SAKA-SAMA have been something of a favorite with Team Homicidols since they first formed in 2016, but at the same time, they’ve remained a perplexing enigma of an idol unit. Constantly shifting membership rosters are always part of this territory, but this group seems especially prone to changing it’s line-up with each passing season, with only Kokone and Dr. Mahiru providing consistency as it’s founding members. And the music of SAKA-SAMA, primarily billed as “Low-Fi Dream Pop”, is in truth equally unpredictable, with a wide variety of unique genres and styles that run the gamut of shoegazey indie-pop to oddball quirky country songs and spoken word pieces, making it a rather difficult task to describe what exactly the group does. Mind you, this isn’t a complaint by any means, I’m just trying to clarify why writing about TRASH-UP!!’s in-house idol group is well… quite a challenge.
So after a couple of years of compilation tracks, EPs, singles, and one live recording, SAKA-SAMA have finally released an actual, honest-to-goodness full length album, titled, appropriately enough, “It’s a SAKA-SAMA World’! I’ve been excitedly anticipating this release since the moment it was announced, and I eagerly snatched it from OTOTOY right away. I came to realize quickly that this is an album that, just like anything related to SAKA-SAMA, has certain unique traits that can’t be summed up after a breezy listening session. This is what we call a “grower”, or a “slow-burn”, wherein one must dig in deeply to truly reap the rewards of the listening experience, and develop an opinion based on multiple takes instead of relying on easy gratification.
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Clocking in at 55 minutes over 13 songs, you’ve got a lot of Low-Fi Dream Pop™ to digest with this album. I believe there are only two previously recorded songs here, one of which is the lush and gorgeous dreamy pop song “Owarikara” which was also featured on their EP from back in February, and the second is “Sushi-Day Night Fever!”, the outer-space disco tune that only came out a couple months ago. These two songs are sort of a perfect juxtpostion of what you can expect from this group, just imagine everything else as fitting in stylistically somewhere in between.
My personal favorite songs on here on the ones that stick a little closer to what the group has cut it’s teeth on, that is slightly melancholy shoegaze pop with rich guitars and lots of reverb. “Kanousei” for example, is an absolute stunner of a song that I can’t imagine any fan of Asobi Seksu and Lush not falling madly in love with. This is the song that I would play for my non-idol listening hipster-ish friends to bring them on board, and I’d feel pretty confident that it could hook them in. There’s some other really terrific songs that also follow this route, including “Kikoel”. Give these songs a listen and I think you’ll see one wouldn’t realize this is an idol group if your preconceptions didn’t expect it…
Then there’s the songs that play with the genre-bending a little more. These songs are also quite good, but get a bit harder to define. “Hikari to Kagerou (Bye Bye Bye)”, with it’s funky bass line and guitar work, goes in a direction a little closer to the “Space disco sushi song” side of things, but is still it’s own unique jaunt that sounds great, while being a bit tough to explain.
“Hikari to Kagerou (Bye Bye Bye)”
Some other standouts I liked on this album are “Digital Relation”, which has a kind of 70’s smooth groove on a Sunday afternoon kind of vibe, and “Masakasama” which I think is the closest these girls will get to recording a speed-punk song. One thing I realized from this track is that the SAKAs could pull off the hard-rock idol gig if they ever decided to go that way. And then there’s “Sekai”, which is a seven-minute plus trip-hop number that floats out to sea and threatens to leave you there in a state of existential bliss.
What would I criticize? It comes down to an issue I have with a lot of idol recordings. I genuinely like all the songs here, and everything is solid, but it runs a little long. An opinion I’ve held about idol music (And really, pop in general.) is that this isn’t really long-play album-oriented material. If this were split into two consectutive EPs, with a couple of the tracks used as coupling singles, everything here would go down as a flawlessly digestible treat that would leave the listener wanting more. To be fair, this may not be the listening experience of everyone, and so your mileage may vary. I find myself sort of mentally splitting this release into two parts with a break in-between, and it works great that way.
Live performance of “Tetsubou”
As I mentioned before, what you have here is a slow-burn masterpiece of an album. It’s wonderfully rewarding and I recommend it as an absolute must to anyone who’s already a fan of SAKA-SAMA and the TRASH-UP!! aesthetic. To those who are not neccesarily initiated into that niche, you oughta dig into this but expect to put in a little effort to really see the brilliance of it all. And if you have that friend who doesn’t like idol music but you always wanted to introduce them to the amazing things happening under the surface, then this just might the ticket you’ve been searching for.
Something else that’s cool: Aside from the lossless quality of OTOTOY, TRASH-UP!! has been gracious enough to place this album on Spotify, Apple Music, and for sale on iTunes. You’ve simply got zero reasons to not at least drift over to one of the streaming options of your preference and give “It’s a SAKA-SAMA World” a listen and drink deeply in the warmth of “Lo-Fi Dream Pop”. You’ll be glad you did, and I’m certain the group will appreciate it as well.