Once again actually by Viz Major!
When ・・・・・・・・・ (vocalized as “Dots” or “Dots Tokyo”) emerged onto the idol scene in late 2016 with their shoegaze music and unorthodox presentation, it was a surprisingly much needed breath of fresh air from the saturated market of overcolored aesthetics and systematic cheerful, yet often contrived, songs predominant in idol culture. Along with this new approach to the genres of music that idols perform, the group attached an eccentric mythos to their profile, implementing things like all members are named ・(a single dot) but have nicknames that change every so often and go by themes such as vegetables or even infrastructures (one member was nicknamed “Konbini”, the Japanese word for “convenience store”). Visors were worn over the eyes of the members to conceal their identities, which established them as both an innovative and mysterious idol group. They quickly gained fans in not only the idol spectrum, but also among fans of shoegaze and indie rock outside of the J-pop music sphere, and in 2018 released their debut album『 』(a title with no words but actually 9 half-width spaces), which proved to be one of the best albums of that year. Unfortunately, the following year the inevitable fate which many idols have succumbed to was met, and the group was dissolved after performing a final one-man live at Tokyo Kinema Club on March 24, 2019.
About three weeks later, on April 15, 2019, it was revealed through online news publications that a new idol group supported by the same management team of Dots and their music director, Mikire-chan, was set to begin activities. The group was called RAY and consisted of former Dots member Yua Uchiyama, former Niji no Conquistador member Marino Kai, Tsukihi (former solo idol by the name of Mokaron-chan and former member of RYUKYU IDOL, PIP, and Hon to Utatane) and active high school student Sayaka Shirakawa. Continuing in the Dots tradition of shoegaze & dream pop style, RAY released their debut album Pink on May 23, 2020. The album features collaborations in writing and production with musicians from notable shoegaze bands For Tracy Hyde, AprilBlue, cruyff in the bedroom, The Florist, and Ringo Deathstarr.
Opening the album is “Fading Lights”, a wonderful feel-good dreamy shoegaze song written, composed and arranged by Azusa Suga from the bands For Tracy Hyde and AprilBlue. Bright melodic guitars, upbeat percussion and beautifully mellow but sweet vocals that altogether perfectly evokes vibes of a summer day relaxing by the shore or slow cruising through the city. The tail ends of instrumental notes and chords extend into glimmering trails that reflect off each other very well to come together to form pleasant melodies. One notable performance I have to commend is the drumming. The drums here are the driving force that guides the song along smoothly; during the pre-chorus, there is an added layer of percussion that flows from the right audio channel that really adds to the dimension. Great work in the tracking. While the instruments on this song sound spectacular, the highlight is the vocals, which boast sincerely angelic singing and choral layering that finely expresses the emotions in the lyrics. This can be experienced in particular during the pre-chorus. Now, I try not to talk about lyrics in my English reviews since I want to mainly focus on the music, sounds and production quality; however, the writing on this song is poetic and romantic and worth looking into translating for those who don’t understand Japanese. I think if I had to decide on Song of the Year for 2020, this one would definitely be a strong contender.
The second song, “Butterfly Effect”, written by Azusa Suga and composed along with Mikire-chan, immediately begins with a head nodding rhythm provided by a drum kick and snare pattern with open and closed hi hats. The drums on this sound awesome. This song also features the “vacuum” style sonics and bell ringing guitars easily recognizable in a lot of shoegaze music that gives it that dazzling feel. With its very catchy, appealing beat and awesome instrumental break complete with gleaming guitar solo, it’s not hard to see why this song was released as their debut music video, eventually to become one of their staple songs. The following “The End of The World with You” is produced in full by Yusuke Hata from the band cruyff in the bedroom. Right away you get hit with a guitar riff nostalgic of rock and metal bands in the 80s. What I like about this song is there are a lot of intricate melodies within the composition that can be missed if you only listen once. The simple kick-snare pattern is safe but very effective in pacing this song as the other elements aid in the progression. Falsetto vocals in the chorus flow nicely over the mix.
The third song, “Blue Monday”, is a standout on the album, and not just as an outstanding song but for being slightly different from the others. Sound production is handled by guitarist and electronic music producer Kei Toriki, known for his production work on songs by NECRONOMIDOL and SAKA-SAMA. Guitars are mixed deservingly loud around fast-paced percussion hits and wild beat fluctuations. Just the beginning alone feels like a rapid-fire automatic weapon being shot through an electronic drum machine. In the second half is where the dark ambient doom/drone backing sounds really take precedence and continue at full force in emphasizing this sort of futuristic environment. The vibe continues into the next song “Nemophila”, composed & arranged by teoremaa, whom some may know from the band Asimov is magician, or for writing songs for the idol group avandoned. This song has a really thick atmosphere and solid percussion quite reminiscent of electronic producer Gesaffelstein’s music style. It’s the type of soundscape one can visualize as BGM for a sci-fi movie intro. The layers on this song are insane. I can tell this one was difficult to mix. The snare is crisp and the drums sound fantastic. One interesting thing to note here is during the solo instrumental portion there is a sound clip of the dialogue from the Apollo 8 lunar mission between the spacecraft crew members and the control center in Houston, Texas. Really cool how that ties in with this type of celestial theme RAY seems to have and actually leads into the next song perfectly.
Track number six, “Meteor” was my #1 song of 2019. The lyrics are fully in English written by Lilia Ijiri from the band, OLDTIMER, and the way they are sung by the girls of RAY in a subtle, dreamy style equates to fascinating and unconventional storytelling. Without actually reading the lyrics along with the song, the words can sound indistinct, but I think this stylistic choice of delivery matches perfectly to the airy and spacey atmosphere of the soundscape. This composition was provided by Elliott Frazier from American shoegaze band Ringo Deathstarr. The buildup in the chorus just sounds amazing and the echoing of the word “stars” is sure to continue repeating gracefully inside one’s own head. Overall with this song there’s a feeling of cosmic transcendence like floating through outer space that I feel correlates ideally with the song title.
The next song, “Everything About My Precious You”, fuels the 90s nostalgia with guitar melodies that provide feelings of both comfort and familiarity. This song is once again credited in full to Yusuke Hata. One vocal idea in the songwriting I found to be well-thought out is the particle を (vocalized as “oh”) written at the end of every first line in the verses, which projects outwards nicely through the music when sung by the members. The drumwork and bass playing are excellent in this song, and in the outro is the real treat of what I believe is a viola accompanying the drum beat. This ensemble is completed by the harmonizing of the girls’ voices, which all encompass one of the most beautiful parts of this album. In fact, this may be one of the best-produced instances of strings used in an idol song this year.
The eighth song, “Wish Upon a Star”, is another collaboration of Mikire-chan and Kei Toriki. The thing I love about this song is on the surface it seems like chaos, but if you break it down it can actually be divided into four or five separate movements. The switch-ups connect seamlessly, and the vocal arrangement was constructed incredibly well. Pay close attention to the drumming as it shifts accordingly with the mood in each different movement and really brings the track to life. The following Mikire-chan produced song “no title” is aptly named as it is written by Marino Kai, who herself is very artistic and charmingly quirky. This is the only song on Pink actually written by a RAY member. There is an overlying feeling of happiness and vibes of friendship in this song that seemingly would be transmitted well into an anime. The music and vocals lean more towards the Pop and Idol sound not frequently heard on this album, which is a nice shift in the cohesion and the outro includes a sweet synth to lead us out into yet another direction.
Song number 10, “GENERATION”, explores new territory in this album by bringing us into the melodic punk zone. Fully produced by Mikire-chan, this song features high speed and sparks of energy right from the beginning. One particular part that just sounds really cool is around the 1:27 mark, where the guitar and vocal delivery of Marino’s singing lines matches directly with the rhythm. This song is pure shameless confidence and fun and is refreshing to hear amid all the tranquil, ethereal sonics in most of RAY’s music. It also comes at a certain point in the track listing when the content thus far has been a range of emotions whether transparent or from deep within, and this one arrives just in time to slap you in the face and tell you to simply enjoy living in the moment.
The next song, “Silhouette”, is written, composed and arranged by Hiroyuki Imamura, with guitar performance by Yosuke Shiina, both from the well-known Japanese shoegaze band The Florist. Personally, I think this is one of the best songs on the album. The guitars tap into the 90s sound of Western rock delivered in a monophonic style that feels very indie yet gives an impression of a highly polished mainstream quality. The pacing stays consistent throughout but changes in tempo and melody during the bridge (at the 2:27 mark), bringing out beautifully sung mellow vocals and multiple guitar tracks playing simultaneously yet distinctly in both left and right audio channels. I think if any RAY song were to crossover into the Western world easily, this one would be a sure bet.
The last of the new songs on the album, “ALL NEED IS LOVE”, is also produced in full by Mikire-chan. This song is simply gorgeous. It’s a finely composed, cleanly mixed rock ballad with guitars that ring pleasantly in the ear and awesome drum fills. The instrumental is vibrant, the singing is sweetly emotional, and the melody in the chorus is addictive. I feel this is a perfect ending to the introduction of RAY before reintroducing the listener to the two familiar Dots songs that close out the album — “Slide” and “Satellite” are reworkings of previously released Dots songs that should satisfy both old and new fans alike. The music has been rearranged, vocals rerecorded by the RAY members, and sound quality definitely improved to fit into the mastering of this album. “Slide” is produced solely by Azusa Suga while “Satellite” is credited to Mikire-chan and Jim, who has previously worked in production with Dots.
I think anyone who is a fan of shoegaze or who grew up listening to 90s independent and alternative rock music would instantly feel a close connection with RAY and honestly enjoy this album. There’s a whole array of emotional creativity that escapes through the instrumentation, and the girls’ lovely vocals are the icing on the cake to help manifest this project into the audible heavenly glory it is. Their voices don’t sound artificial as many idol singers have the tendency of doing; also, given the time to learn more about the members, their personalities become easier to distinguish. Yua sounds conditioned and polished, Marino sounds delicate and high-pitched like a traditional Japanese Idol, Tsukihi is sweet and angelic with clear diction, and Sayaka is young and innocent. As a huge idol fan myself, I can admit there are not a lot of idol records out there that can withstand the test of time since many are often produced quickly to flow with trends or are rather formulaic by nature. I find this album is different in regard that it feels idol in vocals and personality, but also feels indie rock with elements of experimental in musicality and performance. Every song here flows in cohesion as one collective theme or can even be listened to individually outside of the track listing, which allows for massive amounts of replay. There’s music to reflect to, relax to, drive to, dance to, trip out to, wild out to, and headbang to all on this record. Taking all these factors into consideration, Pink by RAY is by far what I consider to be the album of the year.
Official Homicidols Rating