Nothing like a nice blend to get you through a school night.
The first week of classes for those going back to their local schools and campuses has since passed, and in line with that we have outselves quite the timely theme for our album reviews this month, but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here.
Welcome back, as always, to the J-Music Exchange/Rate! If you’ve ever seen one of these before, you’d already have a pretty good idea of what’s about to go down so feel free to skip this part (XD) If this is your first time here however; the Exchange/Rate is the tandem album review series conducted between myself and my good friend Al over at Omunibasu.Blog, wherein each month we go and pick out an album from our respective libraries of music, for the other person to then talk about and do a review on. This project of ours has been a fantastic way for us to explore the discographies of many different bands and artists, and we can only hope it’s the same for you guys too.
Al and I also take turns deciding on a theme every month which dictates which albums we’ll be talking about and listening to. It was my turn this time around, and as I alluded to a bit earlier, I figured it’d be fitting for us to bring out albums that (we think) are good to listen to while studying. Inspired by the LoFi Hip Hop Radio Girl, initially the premise of this theme was to appeal to those who had summer classes, and while we are still technically in the midst of the summer season, I didn’t actually account for how regular classes have also started already in some parts of the world too. All well and good though, and if anything, the theme works even better (lol)
With that theme in place, I went ahead and picked out the album Girlfriend From Kyoto by one Fullkawa Honpo (Al’s review of which you can check out here), and in return Al has me reviewing LUCKY TAPES’ Blend.
We have some news regarding the immediate future of the Exchange/Rate so do stick around after the cut 😀
LUCKY TAPES is an Indie Soul/Pop band comprised of Takahashi Kai on vocals and keys, Taguchi Keito on bass, and Takahashi Kensuke on guitar. Mainly a three-man outfit, the band regularly puts on a full ten-piece brass and percussion ensemble to perform with them as part of their live shows, which is a sound that largely remains a staple element for their compositions.
（＊Spotify link to the full album)
０２・BLUE feat. kojikoji
０４・Actor (Blend ver.)
１１・Happiness feat. ハル
１２・BLUE feat. kojikoji (Acoustic)
Ａ ｌ : Even though music can be a bit distracting whenever I study or do work, there are a lot of great artists that I turn to whenever I need songs for such an occasion. Among those are the indie pop band LUCKY TAPES, as a good amount of their stuff includes smooth and low-key tracks that can certainly help someone feel at ease and maintain focus. And it seems like they put more of an emphasis on that specific style of music with their most recent album release, Blend. The opening track and arguably the most popular song from this album, “BLUE” featuring singer-songwriter kojikoji, certainly sets the overall tone with its relaxing beats and gloomy lyrics. And as we go further, LUCKY TAPES does a nice job incorporating slightly different paces, instruments and even mood changes in order to create a very enjoyable set of tracks.
Whether it’s “Life” with its slow and beautiful acoustic guitar arrangement or the more upbeat, trumpet-filled “Mars”; I think this is a solid (and appropriate) album for those who want to put on some loose music to study/chill to.
＜Ｓｏｎｇｓ ｏｆ Ｉｎｔｅｒｅｓｔ＞
０２・BLUE feat. kojikoji
The first time I would come across LUCKY TAPES was when I happened upon their song Touch! some five or so years ago, and since that time I had pegged the band to be somewhat on the lighter end of a more Soulful Jazz/Pop (or at the very least more Jazz/Pop than Soul) in terms of their sound. Al and I talked about it briefly while we were picking out albums for the month, but at a certain point the band changed their style, from having a noticeably “brighter” approach to something more mellow and Blues-y in comparison. Whether or not that’s actually the reason why this song here in particular is titled BLUE is beyond me, but it certainly fits the bill.
Something we can point to with regard to that is in how LUCKY TAPES, in its present iteration, currently lacks a dedicated drummer. Of course, while one might think that it shouldn’t be too much trouble to at least get a guest drummer (akin to tricot before they found their own drummer), this still ultimately affects their songwriting and composition. I surmise that having to rely on more synthetically generated beats is what has since made LUCKY TAPES lean a bit heavily on this Lo-Fi sort of Blues/Pop that they have going on, with the end result being the aptly named BLUE here, and for what it’s worth I might actually prefer this kind of sound more for them.
０４・Actor (Blend ver.)
Honestly, Actor to me is a song that seemingly gets better and better every time I listen to it and, while I’m not quite sure just yet as to why that is exactly, I’m gonna try to arrive at something more definitive here as I talk about it. I think at best I can narrow what stands out to me for this song down to two things; the first being how it manages to builds and escalates for however long it plays for, with how it starts relatively somber up until the synth and the brass instruments start to kick in, and the song just explodes into a crescendo while vocalist Takahashi Kai smoothly flows through it in what we can consider to be his now-trademark laid-back sinigng style.
Which then leads me to the second thing that stood out for me, though still closely related to the first thing I pointed out, is in how much of a contrast the calm and soothing vocals of Takahashi are to the blaring trombones and saxophones and on the whole just the rush of music Actor ends up being by the end of it. I dunno, something about this particular dynamic being present makes for a fun listen to me personally, and I continually grew to adore the song because of it over the course of my playthroughs of the album for this review. All that being said however, in as many good things as I have to say about Actor, it’s actually *not* my favorite song off of Blend.
I feel as though I say as much whenever it comes up, either here on the Exchange/Rate or on the Monthly Recommendation Roundup, but I might also just be a sucker for brass instruments in an otherwise traditional band setting (lol). So much so that back in the 2019 Roundup Awards, we gave the Best Instrumentation award for that year to the song Esp by TAMTAM, thanks in large part to vocalist Kuro’s trumpet-playing. If I had to say, I think it’s in how much it makes a band sound more textured and layered whenever they choose to employ brass in their ensemble of instruments when they make it work; and LUCKY TAPES definitely make it work for them.
Of course, it helps that at their core the band has primarily a Blues-y Jazz sort of sound, and as such the brass never really feels out of place in the slightest given their propensity in this particular genre. Which is also why I find that in a lot of ways, Mars is fairly reminiscent of the more improvisational and more Jazz-oriented instrumentation that LUCKY TAPES seemingly started out having, especially towards the end of the song at around three minutes and twenty-four seconds. I also really just liked the rising and falling trumpet distantly trailing in the background for the vast majority of the song with how it’s seamlessly mixed in with the overall melody.
Something that I’ve thus far neglected to mention with regard to Blend which might actually be of interest to some if not even a lot of you guys reading this review is that thematically speaking the album is a break-up album (XD). The noticeable change in musical direction from something more lively to a mellower sound aside, this also does explain why the tone of the album is pretty somber in its overall as well as the lyricism present for its songs. BLUE for example talks about the compromises a couple makes to save their relationship. Actor deals with only one side of the relationship worrying about the future. Mars is about having to live away from home.
Over here talks about the immediate aftermath of a break-up, coping and coming to terms with it, and even entertaining the possibility of getting back together. Now, the song following this one, Happiness, does carry nearly the same exact sentiment (with a more heartful delivery at that), what keeps me coming back to Over is in how callously playful and nonchalant the song is made to sound despite how sad the words that are being sung are otherwise. This might again just play into Takahashi’s chill vocalizations, but something about vibing to a song about a guy who has barely managed to move on and is convincing himself otherwise just gives me this odd sense of dissonance that I can’t help but be entertained by everytime.
＜Ｗｈａｔ Ｉ ｔｈｉｎｋ ｏｆ Ｂｌｅｎｄ＞
In my review of Magic Number by go!go!vanillas for the previous month’s J-Music Exchange/Rate (check it out here if you haven’t yet), I talked a little bit about what I’ve taken to referring to as cohesion and uniformity when it comes to songs with regard to how they are presented in an album. LUCKY TAPES’ Blend here, along with being yet another instance of an album that is both very cohesive and for the most part uniform in its delivery, is also an example of how these qualities aren’t necessarily bad to have, as they are in a sense the very same qualities that arguably make the aptly named Blend such an effective concoction.
While I don’t think it would be fair if I were to make a comparison between Magic Number and Blend, owing to how intrinsically different go!go!vanillas and LUCKY TAPES are as bands in terms of their style and genre respectively, I also believe that there also lies why I found the latter as being easier to listen to for extended periods of time. At the very least, compared to something a bit more blood-pumping *like* Magic Number, I have little to no trouble listening to Blend‘s mellower offerings from the first track to the last, and for me personally that is always going to be a massive boon whenever I pick out an album to listen to on the regular.
Replayability, in that sense, is something that I value greatly when it comes to evaluating any album and whether or not I think it’s good (at least in my opinion), and Blend is one of those albums that has that in droves. I’ve honestly lost count of how many times I’ve listened to the entirety of Blend over the course of writing this review, where more often than not I just ended up wanting to listen to it for no other reason than to want to listen to it, and the next thing I know forty minutes have gone by without me even realizing it. Sometimes that’s all it really takes; a good, and all around solid album full of tracks that are fun and easy to listen from start to finish.
５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ ５
１０ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ １０
Suffice it to say, I think LUCKY TAPES did a fantastic job mixing it all together for Blend here (pun very much intentiona-), and overall I have nary a bad thing to say about this album. If anything, I’m actually left with even more good things to say about it even as I’m wrapping up this review here. No Sense and Trouble both have some pretty nice and catchy guitar lines; 3:33 and seikatsu are two perfectly situated acoustic tracks smack dab in the middle that just help smooth out the album even more, followed by Laundry as a nice change of pace with its more electric guitar focused sound; and capped by an acoustic rendition of BLUE, making Blend have a bookends sort of structure by the end (with how the album starts of *with* BLUE as its first song). All in all, Blend checks all the right boxes for me personally, and I am a happy man because of it.
Have you listened to LUCKY TAPES’s Blend before? What are your thoughts on it if you have? If you have yet to do so, what do you think of it now after having read this review? Lemme know in the comments down below! While you’re at it, what are some albums that you like listening to while you study? By all means feel free to share those with us too! We’d love to hear ’em 🙂
As I mentioned earlier, we do have a bit of an update pertaining to the J-Music Exchange/Rate, particularly next month’s. Al will tell you more about it over on his end, but just to keep you guys posted, we will not be having an Exchange/Rate for September, with the soonest resumption of the series being the month after that in October.
Whether or not I myself will be doing something in the interim however remains to be seen, so you’re gonna have to stay tuned if I do (XD)
In the meantime, Happy Listening~!