My Top 25 Songs of 2014 – 25 to 21

Here it is guys, the main event!

25. Babymetal – Gimme Choco

Babymetal had quite an eventful year, but most of it was just that – events. Babymetal released their first, self-titled album, but spent most of the year touring, and doing a lot of that touring abroad. It’s a very solid strategy, but that means that there wasn’t too much new Babymetal music out this year. While I liked their album just fine, it did the all too common idol album thing where most of the album was already existing singles and B-Sides; there were only a couple of new songs.

Gimme Choco has a lot going for it, and does a lot well. I like how the heavier metal seems to be in the verses where Yui and Moa shout, and I like how the chorus is a bit poppier. This song is one of Babymetal’s most poppy songs since Doki Doki Morning, but that’s definitely not bad. The electric guitar solo is really fantastic, and the whole instrumentation is great. I love the arrangement that manages to mix metal, idol pop, and a bit of electronic music in there. What Babymetal does best is mix and match genres, and while Gimme Choco isn’t as obvious as something like Megitsune, it still has clear metal and pop in there, which makes for a fun listen.

Gimme Choco isn’t as successful as Headbanger or Megitsune, but still is a fun song. It’s easy to see why Gimme Choco caused the viral sensation it did.

24. Rev.from DVL – Do My Best!!

While I’d consider Love Arigatou to be a stronger single song, Do My Best has the distinction of being one of the most fun songs of the year to me. While their third single, REAL, stood out to a lot of people, Do My Best is just a happy energetic song that is just trying to be happy and fun. Its melody is addictive and memorable, the arrangement is cute but not cloying, and the pacing of the song is pretty impeccable. It’s not trying to experiment, but is instead a very successful pop song. The song builds all the way to the end with a driving beat and never outstays its welcome.

Even though Rev became popular because of Hashimoto Kanna’s rise to popularity, Do My Best does a great job of proving that Rev is ready for the big time. Their first single is all covers of previously released music, and while it’s fantastic (I really wish I could put Love Arigatou and Kimi Dake no Story on this list), it’s still all older music that they have done for a while. Do My Best!! was their first new music after their major debut, so there was really a lot to prove. Could they continue the momentum? I say yes. Do My Best is the type of fun and happy idol song that made me fall in love with the idol genre in the first place, so even if it’s not the most intriguing song of the year I feel comfortable putting it on this list.

23. Team Daiouika – Diving

If you haven’t heard of Team Daiouika, you are probably not alone. The team was a temporary group that was formed for this year’s 3B Junior concert, and to be on the 3B Junior best album. They will probably not continue being a group, as two of the members went on to join Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku. Still, man I love Diving a lot.

Have you ever gotten a song stuck in your head, had no idea what it was, and then realize that it was some song you listened to weeks prior? No? Well, that happened with me with Diving. It’s a relatively simple idol song, but I love the way the melody goes back and forth between members of the group. The arrangement isn’t really anything special, but is a solid guitar-heavy arrangement that goes a long way in supporting the stand out melody and vocal line.

This isn’t really anything new, which is why it’s so low down my list. However, I do think it’s a really solid song for the idol genre, and one to be looked to for good songs within the idol genre. It doesn’t break new ground or anything, but it’s strong melody and vocal line does a lot to elevate this song into one of my most liked songs of 2014.

22. HR – Evolution Da

I am very pleased by HR’s rise to relevance. The group first grabbed my attention when they performed at Tokyo Idol Festival, and now it seems like they are ready for the big time. Evolution Da was the single that I think really grabbed a lot of people’s attention, and it certainly got me even more intrigued in HR. Starting out with the plucked, almost Spanish-sounding guitar line and then moving into a more electronic sound mixed in with heavy percussion and guitar, this is an unusual, but cool sounding idol song.

This song reminds me of older-school anime them songs, in the best way; it’s a song that’s specifically geared to sound epic. Just about every second has a lot of stuff going on, never letting up except for a single moment of silence later in the song. I really like how the strong beat can combine with the lyrics, about becoming a different person from yesterday (hence, evolution). The lyrics have a great, strong message, and are backed up by the fantastic melody and instrumentation.

There was so much strong music out this year that Evolution Da has to be down this low, but it definitely made me much more excited for HR’s future.

21. Babyraids – Koi wa Panic

Babyraids’ first album, Ji Tora Shoukai, was a bit of a revelation for me this year. While I had passively enjoyed Babyraids’ debut single for a while, their entire first album is really quite good. I really hope it ends up being a sleeper hit, or at least gets recognition from the idol fan community, because Babyraids is really putting out a lot of solid stuff.

Koi wa Panic is a bit of an odd duck among all of the rest of the songs on this list because it is relatively mellow. However, it’s a song that never happens to be boring while being mellow, which is the key. Koi wa Panic comes across like an indie rock song or a classic rock song with a mellower melody. Even when the instrumentation veers into being more minimalist, the sound feels full. Every element in the song feels like it’s working together for something great, which is always good to hear. Nothing feels excessive, and yet it never feels like it’s missing anything.

Koi wa Panic is a good song that I didn’t expect to find as an idol song, in a good way. It feels more akin to a good indie rock song, and I’d really like to hear more songs like this, from Babyraids and from the idol world as a whole.

My Top 25 Songs of 2014 – Honorable Mentions (part 2)

When I started thinking of the preliminary songs on this list, it took me a while to even list 15. Once I got going, however, it ran to nearly 50 songs, with a wide variety of acts. I think that’s the most important thing here: while there are a couple of acts that pretty heavily dominate the top 5 or so, this is a really varied list. While the idol boom is shifting and changing, there is a remarkable variety of acts that are doing great things out there, and I’m really happy to highlight some of those.

E-Girls – Odoru Ponpokorin

Nothing E-Girls has done this year has really stuck with me the way that Gomen Nasai no Kissing You did. That song was one of my favorites of 2013, and E-Girls generally haven’t gotten to that level. However, Odoru Ponpokorin was a really cute cover song. It doesn’t seem like it does too much other than doing a solid arrangement, but the original song is already really fun so they really didn’t have to. Odoru Ponpokorin is a lot of fun and E-Girls do a great job with it. It’s not really their typical style; E-Girls go for a cooler, more KPop sounding sound than most other idol groups. However they made it work, and I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment out of listening to this.

Bitter & Sweet – Dare ni mo Naisho

This song is Call Me Maybe. It really is. If you compare the beat and the pizzicato violin instrumentation, you’ll realize that this is very similar to Call Me Maybe. That said, Dare ni mo Naisho is still a good song, even with its similarities. Both this and Bitter & Sweet’s self-titled debut really put Bitter & Sweet on the map for me. I never paid too much attention to Tasaki Asahi during her solo debut (though, listening back, maybe I should have), but Bitter & Sweet is a really solid group. While Gesshoku and Install might get more notice (at least, from what I’ve seen), their poppy, upbeat numbers are where they shine. They have a real maturity to them that not a lot of idol groups have, and I’m looking forward to more from Bitter & Sweet. Hopefully Up-Front will be able to promote them a little more, and we can see where they go!

Berryz Koubou – Ichi Oku Sanzen Man Sou Diet Oukoku

Oh Berryz. Berryz Koubou is an interesting group for me. They were my first idol group I actively became interested in, but they pretty quickly lost my interest. They also have a really spotty record, where I won’t like most of their music for quite a while before they release something I really like. While I find Ai wa Itsumo Kimi no Naka ni to be a pretty solid song, Ichi Oku Sanzen Man Sou Diet Oukoku is the song that put Berryz on the map for me this year. This is a very polarizing release, mostly because its lyrics can be interpreted multiple ways. For a lot of people, this song exists to shame the larger girls in Berryz to go on a diet. But, I really think the lyrics go a long way to show how damaging a diet-obsessed culture can be. Health is important, but I think the song tries to show how these girls want to do other things but are trapped in a diet-obsessed culture, reinforced by the repetition in the melody and lyrics. Berryz hasn’t been this interesting for years, and I think I’d like to see more songs like this. Most songs don’t really cover any issues, and while this isn’t as direct as I’d like, this does go in interesting places.

Juice = Juice – Are Kore Shitai

This is honestly here just for the lyrics. The song itself is cute and poppy, but not terribly remarkable. However, the lyrics are what really made Are Kore Shitai stand out to me. So many idol songs focus on pure teenage youth, but Are Kore Shitai stands out to me because the lyrics have a maturity to them while still being about younger people. They are the idol lyrics that possibly fit me as a person best, as a single woman in my 20s who is still trying to find herself™. With lyrics about looking back at graduation photos, reaching the age where your mother got married, and wanting to do a lot of things but not having time, Juice=Juice succeeded in encapsulating me, which makes me have to put this on there.

Oomori Seiko – Kyuru Kyuru

I never know where to classify Seiko; she really defies classification. Is she an idol? Anti-idol? Singer-songwriter? Since this is a list of idol songs, can I put Seiko on there? Last year Oomori Seiko grabbed my interest with her song Mahou ga Tsukaenai Nara Shinitai, and so I was very pleased by her rise and major debut in 2014. Kyuru Kyuru in particular grabbed my interest; it’s a lot more polished than Mahou ga Tsukaenai, for sure, but it still has an edge, a rawness to it. While her music has a lot more synth and has become more complicated, it doesn’t feel like Seiko is selling out in any way. It feels like a natural extension of her pre-existing aesthetic, like she was given more resources and told to run with it. Oomori Seiko is doing some really great work, and idol or no you really should be checking her out.

Momoiro Clover Z – Moon Pride

Momoiro Clover Z was given a thankless task. Perform the new theme song for a classic, beloved anime series with a very iconic theme song. There were so many ways this could have gone wrong. Yet, Moon Pride is by most accounts a success. It’s the right level of epic energy for a magical girl series, complete with big electric guitar solo. I personally prefer the Moon Pride lyrics to Moonlight Densetsu’s lyrics as a fan; Moonlight Densetsu emphasized romance, Moon Pride emphasizes the girl power attitude of the series that made it a beloved favorite of so many ladies my age. Moon Pride does a great job out of a difficult task, and while it just barely got edged out by other songs on this list, I still love it.

My Top 25 Songs of 2014 – Honorable mentions (part 1)

Hey all! It’s time for my top 25 songs of the year, plus the assorted change that makes up my honorable mentions list.

In a weird way I like writing the honorable mentions more than the top 25 songs of the year. The reason for this is because I feel like there’s an inherent pressure on the top 25 songs to be the songs I legitimately found to be the most interesting and best-written songs of the year, and the actual ranking is often splitting hairs. However, the honorable mentions are usually pretty clear; they’re the songs that didn’t quite make it, I couldn’t put on my top list for whatever reason, or might have good parts without being actually good. So, without further ado, here are my honorable mentions for the best of 2014.

AKB48 – Kokoro no Placard

Kokoro no Placard is a song that either thrives or languishes based off of comparison. If you compare it to last year’s election song, the fantastic Koisuru Fortune Cookie, it’s a disappointment. Koisuru Fortune Cookie is a fantastic song, and this isn’t anywhere near fantastic. On the other hand, if you compare Kokoro no Placard to the rest of the year’s output for AKB, it sounds much better.

This year was not great for the 48 groups. Not a single 48 song made it on my top 25, although there will be another for the honorable mentions. Most of the songs the 48 groups did were generic and nowhere near the heights of what the 48 groups can do. Even songs like Kibouteki Refrain, which was hailed as a return to form for AKB, fell flat for me.

Kokoro no Placard isn’t very interesting, nor is it particularly memorable. However, it’s much more memorable than stuff like Labrador Retriever. It’s passable, listenable, perfectly mediocre. But, since AKB ‘s year was so lackluster, I suppose I’ll take what I can get.

NMB48 – Ibiza Girl

Again, this is here because of NMB’s lackluster year, though I do like Ibiza Girl much more than Kokoro no Placard. It’s a fun upbeat number with a catchy melody. It has a real energy to it, in a way that’s missing from a lot of 48 group songs this year. In the entire NMB48 oeuvre it’s not particularly memorable, but it’s NMB48’s best song of the year, and is the best 48 song of the year. Like I mentioned, I’m not particularly impressed with the 48 groups this year. I really think they can do better, with their level of popularity and the resources the 48 groups have, so it’s unfortunate when nearly everything they put out this year is forgettable and bland. Ibiza Girl is probably the only 48 group song from 2014 that I will still be listening to in 2015, so for that it gets an honorable mention. It’s fun, upbeat, and has a memorable/fun melody. It’s not quite NMB’s best (last year’s Bokura no Eureka might be up there) but it’s still good.

Everything Armor Girls put out this year, but especially A!Chu! A!Chu!, CLAP and Matsuri Adventure.

I never thought I would become a fan of Alice Project. I never really got into Alice Juban and Steam Girls’ music doesn’t really appeal to me. However, Armor Girls struck a chord with me that I didn’t know I had. The members perform in fake armor and perform Irish-inspired pop songs? Somehow this is what I’ve always wanted out of a group. The armor gimmick is cool, but the fact that Armor Girls’ songs are all fantastic. All of them. The three songs I’ve highlighted are the three of the ones that came out last year (a few others came out late 2013).

The only thing is that Alice Project groups tend to do more live performances than release singles. While Alice Project has become one of the three big groups of Alice Project, they haven’t put out any singles yet. My rules for my top 25 songs of the year state that they have to be songs that were released this year and no covers, because I want to honor the music that was put out this year. So I can’t technically honor any of these Armor Girls songs in my actual top 25. But I have to give them an honorable mention because all of the Armor Girls music is excellent, and I really hope that this group does well in the future.

Ange Reve – Yuukan na Koi no Serenade

Ange Reve is another Arc Jewel group, the label that also brought Lovely Doll and Doll Elements. Ange Reve made its debut just this year, and Yuukan na Koi no Serenade was its first song. Even though Lovely Doll and Doll Elements have been around for a couple of years now, I have to say I’m very impressed by Yuukan na Koi. It’s a very catchy song that sounds fantastic for a group’s first song. It’s not necessarily the most interesting song of the year, but I think it’s impressive that a new indie group can have a song that has me singing it to myself for months after the first listen.

Rev.from DVL – Love -arigatou-

You might be wondering why I have this down on my honorable mentions. Rev. from DVL is one of my favorite idol groups around, and Love Arigatou is one of their most beloved songs. The reason it’s on here is because it’s a cover. A cover from the group that wrote a lot of Rev’s songs, but the first time I know of Rev performing it happened after the original group did it. Love Arigatou isn’t particularly unique, but it’s a really solid pop song that has a melody that doesn’t scream idol to me. It has one of my favorite melodies, and I think it’s a very solid song. I’m not entirely thrilled with every change that has been made to the arrangement since Rev went major, but it’s still a favorite idol song I wish I could put on my top list.

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.