The final album review of the year!
Hello and welcome back to another installment of J-Music Exchange/Rate! In case you don’t know what this is about: each month, me and my good friend/fellow Japanese music fan Leap250 give each other an album from our respective libraries, listen to them, and then later write a review on our blogs. While this whole experience has helped Leap and I discover new music, it could serve as a way for you, the reader, to also find some new artists and albums to listen to! The Japanese music scene has a wide range of fascinating artists and music so I’d say it’s worth checking out some.
And as always, Leap and I base each of our album suggestions on a specific theme, in order to keep things fresh and interesting. And because it’s the end of the year and a time for reminiscence, we decided to give each other our favorite albums of 2021: the albums that were released this past year, in which we enjoyed the most. Even though that theme sounds simple enough, it was pretty hard to pick one single album that I liked (I’m sure Leap could say the same). There were quite a few great releases this year!
That said, here are our choices: Leap went ahead and gave me Yoakemae from the up-and-coming pop-rock band Atarayo, while I tossed over Gradation Collection by seiyuu/artist/idol Kobayashi Aika.
Let’s jump right in!
Atarayo (あたらよ) is a four-person pop-rock band originating from Tokyo, with a lineup of Hitomi (leader/vocalist/guitarist), Maashi (guitar/vocals), Takeo (bass), and Tanapai (drums). The group’s early beginnings consisted of Hitomi writing and uploading original music on YouTube, back in November of 2020. Atarayo’s first public release, “10-gatsu Mukuchi na Kimi wo Wasureru”, quickly became a hit on TikTok, with thousands of people using the band’s song in their short videos. The track later received multiple accolades, such as first place in the LINE MUSIC rankings and Spotify’s viral charts, as well as the MV reaching 29 million+ views on YouTube.
Atarayo – Yoakemae / 夜明け前
- 10-gatsu Mukuchi na Kimi wo Wasureru / 10月無口な君を忘れる
- Natsugasumi / 夏霞
- Haruru / 晴るる
- Shoutsuki / 祥月
- Pierce / ピアス
- Usotsuki / 噓つき
Leap’s thoughts on Yoakemae:
While Atarayo’s Yoake Mae might not be the album I’ve listened to the most for this year (if my Spotify Wrap-Up is to be believed, the honor goes to Hockrockb’s Kokkaque), what it does provide is a nice little open-and-closed sort of release that in turn makes it that much more memorable, and is why it ends up being one of my favorites from 2021.
The main attraction to the debut EP of this Tokyo-based three-piece has to be the bookend tracks “10-gatsu Mukuchi na Kimi wo Wasureru” and “Usotsuki” are two halves of a narrative whole. Together they paint a beautifully melancholic picture of a couple having a falling out with one another, with the two songs providing the perspective of the male and female personae respectively. The tracks in between are a recounting of this failed relationship; whether it’s the feelings of sadness and regret (“Natsugasumi”) that comes with a bad breakup (“Pierce”), pining for their former lover (“Shogetsu”), reminiscing about the good times (“8.8”), and looking optimistically at what the future holds (“Haruru”). Atarayo is a band that wears their emotion on their sleeves with their songs, and it’s hard to not appreciate such an earnest release that relatably tugs at the heartstrings in the manner that they do here.
To be honest, listening to this EP was a pretty interesting experience, mainly because it’s been a while since I’ve listened to such emotional and mellow music. Definitely a funny but nice change of pace, compared to the fun pop songs I’ve been indulging in lately 😛
And yeah, I would most certainly describe the songs in Yoakemae as very ’emotional’ and ‘melancholic’. They do a great job conveying that kind of sadness and downhearted vibe, not only within the music itself but also in the vocals. Because of that, you can definitely notice how they were able to maintain that particular feeling and express that ‘sadness’ really well throughout the entirety of the EP. Many of the tracks were on the slow and mellow side like “Usotsuki / 噓つき” and even their most popular song, “10-gatsu Mukuchi na Kimi wo Wasureru / 10月無口な君を忘れる”, providing us with a pretty consistent atmosphere. Because of that, going through this EP felt very smooth, with each song almost melding together to create a pleasant listening experience. I did have a couple minor issues regarding that observation, such as it feeling a bit too one-sided during a few go-throughs. But when you hear Yoakemae for the first couple times, you can really notice the chill-yet-emotional nature it expresses.
And going back to the gripe I had with this EP: even then, there were some instances that helped temporarily change up the pace. The most notable example of this was the song, “Shoutsuki / 祥月”, with its much louder, faster and powerful sound. And despite having a much different vibe compared to the other tracks, I think it still maintained that emotional aspect through Hitomi’s vocals and the loud electric guitar parts.
Speaking of emotions… like I said earlier, a lot of the sentiment in Atarayo’s music comes from the lyricism, which many have loved and praised. A majority of their songs deal with the unfortunate endings of relationships, and just reading through some of these lyrics… it definitely felt heavy at times. “Natsugasumi / 夏霞” details a past summer romance, recalling the valuable moments those two lovers had and having hope that they meet again someday. And most notably, the first and last songs of this EP, “10-gatsu Mukuchi na Kimi wo Wasureru” and “Usotsuki”, describe the emotional pains of a lost relationship from two different perspectives. Both show how difficult it is handle a break up, remembering precious memories and the joyful times they had with each other. Even though I don’t pay much attention to lyrics a ton when I do these reviews, I could really tell that Hitomi and the rest of Atarayo put a lot of effort and passion into these songs’ narratives. Many of them were super descriptive of these hapless and unlucky relationships, and you could feel for these ‘characters’ and their struggles with love. I also thought it was a nice touch that Atarayo connected two songs in this EP, creating a thought-provoking story about two people and how unfortunate their relationship turned out to be.
Instrument-wise, even though this band has the regular formula of two guitars, a bass and some drums, Atarayo did a great job using their instrument composition to really express a sad and sorrowful atmosphere. One notable use of instruments throughout Yoakemae was the electric guitar. I really liked how they incorporated the loud and rough sound of an electric guitar into a very mellow set of songs. A cool instance of this was in “Natsugasumi”, where the song started off pretty quiet with soft piano/percussion playing but when they gradually added in some electric guitar, it made the transition into a much louder-sounding chorus, a very smooth one. Stuff like that, as well as how they beautifully combined the electric and acoustic sounds of both types of guitars… I really enjoyed the overall sound of this album.
Lastly, the vocals. Hitomi’s voice is absolutely gorgeous and she does a fantastic job at expressing so much emotion and passion while performing these melancholic tracks. Hearing her sing in higher and lower pitches, and changing them when necessary, felt super nice. Plus, her voice definitely reminded me of a lot of other popular doujin artists, which, to me, just adds another amazing vocalist to this particular style of Japanese music. But another interesting thing I noticed about the vocals was the addition of an accompanying male voice. Coming from someone who primarily listens to female artists, not gonna lie, it was a bit strange hearing a guy sing along in some of these tracks lol. However, Maashi’s vocals were really nice to listen to and I thought they meshed well with Hitomi’s. His harmonies were super good and even the parts where it was only him singing almost felt like a bit of a breath of fresh air.
Considering that Atarayo is a brand new band and Yoakemae is their very first major release, this was an impressive EP to listen to. I’ve never heard of this group prior to Leap introducing me to them; heck, even after scrolling through TikTok for hours, Atarayo’s music never came up. But being able to finally hear this band for the first time was a pretty cool experience and I really enjoyed everything they had to offer.
Their ability to compose very mellow music and convey an incredibly emotional, and sometimes heartbreaking, set of songs was well displayed throughout this EP. Songs like “Haruru”, “8.8”, and my personal favorite, “Natsugasumi” all had a calm nature but once you really understand the stories behind said songs, you just end up viewing them from a much different viewpoint. And even though, like I said, it felt a bit stale at times, overall, Hitomi and Co. did a fantastic job with Yoakemae. I can tell that this band is on the come up and I hope they continue to create great music, cause this was one hell of a start.
Aaaaand that’s all I got for today!
Honestly, these past few weeks were a bit rough so this review might not be that good, but I hope you all still enjoyed reading it. This was a really nice pick by Leap and I can totally understand why he thought this was the best album he’s listened to this year.
Speaking of, click here to read Leap’s review of what I thought was my favorite album of the year, Gradation Collection by Kobayashi Aika!
And as mentioned earlier, this is the final J-Music Exchange/Rate review of 2021. It’s been a loooong year for me and, I’m sure, everyone else but I’m really glad we all got through it. It was super fun to review all these albums and just discover brand new music throughout the year, so I’ll have to thank Leap for having an endless amount of great recommendations. I also have to thank everyone who has read any of our reviews; I really hope you enjoyed them and if it helped you find some new music, I’m happy that we were able to do that!
Again, thank you all for a fun year and I’m excited to see what kind of albums will come up in 2022!
(also, the annual J-Song Roundup will be posted later this week!)