subverting every expectation one could have going in. The song starts with a series of randomly booming sound effects that might remind you of cannons firing. But the deep booming sounds gradually fall together into a noticeable rhythm, and you realize that they've just formed the backing beat of the track. A slight echo is applied to Aiji's plucked guitar notes and Maya's rising and falling vocals for added effect. As the verses progress, orchestral music swells in the background, and a gently-strummed rhythm guitar is eventually added in. Once again, LM.C makes effective use of start-and-stop pacing: "Dystopia" explodes without warning into a passionately triumphant chorus, before settling back down to into the original slow tempo. I'm still not sure how LM.C came up with this genuinely original blend of "epic-yet-chill", but what I am sure of is that it made "Dystopia" into an excellent ending track.

The unique sounds of Future Sensation are the result of LM.C tripling down on their fondness for creating unique, catchy music. This album is a tsunami of diverse and innovative sounds, some of which I can genuinely say I have never heard or even imagined before. LM.C has developed the ability to produce a stunning amount of different sounds by combining rock, pop, and dance music into unique styles that are probably years ahead of their peers. Some listeners may be put off by the sheer amount of experimentation and frequent use of pop/EDM (especially if old-school pop-punk LM.C is more of your thing), but overall I think that most fans will be delighted to see so many sides of the band's music fleshed out in so many ways. As far as I'm concerned, Future Sensation is the band's best and most comprehensive album to date, and easily a candidate for visual kei album of the year. Yes, I know what came out over the summer and I know what's coming out next month; just give it a listen and you'll see what I mean!

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