March 21, 2007
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Nowadays, it seems that every composer is being given the shot to do a solo album. Since Nobuo Uematsu released his in 1994 entitled Phantasmagoria, this year alone Masashi Hamauzu, Yoshitaka Hirota, and Yoko Shimomura released their solo albums. The great thing about these solo albums is that for the most part, they feature music not tied to any game or series and allows the composers to be as creative as they want. Uematsu decided to do a mixture between instrumental and spoken word musical pieces for his album. Masashi Hamauzu and his Vielen Dank album features instrumental pieces and some arrangements from video game music for mainly the piano, with a bit of string quartet inserted here and there. As for Yoko Shimomura, she was probably the person with the most unique album thus far. Entitled murmur, this album may not tickle everyone’s fancy. It’s essentially a vocal album in the style of kawaii sung by Chata. For those not familiar with that term, it’s pretty much higher pitched singing, similar to that found in “BAD BUT BAT” from Blue Dragon, but far less jarring. How does this album sit with me? You’ll just have to read the review to find out.
Since this entire album features the kawaii vocal style, in varying intensity, I won’t be mentioning the vocals in great detail in my review of the tracks. Suffice it to say, every vocal performance fits the underlying music perfectly.
This album opens up with “Spring Breeze.” This is probably one of the catchier pieces on the album. The instrumentation itself is extremely playful, including piano, xylophone, percussion, and strings. The way Shimomura combines them really complements the singer’s voice and serves mainly as an underlying element in this piece as opposed to other tracks where the instruments have more of a focus. The track ends nicely with an addition of some acoustic guitar. While the last track was quite playful, this track is a bit on the tamer side, but still has its playful moments. “Walking Weather” utilizes an extremely prominent percussion line with some chimes on occasion. The focus is once again on the vocals, but as before, it’s quite the musical treat. The instrumental solo in this track, however, is amazing. Hints of acoustic guitar lead the way for one of the first harmonica solos I’ve heard. It’s quite pleasing to the ear and helps give some contrast to the heavy percussion.
“Dream of a Secret Chest” opens up quite softly compared to the others, with violins leading the way, but definitely shifts to an extremely playful vocal performance and instrumental base. While the violin is featured in spurts, mainly to complement the vocal melody, I must say the ingenuity of the instruments used here is amazing. Plucked strings, xylophone, percussion, and piano are combined in ways that remind me of Hako no Niwa, however, I find this piece to be much better than most of that album. “Transparent Wheel” is what I would call the black sheep of this album. The track itself is extremely percussion heavy, and the kawaii vocals are replaced by spoken word, akin to Phantasmagoria by Nobuo Uematsu. The exotic percussion is combined with some choral work and really helps to meld the creative forces behind this piece quite well.
Who knew that Shimomura did a track for the movie Spirited Away?! I kid. “Spirited Away” is just the name of the next track. Once again, the underlying instruments take a back seat in this one, but the combination of percussion and acoustic guitar, with the occasional synth really helps to compliment the vocalist quite well. The solo in this piece, which features acoustic guitar and piano and as usual, really helps to tie the piece together. The melody is just beautiful and I find the entire song captivating. If I could describe the next track in one word, I would definitely say ballad. “One Word” is quite a serious track. The melody of the vocal line is just mesmeric and the underlying instrumentation, mainly percussion and strings, really help to accentuate the melody to extremely pleasing levels. In fact, the kawaii vocals are toned down quite a bit in this one, although hints of it can still be heard. Overall, this is another favorite of mine, especially the piano and violin solo.
“Twilight Lane” is a track that features explicit Asian influences. From the instrumentation to the flow of the vocals, everything reminds me of Asia. In fact, it almost seems to follow a similar pattern to a techno song by smile.dk called “Butterfly” in the beginning. However, aside from that, this track is pretty solid. The Asian woodwind and string instruments, combined with a rhythmic bass line and a spattering of piano really help to create quite the memorable track. The next track, “Rumors,” is probably the weakest track on the album in my opinion. It’s a mixture of electronica and percussion with the main focus on the vocals. It does have some nice points, especially the jazzy piano bass line that can be heard at times. Unfortunately, this song features the weakest of the melodies to me and makes it rather unmemorable.
The next track, “Clumsy Hands,” is similar to “Transparent Wheel” as it is mainly spoken word over instrumentals. As such, it has a very Enya-like vibe going for it, which isn’t a bad thing since some Enya is entertaining. The track is rather short, but does host some catchy instrumental sections. It’s quite rhythmic, but a bit underwhelming given its length. I think this track could be improved upon a bit, but I do appreciate the thought that went into it. “Dawn of the Criminals” is another winner in my book. The vocal melody, in conjunction with variety of instruments, really helps to create one of the more memorable tracks. The strings and piano accentuate the melody while the percussion, as catchy as ever, moves the song along. I recommend this one to everyone!
This brings us to my favorite track, “A Happy Ending.” While the kawaii is a bit on the heavier side with this track, it only makes the track more enjoyable. With a bit of a Spanish flair, Shimomura makes the penultimate track one of the most enjoyable on the entire album. The canastas, the acoustic guitar, and percussion all come together to complement the singer wonderfully. In all honesty, this track is by far the best thing I’ve heard from Shimomura. It doesn’t seem hampered by anything and shows her full creativity in my opinion. Definitely the track to listen to if nothing else! The final track, “Pieces of You,” ends almost as strongly as the previous track, if not as strong. The ballad style really fits well and the instrumentation is its strongest point. The melody is wondrous and the violin and piano really help to create one of the most beautiful soundscapes on this album. I also recommend this piece to everyone.
In the end, will you like this? To be honest, that all depends on your tastes, or your ability to adjust your tastes. If you can appreciate the vocal style, you’ll be able to enjoy this album much more so than if you didn’t. Even if you don’t, there are a few tracks that aren’t too kawaii and have nice instrumentation and those would be the tracks I suggest for those who aren’t too keen on the saccharine vocals. I recommend this album for anyone who wants to experience something different from Shimomura or someone who wants to try something new.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Don Kotowski. Last modified on August 1, 2012.