Let Me Swim A Little Bit More: Thoughts and Musings on the Album “SOAK” by Negoto (A Tribute)


*let me swim a little bit more (oyogasete mou sukoshi dake) is a reference to a line in the song “Suichuu Toshi”

Something that I’ve been wanting to talk about here on the blog but never really got around to actually doing so is this here four-piece Chiba-based band that went by the name of ねごと (negoto) for the better part of twelve years. Specifically, I had been meaning to write a tribute of sorts following the band’s decision to cease their activities as a group back in July of 2019, much akin to my tribute to Kinoko Teikoku, which you can check out here if you haven’t yet (Rise wrote a beautiful feature on the very subject, which I also recommend that you guys check out).

Now, a lot of the reason as to why I haven’t written my own tribute (up until now that is) is that I simply hadn’t had the time to sit down and really think about what it is about them that I wanted to write. I only started listening to Negoto towards the latter half of their careers as a group, so I didn’t have the same attachments that I had with Kinoko Teikoku, which by comparison is a band that I followed well before their debut on a major record label. Suffice it to say I was more than familiar with the relevant histories of the latter for me to talk at length about.

While I don’t have the same relationship (so to speak) with Negoto, I do recognize that the band is themselves very much important to the greater context of Japanese music, particularly with regard to both Girls Rock and Electronica, the mixture of the two genres are for which the band stood as pioneers for from basically the time they first started. That is why I felt somewhat compelled to honor this legacy of theirs through writing, owing to just how much their influence bled and continues to course through the music I listen to today, and how thankful I am for it.

In the middle of this reverie (lasting what would now have been two years since the band went on hiatus, give or take), at one point I found myself listening to what is now Negoto’s final album SOAK a bit more intently than I do most albums for whatever reason, and I noticed something peculiar. Specifically, I realized that the last track of the album (the one above), and effectively one of the “last” songs that Negoto has officially put out, is a cover of a song that came out in the 90s. Not an original song to cap off an illustrious career that spanned over a decade, no. A cover song.

This intrigued me to no end when I first thought about it, and while I have yet to see anything definitive as to why the song finds itself where it is on the album, I have since put together my own thoughts on the matter which I will now share with you today. I figured this was about as best of a tribute I can offer to the band, while also getting to talk about an album that I love in something more freeform as opposed to the more rigid structure of the album reviews akin to the ones for the J-Music Exchange/Rate. This *isn’t* going to be a review of SOAK in that regard.

This is more so going to be an introspective, in to why I believe the songs that you will find in SOAK are made and sequenced the way they are. In doing so, I wish to provide a different perspective for the album that those of you reading this now might not have had should you have already listened to it prior. If you have yet to listen to this album for yourself, I want this to be able to also put into context the greater (and in my opinion overlooked) significance of this album, especially when talking about both the band’s history and the subsequent legacy they leave behind.

But what *is* Negoto’s legacy, you might ask. Incidentally, that’s a good place to start our little discussion here. Though I say that, do recall how I mentioned earlier that I didn’t religiously follow the band’s activities as much as I did for other bands that I’ve since been a fan of, where my being acquainted with Negoto stems mostly if not even solely through just having listened to their entire discography. In that sense, while I might not be able to recount stories about the band from when they first started, I can at least give a decent account of their music over the years. So, let’s go from there.

As I said before, Negoto mostly made a name for themselves for being one of the first Girls Rock bands to incorporate Electronica into their music. This was back when Electronica as a genre had started becoming a household sound following the explosive release of the album GAME by the Idol Pop group Perfume; something I talked about before regarding Sakanaction’s similar rise to prominence. Much like Sakanaction, the way Negoto introduced Electronica to their sound was by emphasizing the use of a synthesizer to accentuate their otherwise traditional rock ensemble.

The band’s debut album ex Negoto was well received, topping the Oricon charts in sales for the first week of its release as the sixth most purchased album at the time (coincidentally the highest placement that the band would ever reach). Perhaps in an attempt to recreate their success, Negoto would continue to put out albums wherewith each one that followed thereafter seeming to have more and more emphasis on synth compared to anything else the band had to offer. In reality this particular direction that the band took would actually be met with mixed opinions by their fans.  

Specifically, fans were quick to hone in on the fact that putting synth at the core of their music also meant that the band had to eschew focus away from other key elements of their sound. In my personal opinion, Negoto’s earlier offerings have some of the most magical drum and bass lines that I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing, not just in terms of Girls Rock but for Japanese music in general. Compare the above track Merci Lou with DANCER IN THE HANABIRA here below, and try to isolate the drums and the bass between the two; the difference is night and day.

I mean, the bass guitar is non-existant at this point, but that in itself is indicative of where the band ultimately found themselves at this point in their careers. DANCER IN THE HANABIRA, while arguably one ot the most “produced” tracks that Negoto has ever made, isn’t objectively a bad song. It’s just a vast departure from how the band sounded back when they started. Whether or not this is the age old thing where bands change their sound the more inculcated they are in the mainstream is a possibility of course, but that’s not what I wanted to talk with you guys about.

Instead, we’re gonna segue back to SOAK. Again, SOAK is Negoto’s final album and as it happens, DANCER IN THE HANABIRA is the album’s opening track. So at this point, you now know which songs the album starts and ends with. I ask you to compare the two again. It shouldn’t take long for you to catch that the difference lies in which sounds are now at the foreground and which ones are now further back. Granted, Sora mo Toberu Hazu is a cover of a song that didn’t have synth in the first place, but it’s still jarring to think about how the two songs are in the same album.

But then I started relly listening to the entire album in earnest, from the first track to the last, and as I did I began to realize something. If you listen closely, it actually sounds as though the synth is actively and purposely being dialed down with each song in the sequence following DANCER IN THE HANABIRA. Key points in the album include; the more pronounced drum presence in WORLDEND; the re-introduction of the bass in Fall Down, and even the near-complete removal of synth in the aptly titled undone. You can kinda already see where this is going.

The two songs following undone; namely ALL RIGHT and Sirius, is where Negoto truly recaptures their earlier sound, which has the band themselves more at the forefront and the synth only serving to accentuate their instrumentation rather than be the center of it. Suichuu Toshi is the ultimate reconciliation of the dichotomy of Negoto’s sounds, as a song that starts out almost entirely with synth, but ends with a powerful and cathartic drum sequence as vocalist Aoyama Sachiko sings of not wanting her dream to end. Caping it all of is again, a cover of Sora mo Toberu Hazu.

Now while that might seem anti-climactic at first glance, let me now try to put into words the narrative behind SOAK that we can now form based on how the songs are sequenced. With each song in the album, Negoto progressively strips away the elements that they have since added on over the years in the form of synth, where towards the end we actually start to hear songs that sound similar to when the band first started. Almost, as if they decided to go back to their roots for this one; back when they first debuted; back in their high school days when they formed the band.

Perhaps even back during a time when they would perform covers of popular songs at the time; songs *like*, or maybe even exactly Sora mo Toberu Hazu. This is all conjecture from me at this point, but the romantic in me would like to think that this was the case here. That this song in particular actually held a special meaning for Negoto, and that making this one of the last songs that they would ever release is symbolic of the band’s self-reflection of their career spanning well over a decade, as well as a symbol of the end of a dream once shared by four high school girls.

Listening to SOAK is letting the girls of Negoto “soak and “swim a little bit more” as the song goes, and that sentiment, coupled with what I had presented to you guys today regarding the overall narrative of the album (or what I believe to be narrative behind it), was enough for me to fall in love with this album.

I hope that by through this tribute of mine, I have made you at least appreciate both SOAK as well as Negoto just a touch more.

While they no longer swim at this time, “surely they can fly” (sora mo toberu hazu).
Belated as it is for me to say, I wish them all the best.