If 2022’s Happyendhenokitaiha is Macaroni Empitsu’s most eclectic explosion of styles, its 2020 predecessor, hope, is the album that lit the fuse for the Japanese power-pop masters. Opening track “Remonpai” makes that experimental spirit obvious from the outset, as its gently funky, piano-based bump leads into a decidedly hip-hop-informed middle section. The title track is bookended by an orchestral intro and a coda that achieves ’80s arena-rock glory. About halfway into the album, things start to get really crazy. “Konotabinohazihakakisute” stops dead midway through to transform from feral rock into a gloriously digital 8-bit frenzy fit for a vintage videogame soundtrack. “Mr Water” is the record’s wildest moment: The members of Macaroni Empitsu are generally associated with a relatively straight-ahead, unironic attitude, but here they’re totally tongue in cheek, with a willfully goofy lead vocal from Hattori, a dramatic accordion intro, and an arrangement that shifts gears drastically from a lounge groove into a blaring hard-rock guitar solo. It’s almost as if the four figured that, since even their rock influences come from elsewhere in the world, they might as well sample a bit of everything that’s out there. But even when the band is keeping closer to its signature power-pop feel, there’s a clear intention to take things to another level in terms of nuance and sophistication. You can hear it in the dynamic shifts of “Boys Meets World,” the segue from syncopated grooves to a big, bust-out pop chorus on “Blueberry Nights,” and elsewhere. Whichever way Macaroni Empitsu ventures stylistically on hope, though, keyboard player Daiki Hasegawa is a hero, whether he’s leaning into the synth wail of the slamming, punky “Supernova,” tossing both faux-classical harpsichord licks and jumping jazz piano into “Ainorentaru,” or lighting things up with flashy riffing on the aforementioned “Blueberry Nights.” A lot of musical information comes down the pike over the course of the album, but there’s the occasional reflective moment too, like when the band breaks things down to just vocals and guitar for the uncluttered, palate-cleansing “Usonaki.”

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