What is up guys, and welcome back to yet another installment of the J-Music Exchange/Rate! We are returning to you with yet another pair of album reviews this month in what ended up being a more interesting theme to talk about than I initially thought it would be considering the album that I got to listen to for the past couple of weeks, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
If this is your first time being here on the blog and/or seeing this particular iteration of this series, the Exchange/Rate is the tandem album review series conducted between myself and Al from Omunibasu.Blog, wherein each month we go and trade albums from both our respective music libraries to one another based on a specific theme that we decide on prior, for the other person to then go listen to and talk about. This project is our way of broadening our scope in terms of what other bands and artists we can both follow respectively, as well as being a way to recommend to you guys some of our favorite Japanese music albums in the hopes of doing the same for you. If that does end up being the case and you find a new favorite band/artist through this series, Al and I can’t be happier 🙂
As I mentioned, the month’s album reviews are based on a theme, and as such it was again my turn to pick one out. This one’s a bit similar to a previous Exchange/Rate we had before, but instead of bands/artists who we discovered through covers of their songs, this time around I wanted us to talk about bands/artists primarily known for their cover songs. Now, going back to my little preamble at the beginning there, it’s actually pretty neat that I get to go over something I’ve been wanting to delve deeper into as a concept but just never had the opportunity to do so.
Specifically, I’ve always wanted to muse over the BanG Dream! franchise’s approach towards Japanese bands, and Al’s choice of RAISE A SUILEN’s ERA for this month’s Exchange/Rate might be as good of a chance as I have. I in turn picked out NEW ROMANCER by YouTube cover artist/virtual singer RIM which I do think is an album that also presents some interesting talking points. Check out Al’s review here!
RAISE A SUILEN is an all-female 2.5D Japanese rock band produced by the multimedia franchise BanG Dream! as part of its second wave of generational talent following the series’ success with its initial ensemble cast. The unit is comprised of Raychell (Vo/Ba), Kohara Riko (Gt), Natsume (Dr), Kurachi Reo (Key), and seiyuu Tsumugi Risa as a DJ; the manner in which they perform mirroring that the characters they portray.
０２・A DECLARATION OF ×××
０５・HELL! or HELL?
０７・Takin’ my Heart
０８・DRIVE US CRAZY
１１・EXPOSE ‘Burn out!!!’
Ａ ｌ： Similar to Leap, I’ve always been primarily a Love Live fan. And throughout the years, I’ve seen Love Livers get into other music-based multimedia franchises like Revue Starlight and more popularly, BanG Dream. Regarding the latter, I never really had any knowledge or interest in Bandori (other than hearing a few cover songs from the game) and generally felt a lot more comfortable focusing on one single thing when it came to these media franchises. But as time went by and certain things helped me become a lot more open-minded with these other projects, I recently ended up jumping into the Bandori rabbit hole, which I have genuinely enjoyed so far.
Admittedly, I’m still not too familiar with most of the groups within the series but one in particular caught my eye towards my beginnings as a Bandori fan, which was the superb electro-rock band named RAISE A SUILEN. I personally got my first real taste of RAS when I took a listen to the band’s first major album release, ERA, and was really impressed with the kind of music they played. Not only was it incredibly enjoyable, but it also sounded like something you would hear within the general rock music scene, rather than from a cutesy-looking, anime mobile game franchise. Songs like “UNSTOPPABLE”, “HELL! or HELL?” and “!NVADE SHOW!” excellently display the combination of energetic rock music with EDM-like synths and wubs, and there are even some tracks that have more of a focus on the rock genre like “SOUL SOLDIER”. And of course, I can’t not mention the astounding vocals of the talented frontwoman of RAS, Raychell (or Wakana Rei/LAYER, if we’re referring to the 2D side of things). Her voice is insanely good in ALL of these tracks and really just brings everything together to create a fun and hype album to listen to.
＜Ｓｏｎｇｓ ｏｆ Ｉｎｔｅｒｅｓｔ＞
I think it’s pretty safe to say, as is most often the case for album openers in general (and as you’ve probably come to expect by now for me to harp on whenever I do these reviews, jk), that Invincible Fighter tells us all we really need to know about RAISE A SUILEN, at least in terms of what you’ll expect to hear from ERA. In particular, it shouldn’t take you long to get familiarized with the band’s predominantly Electro/Rock music stylings, accentuated by lively synth, hard guitar riffs, crushing drum work, and (what is perhaps, in my opinion, an important cornerpiece to RAS’ overall sound) vocalist Raychell’s singing that lends itself to being much befitting of a frontwoman.
What I mean by that is that her singing has a very… seasoned quality to it, for lack of a better term. This quality is something I used to describe SCANDAL’s HARUNA and her vocals after having heard it with my own ears a couple of years ago, (I believe BAND-MAID’s Saiki shares this trait too, to name another prominent Rock band frontwoman) where Raychell has this sort of smokiness to her voice that you would come to expect from someone who has been singing for quite some time. In some respects I would like to think this sort of vocal texture can only be had by having sang and performed so many times, and for the most part this does ring true.
Something to note with regard to that is, with the exception of the band’s “DJ” in seiyuu Tsumugi Risa, the rest of RAISE A SUILEN’s members all have had extensive experience performing in the manner to which they portray their characters as. That is to say, Raychell has been singing since 2010, drummer Natsume has been playing the drums for over fifteen years, keyboardist Kurachi Reo was already learning to play the piano when she was just two years old, and while her history doesn’t stretch as far back as the three, guitarist Kohara Riko is a product of a music program that specializes in electric guitar and was herself already a member of a band prior.
I wanted to bring this up early in the review, while you listen to Kohara just absolutely shred with SOUL SOLDIER here, as I do think RAISE A SUILEN gets written off more often than not as more of a seiyuu performer product much like the main acts of the BanG Dream! franchise who mostly (with a few exceptions) don’t really play their instruments. Now, this isn’t so much a knock on the seiyuus involved with the franchise, as ‘Bandori’ is more so primarily a multimedia project than it is a purely musical one in the first place, but I do also find it important to stress, if in case you were having any doubts on the matter, that ‘RAS’ is about as “real” of a band as there is.
I found it very interesting that RAISE A SUILEN was modeled after ONE OK ROCK of all bands in that regard, at least according to the vision that the creator of the franchise had for the band as part of its efforts to expand beyond the main Bandori project. ONE OK ROCK of course being one of the most popular Japanese Rock bands in today’s Japanese music landscape as well as the world over. Though perhaps that is where the aspirations for RAS start and end, as tonally speaking the two bands don’t have a whole lot of overlap if at all, with OOR lending itself more towards traditional Rock and RAS with their more Electro/Rock focused sound.
That being said, and as one might feel as they go through the tracks of ERA, it does certainly that RAS was modeled after or takes inspiration from existing bands, I couldn’t put my finger as to who or what bands I was being reminded of, but one of the things that stood out for me after a couple of playthroughs of the album was this “old school throwback” feeling that some of their songs (like REIGNING here for instance) gave off. When I started thinking about it in that sense, I almost immediately found my answer, as I realized I was actually thinking of Abingdon Boys School and UVERworld from back in the day, which I thought was really neat.
It’s actually kinda hard to pick out a favorite song from ERA (for reasons I’ll get to later), but perhaps the most *important* song of the album is R・I・O・T here, being the RAISE A SUILEN’s debut single following the band’s official inclusion into the BanG Dream! lineup. The song is again a nice little highlight of all the elements that make up RAS’ sound which is again in large part due to how collectively credentialed the members are, but before I close out this review I wanted to point one last thing out in relation to this that puts into context my overall thoughts on both the album and RAS as a band and why I believe what they’re doing here is actually quite remarkable.
A band’s inception is a natural process. Traditionally these are people who come together of their own volition to create music and in Japan specifically, often times these start as early as high school. I don’t believe it’s that common that a band is formed in such an inorganic manner as having to audition as individual members, given the sort of chemistry that’s required to make it all work (the only other band that I can think of that has gone through a similar process is BAND-MAID). In that sense, I can’t help but see RAS as both a bit of a lightning in a bottle and also an experiment of sorts to see how something like this would even fare, and R・I・O・T just ticks all the right boxes.
＜Ｗｈａｔ Ｉ ｔｈｉｎｋ ｏｆ ＥＲＡ＞
In as much as Al an I plan out the Exchange/Rate, we never really go beyond the theme that we decide on them apart from what can be understood about it from the onset. That is to say, when I told Al that it’d be nice if we could talk about “bands/artists who primarily do covers” for this month, I didn’t expect we’d be talking about a “2.5D” band in RAISE A SUILEN and a “virtual singer” in RIM respectively, but here we are (XD). I say that half in jest though as this really is a bit indicative of the times and the contemprary Japanese music landscape specifically, wherein we might be seeing a glimpse of a new *era* (pun notwithstanding) of artistry.
ERA is a thought-provoking album in that regard. Not in the same way as Ueda Reina’s Nebula was, but more so in terms of how… “real” it sounds. I’m using the word again when really it shouldn’t be all that different when a composer commissions musicians for an OST or when a “2.5D” idol group is formed, but I just can’t shake this uncanny valley-like feeling of cognitive dissonance that I get from it where, if I didn’t know any better I wouldn’t have thought much about it and thought it was just a regular band despite the contrary. Is the album any better or worse because of that? Not really, I would think, though it does sort of frame your perspective a little bit.
Over the course of this review I have talked about the talented members of RAS whose hard work in pursuit of their musical careers are finally being rewarded (Raychell supposedly would have quit singing professionaly if not for Bandori, Kohara started shifting her focus to seiyuu work after her band’s disbandment), and while they have already more than won my respect by being the performers that they are, do understand that it also feels weird to have to acknowledge the people behind their songs as none of them were actually involved in making any of it. I mean, that’s entirely *because* they’re involved with a multimedia franchise *like* Bandori, but I digress.
４ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ ５
８ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ １０
Regardless of whether or not the band make their own songs, again, it’s not any different from when a seiyuu performer or an idol seiyuu comes out with an album of their own. Viewing it with that lens, in that respect, all you really have to go by is how they sound. Now, admittedly ERA does sort of meld into one continuous Electro/Rock song after a while (hence why it was actually hard to pick out a favorite), but as I always say whenever this comes up, it’s not always a bad thing. This would be one of those cases where it’s just a banger track one after the other anyway. Not as fatiguing as I thought it might be too, surprisingly enough, so that’s also a plus.
What do you guys think of RAISE A SUILEN’s ERA? Let us know down in the comments section below! Likewise, if you’re privy to the BanG Dream! franchise, do lemme know your thoughts on it too. I do genuinely find their approach to Japanese music (and Japanese media in general) to be very interesting and I’d love to hear what you guys think with regard to that and/or the project as a whole.
Also, who are some bands/artists that *you* like who are primarily known for doing cover songs? By all means drop us a link of some your guys’ own recommendations!
Lastly, don’t forget to check out Al’s review of RIM’s NEW ROMANCER if you haven’t yet!
Happy Listening, and I’ll see you guys in the next one.