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Shawn Wasabi’s debut album ‘MANGOTALE’ transports you to his sugary sweet paradise

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Shawn Wasabi – MANGOTALE

When Los Angeles-based producer Shawn Wasabi first dropped “Marble Soda” back in 2015, there was no question that it was going to be bound for Internet virality. Played live on a custom MIDI controller that he himself helped develop (the sleek Midi Fighter 64), “Marble Soda” became a catalyst for launching the artist into the public spotlight. Showcasing Wasabi’s clear talent for production, nimble fingerwork, and obvious passion for pop culture (everything from Pokémon to Adele to Kanye West to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is sampled here), the song encapsulated the zeitgeist of early 2010s Internet culture in a mish-mash of scattered pastel sugar. Since then, he’s released a couple of similarly buzzed-about offerings–“BURNT RICE,” “OTTER POP,” and “SPICY BOYFRIEND”–all of which only further cements the producer as an Internet-friendly, video-game loving DJ. Unlike other artists operating in the same field, Wasabi’s music consistently hinges on teetering between adorable and syrupy sweet.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the artist’s debut album, MANGOTALE, doesn’t step too out of line from just that. Heavily drawing upon the carefree aesthetic of pleasantly inoffensive games like Animal Crossing and the cloying sweetness of decadent desserts, Wasabi’s MANGOTALE is an uplifting, delightful joy of an album. Digitally accompanying the project is even a fictional world named “Mango Island,” an imaginary wonderland that Wasabi himself created for fans to explore while listening to the album. Just like the best video games out there, MANGOTALE takes you to an immaculate paradise to make you forget all of your troubles.

This tight correlation between Wasabi and his video game sensibilities is inseparable and can be found scattered all throughout the album–inspired artwork and direct references to Animal Crossing (“HALO HALO,” “ANIMAL CROSSING”) and soundbite samples from fan-favorite games like Undertale (“LEMONS,” “IGLOO”) act as pleasant surprises for fans of video games and of Wasabi’s previous works. But throughout the album, in name and in spirit, MANGOTALE acts like a bumping, worldbuilding OST for a great slice-of-life video game that you’ve only dreamt of playing. Album opener “princess peach” could easily pass as a modern cut from a spunky indie platformer, while chirpy album closer “IGLOO” acts as a sleepy, wintery goodbye that could have been cut from many an end credits screen. “ANIMAL CROSSING (ft. Sophia Black),” an ode to Nintendo’s picturesque video game series of the same name, turns direct quotes from the game into novelty lyrics. But while these video game intrsuions could admittedly be cloying for non-gamers, they fortunately don’t overstay their welcome.

On the rest of MANGOTALE, however, Wasabi shows off his penchant for creating well-produced, compact, punny cute love songs anchored by female vocalists. “HALO HALO (ft. Chevy),” acts as a hopeful love song centered around a dessert pun that might as well be playing in your local boba shop. “MEDICINE (ft. Tia Scola),” “SNACK THAT SMILES BACK (ft. raychel jay),” “HOME RUN (ft. raychel jay),” and “MANGO LOVE (ft. Satica),” all work as similarly sweet rehashes of that same vibe in four different forms. But while all of these songs remain irresistibly catchy and commercially “safe,” the sweetness gets overwhelming at times–even when songs like “SNACK THAT SMILES BACK (ft. raychel jay)” sneaks in possibly suggestive innuendos disguised as wholesome lyrics (“Split me like an Oreo / And dip me in a cup of your joe” and “I’ll be skinny dippin’ / Feeling dizzy from your butter pecan). Perhaps more interesting is the noticeably salty (or sour, if you will) “LEMONS (ft. kennedi),” which allows the flow of the project to take on a refreshingly sassy vibe while easing off the sweetness. “I just think she’s kind of ugly,” kennedi playfully interjects about a rival in love, before following up with “I’m not trying to be cruel.” The song is later interwoven with a frustrated jokey rant (“I’m not even mad about it / I’m not even mad!” she exclaims) which adds in a spritz of much-needed humor into the mix.

But it’s when Wasabi completely deviates from these charming love songs that the album really hits its stride. The album’s standout songs “Marble Tea,” “tokyo tea (ft. spacegirl gemmy)” and “LOVE POTION (ft. raychel jay),sound like they are a part of a completely different album. Suddenly the squeaky clean sounds of the first half of the album are allowed to fester a little more, adding in a whole new roster of attitude within a short span of time. “Marble Tea,” the spiritual followup to “Marble Soda” in name, is a fuzzed-out win that incorporates glitchy theatrics to the mix while maintaining the cutesy integrity of Wasabi’s vibe. On the other hand, “tokyo tea” is the album’s hardest-hitting banger that dips into violent HYPERPOP territory. Featuring metallic whirs, sputtering bass, and an attitude-driven sassiness from Wasabi’s longtime collaborator spacegirl gemmy, Wasabi’s production skills are put into overdrive—giving the track a surprisingly spiky punch. Meanwhile, “LOVE POTION (ft. raychel jay)” flirts with a darker griminess that marries well with his established style. When these opposite worlds collide, Wasabi’s work truly stands out.

At its heart, MANGOTALE is a revved-up, buzzy showcase for Wasabi that proves that he can churn out great hits just as well as he can blend them all together. As it turns out, MANGOTALE is an album that could easily have widespread appeal–the casual gamers, the hopeless romantics, and the go-hard partiers will all find something to love here. Let Wasabi take you to his wildly varied world and you’re sure to have a good time.

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Li-Wei Chu

Music and film lover from California.

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