This is gonna be a fun one.
Hello and welcome back to a little thing we do around here called J-Music Exchange/Rate! Essentially, this is a monthly segment I do with my good friend/fellow Japanese music fan Leap250 where we suggest albums to each other and later review them on our respective blogs. Ever since we revived this blog segment back in May 2020, Leap and I have been going strong and reviewing an album every month (deserves a pat on the back, if I do say so myself). Not only does this introduce us to new and great music, but I believe it personally gives me the opportunity to get better at writing about music. But anyways, if you’re interested in seeing what else we’ve talked about, definitely go check out Leap’s dedicated page on his blog where he compiled all 20 (!!) reviews.
As part of our album suggestion process, we also base our choices on a certain topic/theme each month, whether it be particular genres like ‘girls rock’ or something more personal such as ‘first discoveries’. The theme for this month was interesting, as Leap suggested… ‘idols’. You know, the Japanese phenomenon where good-looking performers (most notably, young ladies) sing and dance? Well, I thought that topic was a great idea because for one, both of us are pretty avid idol fans; and two, there’s currently a very promising anime about idols airing this season, Idoly Pride, so it just fits the bill. (almost thought I wouldn’t be able to get this review out cause I’ve just been listening to AiPura music all month…)
That being said, our choices for February consist of Leap handing over the album Beyond the Blue by the idol group Yanakoto Sotto Mute, while I went ahead and suggested popular voice actress/idol Itou Miku’s Rhythmic Flavor.
Let’s jump right in!
When you think about Japanese idols, usually you’d imagine a really cute-looking girl (or group) performing fast-paced pop music in flashy clothing. You know, the usual stuff.
However, Yanakoto Sotto Mute (やなことそっとミュート) is not your average idol group.
Formed back in 2016, Yanamyu debuted as three-person group consisting of Mizuki Nadeshiko, Mamiya Mani and Minami Ichika, with Mochizuki Rena later joining in September. Following the release of a couple debut EPs, 2017 was essentially a ‘breakout year’ for the group, as they started to get more publicity and work opportunities such as holding multiple lives/tours and the release of their first studio album BUBBLE. Yanamyu even took their talents overseas in August 2018, when they performed at the East Meets West Music Festival in Anaheim, California. Since then, the group has released four studio albums, thirteen singles, held multiple concerts, and even had a member change (Rena left in August 2019, with Tsukasa Rin replacing her in December).
Like I mentioned a paragraph ago, Yanamyu doesn’t sound like what you’d expect a Japanese idol to sound like. Instead, their style is more on the rock side, as their performances are accompanied with alternative rock, grunge music. That, alongside their intense expression of vocals and choreography, is really what makes this group different and enjoyable to a lot of idol fans.
Leap’s Thoughts on Beyond the Blue
The theme for the month is idols (as decided by yours truly), and I took it as a prime opportunity to pitch Beyond The Blue, which is the major label debut album for the Alternative Idol group Yanakoto Sotto Mute. In a genre rife with morbid imagery and growl-laden singing, I’ve always found YanaMute to be one of the more tasteful representatives of “Alt Idol”, in both appearance and sound. The group gives very little emphasis on their looks with their unassuming plain white garbs, and instead put more of their energy into song and dance. The singing in particular being the true highlight of this group, as Nadeshiko and Mani’s vocals end up acting as both lead and rhythm for the four-woman unit, while Ichika and Tsukasa reign it all in with their harmonizations. Though perhaps the most peculiar thing about YanaMute’s sound, and really the thing that sets it apart from most idol groups, is its pure Alternative Rock instrumentation and song structure.
It’s honestly quite fascinating hearing a track like Sing It Out or D.O.A. and how much it reminds me of Western Punk Rock more than anything, much less Idol Music. Beyond The Blue is an absolute banger of a debut album that shows the true potential for Alt Idol in the current mainstream.
Al’s Thoughts on Beyond the Blue
When it comes to idols and their music, I think it’s pretty obvious that I enjoy the traditional, poppier side of things. Having well-known multimedia franchises like THE IDOLM@STER and Love Live introduce me to this whole Japanese idol phenomenon many years ago, it’s just natural that I’ve gravitated towards upbeat and brighter-sounding music. Hell, most of the idols I follow on a constant basis nowadays such as seiyuu idols and even HoshimiPro from Idoly Pride are under that particular category. So when I first took a listen to Yanakoto Sotto Mute and this album, Beyond the Blue, I definitely didn’t expect to hear what I heard (lol). But knowing Leap and his helpful tendency to suggest me music that is out of my comfort zone, this honestly shouldn’t be a surprise to me.
The first thing I noticed about this album was probably the most glaring thing: the style of music. Yanamyu performs alongside music that has a strong rock and almost grunge sound to it. And honestly my first impression was that I genuinely thought I was listening to an actual, legit rock band rather than an idol group. The alternative rock and ’emo’ sound throughout the album is very polished and one of the best things about it is that it’s incredibly prevalent in the overall scheme of things. To me, the music is where most of the emotion comes from since the loud guitar strumming or the banging drums really shine in a lot of the songs on this album. The opening track, “Saihateno Umi / 最果ての海”, is a great example of this where it just starts off with a gritty bassline and intense strumming. Because of that, it honestly does a good job, sort of, setting the tone for the rest of the album. Tracks like “Kesshou Sekai / 結晶世界” and “Afterglow” also have beautiful instances of profound instrumentals, especially during the choruses.
I kind of already touched on instruments in the last section but I feel like it’s such an important aspect within this album so I should elaborate a bit more on it. Like I said, Yanamyu does a fantastic job at emulating that traditional alt-rock sound. Stuff like the subtle, high-pitched guitar picking and the distorted strumming heard in most of the songs on this album were done really well, such as in “Odd Land Ode / オッド・ランド・オード”. The way it switches from each playing technique just made for an interesting song to listen to. But the one thing that impressed me the most, instrument-wise, was the drums. Now I don’t know if I just have trouble noticing percussion when it comes to rock albums but I noticed that the drums throughout Beyond the Blue had a really strong presence and they definitely helped bring everything together. Especially in songs like “Sing It Out” and “D.O.A”, the percussion expressed such a traditional grunge/punk sound and made it feel very genuine.
As for the vocals on this album, they were super nice to hear. Surprisingly as an idol fan, I’ve heard some instances where idols sing in a tone that fits in a more serious-sounding song. But to hear an idol group do that for a whole ten songs is something I haven’t experienced before… however they nailed it! The performances from all four members of Yanamyu perfectly fit the intense nature of a lot of these songs and their voices meshed together REALLY well, thanks to the frequent and well-executed harmonization. I also would’ve thought that the vocals would be a bit deeper when dealing with something like ’emo rock’ but surprisingly, the constant higher-pitched vocals made Yanamyu sound a lot more passionate (and had some familiar idol vibes) in their performances such as in “Passenger” and “Filament / フィラメント”.
I wanted to save this for last since I prefer to talk about good things before bad things. One major problem I had with this album, and this might just be a me thing, is that the overall sound got a bit stale at times. I’m not gonna lie, sometimes while I was listening to this album, it felt like a lot of the songs were sounding the same and lacked a bit of variety. The later part of the album solved that problem a little bit, with “beyond the blue.” and the jazzy-sounding “Chateau no Higashi / 遮塔の東”, but when the majority of the album mainly consisted of intense alt-rock music, it may have been a bit too late at that point. Again, this might just be my personal interpretation and I may just be so used to having a splash of variety in a lot of the albums I listen to, but that’s one thing I just had a strong opinion on.
As I said earlier in this review, I am a very avid fan of happy-sounding idol music. And when Leap presented this absolutely unusual form of idol music to me, I was a little put off and even a bit confused at my first go around with this album. However as I listened to Beyond the Blue more and more, I started to appreciate its strengths and unique features.
Alternative rock/punk pop is something you don’t see a lot in idol music but Yanakoto Sotto Mute does a fantastic job at expressing that kind of genre. Thanks to the extraordinary performance from the instruments, as well as the clean and coordinated vocals from the Yanamyu members, I believe this is a pretty solid album. I did have a bit of an issue regarding the composition but honestly, if you’re looking for a good rock album or if you’re a traditional idol fan like me who wants to hear something a bit different, this might interest you.
Because dance is an important part of idol performances, I wanted to touch a bit on that when talking about this album. However, like a lot of idol groups, it seems like Yanamyu wasn’t able to do live concerts and such because of what’s going on the world right now so I’ll have to check that out whenever it happens.
Anywho, thanks for checking out this review! I love idols so for me to experience something within the idol culture that I’m definitely not used to was fun. That being said, if you wanna hear something idol-related that is more in line with what I like, go check out Leap’s review for this month where I suggested to him Rhythmic Flavor by the beautiful/talented/wonderful Itou Miku (she’s also a popular voice actress!)
Also, I wanted to do a bit of a promotion/suggestion: if you’re in any way interested in idols, I would definitely suggest watching an anime currently airing this season called Idoly Pride. Its debut (as a multimedia project) has honestly impressed the hell out of me with their narrative, characters, visuals, the promising young cast + veteran presence and especially music; the fact that one of the characters did a cover of Yorushika’s “Ghost in a Flower” just made me appreciate it a lot more. And not gonna lie, I honestly haven’t been this absorbed in an idol franchise since… finding out about the Love Live series, actually. That said, I’m having a ton of fun learning more and more about Idoly Pride, and I’m sure Leap has as well, so definitely check it out if you’re interested!
Thanks for reading!! 😀