In 2017, four Japanese school girls came together to form a new girl group. Seven years later, they’ve performed at Coachella, Head in the Clouds, and just launched a world tour. In a vacuum, this isn’t anything out of the norm for the idol group industry. However, Atarashii Gakko! aren’t just your typical idol group.

Mizyu, Rin, Kanon, and Suzuka are “alternative idols,” an idol group that strays away from the hyper-polished, traditional J-pop formula. In 2017, they explored this foray into sound by using a lot of jazz instrumentation in 2017’s maewanarai. To the traditional pop ear, maewaranai was every bit of jazzy — off-kilter beats, dissonant chord choices, and vocal melodies akin to scatting. 2019’s wakage ga itaru finds Atarashii Gakko! playing around with what would eventually become their sound. Yes, there’s still this jazz fusion, funk, pop sound from their first record, but they experiment with abrasive vocal styles and a harder rock sound, like in the opening track, “shiken zenya.”

However, with the arrival of 2021 EP Snacktime — their first after debuting worldwide under 88rising — Atarashii Gakko! was fully into the maximalist sonic space. Every song is chaotic (in a good way), filled with so many electronic accents, pulsating beats, bells, whistles, a cacophony of voices. The newly-found sound was a perfect match to what watching Atarashii Gakko! perform live is like: high-energy gymanstics (the girls are trained in a form of Japanese group gymnastics called kumitaiso), dizzying acid-trip visuals, stunts, and general chaos. And audiences ate it up.

In Atarashii Gakko’s latest record, AG! Calling, they build on this sound and somehow find a way to still make it new and exciting throughout the album’s 11 diverse tracks. The record opens with “Fly High,” an aggressive, in-your-face hip-hop track that sets the tone for what to expect. This continues well into the first half of the record, with tracks like “Toryanse” and “Omakase” merging this dance beat with Japanese instruments and melodies. “Maji Yoroshiku” then takes this energy and transforms it into a fast-paced, funk and jazz bit that is utterly unforgettable.

As the record transitions into its second half, it transforms into something more theatrical. In “Essa Hoisa,” their vocals suddenly become deep and haunting, carried under this prominent and repeating horn motif. It feels very BLACKPINK-coded — a few different beat switches, this edgy mix of rap and vocals, and the like. However, as the album moves into its only feature — fellow 88rising signee and rapper MILLI — it returns to this big, dense, chaotic field day. At this juncture, there’s this surf rock sound that is added onto the previously mentioned genres and continues into “Superhuman.”

In AG! Calling, every track seems to build on the previous one and adds another new element to what was already established. It isn’t just that the genres of the songs change from one to another, they become combined. If the first half of the album established this level of upbeat, hip-hop, heavy-hitting sounds, elements from surf rock, disco, funk, and synth-pop are added on top of each other to create this extremely maximalist soundscape. By track 11, “Tokyo Calling,” you can hear every single element that was covered in the record all in one song: it starts out with this haunting motif, then with the girls rapping aggressively, a dance-pop beat, then oriental-like sounds, and everything else in between.

AG! Calling is unequivocally Atarashii Gakko! at their best. The record not only reflects the image that they’ve established over the years, but also pushes their own creative boundaries. At it’s heart, AG! is pure eclectic chaos. In the good way, of course.

Focus tracks: “Toryanse,” “Maji Yoroshiku,” “Forever Sisters”

Listen to Atarashii Gakko’s latest record, AG! Calling below.