Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Let's Talk about Yakusoku

Hey you! Yeah you! Are you tired of AKB48 those same fluffy idol groups and their equally lighthearted and fluffy songs? Are you looking for a change? Do you want something darker and edgier? Then let's take a look at Tokyo Girls' Style.

Tokyo Girls' Style has always been an idol group that impresses me; every time I think "Oh well, I guess that's the best we're going to get from them..." somehow the idol group gets even better! Their image has evolved so much from their debut and I've been looking forward to hearing Yakusoku to see if their style has evolved even more! Yes, I've sung many praises for TGS and the dark image the surprisingly young group has. I like the more serious and mature sound the group has and ever since Kodou no Himitsu, I feel like they've really had some strong singles that showcase their good vocals and musical style. But as much as I love the group's singles, I'm actually not a huge fan of their albums. Don't get me wrong, their past two albums aren't bad but they're not GAME or Idol is Dead levels of good. What I'm trying to say is there are criticisms that I have of both albums that prevent them from being really-super-good. The group's debut album, Kodou no Himitsu, was good but could have been better if their was a better balance of style. There are some tracks on that album that I really like and then there are others that I can't stand. Their second album, Limited Addiction, had the opposite problem in that all the songs had the same style but didn't set themselves apart from each other. That album just sounded like one long, monotonous song and lacked track diversity. So I didn't really know what to expect from their third album but I did know that I didn't want a repetition of the Limited Addiction album. What was promising about Yakusoku was that the A-sides and B-sides featured on the album were pretty strong. The album songs were going to be what really determined how much I enjoyed this album; just because there were good A-sides/B-sides doesn't mean I want low quality album tracks! So is Tokyo Girls' Style's third album a musical success, showing that three really is a magic number? Or is it a disappointment that had the potential to be really good? Let's find out.

1. Intro

And so opening the album is not actually a real song but a little instrumental opener! Actually, there are a few echoed words/phrases by the TGS girls in the song but it's pretty much non-vocal. An intro/outro was also featured on the group's last album so I guess this is going to be a staple in their future albums from now on? I don't know, I'm not a huge fan of instrumental-only track on an album; they feel more like a waste of space even though I know they're supposed to set the tone of the album. Even so, I'd much rather have two new songs than an intro and an outro. Still, how does this introduce the album? Well... it sounds like elevator music. After the kind of retro/ethereal opening, the song just sort of turns into elevator music and I'm not exactly a fan of elevator music. Who is anyways!? I don't know but after listening to the entire album, I don't think this was a very good way to open the album especially since the tone and style is so... weird.

My rating:

2. Bad Flower

And after the intro comes the kickass A-side Bad Flower! I've said many times how I think this was a great song to showcase how much TGS had improved over their little summer break. Mainly Hitomi. Oh my god, Hitomi sounds awesome in this song. I know I've said that like a bajillion times now but I can't emphasize how much Hitomi improved from Tsuioku to Bad Flower! And the rest of the vocals sound really good too and the girls match the hardcore and gritty tone of the song. Bad Flower is one of TGS's darker songs, especially in terms of the instrumental. You get a lot of guitar in this song which only adds to the darkness of Bad Flower and it's freaking awesome. My only complaint about Bad Flower is that I feel like it could have been a little bit shorter but over all it's a very enjoyable song and a really cool way to open Yakusoku and set the darker tone for the album!

My rating:

3. Tsuioku -Single Version-

Unfortunately, I don't have the same amount of praise for the group's previous A-side released before Bad Flower. Although Tsuioku is only a second shorter than Bad Flower, it feels like a much longer song, mainly because it's a ballad. What a surprise! Nia doesn't like a ballad! As you all know, I'm very particular about ballads and only have a handful that really stand out to me. Tsuioku does not fall into that handful. I always found this song to be slow; okay, for the first two minutes it's a pretty song. It's still somewhat bland but it's the pretty kind of bland but after a few minutes I always think "Mmkay, is the song over yet? WHAT!? There are still three minutes left!?" I admit, if I was in the right mood (aka the mood in which I want to fall asleep), Tsuioku would be a very calm and soothing song. However, most of the time for me it just doesn't stand out to me as a ballad and I'll probably end up skipping this track on the album. 

My rating:

4. Discord

Oh my god, I am so happy that Discord made it onto the album! Do you have any idea how much I love this song? Actually, your probably do since it was featured one my year-end megapost as one of the best B-sides of 2012 but I still feel the urge to emphasize how awesome I think this song is. I actually think I like it a little bit better than Bad Flower, even though both songs pretty much have the same dark tones. Discord has a slightly more electro-influenced sound to it and I think that's what gives it edge over Bad Flower! It's a dark and cool song that makes me feel cool by simply listening to it! The vocals are hardcore and match the gritty tone of the song. I honestly, think this song could have stood alone as an A-side it's that strong. There's just so much done with the instrumental of the song that works from the electro synths to the sound effects (that glass breaking after the bridge verse). It's a kickass song and I'm ecstatic that it's on the album!

My rating:

5. Sore de Ii jan 

Well, I doubted that the next track on the album could live up to the sheer awesomeness that is Discord but Sore de Ii jan is a pretty nice song to follow it! At least it's not a huge mood whiplash like going from Limited Addiction to Onnaji Kimochi or something dissonant like that. Sore de Ii jan is pretty firmly in TGS-style territory; it's mature-sounding, upbeat and sounds like it came from the nineties! Yeah, this is one of the tracks that plays it pretty safe in terms of experimentation; the style has been handled by the TGS girls many times now. Even the instrumental sounds similar to other songs they've sung, like this one... sound effect I can't describe that I feel like I've heard in so many of their songs. TGS fans will know what sound I'm talking about! Honestly, even though this isn't a bad song, because of it's similarity to other TGS songs, it feels more like a filler track. It's not bad but I've heard this styling/structure a lot by now.

My rating:

6. Taisetsu no Kotoba

And here we have the other A-side of Tsuioku that wasn't really promoted like an A-side. That always seems to happen with TGS singles... I like it slightly better than Tsuioku but it reminds me a lot of their other songs like Don't be cruel (the instrumentals sound very alike) and it even has a few traces of Rock you! floating around. I guess on the single, the more upbeat sound served as a nice contrast to the slowness of Tsuioku but I'm not looking at the single. Still, this song fits on the album, and it has that sound you hear in a lot of TGS songs so the familiar territory isn't a bad thing. Taisetsu no Kotoba is one of those mood songs for me and I have to be in a good mood to enjoy this song. It's not a terrible song but if I'm in a melancholic mood, I'm not going to be reaching for my iPod thinking "I"m gonna play Taisetsu no Kotoba!" Overall, this an upbeat and fairly happy song and while it's not my favorite A-side from TGS, it's bearable!

My rating:

7. Tsuki to Sayonara

After the happy sound of Taisetsu no Kotoba, the next song dips back into a more serious and mature sound. I'm completely okay with that because TGS is a group that really thrives on more mature songs! Tsuki to Sayonara sounds like a song you'd hear being played in a shady nightclub in an old black-and-white movie with the trumpets and that kind of old, retro sound. I especially love the instrumental just because there are all sorts of little sounds thrown into it along with the more over-the-top instruments. I particularly heard a lot of trumpets and other horn instruments in this song which only add to the coolness of the instrumental. Tsuki to Sayonara is one of those songs that has a very sneaky, almost mischievous sound to it; I don't really know how to explain that but it's a cool song. It's an instrumental-driven song that would fit in perfectly with an old film noir movie! I only wish I'd heard the girls a little bit more...

My rating:

8. Maboroshi

At first, I didn't really know what to make of this song. Part of me thought it was okay but I was leaning towards disliking it. But after hearing the full song, I actually like it, even if it's not my favorite track on the album. Maboroshi is one of the more lighter and upbeat tracks on the album and probably the happiest and least mature sounding. But what I like about Maboroshi is that just because it's a happy song doesn't mean that it doesn't fit with the other tracks on the album. It still fits with the other tracks and doesn't sound out of place like a song like Onnaji Kimochi or Ganbatte Itsudatte Shinjiteru. And honestly, I like that there's a happier track on the album to balance out all the more mature-sounding music. There are even a few fun little parts in the instrumental like some vocal distortion and it actually makes for a pretty nice song! Although it's not my favorite track, Maboroshi is still a pretty fun song!

My rating: 

9. Overnight Sensation ~Jidai wa Anata ni Yudaneteru~

And here we have the cover song on the album! TGS deviates away from their typical SweetS covers and this time is covering a dance group popular in the 90s called TRF! Now you all know my little philosophy on covers is that I try not to discriminate and instantly claim that the original is better and I also try to keep my standards and expectations realistic for cover songs. I actually heard TGS's version of Overnight Sensation before the original group's but I did find the original song! Honestly, the original sounds... very nineties. I don't know, I found the song kind of dated even though it is a pretty cool song and makes for a good cover. That being said, I feel like the TGS version of Overnight Sensation is more of an update on the original song with the idol group's style mixed into it. It sounds like a TGS song but doesn't change too much about the structure and style of the original. It's a really good cover and I like it a lot!

My rating:

10. Futarikiri

Futarikiri is another upbeat song on the track and has a slightly more fun and playful tone than Overnight Sensation; this was a nice song to transition to! If you like W.M.A.D. then I think you'll enjoy Futarikiri because Futarikiri is like W.M.A.D. if that song gave itself an adrenaline shot. What I really love about this song is the sheer energy and the almost hyper sound it has. The girls do a lot of singing in this song, almost nonstop, and it sounds like a song that would be hard to do live simply because of the sheer energy of it. My favorite part is when the girls' voices echo in the chorus; it's insanely catchy and it only adds to the sheer fun this song has. I will admit, there are parts of the song that sound highly reminiscent of other songs by TGS; it kind of sound like a blend of their high-energy songs only the energy was cranked up to eleven for Futakiri. Overall, the energy is what makes this song stand out and it's a really fun track!

My rating:

11. Lolita Strawberry in summer 

Ah, here we have the token SweetS cover on the album. I remember when this song came out with the Bad Flower single and everyone was saying "Yeah, it's not as good as the original." And I have to admit... that's half true for me. While I think TGS sounds much better vocally than SweetS does in the original, the arrangement in the SweetS version is better than TGS's cover. My problem with Lolita is that it's long. Really long. I'm not kidding, the song is nearly seven minutes. The only other J-pop related song on my iPod is edge (⊿-mix). About halfway through, the cover starts getting a little too repetitive for my taste and I feel like the song could have been shortened. Hell, I probably would have enjoyed the song more if it was shorter. Still, it's really hard to mess up a SweetS song that much and I feel like Lolita Strawberry in summer is a decent cover by TGS, even if it's too long for my tastes.

My rating:

12. Yakusoku

And here we finally have the elusive title track! Does anyone else think that Yakusoku's placement on the album is a little weird? I just would have thought that it would have been placed more toward the beginning of the album or even as the opening track what with it being the promotional song and all that. Well luckily, the wait to hear this elusive title track was totally worth it because Yakusoku is a really freaking awesome song. The opening is without a doubt the best part of this song; it's got this very ethereal and surreal sound to it that I haven't heard from TGS yet. In fact, that's what I think I like the most about Yakusoku; it's still a mature sounding song for TGS but it's mature in a different sound and style from what I've seen a lot from TGS recently. This entire song has this really surreal and weird melody to it in both the vocals and instrumentals and it's absolutely cool. I think this might be my favorite new track on the album.

My rating:

13. Outro

So concluding the album (except not really because there are still two bonus tracks) is the Outro! It's basically like the Intro in that it's just another instrumental song on the album. But does the Outro hold a better opinion from me than the Intro? Surprisingly... yeah! It's a pretty neat little instrumental piece. Actually, the Outro sounds a lot like something I'd hear from Perfume, only a little less electronic. I'm serious, I could totally picture this song playing at a Perfume concert, maybe accompanying a Perfume no Okite/JPN Special-ish type of performance. So I guess what I really mean is the Outro reminds me of a Capsule song! Either way, I like the Outro much better than that elevator music Intro. It keeps that same style Yakusoku had going to still manages to set itself apart as an individual song. Although I would have liked an actual song in lieu of an instrumental, this Outro is a pretty cool way to conclude the album!

My rating: 

14. Himawari to Hoshizuku -English Version-

Now this surprised me. An English version of Himawari to Hoshizuku? Well okay, but is that really necessary? I know redoing/remixing songs is kind of TGS's schtick but this just feels a little odd. I enjoyed the original song and I could only imagine how well the girls of TGS could handle singing in English. So bottom line, I went into this song expecting a good deal of Engrish. And unsurprisingly, there was a good deal of Engrish! But that's not really a good thing because unlike a song with a random English phase thrown in here and there, an all-English song really doesn't work for TGS due to the language barrier. I could barely understand this song except for a few phrases and the rest sounds like gibberish to my ears. If TGS was more accustomed to pronouncing English then yeah, the song might sound better but as for now, I think I'll keep listening to the original Himawari to Hoshizuku. 

My rating:

The Verdict

Something I have to say right now is that Yakusoku is much better than Limited Addiction and Kodou no Himitsu. That doesn't mean it's without problems but overall, the style of this album feels more developed and polished than in the last two albums. Are there a few tracks that I could have done without? Of course (-cough- Sore de Ii jan and Himawari to Hoshizuku) but overall, I'm very pleased with the sound of Yakusoku. I think what I like about this album is that the style feels more balanced and the songs aren't whiplashing between different styles of music yet the songs don't all sound the same either. A few songs do sound incredibly familiar to older TGS songs (-cough- Sore de Ii jan) but then you have other songs that still stick to that mature style but don't sound like rehashes of old songs  like Yakusoku and Tsuki to Sayonara and Maboroshi. There's also a nice mix-up of new songs and old songs, which is something I always like in an album but I could have done without the Intro and Outro if that meant more original songs. Still, it's a nice blend of songs and they all seem to fit together and the transitions to each song work well too. Now something to note about the Yakusoku album is that the tracks are long. The total length of the album is over an hour (68 minutes to be exact) which is somewhat unusual for an idol album and a majority of the songs run for over 5 minutes. In fact, the only songs that are under 5 minutes are Maboroshi, Himawari to Hoshizuku, and Discord and even then Discord's just 3 seconds under! Lolita Strawberry in Summer is the longest track at 6 minutes and 45 seconds and I do feel like that track was a little unnecessarily long. Really if you're not a fan of lengthy songs, then you're gonna get impatient with Yakusoku pretty fast. However, if you can enjoy the lengthiness of all the songs along with a darker sound, then I think you're gonna like this album. Some of the tracks I'd recommend are Yakusoku, Bad Flower, Discord, Tsuki to Sayonara and Overnight Sensation!

Overall, I will give Yakusoku four out of five apples. If you're a fan of the more mature side of Tokyo Girls' Style and that nineties Avex sound, then I think you'll like what Yakusoku has to offer. A few songs are a little monotonous but overall, the new tracks are nicely diverse yet all manage to stick to a certain style and direction. The A-sides and B-sides included on the album are pretty strong too, particularly Discord and Bad Flower. Like I said, if you're looking for a more mature-sounding album from an idol group, I'd check out Yakusoku.

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