Sunday, June 22, 2014

Let's Talk about Magi9 Playland

What exactly is a Magi9 Playland anyways? Is it the secret magical playland where the members of 9nine frolic about and record their singles? Who knows! But I do know an album title that would have made an even better one than Magi9 Playland: Magi9 Wonderland. Pretty sick, am I right? Okay, maybe not so much...

I will say that I love the artwork for Magi9 Playland. There's nothing I like better than combining artsiness with space! And the colors on every edition are so pretty. But I've seen gorgeous album covers with terrible music, so I'm not deceived by Magi9 Playland. In my further crusade to review 9nine's stuff, I decided to review their fifth album! What a better way to really get a feel for an idol group's music by reviewing one of their albums? Of course, I should probably also get around to listening to the group's first four albums... I'll do that eventually! For now though, I have Magi9 Playland to listen to! I've been casually paying attention to this album, just checking the tracklist and things like that. I noticed that Magi9 Playland has a lot of new material, which can be either be a blessing or a curse. Well, as much as I'd liked to have seen a few B-sides make it into this album, I was interested in hearing how all these new songs sounded. So did Magi9 Playland not disappoint? Or was it the blunder of the year? Obviously, it can't be the latter because Tokyo Girls' Style already stole that title. Now let's dive into Magi9 Playland!

1. Re:

So starting our descent into Magi9 Playland is the second A-side of this era, Re:. Damn, that song is a punctuation nightmare. Anyways, Re: isn't a bad choice to kick off the album. In fact, I wish I'd reviewed the song when it came out as a single, because I think it's a pretty good song. Re: is an anime song, and it takes no shame in sounding like one. But there's still a lot of power in this song. It starts off with that soft music box, and from there, it's this buildup of vocals and instrumentals. The chorus is the catchiest part of the song, and arguably the best. It definitely sticks in my head, like many an anime song. There's something about anime songs that makes me want to get in my car and go save the world, and Re: stirs that emotion in me. Also, it sounds like something I'd hear in AKB0048. But I digress. I'm not a huge fan of the Dubstep break in the middle of the song, but other than that, I think Re: is a pretty strong opening song.

My Rating:

2. Forget-U-not

After the catchy anime song that is Re: is... another anime song! Oh wait, Forget-U-Not isn't exactly tied to an anime. At least I don't think it is. Still, Forget-U-Not sounds like it should be an anime song. Forgot-U-Not has those anime-style strings a la ClariS's Connect, along with that uplifting sound that you hear all the time in anime songs. Seriously, is there a word for that yet? Forget-U-Not sounds like something Mizuki Nana would do, except it would be more orchestral and the live version would have pyrotechnic special effects. Coming right after Re:, Forget-U-Not sounds more like a retread of Re:. Ha, a retread. Get it? I mean, the song is still enjoyable, but it doesn't leave as much of an impression as Re: did. Maybe if it were placed somewhere else on the tracklist, Forget-U-Not might grab me more. On its own, the song is all right, and if you're a fan of generic anime songs, then Forget-U-Not isn't bad.

My Rating:

3. With You / With Me

Wow, the next single! That was fast! What happened to Evolution No.9? Following in the trend of anime-style songs is With You / With Me! In my review of this song, I wasn't jazzed by it, and my general opinions still hold firm. With You / With Me sounds like what you'd expect in a song. It's got that hopeful, soaring sound that I mentioned earlier, similar to what Re: has. At least With You / With Me has a better instrumental break than Re:! No gratuitous Dubstep for this song! And the key change in With You / With Me is also very nice. Neither of those elements is enough to give the song a huge boost though. With You / With Me is a pleasant song to listen to, and it fits right in with an anime ending. But that's pretty much all there is to With You / With Me. I've heard this style of music from 9nine before, and I've heard them do it better than With You / With Me. Is it a terrible song? No. But it's kind of underwhelming, especially as the third anime-style song in a row.

My Rating:


Okay I'm not sure if it was my speakers or the song, but The Magi9al Fes. sounded a lot softer than I thought it was going to. The intro made it sound like The Magi9al Fes. was going be this really futuristic song a la Synchrogazer or Vitalization. But even with the synths, The Magi9al Fes. is very idol-y. So far, this is the most conventional-sounding song on Magi9 Playland. I do like parts of The Magi9al Fes. like the instrumental sounds very festive, almost like a marching band at parts. And the instrumental break in this song is super cool! And doesn't match with the rest of the song come to think of it... I think that The Magi9al Fes. could be catchier. The chorus doesn't have much of a distinctive hook, and for happy songs like this to work, you need a hook. There's not a very good flow between the verses and chorus of The Magi9al Fes. Thankfully, it doesn't sound like a rehash of Re: which I can't say the same about With You / With Me.

My Rating:

5. out of the blue

So out of the blue comes the fifth track on Magi9 Playland, Out of the blue! And this song starts off pretty cool. There are some pretty cool electronic effects in the beginning before the vocals start. Then the girls of 9nine start singing. Ironically, the weakest part of Out of the blue are the vocals. The chorus sounds slightly whiny at parts, and compared to the instrumental, the vocal arrangement just isn't as tight. Actually, I'd like to hear the instrumental version of Out of the blue. I think it'd be one of those songs where the instrumental is better than the original. Like Perfume's Voice! Out of the blue sounds like it should be this epic technopop song, and I don't think the vocals match up to that level of epicness. They aren't as terrible as I'm making them out to be though. Maybe in a different arrangement, the vocals would sound better! Out of the blue is a pretty cool song, but that doesn't stop me from thinking that there's a good deal of wasted potential in it.

My Rating:

6. 9uestions

I just have one question for 9questions: what the hell kind of tone is this song going for? At the beginning, 9questions sounds like it's going to be this edgy technopop song. But that only lasts for around 15 seconds and then 9questions turns into an R&B song. A techno-ish R&B song. Am I making sense? 9questions is such a chill song, but I don't really know what to make of it. The chorus has a happy sound to it, but then the verses sound like they're trying to be a ballad. Whatever 9questions is trying to do, I'm not feeling it. I guess it is nice hearing something that doesn't sound like an anime song on Magi9 Playland. And the calmer sound of 9questions does kind of work. It doesn't work well enough for me to get into the song though. I think 9questions either needs to scrap the techno sound effects or embrace them entirely, because this in-between sound it's going for isn't working out. So yeah, not my favorite track on the album.

My Rating:


So after 9nine questions is a song that I have to use Copy/Paste to write properly! Atashi≒Watashi is another song on Magi9 Playland I can add to the list of technopop-inspired songs. Admittedly, Atashi≒Watashi doesn't rely as heavily on technopop as some of the other songs on this album. I'm a little torn on this song. When I listen to it, I think it's a good song. But I don't have much I want to say about it. The song has this very laid back sound and yet... doesn't. The vocals sound very distant, like the girls were singing them through a funnel. It makes for kind of a cool song. And I do like that Atashi≒Watashi isn't just a repeat of Re: or With You / With Me. The best part of this song is the bridge where the girls' more distorted vocals play. I would have liked to hear more of that in Atashi≒Watashi. I guess the song I can compare it most to is Konwaku Confuse, but even then, I like that song much better.  Still, Atashi≒Watashi is an enjoyable listen!

My Rating:


Halfway through the album, Next to Future is the first track on Magi9 Playland that I really liked. Like some of the earlier tracks, Next to Future has an anime theme song-vibe to it, but I think it works. I think what helps with Next to Future is that it's a shorter song than all the previous tracks. But the pacing doesn't feel rushed. I know I've been repeating this phrase a lot, but Next to Future is another technopop song. However, it's the first technopop song I've really gotten into. I don't even mind the Dubstep break in the instrumental! In fact, I think that instrumental break is the best part; it reminds me a lot of the instrumental break in Perfume's Spring of Life! I just like the atmosphere of Next to Future a lot; it sounds like something you'd hear in a sci-fi movie during an action-heavy scene. I think putting Next to Future after Atashi≒Watashi was a good decision. Both tracks fit together nicely. Now let's see if the next track can keep this level of quality up...

My Rating:


Well, that's one interesting title. I was picturing kind of a spooky song with a title like Love Vampire, but nope, Love Vampire is just more techno. And like many other songs on Magi9 Playland, it starts off more serious sounding than it really is. Actually, Love Vampire is a really perky song. Almost a little too perky. At times, Love Vampire sounds like a song. If could actually sing. Okay, I'm being mean, I'll stop now. But I really do think that the high notes in Love Vampire border on irritating. This song could have been a key lower and sounded just fine. Maybe even better. The weird thing is, only the vocals of Love Vampire sound cheerful. The instrumental keeps trying to make the song sound darker than it really is. I kind of wish Love Vampire would stick with one tone, because the happy, cheerful parts are not mixing with the dark, serious parts. So yeah, not a song I'm a huge fan of on Magi9 Playland.

My Rating:

10. To be continued...

Okay, To be continued... makes Love Vampire sound normal. To be continued... reminds me a bit of 5 the Power if 5 the Power wasn't a rap song. Yeah, I'm not feeling it. To be continued... is a very quirky song, and I do like that it lays off the techno. I mean, not completely, but more than some of the songs on this album. This song sounds like something you'd hear in a Nintendo game. And I like Nintendo games, but I just can't get into this song. I think because To be continued... sounds very... what's the word I'm looking for... juvenile? This sounds like something Fairies would do. You know, if one member of 9nine sang the entire song. I kind of see what this song was trying to do. I also think parts of the instrumental sound pretty cool, but the vocal arrangement is kind of forgettable. Thankfully, To be continued... is a short song, the shortest on the album actually. I'll be skipping over To be continued... when I listen to Magi9 Playland again.

My Rating:

11. 【fu:】

Well, after To be continued... the album continues quite quickly into 【fu:】, another song that makes me thankful for the Copy/Paste buttons! 【fu:】 is another quirky little song, with more of a fantasy element to it than the last track. I'm not sure how well that works. It works better than To be continued..., but I think 【fu:】 sounds just a little too cute. This is the kind of song I'd expect to hear at the beginning of one of those cutesy moe animes. I guess there is something refreshing about how light and bubbly 【fu:】 sounds. And there's just enough technopop in the song to not make it sound completely out of place on Magi9 Playland. 【fu:】 has enough quirks to prevent it from being totally forgotten. There's even a little bit of theremin in this song! Maybe if there were more songs on Magi9 Playland about alien abduction, I might like 【fu:】 more. But overall, it's not my favorite track on the album, nor my least favorite.

My Rating:

12. D.N.A.

So D.N.A. starts off with kind of a funky sound. It has a little bit of an Indian vibe going. Which hey, I'm cool with that; Perfume's Handy Man did the same thing, and I love that song! But I'm not sure if that sound works as well in D.N.A. This song sounds like an unfinished product. There are sounds in it that work well (again, that Indian vibe), but vocally and structurally, D.N.A. is kind of a mess. Not a mess I can't enjoy, but still a mess. There's not a very good transition between the verses and chorus with this song; everything sounds so jumbled. If the producers wanted D.N.A. to sound more hectic, then they could have thrown in crazier sounds and changed up the vocal arrangement. In fact, I'd just scrap the current vocal arrangement. I don't think it works very well with the instrumental. It's like they took an instrumental from a completely different song and threw different vocals on top of it. Hrm, I'm noticing a pattern with a lot of songs on this album...

My Rating:

13. Evolution No.9

Ah, here's Evolution No.9 way at the end of the album! The first A-side of this era, Evolution No.9 is also the first 9nine song I ever reviewed! And it also happens to be my favorite A-side of the three on Magi9 Playland. I wouldn't give Evolution No.9 five apples, but I still think it's a very strong A-side. And it's especially refreshing on this album because it doesn't sound like a generic anime song! Evolution No.9 has this cool edginess to it, like something you'd hear in an espionage thriller. I suspect that the music video picked up on those espionage vibes. I love the way the verses lead into the chorus; it's a fast transition done very well. The only iffy part of Evolution No.9 to me is the bridge; the bridge sounds very choral. It's interesting no doubt, but it sounds a little out of place against the rest of Evolution No.9. Does that bridge take away any enjoyment of the song? Absolutely not! I like Evolution No.9, and it's nice to hear it after four weak songs.

My Rating:


Now this is one tight track. In fact, Algorithm+Love is my favorite track on Magi9 Playland. Even more than Next to Future! I wish the rest of Magi9 Playland kept up the momentum that Algorithm+Love brings to the album. Because holy shit, this song is great. Algorithm+Love uses a lot of the same technopop sounds that have been popping up in the other 13 tracks on this album, but it uses them better. The vocal arrangement works well with the instrumental, making for a very brisk, tightly paced song. I love how the energy builds as Algorithm+Love plays on, culminating in a pretty awesome key change at the end of the song. And then it goes one step farther, and goes up one key higher! And then one more key higher! The pacing in Algorithm+Love is perfect; it gives the song this sense of urgency, like it's rushing to finish before something terrible happens. If you're going to listen to just one song on Magi9 Playland, I strongly recommend Algorithm+Love.

My Rating:

15. Prism Drops & Falls

I was just waiting for Prism Drops & Falls to drop all the momentum that Algorithm+Love built up. Luckily, ended up not happening! Prism Drops & Falls has more of anime sound to it but still maintains a distinctive sound. The song doesn't start off too badly; in fact, it sounds pretty cool. The rest of the song sounds kind of ambient, but not as much as it could have been. Prism Drops & Falls actually took a few listens to grow on me. At first, I thought the song was okay, but in comparison to some of the other tracks on this album, it stands out as one of the stronger ones. I think what makes Prism Drops & Falls work better is that the vocal arrangement actually fits with the tone of the instrumental. It's a little hard to get into at first, but I think Prism Drops & Falls is a pretty strong song on Magi9 Playland. As strong as Algorithm+Love? Far from it, but on its own, Prism Drops & Falls is a pretty cool song and one of my favorites on Magi9 Playland.

My Rating:

16. With You / With Me (Album Ver.)

The album version of With You / With Me starts with flashbacks to Spending all my time NOOOO- Oh wait, that's not Spending all my time. In spite of the SAMT-esque opening, With You / With Me is a pretty decent album mix. I didn't really need to hear an album version of With You / With Me, but surprisingly, I liked this version better than I thought I would. I even like it better than the original. Does this album version turn With You / With Me into an amazing song? No. But it does add a more distinctive sound to With You / With Me and makes the song sound less like a more watered down version of Re:. I even like a few of the instrumental effects added to this version of With You / With Me! Since technically With You / With Me (Album Ver.) is a bonus track, Prism Drops & Falls is the song that closes out the album, which is fine by me. As a song to close out Magi9 Playland, With You / With Me (Album Ver.) isn't a bad choice either.

My Rating:

The Verdict

How the heck did Magi9 Playland turn out better than Killing Me Softly!? Clearly my expectations were raised toward the wrong album release this month. Yes, Magi9 Playland is a good album. However, it is not a great album. At its best parts, Magi9 Playland sounds positively magical, a blend of electronic and pop that you'd picture playing in the distant future. Unfortunately, at its lowest points, Magi9 Playland sounds like a scattered collection of underutilized sounds and ideas. I think the producers were definitely going for a more technopop sound in comparison to 9nine's last album, Cue. I love technopop, and I love when idol groups explore that genre of music! But the technopop in this album is very hit-or-miss. In some songs like Love Vampire, Out of the blue, and 9questions, there's this disconnect between the way the instrumentation sounds and the vocal arrangement sounds. It's like I'm listening to two different songs mashed into one. Vocally, Magi9 Playland doesn't lean on vocoders and Autotune as heavily as Perfume or Kyarypamyupamyu does. I think Magi9 Playland could have benefitted from some better vocal production. The girls have good voices, but in some songs on Magi9 Playland, their voices don't match up very well.

Luckily, there isn't a terrible song on Magi9 Playland. There are several weak songs on this album (To be continued..., Love Vampire, 9questions, D.N.A., 【fu:】), but none of those songs are outright horrid. For every weak song on Magi9 Playland, there is a good song to combat. Like I said before, Re: and Evolution No.9 are both strong A-sides. And there are several really good tracks on this album such as Algorithm+Love, Next to Future, and Prism Drops & Falls. Then there are good songs on the album like Out of the blue, Atashi≒Watashi, and Forget-U-Not. While not every song on Magi9 Playland works as well as the ones I just listed, the album still has a cohesive sound. And there are twelve new tracks on this album. For a die-hard fan of 9nine, Magi9 Playland has more than enough new material to enjoy. As for me, Magi9 Playland isn't my favorite album, but there were enough good tracks on it that I'm glad I listened to it. Conceptually, this album has a musical style that I personally joy, even if the execution is sometimes shaky. If you like anime-style songs with a dash of technopop, I'd recommend listening to Magi9 Playland at least once.

So I've settled on four apples for 9nine's fifth album. I haven't listened to any of their previous albums, so I don't have much previous work for comparison. On its own, I think Magi9 Playland is a solid effort that doesn't always hit the mark it intends. So I do want to ask any 9nine fans reading this: what is your favorite 9nine album? How does Magi9 Playland hold up in comparison to said album?

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