Checkin’ in on everyone’s summer 😀
I mean, of course, I think I speak for everyone when I say it could be better given what’s happening all over the world right now but all the same, I hope everyone’s having a nice summer wherever you may be reading this 🙂
We’re more or less in the middle of the season right now at the time of writing, and Al thought it’d be nice if we talked about albums that reminded us of summer for this month’s J-Music Exchange Rate. The Exchange/Rate is a tandem album review series between myself and Al over at Omunibasu Blog, wherein we trade each other albums for the other to listen to and discuss, as a means of introducing to you guys (as well as to one another) some of our favorite albums from our respective libraries. We’ve done a couple of these already over the past couple of months so feel free to check those out if you haven’t yet!
This was an interesting theme that Al thought up here as we had a couple of ways we could’ve gone about choosing which albums to put up. Al said as much too when he gave me his pick, but I think the reasoning for my choice of an album that was suitable for the summer season might not be super obvious, but I guess we’ll just have to see. In line with that, I suggested we try to guess in our reviews why we chose the albums that we did for the fun of it 😛
Al’s pick for an album suitable for the summer is sumika‘s “Chime“, whereas I picked out yonige‘s first full-length album “girls like girls“ for him to review over on his side.
sumika is a Kanagawa-based Japanese Rock band comprised of Kataoka Kenta (Vo./Gu.), Kuroda Junnosuke (Gu./Cho.), Arai Tomoyuki (Dr.), and Ogawa Takayuki (Key./Cho.). The band, as for its namesake (where “sumika” can be used to refer to someone’s dwellings), aims to evoke a sense of homeyness within themselves as well as in their sound, which does come across as being very free and fun. In line with this, the band is known for valuing freedom of expression in all forms during their live shows, which plays host to artists from various disciplines, not solely limited to that of music.
06 Strawberry Fields
09 Hummingbird’s Port (Instrumental)
Ａ ｌ : “If you asked me to describe sumika’s album Chime in one word, I think I’d choose ‘diverse’. Even though I prefer their first album release, which leaned more towards the rock genre than pop, I still found the amount of variety in Chime to be astounding. Each song felt like a significantly different experience from the last track; one moment you’re listening to an old timey-sounding track in “Strawberry Fields”, then a slow and relaxing song like “Himitsu” plays, then next thing you know “Flower” comes on with its fast pace and loud guitar riffs. Although some people may not enjoy this hodge-podge of music styles, I’m still in awe with how well they compiled this assortment of genres while still maintaining that ‘sumika’ charm (thanks in large part to Kataoka Kenta’s distinct vocals and Ogawa Takayuki’s keyboard playing). And on the topic of this month’s theme, I think because sumika has been known to make such upbeat and joyful-sounding songs, their specific approach towards making music, especially on this album, reminds me a lot of the fun times of summer.
And yes, while “Fanfare” and “Fiction” are the most recognizable songs in this album due to them being featured in popular anime, I believe the other tracks are worth listening to as well.”
＜Ｓｏｎｇｓ ｏｆ Ｉｎｔｅｒｅｓｔ＞
I know I’ve sort of made it a point almost to always talk about the opening track in all of my Exchange/Rate album reviews thus far so I figured I’d change it up a bit for this one. Of course, that’s not to say that “Juji no Hougaku” doesn’t warrant being talked about. The same goes for “Fanfare” and “Fiction” (both of which you may know of as themes used for “Kimi no Suizou wo Tabetai” and “Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii” respectively) that do make for a very solid sequence of tracks from the get go. It’s a good showing of sumika’s brand of Japanese Rock, in which the aforementioned songs altogether give off a very youthful and energetic Light/Soft Rock kind of sound.
I think that’s also the reason why “Monday” ended up standing out for me even more, in how much tonally different it is from the songs that precede it. This is also more or less right around the part of the album where I realized that sumika, rather than being just a Japanese Rock band, was also low key all about that Jazz (xD). Granted, I feel it’s a bit more Bluesy and Folky than straight up Jazz, and if I had to compare it to anything similar that comes to mind, I’d say the way sumika sounds here is like a good sort of cross between the Bluesy Folk Pop of OhashiTrio (who we’ve already done a review for in the past) and the light-hearted and whimsy musicality of Hoshino Gen.
06 Strawberry Fields
Another sort of commonality that you’ll see me address whenever I do these album reviews is how a lot of the times bands and artists have two ways in which they sound, in what I would call the ‘omote‘ (public face) and the ‘ura‘ (private face). The ‘omote’ sound, per its namesake of being the more outward presence, I associate with the A-Side tracks of a band/artist’s singles and/or feature songs found in other media (such as opening themes for anime) that almost always have a sense of Pop to them in their sound and structure. The ura, in that regard, is the band’s inner, more underlying sound. I would argue that the same dichotomy holds true for sumika as well.
In line with that at least I do believe that “Strawberry Fields” hones in on this sort of Bluesy Jazz ‘ura‘ side to sumika (which, ngl, in all honesty, is really hard to not like) in contrast to their high energy Light/Soft Rock present in their A-Side songs. I think, more than anything, the instrumentation that can be found in this track doesn’t sound like its from the Japanese Rock band that you’ve listened to in the songs prior to this, as they instead sound like a straight up Jazz Quartet. I mean, the snappy Jazz progression aside, the beautifully erratic pizzazz of the drums and piano in tandem is superb, and if that wasn’t enough, we even trade in the bass for a friggin’ cello! Lovely, just lovely.
I mentioned earlier that sumika provided theme songs for both “Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii” and “Kimi no Suizou wo Tabetai” and while I admittedly have not seen the former, I was a huge fan of the latter, having already read the novel that the animated movie was based on before its theatrical release. The movie (which I do recommend that you go and watch if you haven’t yet) actually ended up featuring three songs from sumika; namely the aforementioned “Fanfare”, “Himitsu”, and this track “ShunKaShuuTou”, both which find themselves as double A-Side single releases for the band. These songs would in turn be my first true exposure to sumika’s music.
While “Fanfare” brings out most of the lighthearted moments of the otherwise heart-rending drama that is “Kimi no Suizou wo Tabetai”, greatly reflected in turn by “ShunKaShuuTou”, which is a song that depicts loss and moving on from said loss as the seasons pass. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to really talk about vocalist Kataoka Kenta over the course of my review here thus far, but by that same token I do think this track might actually be my favorite showing of his vocal work. I think it’s because this song is as emotional as it is that we get to hear how good Kataoka-san is at translating that emotion to his singing, which I find very earnest and heartful.
12 あの手、この手/ano te, kono te
If we’re talking about vocals however, I would be remiss to not talk about “Ano Te, Kono Te” and, I’ll say this now, this is my favorite track off of “Chime” for more or less that very reason. This track sticks out for a good number of reasons (which in hindisght might even actually say a lot considering the album has fourteen tracks all in all), with the main one of course being the inclusion of a guest vocalist in singer-songwriter 吉澤嘉代子 (Yoshizawa Kayoko) which really did catch me by surprise as she doesn’t get credited as a featured artist as part of the song title. I surmise she was also responsible for most if not all the female backing vocals present in this album.
I thought the song was just short when I listened to it the first time because it breaks after Kataoka finishes singing his part, but then Yoshizawa comes in and makes the song her own in the second half of the song, as her smokey vocal stylings made for a perfect dance partner to sumika’s backpocket Bluesy Jazz (which I simply can’t help but not put under the spotlight it seems, given my songs of interest for this album). This ‘ura‘ sound of theirs actually comes out even harder now with the addition of a saxophone in the instrumentation, which I thought was just icing on the cake. If anything, it was a pleasant surprise of a song to come across deep into “Chime”.
＜Ｗｈａｔ Ｉ ｔｈｉｎｋ ｏｆ Ｃｈｉｍｅ＞
I wanna say that sumika’s “Chime” reminds Al of summer, mainly because of the album’s title. The sound of wind chimes are very often represented in all sorts of Japanese media to depict summer, and its visual alone (that of those ornamental glass wind chimes) are almost a staple of this imagery. There’s also the song “ShunKaShuuTou” featured here in this review that directly mentions summer in its lyrics, along with all the other seasons, which could also be a reason. On the whole, the album does have a sort of fun and refreshing feel to it too that reminds me of pool parties and beach outings (xD)
That said, I don’t think one would’ve gotten that feeling if their first time listening to any song from this album was through the songs I picked out to discuss. Like, going back to the ‘omote’ and the ‘ura’ sound that bands and artists have, I can imagine someone mistaking sumika as a more laid-back Bluesy Jazz band if I presented their songs like this, when in reality they’re generally more peppy and upbeat. Of course, this really just speaks to the sumika’s versatility in that they’re not limited to just one type of sound, but I do find the thought of bands and artists having a side to themselves that they only let people see and hear from to time fairly interesting.
That’s not to take away from the sound that sumika is known for however, and “Chime” in particular I felt did a good job of showcasing all of what the band has to offer and the some, owing to some neat little surprises here and there. Now, usually this is the part where I talk about song order (as people who have been following this review series would know, lol), but I’d say this is a good example of what I would consider an album having good placement. There’s a nice pace to the way the songs flow from one track to the next in how it goes back and forth between sumika’s ‘omote’ and ‘ura’, so there’s never any real lull or plateau as you listen to it.
４．５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ ５
９．５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ １０
sumika’s “Chime”, to me at least, is just one of those albums that keeps getting better the more times you listen to it. I mean, sure, there’s no recreating the feeling I had when I first listened to “Ano Te, Kono Te”, but songs like “Fanfare” and “Fiction” just make you want to go back and listen to it more once it gets stuck in your head. “Himitsu” and “ShunKaShuuTou” just nail the emotion every single time, with the zaniness of “Flower” and “Persona Promenade” offsetting it without fail for some nice contrast. VERY solid album in my book.
Let us know what you think of these albums down in the comments section below!
Likewise, what’s an album that reminds you of summer? We’d be curious to know!