I already considered this group’s music to be excellent but I was curious… 🤔
Hello and welcome back to yet another installment of the J-Music Exchange/Rate segment! This is a collaborative thing I do with my good friend/fellow Japanese music enthusiast Leap250 where each month, we both pick out a music album from our libraries, give them to each other, listen to ’em and later post a review on our blogs. Ever since we started this back in 2018 (and revived it in May of 2020), this has been a great way for both of us to discover brand new artists and music, and we hope that you all get the opportunity to do the same.
And like always, Leap and I base our album choices on a specific them each month. It was Leap’s turn this time around and he thought it’d be cool to talk about follow-up albums that we believe were much better than the artist’s previous records. I’d imagine that most artists always strive to improve and ‘one-up’ the work they’ve previously released, and I think the albums we chose are pretty good examples of that.
That being said, Leap went ahead and suggested THE BOOK 2 by the ultra-popular duo YOASOBI, while I tossed over R&B singer-songwriter SIRUP’s SIRUP EP 2.
I feel like at this point, everyone knows who YOASOBI is.
This J-pop duo consisting of vocalist Ikura (full name being Ikuta Rira) and well-known Vocaloid producer Ayase formed back in 2019, after Ayase discovered Ikura on Instagram and chose her to collaborate on a music project that revolved around performing songs based on various novels/stories. Their debut single, “Yoru ni Kakeru” (which was based on a short story by Hoshino Mayo titled Thanatos no Yuuwaku), instantly became a MASSIVE hit, with it topping the Billboard Japan Hot 100 charts and ultimately being one of the most popular songs in the world throughout 2019-2020. Even if you’re not that much of an anime fan or follow Japanese music, there’s still a pretty big chance that you’ve heard “Yoru ni Kakeru” at least once while browsing TikTok or Twitter, etc.
Thanks to Ikura’s captivating vocals, catchy sound and hard-hitting lyricism, YOASOBI saw continued success with their next releases such as “Tabun”, “Gunjou”, “Halzion” and one of my personal favorites, “Ano Yume wo Nazotte”; all gaining hundreds of millions of views on YouTube and listens on streaming platforms. YOASOBI has also tapped into the anime side of the Japanese music world, providing the opening/ending themes for the second season of BEASTARS (“Kaibutsu” and “Yasashii Suisei”).
As of this post’s publish date, YOASOBI has released fifteen singles and three EPs, including one which featured a handful of the duo’s tracks being translated and performed in English.
YOASOBI – THE BOOK 2
- Tsubame / ツバメ (feat. Midories)
- Sangenshoku / 三原色
- Taishou Roman / 大正浪漫
- Mou Sukoshi Dake / もう少しだけ
- Yasashii Suisei / 優しい彗星
- Kaibutsu / 怪物
- Moshimo Inochi ga Kaketara / もしも命が描けたら
- Love Letter / ラブレター
Leap’s Thoughts on THE BOOK 2
I think the moment I realized that I liked YOASOBI’s THE BOOK 2 more than I did their first album, THE BOOK, was when I found myself putting on THE BOOK 2 for no other reason than just me wanting to listen to it from the first track to the last. It’s one of only a good handful of albums that I naturally gravitate towards whenever I look for something to play in my library. Like, I’ll see THE BOOK 2 as I’m scrolling and the next thing I know it’s been thirty minutes and I finished listening to it again (lol). The thing is though, not once have I ever done that for THE BOOK since it came out, and I do honestly believe it’s because THE BOOK 2 is just that much better of an album than THE BOOK.
I wanna say the main thing that sets the two albums apart is that the instrumentation more than anything is just much vibrant and richer in THE BOOK 2 with Ayase’s incorporation of acoustic guitars and other string ensembles to his compostions compared to THE BOOK which leans more heavily on Ayase’s signature keyboard work. Often times too, perhaps because Yoru ni Kakeru is so pronounced in THE BOOK that a lot of Ayase’s go-to melodies that he uses in other songs end up being emphasized and thus at times make certain sounds feel repetitive. THE BOOK 2 doesn’t have that in my opinion, and is perhaps indicative too of Ayase’s growth as a composer across the two albums.
Al’s Thoughts on THE BOOK 2
1) Learning to Appreciate YOASOBI’s Talent in Storytelling
Coming into this review, this one in particular felt like it’d be a bit of a challenge for me personally (lol). I’ve known that YOASOBI is one of those Japanese artists who are story-centric and are widely appreciated for their dark and painful lyricism, as they tend to reflect some pretty sensitive topics in their songs. I’m pointing this out because if you’re familiar with my album reviews, I tend to not dive that deep into the lyrics and backstories when I talk about these records. One reason being that my brain is the size of a pebble and I have a difficult time interpreting stuff (lol). And the other one being a bit more rational with the fact that not a lot of Japanese songs, especially the obscure ones, have been translated into English.
But thankfully with a super popular group like YOASOBI, a lot of very talented fans have translated a good amount of the duo’s music in English, so it’s definitely much easier for outsiders to understand the stuff Ikura is singing about. And I just wanted to try my best to take a closer look into the narratives that are presented in THE BOOK 2. I think the way I’ll approach this section of the review is that I’ll pick out some songs that stood out to me and/or are my favorites when it comes to the lyricism. (Huge thank you to Yumehokori for the translations for these songs!)
And as I’m reading through the lyrics of a good handful of these tracks, they’re a lot more… positive that I initially thought. Given that YOASOBI has created a bit of a specific image to themselves, having written a song that most people thought was a sick dance-pop track when in reality, it touched upon very delicate subjects like depression and even suicide… I think it’s natural to assume that this duo would continue writing about those themes. However, surprisingly enough, a majority of THE BOOK 2 went a little bit in the opposite direction (in my opinion). Many of these songs showed feelings of joy and optimism, especially when it came to relationships and special bonds with other people. One example being towards the top of the EP, with the song “Sangenshoku / 三原色”, as it portrays a person thinking about a close friend they have started to grow apart from but is still very hopeful that they’ll meet again one day. While this song is still sad in a way, I enjoyed how YOASOBI displayed more of an encouraging attitude in this track. Friendships that have drifted apart, simply because of the harsh realities of life, is not something that can be easy to deal with, but seeing this kind of issue in a more bright and optimistic perspective was nice. How the person in the song still believes there is a connection between them and their loved one, and how they’re so anxious to talk about various things with that person… I feel like YOASOBI did a great job expressing those types of emotions, which could possibly rub onto people who are dealing with similar situations, even if it’s just a little bit.
Another good instance of YOASOBI showing their positive side is in the song “Mou Sukoshi Dake / もう少しだけ”, which might be the most joyful song on this EP. I say that because it really does overflow with happy emotions, as the person in the song continuously thinks about how the day ahead of them will be a fantastic one and how they want to share those sentiments with other people. And I enjoyed seeing how those happy feelings stemmed from a friend/loved one they cherish a lot, as there was even a line where they were influenced by a fortune that said friend told them about.
All that being said, what I mainly got out of this lyrical experience is that it was great to see a much different side to YOASOBI. Like I said earlier, they have certainly showed off melancholic and/or dark tones in their music, but after going through what they did here on THE BOOK 2, I’ve learned that they’re perfectly capable of conveying narratives that are a lot more positive and cheery. A lot of these songs put me in a good mood when reading what they were all about, and I think these two excelled at displaying that kind of sentiment.
And maybe my enjoyment for this EP stems from me preferring those types of emotions (lol). I mean, being someone who is an absolute sucker for stories that revolve around love and romantic relationships, I really enjoyed “Love Letter / ラブレター” and seeing the person in the song express their true, appreciative and romantic feelings for someone was definitely heart-warming.
However, amongst the joyfulness in this EP, YOASOBI still conveyed a sense of sadness in certain songs; more specifically in the tracks that were used as the theme songs for the BEASTARS anime series, “Kaibutsu / 怪物” and “Yasashii Suisei / 優しい彗星”. I feel like these two dealt more with conflict and troubles, as “Kaibutsu” showed an individual trying to figure out their purpose/identity in society while “Yasashii Suisei” kind of implied a tragic ending to a friendship. I’m sure these songs coincide with the narratives in the BEASTARS anime, which I’ve never watched, but judging solely from the lyrics and the music videos from YOASOBI, that’s what I got out of them.
2) Everything Else
Before I wrap up this review, since it’s getting a bit lengthy, I should probably talk about the compositions itself, as well as the vocals.
Not gonna lie, a lot of these songs felt new to me, compared to YOASOBI’s previous releases. I feel like Ayase went in a few different directions when it came to the styles and atmosphere in this EP, and it definitely showed in certain tracks. For example, “Sangenshoku” gave off a bit of a ‘Latin-feel’ with the inclusion of that acoustic guitar and the overall fast, fun pace. Similar with “Moshimo Inochi ga Egaketara / もしも命が描けたら”, as the beats and composition felt like something you’d hear here in the states. There were a ton of elements throughout THE BOOK 2 that felt fresh, whether it be the instrumentation or stylistic choices, and I thought that was an interesting touch for YOASOBI as an artist. And I have to add that a lot of these songs certainly had an upbeat and vivid ambience to them, which paired well and more importantly, helped convey the joyful emotions that were shown in the lyrics. Especially in a song like “Love Letter”, with the blaring trumpets, beautiful flutes and loud percussion… it was almost like a marching band was accompanying a confession scene.
Speaking of the vocals, I mean… I think Ikura’s voice speaks for itself. One of the reasons why YOASOBI is so loved and popular is how good and engaging Ikura’s voice is, and it’s obvious that her talents continue to be displayed in this EP. And I also noticed, because of the change in mood throughout THE BOOK 2, we got to hear Ikura sing in a more elated state, even if it wasn’t all that noticeable.
This was a nice EP.
Prior to checking out THE BOOK 2, I’ve only casually listened to YOASOBI songs and enjoyed some of the hits they’ve put out. Because of that, I don’t know if I considered myself an actual ‘fan’ of theirs but I still did understand the potential and talents that these two had when I first heard “Yoru ni Kakeru” back in 2020. However, now being able to dive deeper into YOASOBI’s music, especially with the lyricism, I definitely have a better appreciation for them as artists within the Japanese music scene.
I’m glad I got to actually see their abilities to create an emotional and riveting story in a lot of these songs, and there were even times where it was relatable and/or hit close to home. But rather than it being in a gloomy tone, YOASOBI kind of inspired me to look at things in a much more positive light, especially when it came to relationships. Add on Ayase’s interesting approach towards the styles/genres shown throughout the EP, and of course, Ikura’s outstanding vocals, and I think this was a very solid release from this duo.
As for whether or not I have the same opinion as Leap about THE BOOK 2 being ‘better’ than YOASOBI’s previous releases… I think I would have to agree with him. As much as I’m more familiar with and enjoy their other songs such as “Tabun” and “Ano Yume wo Nazotte”, you could tell that this group has improved over the past year or so with the release of this EP, both in a technical and creative sense.
Aaaand that’s all I got for you today!
I haven’t really followed YOASOBI in a while, so this was a nice refresher and a good way to catch up with what this group has been doing. Happy they’ve gotten so big and garnered a huge audience, and I’m definitely looking forward to whatever comes next for them. 🙂
Now that you’re done reading my review, you should go on over to Leap’s blog where he reviewed the EP I gave him, SIRUP EP 2 by the R&B/soul singer-songwriter SIRUP. I really loved that EP so be sure to check it out!
Thanks for reading!! 😀