*e-ehem* Welcome to this month’s J-Music Exchange/Rate! It’s February, smack-dab in the middle of the winter season at the time of writing, and here we are now with our second album review for the year!
The Exchange/Rate, to those of you who might be unfamiliar, is the tandem Japanese music album review series between myself and Al from Omunibasu.Blog. Each month we pitch each other albums from our respective music libraries for the other to listen to and talk about, based on a theme that we decide on beforehand. The Exchange/Rate has been a fun way for me and Al to find out and discover artists and songs outside of what we listen to in our own time, and for me personally it’s been a nice little avenue for me to just talk about Japanese music in a more free-form sort of manner, which is something that I don’t normally get to do in the Monthly Roundup.
I got to pick this month’s topic and I figured it’s about time we talked about idols. When I first mentioned this to Al, I made it a point to say that rather than Idol Music as a genre, I wanted the focus to be on “idols” as the artists themselves. I think it’s pretty fair to say (and I think Al would agree with me on this) that neither of us can be considered fans of traditional Japanese Idols. Instead, Al is well versed in the world of Idol Seiyuu and Seiyuu Artists alike, and I on the other hand find myself more so on the side of Alternative Idols. I figured this dichotomy between ourselves would be an interesting way to showcase idols beyond what one normally expects from Idol Music.
To that end, I had Al listen to the Beyond The Blue, which is an album by the idol group Yanakoto Sotto Mute: one of the most promising Alternative Idol groups to date. In turn, Al went and gave me (as you probably already know, lol) Itou Miku’s Rhythmic Flavor to do a review on. Let’s have a go at it shall we 😀
Itou Miku (伊藤美来) made her start back in 2013 as a member of StylipS, being one of two newcomer seiyuu performers to join the pop idol group alongside Toyota Moe, following the departure of two of the group’s now-former members (Ogura Yui and Ishihara Kaori). Later on, Itou and Toyota would form a duo unit of their own in 2015 called Pyxis. “Mikku” has since also made a name for herself as a voice actress. Notable roles include: Usami Nanako (Locodol), Kokoro Tsurumaki (BanG Dream!), and Nakano Miku (Go-toubun no Hanayome)
０１ BEAM YOU
０２ hello new pink
０５ Born Fighter
０６ 孤高の光 Lonely dark
０８ Sweet Bitter Sweet Days
０９ one’s heart
１０ Good Song
Ａ ｌ : As you’ve probably seen in some of my previous album recommendations to Leap, I am an avid fan of seiyuu idol hybrids when it comes to this side of otaku culture. Not only are their music and personalities fun and lovable, but the fact that they’re sometimes connected to an anime or multimedia project just makes it convienent for me to indulge in everything. The lovely and talented Itou Miku is probably one of the most popular seiyuu-idols in the industry today. Other than her being in a ton of anime, as well as wildly popular franchises such as Bang Dream and THE iDOLM@STER, Mikku has her own solo music career, with Rhythmic Flavor being her most recent release. I believe this album showcases Mikku’s vocal abilities and range pretty well; obviously you have the usual lively tracks such as “One’s Heart” and “Good Song” but she also dabbles in some styles you normally wouldn’t see her perform. I especially enjoyed the more chill songs on this album; hearing Mikku sing alongside a ‘lofi hip-hop’ type beat in “Vivace” was definitely something else.
If seiyuu idols are something you’re interested in, I honestly think Rhythmic Flavor is a solid starting point when getting into this side of idols.
＜Ｓｏｎｇｓ ｏｆ Ｉｎｔｅｒｅｓｔ＞
０１ BEAM YOU
Rhythmic Flavor starts out with BEAM YOU, and right off the bat I found myself largely surprised on two fronts. First and foremost, I was immediately caught off guard by Mikku’s singing. Not to say she has a vocal quality that I haven’t heard of, and on the contrary even, I’d say her singsongy style is pretty much par for the course when compared to the majority of both her fellow idol seiyuus and seiyuu performers. More than anything though, what really made do a double take was the pleasant subtlety of her delivery. The song is very much subdued in that regard, which I would argue is quite unlike what can be considered the prototypical Idol J-Pop song.
I would attribute this somewhat uncharacterstic sound to the other surprise I ended up having for BEAM YOU. After looking to see who were the album contributors for Rhythmic Flavor, a practice I have since picked up after my review of Hayami Saori’s JUNCTION, I found out that singer-songwriter and Roundup favorite Takeuchi Anna was responsible for writing the lyrics. Anna’s handiwork is apparent in the catchy lyricism put on display here, accentuated to great effect by the equally catchy composition (courtesy of J-Pop/R&B composers/producers from TinyVoice), which all together works amazingly well with Mikku’s playful singing style.
０３ ガーベラ/gaabera (gerbera)
Gerbera comes in as the third track off the album, and I suppose much like how it was for Hayami Saori’s album that I mentioned earlier, we do end up getting a bit of variety here in terms of genre, with this song in particular being more… anison-sounding than both BEAM YOU and hello new pink (the preceding track) with the latter instead much in the same vein as BEAM YOU still. Though not really used as a theme, I say as much because Gerbera does give off that feel that it would totally fit if it were owing to the sort of grandiose build up to a chorus that it has, which is somewhat of a staple in more traditional anison structure.
The instrumentation from here on out becomes noticeably different from how it was earlier, with an actual anison in Plunderer following this track signalling the transition to what can be considered as more conventional J-Pop for most of Rhythmic Flavor up until the last couple of songs (something that I’d like to talk about a bit more later). While we do get a song written by Mikku somewhere along the way (Itsuka kitto), I’d be curious to know how much involvement she actually had in the making of these songs, as interestingly enough I’ve come to find out (thanks to a tweet she made a couple of years back) that the ‘gerbera’ is Mikku’s birth flower!
０９ one’s heart
Towards the tail end of Rhythmic Flavor’s more Pop-ier offerings (and just near the end of the album overall) we have one’s heart, which I chose to feature here solely because of the memories it dredged up for me (XD). Now, I say that, obviously not because this was a song I’ve heard in the past, but rather it ostensibly sounds much like something I’ve listened to many times before. I don’t *think* it’s one specific song that I’m finding one’s heart reminscent to (or if it is you can bet I’m still racking my brain as to what it is), and if anything it’s really just how it sounds that evokes a sense of nostalgia in me for some reason or another.
If I had to put a name to what or who one’s heart reminds me of, to me personally I think more than anything it would be ClariS. That might come across as a surprise for some given how the tone in my writing, whenever I talk about J-Pop in my album reviews or in what I choose to feature in the Monthly Roundup, might lend someone to believe that I’m someone who’s averse to the genre when it comes to my music preferences. That being said, ClariS would be one of the first groups I started listening to in earnest, so I hold their music very near and dear to my own heart (heh) and I can definitely see this song have the same effect on others.
The last track off of Rhythmic Flavor is vivace here, and my initial thought right when I got done listening to it for the first time was that, this song has no business being as good as it is (lol). I’m being tongue in cheek of course, and I don’t mean to disparage the other tracks on the album by saying that. However, I honestly do think that this song is just that good, and in my opinion might arguably even be the best song on Rhythmic Flavor. If not, at the very least I can say without a doubt that vivace is my own personal favorite track from the album, in large part due to how it sounds relative to what I end up listening to on the regular.
The sultry coquettish singing style that Mikku employs, accompanied by some Chill-out Jazz, I thought reminded me a lot of early CICADA which I really liked. In checking to see who was in charge of producing the track this time around, I was surprised to yet again find a name that I wouldn’t have thought to be here. That person being one Kai Takahashi, who some of you might now better from his main project LUCKY TAPES, for which he serves as the main composer and producer of. His involvement shows in the overall vibe of vivace, and the style of music he brings fits Mikku incredibly well I feel. I sincerely hope she explores this sort of sound in the future.
＜Ｗｈａｔ Ｉ ｔｈｉｎｋ ｏｆ Ｒｈｙｔｈｍｉｃ Ｆｌａｖｏｒ＞
In so far as we as a society have quantified how many tastes there are and how they can affect flavor a certain way, taste (and flavor by extension) remains very much a subjective thing. I think having that idea as a sort of frame of reference to keep in mind is the best way of approaching both Itou Miku’s Rhythmic Flavor as well as albums done by seiyuu performers in general (if only for the purposes of this review) with how these sort of albums tend to be, in them being somewhat of an assortment of different sounds made by different people.
The world of idols, as it relates to both idol seiyuus and seiyuu performers (or “seiyuu artists” as they are dubbed in the context of Japanese media) is one that continually fascinates me, and is mostly the reason why I went and suggested “idols” being the theme for this month’s J-Music Exchange/Rate. I intended the focus to not be on Idol Music as a genre, but rather the idols themselves as performers and artists, as a way of showing how multifaceted the designation of such has become. In that regard, I feel might have undersold just how remarkable it was that Hayami Saori went and composed the majority of the songs for JUNCTION, as it’s standard affair for seiyuu artist albums (like Rhythmic Flavor here) to be handled by a multitude of people.
Albums that are made up of songs that were composed and produced by different people isn’t really anything unheard of even in the greater context of music production in general. That being said, I do think the practice being applied here still warrants ample if not equal praise, not just on Mikku’s behalf but for all seiyuu artists. Seiyuu artists in particular (who are voice actors primarily) oftentimes only *become* singers as a given to meet the demands of the industry, and in that light I can’t help but see their efforts as a show of their versatility as voice actors that take on different roles at a time translating, and having that translate into their singing careers.
３.７５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ ５
７.５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ １０
Of course, it helps that this isn’t Mikku’s first rodeo so to speak (with Rhythmic Flavor being her third full album), so she more than likely knows who she is as artist and what she’s capable of doing and to be fair the variety of sounds that this album has does a fair enough job of showcasing that I feel. However, one potential downside in doing so is that the album does end up feeling like a “grab bag” at times (much like my takeaway from Hayami Saori’s JUNCTION). Again, I don’t think that that’s inherently a bad thing. I mean, one way of looking at it is that Rhythmic Flavor does have a little bit of everything for everyone; apart from the songs I highlighted already, tracks like Born Fighter for instance is catered more towards Pop/Rock where as something like Sweet Bitter Sweet Days might be for those who want more traditional Idol Pop.
That’s about it from me for this review 😀
Have you listened to Itou Miku’s Rhythmic Flavor before? What are your thoughts on it if you have? I’d love to hear it! Likewise, if you haven’t yet, let me know what you think of the album after hearing me talk about it. Did I make you want to pick it up? Or did I do the opposite and turn you away from it? I wanna know too 🙂
If you’ve missed any of our reviews thus far, and I forgot to mention this last month too, you can go ahead up top in my menus toolbar and you’ll see that we do now have a page for the J-Music Exchange/Rate (or you can just click this link, lol). We have quite a few already so if there’s an album you’ve been meaning to check out but you’re on the fence about it, give it a look; maybe it’s an album Al and I have talked about before!
Lastly, don’t forget to head on over to Omunibasu.Blog for Al’s review of Yanakoto Sotto Mute’s album Beyond The Blue once you’re done here.