Review: Morning Musume – 4th “Ikimasshoi!”

2017 marks an important anniversary – it is the 20th anniversary of the formation of Morning Musume. While the group has had many iterations, 13 generations of members, name changes and both waxing and waning popularity over the years, 20 years is a major achievement for a group. This is especially notable given Morning Musume’s recent resurgence in popularity – while Morning Musume has been around for almost 20 years, I can’t see it going away any time soon.

To commemorate this I’ve decided to review all of the main Morning Musume albums through 2017, First Time through 14 Shou ~The Message~ or any Morning Musume album that comes out this year. I won’t be covering the two best of albums nor the updated album. The main goal will be to see just how Morning Musume has evolved over these 20 years.


4th Ikimasshoi comes after two years and multiple changes in Morning Musume as a group – in part because Morning Musume’s first best of album came out in between that featured several singles. Even though I’m not reviewing that album (way too much overlap between it and my previous three reviews), all the singles that are only on that album are great, and the original song, Say Yeah! Motto Miracle Night is genuinely one of Morning Musume’s best.

4th Ikimasshoi comes after the 4th and 5th generation members have been added. While 3rd Love Paradise still had some more experimental, interesting tracks that were reminiscent of Morning Musume’s start, 4th Ikimasshoi comes out when Morning Musume is fully a pop idol group. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – if I was pressed to name a favorite Morning Musume album it would probably be 4th Ikimasshoi. But it’s definitely a shift in style.

While Love Machine is Morning Musume’s biggest track, I’d say 4th Ikimasshoi is Morning Musume’s golden era album. It still features both Abe Natsumi and Goto Maki, is mostly pop-centric, and feels like Morning Musume at its peak, even if realistically it’s Morning Musume just slightly below its peak.

1. The☆Peace!

Starting it off strong – The Peace is a great album opener. It’s energetic, upbeat, and a feel good song. It’s on the level of something like Love Machine that, even if you’re not a Morning Musume fan, this is still a great song. Last May a friend of mine and I went out to do karaoke together. Near the end of our karaoke time one of the employees came in to tell us our time was almost up while we were singing The Peace together. The employee ended up joining in for some of the “Peace Peace” bits at the end, that’s just how infectious this song is.

Arranged by the one the only Dance Man, The Peace is a jam from start to finish. There’s an energy throughout the song that’s great, and it doesn’t let up. I might just be a biased fan here, but even Ishikawa Rika’s spoken monologue has a decent energy to it as well.

I also really love the lyrics to The Peace – a lot of them are nonsensical and jump from one thing to another, sure, but that makes it true to life. It takes small ideas about not being able to choose what size pizza to order or signing up for English conversation classes and elevates them. The idea is that being with someone you love elevates these small things to becoming major, to becoming important, and I love how it works in The Peace.

The Peace is one of my favorite Morning Musume songs ever. It is a nonstop joy, and if you’re one of the five Morning Musume fans who don’t know it then go and listen immediately. 10/10

2. Ii Koto Aru Kinen no Shunkan

This isn’t one of the more well known songs off of the album, but it’s kid of an underlistened gem for me. It has a great 1950s pop sound that is just happy and pleasant, which is created by a great melody and a great Dance*Man arrangement makes this song work. It’s perhaps not quite as ambitious as some of the other songs on 4th Ikimasshoi, but that doesn’t detract from this.

One of the things that strikes me about Ii Koto Aru Kinen no Shunkan is the vocal mix – the vocal production and overall sound of this song is super polished and works really well. At this point Morning Musume had a decent mix of performers who could sing well (Abe, Goto, Yasuda) and those who weren’t as great at singing (Tsuji, Konno, and yes, Ishikawa), but all the voices sound great here and mix well here. The actual instrumentation and arrangement work well too with strings, background vocals, what sounds like a glockenspiel, etc. This is a really well put together song.

I don’t know if I’d consider this a personal favorite song of mine from the album because there are so many greats and Ii Koto isn’t one of the more memorable songs. That being said, I think it shows the overall quality of the era to have such a well put together song not be the memorable one. 8/10

3. Mr. Moonlight ~Ai no Big Band~ (Long Version). 

The Peace was technically the Complete Version, because the end of the song got to the end rather than fading out. Instead of something like that for Mr. Moonlight, there is now a roughly 3 minute spoken skit at the beginning with all of the members. It’s kind of interesting, but it’s mostly extraneous. Some of the members have some funny bits (Yoshizawa Hitomi hams it up and it is just delightful), but it’s a bit long and not gold all the way through – there’s a bouncer at this party who inexplicably has a lot to say. It’s fine, but if I just had 4th Ikimasshoi I’d fast forward through this after the first few listens, as it doesn’t add much of anything.

The rest of the song is classic Morning Musume gold. It perfectly incorporates a big, brassy, big band sound (hence the title) while also being a tribute to the Takarazuka theater. The arrangement is lush and fantastic – obviously the brass is the star here, but there’s a great bass sound to everything, the drums are particularly good, and everything works well with that. The performances are great by the main three, not being afraid to ham it up a little but being appropriately suave. Yoshizawa Hitomi was a perfect star of Mr. Moonlight, and her performance works very well here.

Mr. Moonlight is musically fantastic – every note, every element works perfectly. I’m not a huge fan of the extended intro for the long version, but the original is one of the absolute greats of Morning Musume’s discography. 9/10

4. Hajimete no Rock Concert

The most immediately noticeable thing about Hajimete no Rock Concert is that there’s no real rock sound to it – aside from a short electric guitar note near the end of the song, there’s nothing about this that feels like rock music at all. It’s much more late 90s / early 2000s r&b than anything. This isn’t bad – I actually really like Hajimete no Rock Concert as a song, but there’s a bit of cognitive dissonance between the title / subject matter and the actual music.

The song works really well, and I like the mix of electronic sounds and strings – the more classical strings are great here, and I like whenever they’re more pizzicato. I also really like the dark feel of the song. It’s not the song that’s aged the best out of this album, but it’s still a fun listen.

This is a unit song, with only six of the members of the group on it. I actually really like how many small units are on this album – I think that’s something more idol albums should do, actually. The only thing is, while most of this group sounds great, Tsuji Nozomi’s voice sticks out like a sore thumb. I get they didn’t want all of 4th generation on Densha no Futari, the other small group song, but I’d rather hear Kago’s voice on this than Tsuji’s. Her part is pretty short, but it takes me out of it whenever I hear her. That said, all the members sound fine, and Ogawa Makoto’s spoken monologues work really well here – she’s a member who I really think should have gotten a better shake within MM.

Hajimete no Rock Concert is probably my least favorite song off 4th Ikimasshoi, but that’s not a bad thing – it’s a solid r&b track with some good strings and good performances. I think more than anything that shows just how solid of an album 4th Ikimasshoi is. 7/10

5. Otoko Tomodachi

Four albums in and we still need to have an Abe Natsumi-driven song on every Morning Musume album. That’s not a bad thing, though, because Otoko Tomodachi is so great. In fact, the lyrics make me feel like this isn’t a song that could be done as a group – the song lyrics are very specifically about one person and are focused on this one person’s experiences. Natsumi also performs it pretty perfectly and, beyond her being the lead singer of the group, it fits her perfectly. So even though some Morning Musume fans at this time felt something of a Nacchi fatigue, I don’t think this would work quite as well with Goto Maki, Takahashi Ai, Yasuda Kei, or any other member of the group – Nacchi’s vocals and vocal performance carry Otoko Tomodachi.

The rest of the song is relatively simple, rock-inspired pop song but it works because the melody is so great, the performance is great, the lyrics work, the background vocals work. Everything about this is the ideal standard pop song – it might not be breaking ground in the same way something like Mr. Moonlight does, but instead this feels like a carefully, well-constructed song with a catchy melody and great vocals.

Otoko Tomodachi is a classic, and a deserved one. 9/10

6. Souda! We’re Alive

I recently wrote about Souda! We’re Alive for my Song of the Day posts, but I’ll say it again – Souda! We’re Alive is underrated. Not because it’s unloved or disliked – it’s not. But I think it’s genuinely one of Morning Musume’s best tracks ever and is genuinely pretty perfect, blending a variety of genres and sounds to make something really special, I’d say even on the level of a Love Machine or Renai Revolution 21 in terms of quality.

More than anything I’d say this is one of Dance Man’s finest arrangements – the bass sound adds to the funk feel of much of the song, and he handles how much the song changes with panache. My favorite part is definitely the great bassline, but the entire song works.

If you’re familiar with current idol composers this feels in many ways like a proto-Hyadain song in the best way – there are various sections in this song that feel completely distinct (the sung/shouted “doryoku, mirai, etc.” lines, the sweeter chorus, the funky verses, the vaguely Russian/funk bridge), but despite how much things change over the song it all works together well. It also has a ton of energy – the repeated “doryoku, mirai, etc.” lines build up really well, as do the rest of the verses, and I love how the pay off to this build up is the sweet, poppy “shiawase ni naritai” chorus. The tone of the song varies, but the energy is always solid and I love how different the song sounds throughout.

Souda! We’re Alive is a masterpiece, and one of the best songs Morning Musume has ever done. 10/10

7. Dekkai Uchuu Ni Ai Ga Aru (Album Version) 

Dekkai Uchuu ni Ai ga Aru is a fairly simple song, not quite as strange as a Souda! We’re Alive, but it still is a good one and comes in at a good place in the album – after an off the wall, strange song like Souda, having a more subdued (but still upbeat) track be the middle track of an album works really well as a little breather. The song is mostly sung in unison and has been performed during some charity events because of its relatively uplifting / positive lyrics. I think it fits this role really well – it’s supposed to be a heart-warming song but it doesn’t veer into being too cheesy or saccharine. I also like how upbeat the song ends up being – it could easily be a slow dirge of a song but it works well at this tempo.

Dekkai Uchuu ni Ai ga Aru isn’t as original or interesting as some of the other songs on this album but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a very well put together, solid pop track with a great instrumental. It’s not a song I turn to a lot, but when I do I end up liking it. 7/10

8. Ikimasshoi!

After the relatively restrained Dekkai Uchuu ni Ai ga Aru comes another more upbeat song with Ikimasshoi. Ikimasshoi is pure energy, even more so than the other songs that have been featured on this album. While not quite as well written or as interesting like something like Souda! We’re Alive, Ikimasshoi is like eating pure sugar. In a good way. In many ways, Ikimasshoi feels like the start of a lot of current Hello!Project, emphasizing energy over refinement. The song is great, to be sure, but the arrangement in some ways leaves something to be desired, as it mostly seems to eschew real instruments for whatever they can do electronically. This works a lot here, but I wish that there were some real strings at the start of the song rather than the computer approximation sometimes. It works in a song like Ikimasshoi just fine, but it feels like the lesson from 4th Ikimasshoi was that this would work for most songs, which it really doesn’t.

All that being said, don’t get me wrong- Ikimasshoi is pretty wonderful, and it does what it sets out to do well. It’s supposed to be high energy, the song to pump you up – this is a song that would be so much fun at a concert. I’m not sure it set the best precedent for H!P, but it’s still a great song. 8/10

9. Densha no Futari

The second small group song after Hajimete no Rock Concert, Densha no Futari works a little bit better. It’s one of those songs where I’m surprised at the restraint – Abe Natsumi is in this and yet she generally takes a backseat. The style of the song also works well with making the lesser vocally talented members like Ishikawa Rika and Konno Asami work well, often having a more breathy sound to their vocals.

Densha no Futari is one of the more underrated tracks off of 4th Ikimasshoi, which is a shame because it has a great, almost darker sound to it. It’s fast paced, but it’s much more subdued than something like Ikimasshoi, which gives it an interesting energy. I’d say there’s more tension than pure energy in Densha no Futari. It also has a pretty solid arrangement, with melding electronic sounds, a solid beat, an acoustic guitar.

If you haven’t listened to Densha no Futari, check it out. It has a really interesting sound, makes good use of all of the members on the track, and every element works well. 9/10

10. Honki de Atsui Theme Song

This is the other majorly underlistened track on 4th Ikimasshoi, which is a total shame. This is yet another collaboration with Dance*Man, and as evidenced with his other songs it works really well. Honki de Atsui Theme Song also had a separate arranger for the brass/horns, which is a good sing for me liking a song. And it works here, there’s a lot of brass sound throughout which works well. That said the entire arrangement works well – there’s a great guitar solo near the end, there are some great background vocals throughout as well.

Honki de Atsui Theme Song is a funky, upbeat song that I’m surprised didn’t catch on more or that wasn’t used more. I love how energetic it is, but I also love just how this song needs to be sung with a lot of passion. And all the members do a great job of infusing it with this level of energy and putting a lot of effort into it.

All that being said, the melody is great as well, and this song further cements just how great the collaboration between Tsunku and Dance*Man was. Honki de Atsui Theme Song is one of those songs where you should absolutely give it a shot if you haven’t yet. 10/10

11. Suki na Senpai

Suki na Senpai is one of those songs where I don’t know if I can easily separate the song from what it’s become. Rather than just being a pretty standard pop song, it’s become a Hello!Project institution, sung by new members of Hello!Project groups fairly regularly. I’ll do my best, but Suki na Senpai is one of those songs that is kind of bigger than the actual song itself.

Suki na Senpai is generally a pretty solid, standard pop song, but I think it stands out in the lyrics and performances. The first line sung by Konno Asami about loving to sing even though she can’t do it well just feels real in a way that not a lot of idol songs feel – even though the song is theoretically aimed at someone in a school, the lyrics are all focused on the questions and worries of someone new to something. This is the perfect song for new members of Morning Musume, as it feels like it leans into the insecurity of being a new member to an established girl group rather than pretending things are going just fine. I think there’s a reason that this still gets performed very frequently.

Suki na Senpai is, on its surface, a pretty standard pop song, but is elevated by the lyrics and performance. 8/10

12. Renai Revolution 21 (13nin version)

I feel like this goes without saying. While Love Machine is Morning Musume’s best known song, I believe that Renai Revolution 21 is Morning Musume’s best song. It’s a perfect mix of a catchy melody, fun performances, and one of Dance Man’s best arrangements. Renai Revolution is epitome of classic Morning Musume and classic Hello!Project’s disco pop sound and it does it near perfectly. It’s also the type of song I’ll never get sick of. Over the past 9-10 years I’ve listened to Renai Revolution 21 countless times and it still pumps me up every single time.

There is nothing I can say against Renai Revolution 21. Every element works well together perfectly. One interesting element is that with all the various parts sung by the members of the group and all the vocals, the song almost always has vocals on top of the instrumentation. However, it’s one of those things I never really think about because all the various layers of vocals and instruments work just perfectly.

Every element is perfect. All together this song is perfect. Renai Revolution 21 is perfect. 10/10

13. Nanni mo Iwazu ni I Love You

I actually don’t listen to this version of the song that much, because I honestly prefer the version performed as a cover by the group v-u-den. That said, this version is still solid. It has a good melody and I love the feel of this song. While this isn’t necessarily as upbeat or as interesting as many of the other songs on the album, this is a pretty nice way to end the album, with a warm, positive feeling. It’s maybe not the song I would have chosen (I might be inclined to end 4th Ikimasshoi with Honki de Atsui Theme Song), but it’s a nice song.

The song starts off in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s aged well (it feels very 90s and not in a great way), but as the song progresses and more members start singing it works very well. It has a heartwarming feel in general, even if it’s a bit cheesy with it. I still think that v-u-den’s version is a bit better, but that’s partially virtue of being released several years later and it not feeling as dated.

Nanni mo Iwazu ni I Love You isn’t the best song on 4th Ikimasshoi but it is a very solid way to end this exceptional album 7/10

Overall: 4th Ikimasshoi is a pop music masterpiece. Every song is great, and there are several songs on this album I would consider to be Morning Musume’s finest. The songs are well written, well arranged, and this group of members performs them well. After listening and reviewing 4th Ikimasshoi I have to say that I stand by my insistence that it is Morning Musume’s finest work.

Review: Morning Musume – 3rd Love Paradise

2017 marks an important anniversary – it is the 20th anniversary of the formation of Morning Musume. While the group has had many iterations, 13 generations of members, name changes and both waxing and waning popularity over the years, 20 years is a major achievement for a group. This is especially notable given Morning Musume’s recent resurgence in popularity – while Morning Musume has been around for almost 20 years, I can’t see it going away any time soon.

To commemorate this I’ve decided to review all of the main Morning Musume albums through 2017, First Time through 14 Shou ~The Message~ or any Morning Musume album that comes out this year. I won’t be covering the two best of albums nor the updated album. The main goal will be to see just how Morning Musume has evolved over these 20 years.


In many ways, 3rd ~ Love Paradise ~ is Morning Musume’s biggest pivot. While you could make arguments for different albums and different singles introducing new sound or something new, 3rd Love Paradise has the introduction of Goto Maki and Love Machine, the single that I’d say is the most influential of Morning Musume history. I mean, when it’s Morning Musume’s breakout hit it makes sense. But this represents a shift, from old-school era to golden era. From the era of artist Morning Musume to the era of idols. I’m making this sound more dramatic than it is – it’s not like they went straight from Morning Coffee to a recent song like Brand New Morning in nothing. The shift is still gradual. But it is a shift indeed. Also, it went from the Abe Natsumi and no one else era of Morning Musume (as emphasized in Furusato, the single which is all Natsumi all the time) to the Abe Natsumi Goto Maki led era, which in many ways feels like a template for the Takahashi Ai Tanaka Reina era a few years later.

1. ~Ohayou~

While there are 12 tracks in 3rd Love Paradise, three out of these are spoken monologues over music – one at the start, one at the end, and one in the middle. So there’s not much to say. I like the idea of bookending an album like this – v-u-den did it well with Suite Room Number 1. But ~Ohayou~ veers into being too long. It’s well put together – the music in the background is mostly orchestral, which feels very old-school Disney Princess, with a strong hip hop beat underneath it, and each member doing a short spoken peace. I’m not sure if it’s necessarily what I want to wake me up in the morning (Ohayou being ‘good morning’) but it’s fine. Individually I don’t want to give this a score, but I’m not sure why this was chosen to be the opening, knowing what the next song would be.

2. Love Machine

The one, the only. I don’t know if it’s possible for me to be critical of a song quite so legendary as Love Machine. It’s Morning Musume’s biggest hit and it’s still a widely known song. I’d also say it’s for good reason. I’ve been listening to Love Machine for nearly 10 years, and it still gets me pumped up to listen to. It’s paced pretty perfectly, with enough interesting sections so that the song isn’t just homogenous. It’s arrangement, by Dance*Man, is just perfection. It’s got a great bass beat underneath the song, the melody is catchy, it’s weird in the best of ways. The only thing I wish from Love Machine is that there would be a few more real instruments, but even then it’s perfect as it is now, glossy and exciting. Love Machine is well deserved as Morning Musume’s most famous song. 10/10

3. Aisha Loan de
While Love Machine certainly does this, I feel like 3rd Love Paradise as a whole is really the move from old school Morning Musume to what the group became afterwards, which is an idol group. While it might be possible to name both singles, Love Machine and Koi no Dance Site, as flukes, the rest of the songs in 3rd Love Paradise reflect this trajectory. For example, while there are some harmonies in Aisha Loan de, they’re kept to the background and the focus is on solo line taking the melody. Gone are the complex vocals of Summer Night Town, which is a little bit of a shame. That’s not to say Morning Musume’s pop-focused trajectory is bad, but it’s just easy to see how they got there.

This song is a little bizarre in its execution. It’s generally a catchy pop tune, but all the vocals are clipped and short. Where you might expect someone to sing out, most of the vocal lines aren’t held very long, which makes for an interesting effect. It’s also not executed perfectly – there’s a couple of lines sung by a group where one member sings much longer than the others, which just sounds strangely sloppy, as if they were in a rush to get this record out and didn’t have time to rerecord those vocals. The background instrumental is strange and fun, and has some good parts, but the best part of the instrumental takes place when none of the members are singing.

Aisha Loan de is a pretty cute song, and relatively fun to listen to. However, it’s not one that I find particularly memorable. 7/10

4. Kuchizuke no Sono Ato

I really like the feel the acoustic guitar gives this song – it has a real folk /unplugged feel to it, even though there are more instruments than that acoustic guitar by a long shot. It’s specifically going for a laid back but still upbeat song, and I think they succeeded.

Much like Aisha Loan de, there’s one or two lines that are extended a little too long. Both times seem to be Ichii Sayaka, so it feels like they brought her in for a different time to record these songs and just didn’t direct her in the same way? It’s just bizarre and a little distracting, once I’ve listened.

The song that weirdly enough reminds me of Kuchizuke no Sono Ato is Iida Kaori’s solo song Aegekai ni Dakarete, especially in the chorus. I don’t know if this was an inspiration for Kaori’s Mediterranean inspired pop career, but that’s the feel I get from a few lines of melody and a little of the instrumentation with the acoustic guitar.

More than anything, though, while Kuchizuke no Sono Ato is nice it’s not particularly memorable one way or another. It’s pleasant to listen to, and it has a nice melody, but it’s not a song I’ll revisit much. It’s not quite as vocals driven as early Musume but not as polished as later Musume. 6/10

5. Koi no Dance Site

I’m finding it incredibly hard to be in any way critical of classic, golden era Morning Musume. While my personal knowledge of the group mainly kicks off starting with the introduction of the 4th generation (considering I’m an Ishikawa Rika fan), Love Machine and Koi no Dance Site are still incredibly familiar songs to me. And while I have a lot of nostalgia and love for Koi no Dance Site, it’s not without its flaws.

It’s in many ways based in some stereotypes of Indian people, which they’ve also used in songs like Happy Summer Wedding and Odore Morning Curry. The bridge section that’s just “Uh! Ha!” lasts about twice as long as it needs to. And yet, it’s still just a fun song.

I think it’s to Morning Musume’s credit that they went with something very different but with a similar energy to Love Machine. When a group has a breakout hit, it can be easy to just want to emulate that hit over and over again. And yet, while it bears some resemblance to Love Machine, there’s no denying it’s a very different song fundamentally.

Even though it’s flawed, Koi no Dance Site is goofy, fun, and a good choice of a song for Morning Musume. I love this unabashedly – even though it’s not on par with something like Love Machine, that’s an unbelievably high bar. 8/10

6. Lunchtime ~Rebanira Itame~

I don’t even know how to review this. This is a three and a half minute interlude that’s set up like a radio show, except it’s more often than not nonsensical and just strange, with Morning Musume just repeating the phrase “rebanira itame” (which is a leek and liver stir fry) over and over. But then that phrase occasionally gets remixed into kind of a dance track for a few seconds? And the majority of the spoken part is a male announcer?

I’m of two minds on this one. On the one hand I like just how goofy and weird it is – doing stuff like this is what made me interested in Hello!Project in the first place. Having a strange spoken interlude of nonsense is just great. I just don’t know how it works in the album. 3rd Love Paradise isn’t conceptual in the way that, say, v-u-den’s Suite Room no 1 is. Aside from the opening, the ending, and this middle interlude, it doesn’t feel like any sort of concept album. It also goes on a bit too long – three and a half minutes of this is a lot, especially if you want to listen to music. It kind of breaks up the flow of the album in a way that I’m not sure I like.

7. DANCE Suru no Da!

Man I love this song. I mean, it is kind of in my wheelhouse, having a funk/disco feel to it, but it’s a great, happy song that almost surprises me to come out of this era – it feels a lot more like something that should have been on 4th Ikimasshoi, with 4th and 5th generation members.

Much like Koi no Dance Site and Love Machine, this is arranged by Dance Man and that’s where this song shines. The melody is pretty basic, but the arrangement makes it all shine, with a lot of strings and a great bass sound – I almost wish the bass took a more prominent role in all of this, but most of the instrumentation is in the background to the vocals, which isn’t unexpected for a Morning Musume track.

Partly cheesy and partly Jackson Five inspired, Dance Suru no Da is silly, fun, and an incredibly catchy tune. It’s not a top tier song in the way that Love Machine is, but again that’s a tough comparison to make. 9/10

8. Omoide
This feels a lot closer to old school Morning Musume than something like Dance Suru no Da – it’s jazzy but with some Spanish guitar thrown in. Probably my favorite part of Omoide is the vocal performance – the vocals are soft and breathy, but they’re also clipped and short at points. The vocal production of this is solid, and all the members sound great. This is the type of song that suits Iida Kaori well. All the members sound like they fit a song like this, though.

I also like the vocalizations in between the chorus and the verse – they work really well. The whole mix of the song works well, with the drums, the strings, the guitar, bass, etc. The overall sound of this is built up well. At certain points in the verses the instrumental isn’t quite as impressive, but the vast majority of the song works really well.

Omoide is, ironically enough, not the most memorable song for me but I really do enjoy it. It isn’t quite as good as some of the other tracks on this album, but it’s very well put together 8/10

9. Harajuku 6:00 Shuugou

Much like Omoide this is more of a jazzy sound, but one that I’m not entirely sure about. The entire song sounds too busy throughout. There are a lot of background sounds that are pretty constant, even some animal sounds which are a little bizarre. The song is so busy that it’s distracting.

That all being said, once you peel back the layers and busy sounds it does have a nice melody and some lovely harmonies. The song itself is good, and, to be fair, the extra noises do make it pretty interesting. That said, it’s mostly just distracting.

Harajuku 6:00 Shuugou is in general good but not necessarily memorable, and the extra background noises make it a song that I don’t really feel like revisiting much. 6/10

10. WHY

This song exists almost entirely as a gimmick – each member of Morning Musume sings a different syllable of the song except for a few lines. While it is a gimmick it mostly works – all the members sing this ina breathy voice and so all the members singing individual lines gives it a dreamlike, almost ethereal effect – it has a very interesting sound to it that I appreciate.

The arrangement is great too – it’s very laidback, with guitar and an r&b type sound. It works really well with the dreamy vocals, to create an interesting overall sound.

The only baffling section is that about 2/3 through the song there’s a much louder, much noisier section – it’s almost like a dubstep break except over ten years too early. I appreciate the change of pace, but I’m not sure it entirely works.

WHY is the type of song that should be pure gimmick, but it manages to have an interesting sound that I love. 9/10

11. …Suki da yo!

The last real song of the album is an upbeat, disco/funk track, which you know I’m all about. Suki da yo was arranged by Dance*Man, so it is understandably a polished and well put together track. It also had a separate arranger for horns, which makes sense because the horns are just fantastic – I’m a sucker for pop songs with a solid horn section, so Suki da yo makes me happy that way too.

As I mentioned with my last couple of Morning Musume album reviews I look for the last song as a place to leave the album. Suki da yo does that perfectly, as it is just a delight from start to finish. The melody’s fun, there’s a great bass line, and I love the section near the end where various vocal sections overlap each other. Suki da yo is pure fun, and a worthy track. I wish it was performed more – I think it would be an interesting song to hear from the current slate of Morning Musume performers.

The only thing is that initially I wasn’t sure how I liked the vocal mixing in this – the vocal line is kind of quiet and the vocals aren’t sung with quite as much gusto as with Love Machine. However, this still works well in Suki da yo and I don’t have any other major complaints. Suki da yo is a total joy. 10/10

12. Oyasumi
One last spoken monologue, with music box music in the background. It certainly fits the theme of being the “good night” monologue and as a bookend with Ohayou, but at the same time I don’t know if I like where it ends the album. Suki da yo ends on such a big, positive, happy note, and Oyasumi takes all that energy and gets rid of it.

It’s certainly not a bad monologue, and I wouldn’t mind a more structured, thematic Morning Musume album. I just don’t know if 3rd Love Paradise is it.

Overall: 3rd Love Paradise is an interesting beast. On the one hand, it is a collection of some very good music. None of the songs are particularly bad, and even the songs I like least I still like a lot. It might not be quite as musically challenging as something like First Time or Second Morning, but it also has some very solid upbeat tracks like Love Machine, Dance Suru no Da and Suki da yo. It signifies a move to these more upbeat tracks, but still maintains some interesting stuff – WHY is interesting and fantastic.

The biggest issue I have is that the framing device feels unnecessary. It makes me think of v-u-den’s album Suite Room no 1 – that is structured in a very similar way, where the start of the album is checking into a hotel and the end is checking out. However, the album songs are structured carefully and in a way that makes sense. Aside from the three framing monologues, I don’t feel like 3rd Love Paradise is structured in a way that warrants this device. It feels like they wanted to get an album out fast to capitalize on Love Machine and Koi no Dance Site’s popularity, but needed something to pad the tracklist from 9 tracks to 12.

That being said, it’s not a huge deal, especially if you just want to listen to the songs. Purely on a musical basis, the nine main songs of 3rd Love Paradise are excellent and well worth your time, especially if you’re a newer Morning Musume fan looking to explore the group’s discography.

Review: Morning Musume – Second Morning

2017 marks an important anniversary – it is the 20th anniversary of the formation of Morning Musume. While the group has had many iterations, 13 generations of members, name changes and both waxing and waning popularity over the years, 20 years is a major achievement for a group. This is especially notable given Morning Musume’s recent resurgence in popularity – while Morning Musume has been around for almost 20 years, I can’t see it going away any time soon.

To commemorate this I’ve decided to review all of the main Morning Musume albums through 2017, First Time through 14 Shou ~The Message~ or any Morning Musume album that comes out this year. I won’t be covering the two best of albums nor the updated album. The main goal will be to see just how Morning Musume has evolved over these 20 years.


Second Morning is a really interesting album for me because it’s a pretty definitive end of an era. It’s the last album with Fukuda Asuka, the first member of the group to leave, and it’s the last release of any kind before Goto Maki joined the group and they put out Love Machine, the two things that kicked off both the golden era of Morning Musume and the current trajectory. Morning Musume before Love Machine was more artists than idols, but Love Machine was a major turning point. So this is the last hurrah for artist group Morning Musume before they became idol group Morning Musume.

1. Night of Tokyo City 

So last review I wrote briefly about album pacing and song orders and how I thought Samishii Hi, while a great song, was a weird choice for the last song. Night of Tokyo City is a great way to start out an album. Right off the bat there’s a great energy and electronic sound, and then all the members shouting the first lyrics of the song. It’s an immediate burst of energy, which is a great way to not only start off this album but establish it as something different from First Time. There’s nothing quite like Night of Tokyo City on First Time – Summer Night Town possibly comes closest, but even that has a different vibe. It’s slower, slightly more laid back. The intro of Night of Tokyo City is a brand new Morning Musume.

The rest of Night of Tokyo City is great too. It combines the best of both worlds with early Morning Musume. It has the energy of the golden era lineups from later years, but has the musicality of early Morning Musume, with harmonies, back and forth vocal parts, some great background vocals. This is using a group to its fullest. The cool feel and energy of the song starting off an album feels like the start of a trend that really started with Morning Musume’s Rainbow 7 album, which is starting off an album with an upbeat song with a cool image (think SONGS, Moonlight Night ~Tsukiyo no Ban da yo~, Genki+, that sort of thing). Which is not a bad place to start – all the songs I listed are fantastic and some of my favorite songs to listen to. It’s a great way to kick things off, which is part of why Night of Tokyo City.

If I had any quibbles with Night of Tokyo City it would be that the instrumentation is pretty workmanlike. It’s not bad – there’s a great beat and the keyboard solo is especially memorable. That said, this is pretty clearly the start of Morning Musume opting for more electronic instruments rather than having actual instruments perform the arrangement. That said, the parts that stand out (like said keyboard solo) are great, and the lush vocals more than make up for this. 10/10

2. Manatsu no Kousen

If you ever asked me to name the most underrated Morning Musume single, I’d first tell you that’s a weird request, but then I’d immediately mention Manatsu no Kousen. It’s hardly ever mentioned when people talk or write about classic Morning Musume (the focus tends to be on Morning Coffee, Memory Seishun no Hikari, and gee isn’t it weird that Furusato is basically an Abe Natsumi solo?), and I’d say it’s pretty handily the most underrated single of pre-Love Machine Morning Musume. I once knew someone who, perhaps facetiously, mentioned that Manatsu no Kousen was when early Morning Musume concert-goers took a bathroom break. All of this is to say I think that Manatsu no Kousen is a very good song.

I think the thing I love about it is how perfect of a summer song it is for me. While I like a lot of the other summer songs that have been released lately (AKB48’s Ponytail to Shushu, Super Girls’ Max Otome Gokoro, etc.) is that summer songs tend to be super upbeat, cheery. While I love listening to songs like that, Manatsu no Kousen feels like summer to me – more laidback, more breezy, calling for an endless summer. It genuinely feels like a summer song.

Beyond that it has a great disco feel to the song, a great arrangement, and some beautiful vocals and harmonies from Morning Musume. The entire song has a great relaxed feel to it while simultaneously being a great song. The album features a “Vacation Mix” rather than the original on the single – however, there isn’t all that much different, at least from what I can listen to, just a few updates to the background vocals and arrangement mostly.

Manatus no Kousen is unfairly overlooked, but it’s a really great track. 10/10

3. Memory Seishun no Hikari

As I mentioned in my look at Manatsu no Kousen, Memory Seishun no Hikari gets quite a bit of attention, and I’d say for good reason – it’s a great song that shows off the talent of Morning Musume. It’s also no surprise, then why this song has been performed as a solo to show off vocal skill in some other members of Hello!Project. While the intention is good, I’m not sure any of them really can pull this song off, and I’m also surprised at the prevalence of Memory Seishun no Hikari being performed as a solo song, when the vocal line works especially well with a group. Much like many of the tracks off First Time, Memory Seishun no Hikari has harmonies, multiple vocal parts, and so many overlapping parts. Even when Abe Natsumi (and to a lesser extent Fukuda Asuka) takes the main vocals, the rest of the group still has plenty to do. It’s part of what makes Memory Seishun no Hikari shine – just the melody line isn’t interesting, when compared to the melody plus the harmony.

The other notable aspect of Memory Seishun no Hikari is the rap sections, which aren’t really the norm in Morning Musume tracks, at least not performed by the members of the group – the only other example I can think of is maybe Take Off is Now, off of Platinum 9 Disc, but again it’s a rarity. It cements the R&B sound of the song, but also that combined with the melody and beat really dates this song – this more than perhaps any other Morning Musume single sounds VERY 90s. It’s the kind of song that I look back on fondly, but it’s hard not to laugh a bit at the rap, especially “You’re the love of my life, word.” which makes me giggle every time. This all combined with the song being fairly serious makes many aspects of it a bit hilarious in hindsight.

Memory Seishun no Hikari is a lovely song but man is it dated. 9/10.

4. Suki de x5
Suki de x5 is more of a song that I admire rather than a song I like. This song is pure jazz, and almost feels more experimental than most Morning Musume songs, even when they veer into different genres. There’s a whole lot going on, instruments overlapping each other, dissonant sounds, instruments clashing with each other. The vocal melody sung by the members also clashes, never really feeling like it fits with the instrumentation. In many ways the melody often feels like it would fit with an arrangement similar to Memory Seishun no Hikari’s – there feels like there’s a ballad buried under there, the jazz only emerging when words or phrases are repeated several times.

Because of this, Suki de x5 isn’t the most fun song to listen to. There are fun aspects – I love all the instrumentation. The drums sound great, as does the double bass, as does the saxophone. Each individual element works, but they don’t really work well together. However, it feels like this might be intentional, especially if you take the song togehter with the lyrics. The lyrics are a mishmash too, love mixed with hate, I love yous followed by tears. The lyrics focus on mixed emotions, so is it any wonder that the song would be a jumble too? This all makes Suki de x5 really interesting and unexpected from an idol group. Granted, this doesn’t mean that I’m going to listen to the song many more times.

Suki de x5 is a weird beast of a song – it’s not very pleasant to listen to, but one of the more interesting songs on the list. I feel like I could be justified in giving this a 5/10 or a 10/10 for different reasons, so I feel like it almost defies ranking systems. Still, I’ll give it a 7/10.

5. Furusato

Let’s get this out of the way right away – yes, this is pretty much 100% Abe Natsumi’s solo. The rest of Morning Musume performs background vocals and some harmonies, but those are minimal. Yes, earlier songs featured Nacchi as the lead vocalist, but the harmonies played a significant part of the enjoyment of the song. This is pretty much a solo song with some background vocals slapped in. Now, I’ve never been a huge fan of this style of focusing almost entirely on one or two front girls – my view is that you have a group, use it for a reason, either for harmonizing or spreading the solo parts to the rest of the group. That all being said, at least with the Nacchi focused group at least she’s a great singer, and performs Fusuato very well. Her vocals fit the song, and I wouldn’t be too surprised if Tsunku wrote the song with it being a solo song for her in mind.

I really love the instrumentation of Furusato. It almost sounds nostalgic in itself – part of that might be my own experience listening to this song about nine years ago for the first time, but the whatever keyboard sound they chose to use at the start of the song almost evokes the same kind of twang of a harpsichord or a shamisen. I realize those are two completely different instruments, but it feels more like a plucking noise rather than the percussive sound of a piano. It feels old-fashioned, and even though the background vocals don’t get the same amount of significance here as they do in earlier sounds, they sound forlorn, adding a lot of effect. The piano-heavy sound for the rest of the song works really well, too – the melody, lyrics and instrumentation all sound nostalgic and work well together.

One thing that does bug me about Furusato, though, is the weird electronic blip that pops up every few seconds – it’s not a bad effect, but its frequency is impossible to ignore. It’s a bit grating, and I’m almost annoyed that I started to notice it!

For all its criticism over being an Abe Natsumi solo, Furusato is great and a great addition to this album. 8/10

6. Daite Hold on Me!

First off, much like Manatsu no Kousen before it, this is a special remix for the album – however, there’s not all that much different in this version than the original single version, just some extra mixing. Next, Daite Hold on Me! has a special place in my heart because of the TV show Utaban, where Iida Kaori’s spoken “Nee Waratte” line at the end became a running joke. Because of this, I can’t listen to this song without laughing to myself a little.

That all being said, Daite Hold on Me is very good – it has a similar feeling of datedness much like Memory Seishun no Hikari, but at the same time has a lot of energy to it. The strings make it have a disco feel to it, which I definitely appreciate it. There is a rap section, but this time performed by Morning Musume themselves. I wouldn’t consider any of the members of Morning Musume to be particularly proficient at rap (perhaps why they hired someone else to do it in Memory Seishun no Hikari) but they don’t really need to be – with a song this energetic, all you really need is some shouting, which they do admirably.

Daite Hold on Me has a lot of energy and doesn’t really let up. It’s the most energetic single in this pre-Love Machine Morning Musume. That being said, it has a lot of what makes early Morning Musume great – some great vocals, harmonies, the back and forth of the chorus is great. I wouldn’t put it as being as great or timeless as, say, Summer Night Town, but it’s still a fun, energetic song that works really well. And yes, Nee Waratte. 8/10

7. Papa ni Niteru Kare
Again, right off the bat, the lyrics are literally about dating someone who reminds you of your dad. That’s creepy to me, so the rest of this review is going to be in spite of that added weird factor about the lyrics. It’s not only dating someone who reminds you of your father, that’s the reason the song protagonist likes him. Tsunku, what were you really thinking?

The shame of lyrics like that is that Papa ni Niteru Kare is a pretty great song outside of that. It has an old-school feel to it – the strings and flute that start out the song are pretty lovely. It has a nostalgic feel and the chorus is genuinely pretty catchy. The vocals are all breathy and not exactly showing off Morning Musume’s vocal prowess, but are pretty fitting. For the most part it’s not the most memorable song but nice, which is almost more unfortunate because the lyrics stand out to the front. 7/10

8. Senkou Hanabi

This song is basically “hm, we liked Furusato, but how about a song with MORE Abe Natsumi?” This is basically a Nacchi solo with some background vocals and echoes by Ichii Sayaka and Yasuda Kei. Nacchi’s voice is fantastic, so it’s not a huge deal, but I wish there was more of a chance for featured vocals for Ishiguro Aya and Yasuda Kei in particular because their vocals are great.

Senkou Hanabi has a real nostalgic feel to it, not even counting its age as a song. I think this is mostly the instrumentation, which is mostly pretty acoustic with some nice strings and piano at the start. While there is some electric guitar in here, it still maintains a home-y, nostalgic feel.

If at this point you’re not sick of ABe Natsumi, and I’m not, it’s a nice little song. It has a nice melody, the instrumentation is nice, and I like the echoes sung by Sayaka and Kei. It’s not necessarily a song I go back to all that often, but it’s nice. 8/10

9. Koi no Shihatsu Ressha

The keyboard and guitar intro is probably one of the most dated parts of any Morning Musume song – it is VERY 90s. However, I find it kind of charming for it. Even as it’s kind of a cheesy song, it has an earnestness to it that makes the cheesy 90s feel work. It’s a very upbeat song too, which makes a lot of difference – most of the rest of the album has been sad, wistful, and aggressive, with the most upbeat song so far being Manatsu no Kousen, which is more laidback. Koi no Shihatsu Ressha is a much needed happy reprieve.

The song is well put together throughout, but it really shines in the chorus – the way it just bursts into action is very nice. The verses feel like they are building up to the utter joy and sweetness of the chorus, and I love the transition from verse to chorus in the song.

Koi no Shihatsu Ressha has stuck around a bit more than, say, Senkou Hanabi or even Night of Tokyo City. I think that’s due to how joyful and fun it is as a song. 9/10

10. Otome no Shinrigaku

This is possibly my favorite track on the album, maybe tied with Manatsu no Kousen. It has a really interesting sound to it, a solid energy, and it’s just fun in an interesting way. I barely know how to describe the sound – it has a bit of a mysterious, darker sound coming from the bass line, but it also has a great guitar sound to it. It’s very old-school rock, but even then I don’t know of any songs like this, especially songs by Morning Musume. It’s rock and roll (hence the “I love rock and roll” at the start), but not in the way typical idol music does it. It’s a really interesting songs.

It’s pretty easy to see this as a proto-Petitmoni. The song is primarily sung by Yasuda Kei and Ichii Sayaka, who would join up with Goto Maki a few months later to put out one single. But even then, Chokotto Love, the only Petitmoni single that Ichii Sayaka featured on, is much happier and poppier than Otome no Shinrigaku – if anything, Otome no Shinrigaku reminds me a bit of Seishun Jidai 1 2 3 or Baby Koi ni Knockout, the singles put out after she left.

The vocal line is where the song shines – both Kei and Sayaka sound great and have a great back and forth. The rest of the group does some harmonies that work well together, too. If I had any complaints occasionally the echo/reverb is a little too much, but even that’s a tiny quibble. Otome no Shinrigaku is a great song and one that H!P should perform more. 10/10

11. Never Forget

I find it a little weird that Morning Musume would include this on Second Morning when it’s a solo song by Fukuda Asuka, who is not on the album cover nor is she credited in the album. It is a pretty seminal song, but it’s just weird that it would be on this album without credit for the soloist singing this.

This is the graduation song performed by the first member to ever leave Morning Musume, Fukuda Asuka, and has since been a major graduation song for Morning Musume members. And it’s pretty easy to see why it has been – it’s a pretty timeless song. The arrangement is very good, with a mix of strings, acoustic and electric guitars. The melody and pace of the song feels bittersweet – it’s nostalgic and pretty, but doesn’t linger. The lyrics reflect this too – they speak of leaving as an inevitability rather than a choice. It’s accepting, as if “I have to leave, I don’t want to, but I also want to move on” which is probably the nicest way of putting the real choice that Asuka made.

It’s not a song I choose to listen to very often, but a very good one. 8/10.

12. Da Di Du De Do Da Di

After the sadness of Never Forget, it’s nice to have something upbeat like Da Di Du De Do Da Di. And really, this is a nice place to end the album. Whereas I thought First Time had a weird ending with Samishii Hi, Da Di Du De Do Da Di is upbeat, happy and fun.

In many ways this feels like foreshadowing for Morning Musume to come. It’s upbeat and fun and focuses more on being fun rather than quality in the vocals. There are a few times where two members sing a line together and they aren’t mixed perfectly, or one member is a bit off. There are several spoken/shouted lines, and at one point during these Nakazawa Yuko starts to laugh. This gives the song a very off the cuff feel, as if it was recorded with Morning Musume performing from start to finish and goofing off. I know this isn’t how it was done logically, but it’s a fun touch.

The arrangement is a bit weird – sometimes it feels like the guitar clashes a bit with the vocals. However, for the most part it works pretty well, and the guitar sound is nice. It’s not particularly interesting, but works for the most part.

Da Di Du De Do Da Di isn’t particularly my favorite Morning Musume song, but it’s interesting to listen to in the context of current Morning Musume, where serious vocal skill is traded for Morning Musume as a group goofing off and having fun. 8/10

Overall: I can’t really tell if I like Second Morning or First Time better. Both albums are excellent, though Second Morning is more of a move towards the Morning Musume current fans know, which would probably make it a bit more accessible. Songs like Otome no Shinrigaku and Manatsu no Kousen are my particular favorites, but even listening to songs like Memory Seishun no Hikari, Senkou Hanabi and Night of Tokyo City, while dated, still feels a little more like current Morning Musume. This is a solid collection of songs and I like all of them – even something like Suki de x5, which I don’t know if I actually like, is at the very least interesting. While a little less cohesive than First Time, I almost prefer the overarching pacing of Second Morning to First time. Second Morning is a great collection, though, and if you like Morning Musume and haven’t listened to this you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Review: Morning Musume – First Time

2017 marks an important anniversary – it is the 20th anniversary of the formation of Morning Musume. While the group has had many iterations, 13 generations of members, name changes and both waxing and waning popularity over the years, 20 years is a major achievement for a group. This is especially notable given Morning Musume’s recent resurgence in popularity – while Morning Musume has been around for almost 20 years, I can’t see it going away any time soon.

To commemorate this I’ve decided to review all of the main Morning Musume albums through 2017, First Time through 14 Shou ~The Message~ or any Morning Musume album that comes out this year. I won’t be covering the two best of albums nor the updated album. The main goal will be to see just how Morning Musume has evolved over these 20 years.


Released in July 1998, First Time is about as far from the current Morning Musume as you can get. With an emphasis on real instruments and heavy uses of harmonies, First Time sounds much more like an album of a band or an artist rather than an idol group.

1. Good Morning

I don’t understand why this song isn’t performed more as an anthem for Morning Musume, it feels energetic and still pretty fresh today – a pretty amazing feat, considering that this is not quite 19 years old. I think a lot of that has to do with the pace of the song – it’s not hyperactive like some of Morning Musume’s later songs but not a ballad. I think it also has a great arrangement – not much about it feels cheesy or outdated (there’s occasionally a few audio effects that are very 90s, but that’s about it). The acoustic piano sounds wonderful and does a great job in setting the tone. While there are some good harmonies here, they’re more subtle than some of the songs later in the album. Good Morning is a great start to the album – upbeat and cheerful while also having a great arrangement and a classic sound. 8/10

2. Summer Night Town

Summer Night Town is Morning Musume’s second debut single, and an interesting one in that the harmony and melody seem almost completely connected. The harmony is needed to make the melody sound even remotely interesting in some places – for example, the line that ends the chorus is “daikirai daikirai daikirai daisuki.” However, the interest is in the harmony (that goes higher with every repeat) whereas the melody stays on the bottom line, repeating the same three notes for each word. Just the melody line alone is pretty uninteresting, but the harmonies add a lot of interest.

The other thing I find interesting about Summer Night Town (and other songs on this album) are just how much they’re geared towards being performed by a group. Attempting to sing this solo doesn’t sound anywhere near as compelling. The harmonies are too significant, there’s a back and forth during the verses. It’s a group song through and through.

That all being said, Summer Night Town is still a great song. It’s a bit dated – it feels straight out of its era. That’s not a bad thing, though, and stands up as being a great song from 90s idol music. I love the harmonies throughout and how much they matter – all of that is a good thing. The members all do a great job vocally, too – it’s a shame that Fukuda Asuka left the group so early because she’s very talented. Abe Natsumi makes total sense as the front member of the group, and I’m very partial to Ishiguro Aya’s voice and she does very well with what she’s given here. The entire group sounds great, and share a strong level of vocal talent. It’s mostly the arrangement that sounds a little dated, but it works and I especially like how much percussion there is at times.

Summer Night Town is a song that would only really work with this group of members at this point in time, and it’s a great song. 9/10.

3. Dou ni ka Shite Douyoubi

I absolutely don’t know why I don’t listen to this song more because, if you know me, this song is way up my alley. It’s a upbeat disco track in the vein of Dschinghis Khan and is so retro in its stylings. The intro horns are probably my favorite part of the song, but the rest of the arrangement is great, including the strong bass line, the strings and the clapping. The strong brass sound works the best.

The only thing I can say negatively about this song is that it’s a little repetitive and pretty simple in structure – the verses are the same melody repeated twice, so there’s basically two repeats per verse, then the chorus, and then there’s an instrumental bridge. It’s comparatively fairly simple. However, the pieces that are there are so compelling that this doesn’t matter much. Dou ni ka Shite Douyoubi is a great song, and if you like the recent disco revival in idol music you should like this. 9/10

4. Morning Coffee

Much like what I mentioned with my writing about Summer Night Town, Morning Coffee is very much a song that can only be done with a group – it’s full of harmonies and overlapping vocals. While I’d say that Morning Coffee could be done solo more easily than Summer Night Town it would lose much of the flavor,

However, Morning Coffee is a much more easygoing song, much more in the vein of Good Morning but even then more mellow. While it might be easy to say this since it’s Morning Musume’s first major debut single, Morning Coffee has a really classic feel to it. While it has an old-fashioned sound, it doesn’t feel overly 90s or tied to its time period. I wasn’t listening to Morning Musume when Morning Coffee came out, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was seen as being a bit old school when it came out.

That said, I really like it – it’s a song I’ve listened to a thousand times since getting into idol music. I love how acoustic the instrumentation is, how mellow it is. It’s perhaps not as exciting or ambitious as Summer Night Town, but it’s a very solid first single and it works. 8/10

5. Yume no Naka

Speaking of feeling dated, this is pretty retro sounding – like more of a 70s/80s classic idol ballad. This is the type of song that gets more interesting the more you pay attention to it. While it’s not necessarily my type of song, there are so many layers to the sound which make it a really rich sound. The back and forth harmonization of the vocals works really well, and so the vocal line is just lovely.

The instrumentation is beautiful as well – the strings sound old fashioned and romantic, the horns work really well too. Everything meshes well together – there’s never a part where the instrumentation sounds empty, nor does it ever sound too busy. There are a lot of things at play but it never feels overdone. It all works really well.

I’m not a big ballad person so Yume no Naka isn’t really a song that I’d gravitate to normally. But all the elements of this song work really well and the product is just lovely. 9/10

6. Ai no Tane

Ai no Tane is Morning Musume’s only indie single, the single they had to sell 50,000 copies of in five days before being a group. It’s bright, upbeat and a very peppy song – not a bad song to start a group out with. I find it kind of interesting, though – most of the songs on First Time so far have had a lot of focus on singing as a group and harmonies, whereas Ai no Tane is almost more similar to current Morning Musume songs – the verses are mostly solo lines and the chorus is mostly sung in unison.

Ai no Tane isn’t a bad song, far from it. It’s a really solid pop song with a great melody, solid production. However it’s a lot less ambitious than the other songs on this album. It’s a very good song, but not particularly interesting.  7/10

7. Wagamama

The two things that stick out to me about Wagamama more than anything else are how mature the vocals are and how much this sounds like an indie pop song rather than a major pop group. The vocals in this sound great, deeper than what I’m used to with Morning Musume. The instrumentation is very drum and electric heavy, which contributes to it sounding very indie rock. In fact, some of the electric guitar really reminds me of Aimee Mann’s Lost in Space album, which is a good thing for me.

Wagamama is more laid-back than a lot of the songs on this album and it’s not immediately my favorite. However, I love the guitar and vocals and the song works well. It’s not a song I come back to very often, but when I do I always enjoy it. 7/10

8. Mirai no Tobira

This is probably the album song off of First Time I listen to the most, and for good reason – it’s just a great song. It’s also one of the most upbeat, fun songs off the album – this is probably the closest to current Morning Musume we get on this album.

One thing I really love about Mirai no Tobira is the contrast between the verses and the chorus. The entire song is upbeat, but the verse has a laid back feel that transitions to a very different chorus perfectly. The lyrics are also performed in a silly, kind of laid back way – this isn’t beautiful in the way that Yume no Naka is beautiful, but this is fun and silly.

While this doesn’t have the elements that I’ve been praising First Time for as a whole (harmonies, lush instrumentation) it’s still probably my favorite track off this album. It’s just pure fun, happy disco music and I love that. 9/10

9. Usotsuki Anta

Now it’s back to more of the standard upbeat, heavy harmony songs, but I love this one too. The electric guitar in the instrumentation works really well, and the harmonies work really well. The phrasing of the solo lines is also pretty great – the melody and lyrics work well together in a way that is not something I hear a lot in idol music.

Really, Usotsuki Anta is in many ways more of the same with this album. That being said, it is its own song, and there’s nothing wrong with having more of the same when the same is this good. Usotsuki Anta is great. 8/10

10. Samishii Hi

I haven’t focused a whole lot on the composition of the album so far, but Samishii Hi seems like a bit of an odd choice for the last song on the album. Samishii Hi is one of the slowest songs on the album, a ballad with the backing being primarily an acoustic piano. Ballads can work as the last song on an album – Momoiro Clover Z’s album 5th Dimension ends with the fabulous Hai to Diamond and that’s a pretty perfect ending. That said, Samishii Hi is a weird place to leave off on. This is a song I’d most likely put in the middle of the album, after something particularly upbeat (Mirai no Tobira?) and end the album with something more upbeat and on a happier note (Ai no Tane maybe?).

Samishii Hi is a pretty good song – it’s a pretty standard ballad with a pretty melody, the acoustic piano works well, and I like the background vocals a lot. There’s a lot to like about Samishii Hi, and I think having a song this slow works well. However, I think this is a really odd place to leave the album, especially when it doesn’t feel representative of the album of a whole. 7/10

Overall: My scoring of songs is pretty arbitrary and mostly serves to be a guidepost to show how much I prefer certain songs to others. However, the ratings are all pretty high here because First Time is a flat out great album. All of the songs are well-written and well-arranged, using lots of varied, real instruments. Everything about this album works pretty well. Not all the songs are perfect, and I’d rearrange the album some if I was given a say. But the emphasis on harmonies, quality vocals, and quality arrangements makes First Time a treat. It’s wildly different from the Morning Musume of today, but that’s part of what makes First Time so fun. It’s the type of album I’d share with non-idol fans, I think it’s that well made and produced. I only wish Morning Musume of today could pull of this kind of music! 9/10

Review: Team Syachihoko – Tensai Bakabon

As always, even though my life has been busy, I need to review Team Syachihoko’s latest effort, this time with their anime movie tie-in single, Tensai Bakabon.

Tensai Bakabon

Song:  Honestly, this happens to be my least favorite Team Syachihoko single song to date. Now, before you wonder if I’m jumping ship from my favorite group, I’m not. I actually think this song is pretty enjoyable, especially if you don’t compare it to other Syachi singles, and all the other single songs are so good that this isn’t a bad thing necessarily. This is just a lot weaker than the other single songs. The other thing to keep in mind, that I’m giving Syachi a lot of leeway for, is that this is a cover of a classic anime song that isn’t a very compelling song to begin with. They’re doing this as the theme song for the new Tensai Bakabon movie, so they’re making do with that song.

That being said, I think that the original song isn’t necessarily bad, just uninspiring. I’ve gotten multiple sections of this song stuck in my head (most notably the “bon bon bakabon bakabon bon”) and the melody is fine. The song is pretty repetitive though (each member has a short verse and in between all the verses is the same chorus), which makes the song feel like it should be over a lot sooner than it is.

I also think that the arrangement manages to fit both Syachi and the original song. I like how it starts off fairly normal sounding, but then quickly escalates in weirdness, speed and energy. This song is very Syachi-fied in that sense – any fans worried that Syachi lost weirdness with Shampoo Hat are going to see that with Tensai Bakabon their fears were unfounded.

Ultimately this is fine; Syachihoko did a fine job with what they had to work with. Due to what they had to work with this is the weakest Syachihoko single song of them all, but I’m not worried that this will be a trend, given the strength of Team Syachihoko’s music.

PV:

Well, bonkers Syachi is back.

I’m kind of conflicted about this PV, truth be told. I think a lot of the elements are there but that it could have done better.

The most notable aspect about this PV is the 5000 repeated Syachi members. While I in theory like the scenes featuring all of them, which oddly enough remind me about of the game Katamari Damacy (a Katamari Damacy featuring Syachi would be incredible), I think these scenes are overused. The first couple of uses feel innovative and interesting, but by the end these are the least interesting of the scenes.

Tensai Bakabon 1

This effect is really utilized better in the close up shots each member has, which are a lot of fun. I like the framing of the Syachi members running on the bottom with one Syachi member on top. They also bring in another member on the screen. This is really aesthetically pleasing framing, and is the best shot.

Tensai Bakabon 2

 

Really, the best aspect of this PV is the members themselves. They all completely give it their all and do a lot to ham it up, which is a ton of fun to watch. Even though this is kind of a so-so PV, Syachi fans should enjoy watching it for member antics.

While the effect of the 5000 members is technically pretty decent (I like the cartoonish look to it) occasionally the green screen looks a little bit off, which is surprising and disappointing given the rest of the PV. There’s occasionally an outline around the members that makes the production look cheaper. It’s kind of nitpicky, but is pretty disappointing.

Tensai Bakabon 3

 

The other notable aspect of this PV is that part of it was filmed in Harajuku outside. I actually really like these few short sections and I’d like more like this.

Tensai Bakabon 4

Ultimately though, while there are some elements I enjoy about this PV, I don’t think it was executed as well as it could have been, which is a bit of a disappointment.

Ike Ike Hollywood

Lately Team Syachihoko has been all about America and Hollywood, which makes me, as an American fan who adores Team Syachihoko, wonder a bit about them going to America. Which, you know, would make me ecstatic.

This song is also pretty fantastic, as a film fan, because of the occasional references in there. Yuzuki saying “I’ll be back” gives me the giggles every time I hear this song.

If Tensai Bakabon was a bit disappointing, Ike Ike Hollywood makes up for it in a big way by being endlessly entertaining and fun. At its core is a catchy melody and a really fun song.

The arrangement is fantastic, starting out with what sounds like a film reel. The instrumentation includes a lot of strings, but there’s also a lot of great guitar, brass and pizzicato piano. It all comes together to create a piece that works together but is often all-over the place.

This song is a lot of fun, and what I’ve come to expect from Syachi’s music.

Twilight

This is, in my opinion, the standout track of the album. From the dreamy vocals of Team Syachihoko to the electronic background vocals, every part of this song is a delight. The vocals are a main feature of this song, as there are vocals incorporated in almost every part of this song, as the main melody and as a part of the instrumentation. It’s incorporating a bit of what they learned about vocal-centric tracks through Akamiso Blood.

The back and forth of this song is fantastic,as is the fast pace. This song has a ton of energy, which is always fun to listen to. The way the vocals work together to give it all that energy works very well, as well. While being high energy, it also has an almost laidback, mellow feel to it – it’s really hard to explain but it totally works.

There aren’t many songs out there like Twilight, and it has quickly become a favorite song of mine for that.

Review: Team Syachihoko – Himatsubushi

You guys knew I had to review this, right? Seriously, this review has been a long time coming. I started reviewing this when it came out. It’s been months. What happened?

It’s no secret that Team Syachihoko’s first album, Himatsubushi, is my most highly anticipated release in quite a while. They are by far my favorite idol group out there; all of their members are really fun performers and the group does a lot of fun things that make them a really fun group to follow. However, what really cinches them as my favorite group is their music. Often unorthodox, very often catchy, Team Syachihoko is one of the most consistently great groups in the idol world for musical output. Since Himatsubushi was announced to have nine new songs, a rarity in the idol world where albums are often just a collection of single songs and b-sides, I have been waiting for this album. And, spoiler alert, it was well worth the wait.

1. Space Himatsubushi supported by ZEN-LA-ROCK

One of the things that continues to impress me about Team Syachihoko, musically, is the variety of talent they collaborate with. They work with a wide variety of artists and composers who are often not usual figures in the idol world. Space Himatsubushi is a collaboration of Team Syachihoko with Japanese hip hop MC ZEN-LA-ROCK, who also wrote the lyrics (the music was written by Anne Beats). It’s pretty remarkable how, in these songs, Team Syachihoko often takes a back seat to the featured artist; ZEN-LA-ROCK is very prominently featured.

Possibly the most notable thing about this song is the lyrics. While usually idol lyrics aren’t the focus of a lot of idol tracks, this song is basically a large collection of inside references to the group. The chorus is based off of the words from Syachihoko’s overture, “Ningen Gojuunen, Idol Gonen, Owari Nagoya ni Syachihoko ari” which, in my rough translation skills, means “Human 50 years, Idol 5 years, in conclusion, in Nagoya there are Syachihoko” (please let me know if you have a better translation). As a point of note, this actually refers to a famous Noh verse called The Atsumori, and the “Ningen gojuunen” is famously referring to the span of a life. So this is basically saying that, for what humans is fifty years, for idols it’s five years. (Syachi, please don’t disband in a couple of years).

Anyways, the rest of the lyrics are filled with references to other Team Syachihoko songs like Owari no Hana and OEOEO. It’s a fun song to listen to in that regard, as it rewards listeners who are familiar with Team Syachihoko’s discography.

The actual song itself is fast-paced but predominantly laidback. It seems like a bit of an odd choice to start out with, especially with such strong starter songs like Otome Juken Sensou and Dakishimete Anthem would be, but I actually really like how this starts. It feels like it’s winding up into the album instead of everything starting right away. It’s electronic and a little dreamy; it feels a bit like trance music. It’s actually kind of hard to describe; I’ve listened to the song several times in this review and I just can’t pin it down.

This isn’t a typical Team Syachihoko song, or a typical idol song. That said, it feels like a telling opener for this album. Many  idol albums choose to start out with a high energy song, to immediately hook the listeners. Team Syachihoko chooses a more unusual song to ease listeners in.

While this song isn’t the most exciting on its own, its referential lyrics and it’s dreamy feel make it an excellent start to the album. 8/10

2. Shuto Iten Keikaku

The first major single, and the first single to pop up on this album! This was written by hip hop artist Seamo, and remains one of my favorite Team Syachihoko songs.

I feel like this could be a separate post in itself, but it’s interesting to see what artists do as their first single and as their major debut single. These are singles that set the stage and show what the group is going to be doing. Koibito wa Sniper and Shuto Iten Keikaku are two interesting cases. On the one hand, Koibito wa Sniper is hyperactive and a bit crazy, which is what I think a lot of people expect from Team Syachihoko. But on the other hand there’s Shuto Iten Keikaku. I know I was surprised the second I heard Shuto Iten Keikaku, and it took me a while to get into it.

The thing is, it’s written by a legitimate hip hop artist, Seamo, and it kind of shows. While a lot of idol songs might have a rap verse here or there, Shuto Iten Keikaku is a bit darker, a bit heavier and feels more like an actual song written by a hip hop artist. The beat’s great, and the pacing is just perfect. The song never lets up in all its five minutes. That said, the Syachihoko members actually sell the song; I don’t know if every idol group could do with this song what Team Syachihoko managed.

Further, when talking about Team Syachihoko lyrics, Shuto Iten Keikaku is one of the best. Not satisfied with just having a song about their hometown, Shuto Iten Keikaku is Team Syachihoko singing about how the capitol of Japan should be moved to Nagoya. It’s a bit silly and the lyrics are pretty funny, almost reminding you that while they are performing this song that they are still Team Syachihoko.

This is one of the great Team Syachihoko songs. The lyrics make me laugh, but the song is what keeps me listening. 9/10

3. Dakishimete Anthem

Since this song was the first song released from Himatsubushi, via a dance practice video, I think this will be the song a lot of people take away from Himatsubushi. And really, it’s not a bad song to be the representative song. It was written, after all, by Asano Takashi, who writes a lot of Team Syachihoko songs. He wrote Koibito wa Sniper, The Stardust Bowling, Otome Juken Sensou and Katte ni Hybrid.

Katte ni Hybrid is what this song reminds me of most. Both of these songs combine the hyperactivity of a lot of Team Syachihoko’s work with the sound of something like Shuto Iten Keikaku, to create a hyperactive song with heavy beats that has a killer rap line by Haruna. These two songs might be the best example of Team Syachihoko’s style, actually. Upbeat and happy but with a good beat to them.

This song is quickly becoming a Syachihoko staple, and for good reason. It’s perfectly paced, has the high energy that has become a big part of Team Syachihoko, and is just generally well written and well arranged. Even though Team Syachihoko has never really been known for lyrics, they sell this song and sound great in the “woah woah woah” parts and the softer bridge.

This is generally a perfect Team Syachihoko song; energy with enough edge. 10/10

4. Ndatte!!

This song immediately surprised me the first time I heard the instrumentation at the beginning; it sounds like more of a rock song that Syachi has ever really done before. While the song veers more towards pop in the chorus and verses, there’s a rock sensibility that feels rare from idol songs.

Ndatte is one of the Syachi songs that kind of sneaks up on you. When I first listened to it I didn’t know if I liked it much. However, I found myself humming the chorus to myself later in the day, and then kept seeking out the song. It’s surprisingly catchy and fun.

This song was written by Tsutaya Koichi, who also notably wrote Dempagumi.inc’s great song VANDALISM. While NDatte isn’t quite as unhinged and wacky as VANDALISM got, it still has a bit of that same feel to it. It’s harder rock than Syachi’s used to, and still gets a little bit unhinged. Syachi manages to do the song justice, too.

While Ndatte took a while for me to get into, I ended up really liking this song. It’s not quite as interesting as some of the other songs on this album but it’s still great. 7/10

5. Ai no Chikyuusai

This is another song that took me a while to get into the first time I listened to it! It’s… weird.

Ai no Chikyuusai is relatively laidback (well, for the most part) song with an electronic arrangement that, again, takes a while. As I mentioned in my full review of this song and PV, it was written and arranged by Komorita Minoru who did some of songs from Matsuura Aya’s later albums, which had a similar feel in being laidback and mellow but still upbeat and idol-y.

Ai no Chikyuusai is one of those songs that I don’t think I’d ever put as one of the best Syachi single songs, but I still like it a lot for what it is. It’s a break from what Syachi was used to, for one. I also really like how, for the most part it’s laidback but in the chorus and at the end it just suddenly ramps up to being more unhinged and energetic in the way I expect Team Syachihoko to be.

Ai no Chikyuusai isn’t the song I would pick as a representative Team Syachihoko song, but it doesn’t have to be. Instead it’s a pleasant diversion for the group. 8/10

6. Ii Kurashi

Written by my twitter buddy Yoshida Tetsuto! My review of this actually got some feedback from Japanese Syachi fans and from Yoshida Tetsuto, who composed and arranged this song. This is probably the proudest moment I’ve had while writing Happy Disco.

One of the things that I mentioned in my first review that I have to say again is that this song does NOT feel like six and a half minutes. Instead, it totally justifies those minutes by being six and a half minutes of just about perfectly paced acid house music.

I also stand by the fact that, since Yoshida already writes acid house music, that the arrangement is better for it. While I tend to prefer instrumentation that includes, instruments, there’s no arguing that Ii Kurashi does it just about perfectly. The arrangement is full but not too busy.

This is a song I never expected to love, but I do. Everything about this song is pitch perfect. 10/10

7. I Don’t Care

I Don’t Care is the song on Himatsubushi that I can’t really put my finger on. It has a much darker feel than most Syachi songs (and a lot of idol songs), focusing on electronic sounds and is heavy on the bass. Even the sentiment, proclaimed by title and in the chorus, “I don’t care,” doesn’t feel quite like Team Syachihoko. This isn’t a bad thing; Syachihoko has been trying to branch out. However, it just feels kind of odd.

The song itself is solid. It’s catchy, and the beat is fantastic, especially as the song ramps up into choruses. Also, I know that I’ve been personally singing the “I don’t care” from the end of the chorus to myself a lot. The dubstep, EDM sound isn’t necessarily my favorite, but they do it well.

That said, this is one song that Team Syachihoko doesn’t quite fit. “I don’t care” as a sentiment doesn’t really work when you have six enthusiastic girls doing their best. As such, even though they are all trying to sell this song, they aren’t really completely successful at it. None of the girls really fit the song, except for the parts leading up to the chorus where things lighten up. There, Honoka and Chiyuri really shine.

This is a good song, and I like that Syachi tried it, but it doesn’t really work for me the way that the rest of this album does. 7/10

8. Akamiso Blood

I have been way too hyped over this song for a long time. The song and lyrics were written by Shihori, who wrote Momoiro Clover Z’s GOUNN. However, the main draw of this song is that it’s a collaboration with Daichi, a famous beatboxer. So, along with Daichi, Syachi’s vocals provide the backing track for the song, with Yuzuki and Nao as the main vocalists.

This is the type of song that I honestly don’t know if other idols have really done before. I mean, I know that idols have done acapella before. Berryz Koubou famously has done acapella arrangements of their tracks at concerts. However, this is an original song, and as such is written to suit the human beatbox that Daichi and Syachihoko provide. It has a fairly simple but pleasant melody, and while Syachihoko are hardly experts at this they do a fine job. The simple piano background suits the song well, too; rather than doing a song that’s fully acapella, it’s Daichi, the members of Team Syachihoko, and his keyboard. This creates an interesting, original sound, where all the elements play off one another very well.

I think the thing I love about Akamiso Blood is that it’s an experimental song, and a song I haven’t heard really by anyone else, but Syachi is doing a lot to elevate the song. Akamiso Blood isn’t just a little experiment they did, it’s an experiment that they are putting on an album.

And really, while it might be easy to look at an experiment and not think highly of it, Akamiso Blood shows that a little ingenuity can work. This song is fun, and it sounds superb. Every element is noticeable and so one element being off (such as the melody, or the backing vocals provided by Syachi) could make the whole thing fall flat. That said, every element is completely on point. This isn’t the most complex song of the year (by its very nature it’s not trying to do so), but it is by far one of the best songs of the year. 10/10

9. colors

Since I have taken so long to write this review, Team Syachihoko’s latest single, Shampoo Hat, has come out. A lot of people marveled at how relatively normal Shampoo Hat is, when being normal is an unusual thing in itself for Syachi. However, I’d say that “colors” is their most standard song yet. Written by one of the members of the band Base Ball Bear (who I knew from their single with Hyadain), this is Syachi’s take on a pop-rock song. While this might not be what everyone expected from this album, I know a lot of fans have grown attached to colors, and for good reason.

When a group focuses on having a weird image or doing unusual songs, it’s easy to assume that the group is doing that as a gimmick. I certainly don’t think that is true about Team Syachihoko, but it’s an easy assumption to make. What something like colors does is show off just how strong of a group Team Syachihoko is at its core, without the strangeness. The song has a very strong melody, and I really like the guitar heavy instrumentation. However, what I think works the best about colors is the basic arrangement. Behind everything is a faster, driving guitar and drums, but Syachi’s vocal line is often slow, with elongated notes. The melody could belong in a pretty basic ballad, but the arrangement keeps it moving forward. However, that slower melody that Syachihoko sings allows for members to show off their vocal prowess. Chiyuri, as expected, sounds fantastic, but Yuzuki really impressed me with that last vocal line. It’s these songs that can showcase a member’s talents and skills.

Beyond that, the rest of the song is great. It’s paced just about perfectly, the harmonies and the vocals are spot on almost everywhere. While I don’t hold this up with Dakishimete Anthem or Akamiso Blood as the real stars of this album, colors is a great song. It’s not just a great idol song, but it’s a well-produced, well-written song that any artist should be proud to have. While I know I initially found Syachihoko for their weirder songs, I’m glad that they are putting out songs like this. 8/10

10. Akeboshi

Akeboshi is not a track I expected from Team Syachihoko. At all. It’s a slow ballad sung completely in unison which ends up being very restrained. Restraint is not a word I would normally associate with Team Syachihoko. And really, neither is ballad. Team Syachihoko is a group that I know for its high energy, not for something like this.

Ballads are not my favorite type of song. At all. It takes a lot for me to really love a ballad; a memorable melody line or inspired instrumentation. Luckily for me, Akeboshi has both. The thing that immediately struck me with Akeboshi is that it reminds me of an Electric Light Orchestra ballad. ELO’s songs often combined rock music with orchestral instruments and synthesized electronic sounds. Akeboshi is very heavy on the strings, string instruments and a piano largely backing the piece, but it’s often intercut with electronic sound. This adds a really interesting element to the song, as the strings/piano feel old-fashioned but the electronic sounds add a newer sound to it. It’s odd, but it works.

The vocals are all restrained, but I actually like it that way. All the members sound incredibly pretty singing this. While some idols can belt vocally (I’m looking at you, Chiyuri), I’m actually not a huge fan of belting in songs, especially ballads. It’s more of an expression of raw power than finesse. The vocals in Akeboshi don’t show off much skill in particular, but they sound really soothing and pretty.

The song does a good job of building up towards the end, using more drums, but ultimately this is a beautiful, laid back ballad that does interesting things with its instrumentation. 9/10

11. Yoroshiku Jinrui

Man, I love the opening of this song. Nao and Chiyuri singing “Hello” at the start of Yoroshiku Jinrui might be my favorite individual couple of seconds. While the rest of Yoroshiku Jinrui is a fine song, the opening 20 seconds or so are just golden. And then the song breaks into the Ode of Joy, which is apparently an idol trend to use in idol music this year.

This song builds really nicely; the verses are good, but they really drive into the chorus. I would say the chorus is where the song shines, but that wouldn’t really be truthful. The verses do a great job of leading up into the chorus, but the verses are quite listenable, too. Driving forward is really what I would use to describe this song, oddly enough. It’s over five minutes long, but while not being as frantic or fast as something like Dakishimete Anthem, it still feels like those five minutes go by in an instant. The song doesn’t rush, but it still moves at just about a perfect pace. Even in the slow part near the end, it almost always feels like it’s moving forward.

Beyond that, it’s a lot of business as usual for Team Syachihoko. Upbeat, well produced pop music. However, it’s a pretty layered song, with a lot of different elements going on at once, without ever feeling cluttered or like too much. Yoroshiku Jinrui is, more than anything, a well-made pop song. It’s not quite the hyperactive, weird Syachihoko we know and love, but it’s a great example of idol pop. It has complex instrumentation that just sounds effortless, a catchy melody, and is easy to listen to. This is the type of song I have grown more and more fond of the more I listen. 9/10

12. Country Girl
So, for the penultimate song on Himatsubushi, I’m not sure what I was expecting, but country was NOT it. It feels like this entire album is comprised of surprises, which I am very fine with. Syachi excels at being unexpected, and Country Girl is certainly it.

This immediately gives me Country Musume vibes. However, the one thing that differs in this regard is the tone. It’s not just cheesy, banjo country music (though I do believe that is a banjo in this song), but it’s literally referring to the country. The song is upbeat and happy, but also wistful and nostalgic, as the members are singing about having only one hometown in their heart. Even if their hometown is a large metropolitan center like Nagoya, it feels appropriate, and almost necessary. As Syachihoko has grown, they have spread far beyond Nagoya. However, the group has always had strong roots in Nagoya, and this reinforces it. Really, this song feels appropriate for almost any local idol.

The instrumentation on this is excellent. The main sounds other than Syachi are guitar, banjo and horns, and while I wouldn’t necessarily peg horns as being a common element of country music, they work remarkably well here.

Even though I initially thought this song sounded a tad cheesy, I really like how it ends up sounding wistful. The song is well-made and, like always, catchy and a pleasure to listen to. This is a song I didn’t thought would be memorable and wonderful, but it is. 8/10

13. Otome Juken Sensou

If I had to pick one song that encapsulated Team Syachihoko, Otome Juken Sensou would be it. This is possibly THE Team Syachihoko song; it opened their first oneman live and ended it. It is always a hit at concert, and one of the songs I never tire of, even though it came out nearly two years ago (as a limited venue-only single).

This song is high energy, it’s weird, it’s Syachi at its best. It involves Nao shouting at the crowd, it involves Yuzuki shouting “sir! Yes sir!” Just every element of this song is high energy, and it’s just one of the most fun idol songs around. It’s fast-paced and builds to a fairly epic end. This is either the perfect start or end of an album, and I think it really fits well at the end. I don’t have much more to say, because every element of Otome Juken Sensou is perfect to me. It’s one of my favorite idol songs of all time. 10/10.

Overall: Himatsubushi is a joy from start to finish. Dedicated to surprising its listeners, Himatsubushi brings together various different genres, styles of music and sounds to form a surprisingly cohesive whole. There are so many songs in this album I didn’t imagine to hear from Team Syachihoko, but now that I’ve been listening to the album for several months I can’t imagine them not doing. While I would argue a few of the songs are less successful than others, this album is a triumph overall. It’s unique but polished and listenable. As a culmination of about a year and a half of Team Syachihoko (from Otome Juken Sensou onward), it does a great job combining the old and the new. This is my favorite album of 2014, and possibly my favorite idol album for quite some time.

Idol Matsuri Event Report

(Cross posted from Pure Idol Heart!)

From June 20th through June 22nd, I had the distinct pleasure of attending Idol Matsuri, which was geared at being the United States’ first idol convention. I was interested in the event when it was first announced quite some time ago, but when the guests were announced I knew I had to attend. Aither, the first group, wasn’t one that I was very familiar with, but I have been a fan of RYUTist since covering them for Tokyo Idol Festival so they were a group I was really excited to meet. I was really intrigued by the idea of going to see both of these acts, though, because usually only large groups get to go do a foreign live. Since I love indie idols, this was an opportunity I knew I couldn’t pass up.

First off, I spent the weekend hanging out with various idol fans, as well as other idol bloggers. I spent some good time with Steve from Selective Hearing as well as a large number of the bloggers from New School Kaidan, many of whom I had spoken to on twitter for a while. While I went to Idol Matsuri to meet with RYUTist, I was incredibly happy to meet other idol fans. I have honestly never really met any serious idol fans in person, so to be surrounded by other people who share my passion for idol music and culture for a weekend was incredibly fun. I’m so glad I met everyone there.

The convention itself was fairly small, which wasn’t unexpected. This convention is one in its first year, so I don’t think anyone knew quite what to expect from this. However, the group of us who were there were a really fun, passionate bunch. So what we lacked for in members I believe we made up in spirit. That said, I know that the organizers want to host Idol Matsuri again, so I have to emphasize just how much I recommend it. It was a wonderful, once in a lifetime experience and I want more people to have as much fun as I did!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There were several guests. Several Western idol acts came; Beri New Day, Ally & Sally, SHEawase and Beckii Cruel. I unfortunately missed Beckii and Beri’s concerts due to my flight schedule and I had to miss half of SHEawase’s set to get to a scheduled interview. However, these girls were really fun and added a lot to the experience. I interviewed Beckii (which will be hosted on Happy Disco soon!) and she was a real class act. I chose not to interview the other acts because I didn’t want to overexert myself (and, given how tired I am, this was a pretty wise choice!), but they were all fantastic to have around.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As for the Japanese guests… Wow. I interviewed and went to the concert of Momoi Halko. I didn’t know much about her before the convention, but she put on a great show and I asked her several questions about her long-lived idol career and about her career as a producer for acts like Afilia Saga and Kotone Mai. She was a really interesting person, and a fun one to watch in concert. I took it easy for her concert (saving my strength for RYUTist!) but her fans were SO passionate and she put on a great show.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Aither was a LOT of fun. I watched several of their videos in preparation for this event, but I had a great time with all of them. They were all really energetic, cute and bubbly. Since the convention was so small I actually ran into them in the hallway several times and they seemed to always be bubbly. During their concert there were some technical difficulties, and they took it all in stride. During an impromptu MC (due to these tech issues) they were really funny; Airi and Yuuka did a gag which was “Terminator & Titanic” which is basically exactly what it sounds like. They also all sang “Do You Want To Build a Snowman?” from Frozen which was kind of neat, because Team Syachihoko recently did that same thing in a video. I also stood next to another Misaki fan, and she focused a lot in on us, which I didn’t mind one bit!

During their photo and handshake events I gravitated towards Misaki; I liked all the members going in, but Misaki was a LOT of fun. We got a chance to chat a bit about idols, and how she likes Morning Musume ’14; I mentioned that I liked Ishida Ayumi, whereas she likes Michishige Sayumi and Kudou Haruka. I also told her that I like Team Syachihoko, which made her go to MomoClo and sing a bit of Ikuze Kaitou Shoujo. Sakura seemed really shy, but was sweet. She said I was cute, to which I replied that she was really cute, too, which she got a bit embarrassed at. Yuuka was a very idol-like person, and I had fun with her. She had American-themed nail art, which I marveled at with her. Airi was very sweet, too; I can’t really remember what I spoke to her about, but she was quite nice.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

RYUTist was really great. One thing that a lot of fans noticed is that they aren’t really super idol-like, but in a good way. They felt really genuine, like they were showing how they really felt. I’m a fan of Tomochy, and so when I went to get my two-shot with all of them wearing my Tomochy towel her thanks felt very genuine. While it was hard knowing exactly what to say at the autograph and handshake sessions, they were super fun. I knew part of their concert introductions (“Konnichimuu” and “Haropyon”) and told them to Muutan and Tomochy respectively, which I think kind of surprised them a bit. I used basically all my Japanese knowledge talking to all of them, but I think I conveyed what I wanted to say. I told Wakkar that my favorite RYUTist song was “Arrivals and Departures” (which they performed first at the concert!) and she also seemed kind of surprised.

Their concert was frankly amazing. All the members are really skilled at both singing and dancing, and even though many of their songs aren’t really geared towards wotagei and fan calls, all the fans really enjoyed their concert. Their dancing was VERY sharp and precise, and their vocals were VERY strong for being done during that dancing. RYUTist is made of great performers, and that made their performance all the better. They performed a fantastic that contained some of my favorite songs; Arrivals and Departures, Beat Goes On, Colorful Milk, Natsu no Mahou/Fuyu no Mahou, Arashi wa Nichiyoubi and Raririreru. The concert was everything I hoped for and more. They actually put it up on Youtube really early, so you should watch it. It’s kind of embarrassing, but you’ll see me; I’m the girl wearing the pink towel and with the pink light stick up front. I also happened to run into them a whole lot.

Another fun thing was that around midday on Sunday, RYUTist filmed a video with a lot of the fans there. They recently did a cover of BiS’ song Nerve and filmed a dance video with us. I’m in that too. I’m not a very good dancer, but how could I pass up an opportunity to dance with idols? Again, that’ll be up on the RYUTist youtube soon.

For a first year event, Idol Matsuri went very well. I had a great time meeting idol groups (especially RYUTist) and I met a lot of great people! If there is another Idol Matsuri next year, I encourage everyone to go!

Review: Team Syachihoko – Ii Kurashi

You didn’t think I wouldn’t review this, did you?

Song: This song is the spiritual successor of Shuto Iten Keikaku, in a good way. Doing a six and a half minute techno track is not what I thought Team Syachihoko would be doing when I first got into them, but this type of thing fits surprisingly well. I’m not a techno expert, so I can’t attest to how good or genuine this is on that vein. However, the songwriter is Yoshida Tetsuto, a Japanese techno artist who has done a few things with idol acts like Negicco, but not quite to the level of writing Ii Kurashi. However, as someone who has more experience with techno than pop, Ii Kurashi is yet another very appealing song by Team Syachihoko.

Ii Kurashi is a song that will grow on you. It’s the ultimate earworm; the first listen or two might not grab you, but the song will eventually grab hold and not let go. The thing I find remarkable about Ii Kurashi is that, for being six and a half minutes, it never outstays its welcome. One of my biggest complaints for a lot of idol music is when it drags out too long; there’s no need to overextend a pop song. Ii Kurashi is long, but it works while being long. Everything feels like a perfect length and, when I first heard the song, I almost couldn’t believe that it went on as long as it does.

The arrangement works very well, even though I’m not usually partial to completely electronic instrumentation. I think the big difference is that an actual techno artist wrote this song, so the rhythmic techno instrumentation works well.

Everything about this song works in a way I never really expected. It’s well-written, well-arranged, and well-performed. Even when the song changes things up (like in the rap section), things just work. While not being a very typical Team Syachihoko song, the group has taken a techno song and made it their own. I love it.

PV This PV again continues what Team Syachihoko started with Shuto Iten Keikaku. In fact, this is driven home by the fact that the PV references Shuto Iten Keikaku at the end of the PV.

iikurashipv

What I mostly mean by that is how the PV flows; whereas Shuto Iten Keikaku flows smoothly from transition to transition, Ii Kurashi does something similar, only on a smaller scale. While Ii Kurashi does have a fair number of obvious cuts in the editing (in contrast to Shuto’s smooth transitions), the scenes transition from one to another mostly by use of sets moved around by people in white. This gives an intentional low budget feel that works. This makes Ii Kurashi have a distinct, good looking visual style.

iikurashi 2

The sets are simple and pleasant looking; they are never showy or ugly. This adds very well to the distinctive visual style that Ii Kurashi is going for.\

ii kurashi 3. There are occasionally some props used and, near the end, a section that allows the girls to wear different costumes. This is used sparingly, and always for emphasis. This adds a lot of visual intrigue to a relatively simple PV.

ii kurashi 4

 

ii kurashi 5

 

Generally, this is a very well shot PV. The lighting is always fantastic, for example, which certainly helps the PV’s visual style.

ii kurashi 6

 

The only thing that I dislike about this PV is that there are occasionally some shots where the framing is a bit weird. I understand why; they’re trying to do stuff in one shot, they’re zooming out, and as such Nao gets cut off, but it still looks kind of weird to have shots where one of the members is almost (but not entirely) cut out.

ii kurashi 7

 

Other than that, Ii Kurashi’s PV is simple but well-produced, with a distinctive visual style that makes it a wonderful PV.

Review Monday: Tokyo Girls’ Style – Get The Star

Welcome to my Review Mondays! This week I’m looking at the short PV to Get The Star by Tokyo GIrls’ Style, as suggested by my Facebook friend Ashley. Thanks!

Song:

Immediately I was kind of surprised by this song. TGS usually stays firmly in funk music as a genre, which I really like. However, this has been a bit of a detriment to the group, in my opinion. I know TGS fans LOVE Limited Addiction, and I think a lot of the songs on the album are really good, but sometimes the songs sounded too much alike. This is a song that I would expect more from a rock-focused group like Passpo. I really like this, though; I really value the style that TGS normally goes for, but this is a really good diversion.

The vocals sound REALLY good; I don’t know the members well enough to tell, but the girl who sings the solo at 2:10 (I think that’s Yuri? or Hitomi? I really don’t know this group. If you can’t tell) sounds gorgeous. The members all sound really great, though. TGS’ members have a lot of vocal talent, and it shows here.

Ultimately this is a really solid rock-inspired track with great vocals. Though a bit different from the usual TGS track, it’s a really good song for them. I can’t say this will be one of my top tracks of the year, but I definitely really like this.

PV:

For a group that was promoted as being a big vocal and dance group, this really doesn’t involve dancing. That’s fine by me, though; TGS stands out more vocally than with their dance skills, in my opinion.

This is a fairly simple PV, featuring the TGS members singing in what looks like a rehearsal room, doing a jam session…with really professional lights? It’s probably best not to think about the story of this, but I wonder if the PV would be more effective with a small story arch, even if that’s just them rehearsing and then performing at a concert. Maybe that’s what the full PV will be? I’d just like a little more variety, because this PV is pretty much comprised of TGS singing in a circle, TGS singing in formation, and TGS singing while hanging out on some amps, with a couple of shots of each member looking cool. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I wish it would expand beyond this.

However, this is a really pretty looking PV. Instead of being colorful, it really does a lot with the contrast between black and white to make a really cool looking PV. My only complaint about how the PV looks is that occasionally the girls’ faces are a bit over-lit so that it kind of washes them out (which I’ve noticed a lot with idol PVs), and they could have used less light to create more cool shadow. However, beyond that, I really like the look of this PV. I really love the focus on that darkness and light contrast and it fits really well with the song. It’s not going to be up there with my top PVs of the year, mind you (I already know what that PV is…) but it’s certainly not bad by any means

Verdict:

As someone who doesn’t follow TGS very regularly, this isn’t really going to change my mind to follow them more. However, I do really like the song and the PV, and I think they did a really nice job.

Next Week: Kyary Pamyu Pamyu – Nanda Collection

If you have a suggestion for a new review, leave a comment!

A New Review Series? Serenyty Wants Your Help!

Hey all,

One of the things that I really want to do is to expand my idol-interest horizons. While working on my Tokyo Idol Festival posts, I realized that there really is a lot of great groups out there that I just don’t follow. Even more, there are groups I’ve only really scratched the surface with, and that I don’t know if I’ve given a fair amount of time to.

So, I’ve decided to start a new series of reviews, in which I give my opinions on an idol album for a group that I don’t normally follow very much. Groups, major debut and indie, that for whatever reason I haven’t spent a lot of time following. This review might not make me change my mind about them, but hopefully I can give a relatively unbiased opinion on said group and possibly gain a new appreciation.

That being said, I’d like the help of the readers in suggesting albums I should do. If you think I should do a different album by one of the groups, tell me, and I can change it. If you have a group I completely forgot about, please tell me, and I can do it.

The groups that I’m excluding from this are:

Anything 48 groups (including subunits) (includes Nogizaka46)
Anything from Stardust Promotions (MomoClo Z, Ebichu, etc.)
Anything from Hello!Project/UFA/TNX/etc.
Sakura Gakuin (and related groups, i.e. Babymetal), MMJ, or Station
Classic idols (i.e. Matsuda Seiko, Pink Lady, Onyanko Club)
Korean pop groups (focusing on Japanese idols right now, even though KPop groups have gotten Japanese debuts)

There are other indie idol groups I follow, but they’ve either not released an album that I can get a hold of or I still don’t follow them enough to disqualify them.

Some of the albums I’m planning on reviewing:

Super*Girls: Everybody JUMP
Tokyo Girls’ Style: Limited Addiction (I can’t decide between this or Kodou no Himitsu; thoughts?)
Passpo: CHECK-IN (or their newest album)
Idoling!!!: SISTERS
9Nine: 9Nine
LinQ: Love in Qushu ~LinQ dai ichi gakushou~
Fudanjuku: Friends or OTOKO
Tomato n’Pine: PS4U
Vanilla Beans: Vanilla Beans II or III
JK21: JK21 Yanen

So if you have suggestions, please tell me, and I’m going to try to have a first review up in a couple of weeks!