In the spirit of elevating more of the very smartest voices among us, I asked Babymetal megashow-attender and Corenament almost-winner DaeMetal to share his impressions. As one of the few people alive who may love YSM more than me, I’m sure that this will be a completely unbiased exercise. Take it away, Mr. 444!
One of the primary goals of my most recent trip to Japan was to witness as many Yanakoto Sotto Mute lives as possible. I was fortunate enough to catch them three times and was happy to confirm that they are, in fact, the real deal; as Maniac dubbed them, “the idol unit that was born perfect”. Not only can they pull off their vocals live (quite a feat considering the demanding range and complex harmonies of their compositions), but their performances display an emotional range in their songs that isn’t evident from just listening to BUBBLE, their first and utterly brilliant album. Yanakoto Sotto Mute are one of those rare groups whose live performances dramatically enhance the songs, giving them additional dimensions beyond the definitive perfection of a studio recording. For those of you in the Western Hemisphere who haven’t begun making plans to see their overseas debut at East Meets West Fest in August, I encourage you to do so. Seeing YSM live is a bucket-list-worthy event.
At the end of that trip (two-and-a-half long weeks ago), as I was waiting to board my plane in Narita, YSM dropped a little going away present in my Twitter feed: the announcement of their second album, MIRRORS. Although announced with a June release date in stores, the digital version of the album was made available internationally this last Friday, May 4, coinciding with the launch of their puddle tour this weekend (and Cinco de Mayo!).
With such a short turnaround time from announcement to production and a single, EP and live album released since BUBBLE, there are a few looming questions that need answers.
How much on the new album is actually new?
Of the 11 tracks on MIRRORS, five songs are seeing their debut studio release. The four tracks from the Stamp EP are included, but have been slightly remastered. Only “Holy Grail” and “Palette” are duplicates of previously released versions. Of the five new songs, you may recognize three from previous live recordings and PVs.
Being cobbled from multiple releases, how does this hold up as a cohesive album?
As perfect as BUBBLE was(is), MIRRORS showcases a positive vocal development in the quartet. The raw emotion that I first witnessed in YSM’s lives is also present in the recordings on this album. It adds an edge to their studio tracks that wasn’t present on BUBBLE. Where BUBBLE could crush, MIRRORS can also cut. It’s a welcome new dimension to their range and helps set this collection of songs apart from their debut album.
Is this merely going to be the best album of the year, or the best album of all time?
Musically, YSM continues to perfect it’s signature mix of post-punk and prog-rock featuring some of the most complex vocal arrangements this side of Pentatonix. Here’s my impressions of each track.
- “Louvre No Sora” — This song debuts to kick off the album with a noisy prelude that sounds like three punk bands warming up in the same rehearsal space. This soon recedes behind restrained vocals accompanied by an oscillating guitar riff. Extended solos are eventually joined by the other members in harmonies that bridge the song’s verses and meandering chorus. The whole comes off as a well-crafted story from cacophonous start to abrupt end.
- “Closer” — Everything about this song has an urgency and tension to it that is a perfect example of the edge that has emerged in YSM’s new work. At just over two minutes, it doesn’t allow much chance for reflection, but does serve as a perfect bridge to …
- “GHOST WORLD” — Perhaps the most interesting song on the new album, this is a more up-tempo number with an almost perfect pop-punk chorus aside for a drop of (intentional) vocal dissonance. Later verses contain a fascinating electronica thread slotted into the background. This song is the album’s “Lily” with just enough mainstream appeal without losing any alt-cred.
- “HOLY GRAiL” — YSM gave this song to us back in November as an MV and then as a single in January. Filled with lots of dual harmonies, it always reminds me of a sunny day that’s emerged after a rainstorm.
- “No Regret” — A straight-forward rock song with moody harmonies and slightly dirty guitars. If you need some music to power you through the long drive to East Meets West Fest, put this tune on repeat and crank the volume.
- “Reflection” — As a perfect follow-up to the previous track, this song incorporates a bit of punkabilly in the guitar work while the chorus is pure post-punk with Nadeshiko and Mani taking turns channeling a touch of liNGliNG. The vocals here contain the most raw emotion ever expressed on a YSM studio track.
- “Any” — This is YSM’s poppy grunge tune from the Stamp EP and MV with bouncing guitars and vocals trampling all over each other. The call-and-response section signals this song was made for their live shows, where it can create pandemonium. I was surprised: There’s a lot more moshing than you would think at a YSM live.
- “Tenkiame to Sekai No Parade” — This song is quintessential Yanakoto Sotto Mute. If someone you know isn’t sure whether or not they like the group, play this song for them. The very opening notes command attention. The intertwining vocals shift effortlessly from solos to harmonies while the guitars transition from delicate to dirty all around a chorus that is as addictive as any other YSM tune. If your friend doesn’t like this song, then they don’t like YSM. You should then immediately delete all of their contact info from your phone and never speak to them again. You don’t need that kind of person in your life.
- “AWAKE” — Included on the Stamp EP and MV, in hindsight this song was probably the first indication that YSM was going to move in a direction where the guitars were a bit dirtier and the vocals weren’t quite as angelic. Still, this song is very reminiscent of some of the material on BUBBLE and includes that undeniably devastating crescendo and climax.
- “Palette” — This beautiful, light ballad with sparse but multilayered instrumental backing was the B-side of the “Echoes” single. This song is the closest they stray into dream pop and serves to spotlight the vocal strength of the unit.
- “Phantom Calling” — This is a prog-rock tune that dips into jazz influences with lots of jarring transitions, time signature changes and vocal dissonance. It has a very start/stop feel and is reminiscent to me of a modern musical theater piece.
In conclusion, what we learn from Yanakoto Sotto Mute’s MIRRORS is that even the idol unit that was born perfect can develop and grow. The guitars are dirtier and the vocals, while staying sublime, are more raw, more honest and more real. Together, this collection of songs gives YSM a dimension and depth that wasn’t as apparent before. As a follow-up to the near-perfect BUBBLE, MIRRORS does not disappoint. I guess even angels need to roll around in the dirt every once in a while.