August 12, 2011
Buy at Official Site
Swell Strings is the first solo album by onoken, a protégé of Osamu Kubota. While onoken is has worked on various doujin albums, he has also scored titles such as I/O and Corpse Party. It features a a plethora of styles as well as some arrangement support by Osamu Kubota. How does the overall product turn out?
The album, fittingly, opens and closes with “Opening” and “Ending,” both orchestrated by Osamu Kubota. The former is a beautiful strings focused theme that offers a hopeful and uplifting melody with some wonderful brass harmonies. It may only be a minute long, but it is satisfying from start to finish. The latter builds on the melody introduced in “Opening” and offers a lusher soundscape, while at the same time, providing a melancholy and heartwarming harp and piano melody that really brings a more personal touch to the theme.
The rest of the themes are composed by onoken and feature a variety of styles. “Vijore” is an invigorating psytrance theme with some strings accompaniment. It is truly an intriguing combination and it works really well, as the strings provide that calming trance-like atmosphere while the beats and various synthesizer tones captivate the listener with their upbeat and intense tones. “esc” is another electronic focused theme that is another absolute marvel. Focusing on heavy industrial beats and odd rhythms, it manages to captivate the listener with its futuristic tone, complete with supporting electronic samples throughout the track. However, surprisingly, the middle of the track removes most of the heavy beats in favor of romantic strings work, providing a human touch to the theme. The culmination of the inorganic electronic beats and the acoustic strings is an exquisite combination and really brings the remainder of the track to life.
“wert” continues the electronic focus with a trance anthem with some drum n’ bass accompaniment. The melody and atmosphere are extremely serene and ethereal. It reminds me of a more sophisticated version of “Aquatic Ambience” from Donkey Kong Country, with its beautiful piano, strings, and synthesizer focus, not to mention some light industrial tones as well. It’s a beautiful combination and the end result is nothing short of beautiful. “lataia” is a funky electronic tune that incorporates beautiful strings and piano work. It’s an interesting combination, as initially, I didn’t think the funk style, in the way it was presented, would work with how the piano and strings are implemented, but the end result is quite beautiful. At times, it features just the funk groove and others features a solo piano with strings accompaniment and no additional support.
“felys” is one of my favorite tunes as well. It’s a drum n’ bass style theme with some beautiful orchestral harmonies. However, the star of the piece is definitely the piano work. It is extremely frenetic, reminiscent of some of the crazier piano based compositions in the Touhou series, but the end result between the frenetic piano and the more calming synthesizer tones is a very successful one. There is also a short piece entitled “interlude” featuring ethereal synthesizer and piano that serves as a nice “palate cleanser” before the “izayoi” vocal theme. “envelope” is an electronic R&B style theme featuring Meg on vocals. It has some slick grooves and some beautiful acoustic guitar and piano work. Meg’s vocal performance is also quite powerful and goes quite well with the style of the track. While I don’t find it as appealing as some of the tracks already mentioned, it is still an impressive feat, offering a complexity that really manages to sound quite clean.
Meg is also featured as a vocalist on “shylph” and, in my opinion, it’s a much more successful and inviting track. The trance tune immediately conjures up images of the Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune series, although more refined and overall better produced, at least compared to the early games in the series. It’s an extremely beautiful track featuring intense trance beats and melodies and some beautiful work by Meg. The piano harmonies also add quite a bit of depth to the piece as well. “mazi” is another vocal theme, featuring b on vocals. It’s an extremely beautiful theme featuring a pop beat, acoustic guitar, and some stunning strings work. I particularly love how b’s vocal performance really adds quite a bit of depth to the theme and really contrasts nicely with the drum pad work. Of course, the other elements also contribute to the textural flavor of the music, in particular, the enticing piano harmonies. In the end, it’s quite a successful theme, but those who aren’t fans of pop style music may not enjoy it too much.
In addition to orchestrating the opening and ending theme, Osamu Kubota is responsible for arranging “izayoi,” a vocal theme sung by Reiko. It’s an absolutely stunning theme featuring ethereal synthesizer and stunning piano work. In addition, there is some slight industrial percussion that brings some darker tones to the piece. The stars of the piece, however, are Reiko, with her warm vocal performance bringing the melody to life amidst the intoxicating piano work and the flute performance by Toshirou Mitsutomi. The flute passages are absolutely beautiful, bringing an inviting air to the piece, but at the same time, offering some very pensive and almost heartbreaking emotions to the mix. This is an absolute masterpiece.
Having listened to this album after Blue Orb, I can say that it is just as successful as onoken’s sophomore album. It features a more electronic focus and more focus on instrumentals, but onoken’s ability to combine electronic and orchestral tones into a complex sound, never sounding out of place, is quite a feat. As mentioned in the other review, I’d love for him to be able to find a prominent place in the video game music industry, providing his romantic touches, whether in an electronic or orchestral capacity, and this album demonstrates his ability to fuse the two together quite nicely. I highly recommend this album to fans of beatmania and similar styled music.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Don Kotowski. Last modified on August 1, 2012.