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.

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