I look back on when I first heard Yanakoto Sotto Mute. It was months before Bellring Girls Heart was announcing its kind-of end, and a sister unit coming into being felt like a nice move; give Bellheart a sidecar, and oh look they do grunge and stuff, that’s appropriate and … damn, that one girl there can sing like the dickens, huh? And these songs are pretty powerful!
Two EPs and about a year later, there’s a distinct feeling of change around the whole thing. BRGH took a break and got a new name and a bunch of new members, and it may be that the student has become the master. Or is the Yanamyu thing really just a bunch of hype? On to the review!
Idol is a particular thing; the truth is, a lot of the music is mediocre at best, the idols themselves of middling talent, the business model that props the whole thing up just as exploitative of everybody involved as you’ll find in the world.
But there’s power in it anyway. Nobody needs to tell me, for instance, that so-and-so is a lousy singer or a particular composition is even lamer than the run of the mill — it’s pretty obvious on its face. And yet, there I am, wondering if this is the album that I should buy, or that shirt, or if I should make a point of emphasis to follow the project because it’s more interesting than it lets on.
So what happens when real talent converges with as compelling a force as idol? And not just vocal talent, but overall artistic vision with the chops to pull it off?
That’s the Yanakoto Sotto Mute Experience for me in a nutshell. Idol shouldn’t be this good, musically, and the performance shouldn’t be as artful and skilled, and all the constituent parts of what makes them idol — the look, the styling, the presentation — shouldn’t be so compelling. But Yanamyu is the exception proving the rule, as they’ve been proving for several months now.
BUBBLE is their first album, and I feel almost like I’m not doing it justice by describing it as a thematic realization of what Yanamyu, as a creative project, seems to be all about. Just consider the main motif that permeates their visual work: Water, whether submerging or soaking the members or simply a visual analog, is basically YSM’s brand. So looking at the cover art and considering the album’s title, one might conclude that it’s a fought-for dying breath of a drowning person; or, to take the metaphor one step closer, it’s a struggle to survive in an abundance of life’s one truly essential element.
Or maybe it’s just cool. I don’t know; I can’t Japanese. What I do know is that Yanakoto Sotto Mute has been delivering some of the very best idol rock since their inception, and that this album is like a stepping-off point into a big, wild, potentially hugely successful future.
Driving it of course are the twin towers of excellent 90s-era grunge-tinged rock songwriting and powerful, evocative vocal work by the four members, especially Nadeshiko, a goddess in human form whose leads are dominant and impossible to ignore.
We knew that just from the group’s earlier EPs, and if the album has a real strike against it, it’s that, with 13 tracks and more than half of them re-issues, it’s too padded with things that have already happened to reach its full potential as a creative work. Is that a huge knock? It hasn’t been before, or at least not much of one, but I do feel that it warrants mention.
Those previously released tracks are scattered around the track list; “Kanaderuha” is basically YSM’s archetype song, and “Tsukinome” and “Just Breathe” are comfortable and familiar; “see inside,” too, with probably the best melody on the albumv– when I get into the groove here, I straight-up dance. We know “Lily” pretty well by now, with its exquisite MV and murky, moody bass-driven interplay between elegant vocals and layered guitars — I don’t know if it’s a deliberate choice in the production, but two guitars doing separate parts that are actually hard to distinguish in the chorus sounds immense to me, like the dropped lead part is meant to be a subtle touch rather than a driving force.
“Passiflora” is one of my favorite YSM joints. It always reminds me of Sparta, which had a really important spot in my Developing Grown-up Musical Tastes period, a nice mix of the ethereal and temporal and a great break into the final chorus. “Horoscope” is a song that always sneaks up on me; the bass starts off sounding like me mindlessly plucking an open detuned E string, but then all that power and emotion takes over and I go on a journey that maybe I didn’t want when I started on it, but I’ll be damned if I’m not glad that I did. Somebody should win an award for that chorus, if nothing else. And, of course, you know an album’s good when “Done” is arguably the least good song on it, because “Done” is a straightforward banger with YSM’s trademark artistic flair and great anthemic elements.
But enough for the re-releases; we knew they were good-to-amazing. This album was going to live or die by its new material, and I was very pleased to find that said new material was not only just as good, but it added some nice diversity to the whole.
“morning,” the opening track, sounds like it belongs on the Singles soundtrack; I almost can’t believe that it wasn’t written by a Soundgarden around the time of Badmotorfinger, with good crunchy guitars and a enough technical artistry to satisfy .
“am I” represents the album’s biggest departure, a slow, meandering journey through the soul of melancholy while still adding punchier elements to drive the emotions straight into your heart. I wasn’t crazy about “orange” when I first heard it (live), but it’s a really great transitional song for this album, from where it’s positioned to the way it shifts the energy with a more explicit punk rock influence than a lot of their other work.
Possibly the closest thing to a misstep is “sputnik note,” a song that I really want to like. I just feel like it’s trying a little bit too hard and winds up being sort of an amalgam of everything else Yanamyu is doing. It’s still better and more intelligently written than the vast majority of what we get in idol, so I’m not knocking it, just sharing a reaction.
On the flipside is “No Known,” which isn’t at all like “Horoscope,” but has a similar effect, except that it goes on a far more wide-ranging journey through dissonance, weird time signatures and Nadeshiko basically putting her foot on the throat of many, many other idols who try to deliver as much natural power. There’s so much going on that I just kind of shrug and go with it — I don’t dislike any of it and kind of wish that it could be expanded into a prog rock opus that would make Dream Theater proud if only so I didn’t have to stop listening to it.
It’s a hell of an album, though you’ll probably want to back away from it a little if grunge was never your thing, because this is as distinct and deliberately a 90s rock album as anything that idol has ever done, and with none of the schmaltz that could sometimes infect the style. It’s a capper to a first year of existence, during which they’ve joined the conversation for idols at the forefront of this whole alt-loud-rock thing.
Is it perfect? Technically, no. It’s extraordinarily good — unlike last year’s community AOTY, KiLLER BiSH, it doesn’t have soft spots or obvious filler, and every song counts — but it is missing maybe just a bit more diversity and another new song or two in favor of the EP tracks. That being acknowledged, only a handful of releases have made it as far as a 4.5 on the Homicidols Scale, and I’m tempted to say that, sum of its parts, BUBBLE better than any of them.
They have a motif. They have a style. They have a sound. I’ve already called them the perfect modern idols, and this is as close to a perfect rock idol album as has been put out to date.
Buy this album. Or just listen to it on Spotify or whatever to see for yourself. I think that sora tob sakana currently has the market cornered for Song of the Year and Video of the Year, and DEATHLESS remains the more diverse and interesting release, but nothing is as close to front-to-back perfect as this album.
Yanakoto Sotto Mute is a big-ass deal.
Added to the Ultimate Homicidol Playlist:
Yanamyu refuses to release their more aggressive material in music video form, but I want them on the playlist, so here’s “Lily”: