We Review Things: SOLEIL is Much More than Alright…

One of the most refreshing musical highlights of 2018 was the debut album of the band SOLEIL, featuring vocals by the delightful neo-Ye´-Ye´singer who performs under the same stage name. Released this past Spring, “My Name is SOLEIL” is still one of my top releases of the year. It was an album that encapsulated my love for the perfect idol-pop of the 1960’s that swept across Europe and went on to take Asia by storm, quite literally setting up the basic formula for the modern jpop idols that we adore today.

When you consider how long it takes artists to record, produce, and set free a new album, it was certainly a pleasant surprise that just a few months later within the Fall of the same year, SOLEIL doubles down with an entirely new album. (It was written, recorded, produced, and released within 6 months!) Who even does that anymore? Most current artists dwell on a new recording endlessly by committee with a dozen cooks in the kitchen all eager to stamp their egos on the project, while the record label stands over it all, checking off the marketing buzzwords on their list to ensure a product that meets it’s bottom line. It often takes years to make an album these days. Releasing two albums in a year is just downright audacious…

(FYI, it appears the embedding of these videos may be disabled, so double-click to watch if needed…) 

What SOLEIL is doing is maintaining the pace that similar artists like France Gall and Françoise Hardy kept back in the 60’s Ye´-Ye´ heyday, keeping up a wave of consistently engaging toe-tapping tunes to float you along seamlessly from one release to the next, never allowing you to possibly drift to another one of those idol girl’s competing for your devotion. To be clear, there is no effort being made to re-invent anything that is already working wonderfully. SOLEIL essentially repeated the template from the previous album, and when the results are this good, I can’t see a reason to possibly complain. 

The resulting album, “SOLEIL is Alright” , is 12 songs clocking in at a brisk 33 minutes. (The longest song here is still well under the 4 minute mark.) But just with the previous album, it’s chock full of delicious pop candy that would sound absolutely perfect playing on a portable record player while enjoying a picnic during a day trip out of town. Songs like “My Sweet Fifteen” and “Late Summer Silhouette” ring out with pure unpretentious joy, with every moment filled with an innocent sincerity and sweetness that’s sadly mostly absent today among most musical artists. Meanwhile, “La Petit Voleuse” and “Hong Kong Chang” echo the wide-eyed worldly spirit that made this genre of music an international sensation when it first rose to acclaim decades ago. 

One listening suggestion I might offer to the uninitiated is to play this album nice and loud, letting it fill the room with it’s Phil Spectorish glory in the mono sound it was recorded in. Doing this allows the music to step above the seemingly simple trappings of 60’s idol pop and opens up a treasure chest of musical surprises thanks to the brilliant and subversively sophisticated instrumental work of Sally Kubota and Yasuhiro Nakamori. There’s some absolutely terrific guitar, bass, and drumming in here, with nifty bits of extra percussion by Soleil herself and other clever touches created by human hands with no digital trickery involved. And just like the previous album, this one concludes with a memorable and very groovy surf instrumental number (“UFO”) that I’d be more than happy to enjoy an entire record of. 

So heck yes, SOLEIL is definitely alright, and this record proves that SOLEIL the band and Soleil herself are not flash-in-the-pans who got lucky when they captured the lightning that was their debut album. This is a group that understands the pleasures of the perfect and to-the-point pop song and knows how to run with the ball. This is a formula that superficially seems easy to replicate, but is actually one the hardest things to get right musically. It’s not so much a matter of breaking new ground, but of having technique and sincerity. When a group captures that elusive task as well as this, their work will hold up forever because timeless things don’t age, or at least if they do, they age quite gracefully. May SOLEIL always remain, at it’s heart, “Sweet Fifteen”. 

“SOLEIL is Alright” is available from both CD Japan and Amazon jp, and you can also listen to it through Spotify and Apple Music. I’d suggest searching for it by the album title since simply typing “SOLEIL” will bring multiple results. Do yourself a favor and give it a listen!

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