Everyone deserves a second chance.
Oftentimes our perspective on certain things change over the years, and something that we might not have liked or cared for in the past end up as things we now adore either because of experiences we’ve had in the interim or some other reason. Whatever the case may be, that’s what Al and I will be trying to capture for this month’s iteration of the J-Music Exchange/Rate 😀
To those that are unaware, the Exchange/Rate is the tandem album review series conducted by myself and Al from Omunibasu.Blog. Each month we give each other albums from our music libraries based on a theme that we decide on beforehand, for us us then listen to and go talk about in our respective blogs. The Exchange/Rate has continuously been an avenue for me and Al to try out bands/artists that we ourselves haven’t listened to prior, in a way growing our Japanese music repertoire with so to speak. Of course, we hope that this series of ours does the same for you guys (if it hasn’t already done so), in checking out some of our favorite albums. If you’re curious to see our older entries, feel free to head on over to the J-Music Exchange/Rate page over at Omunibasu.Blog. We’ve got a lot of stuff in there now too so 😛
Al and I take turns on who gets to choose the theme for this month, and the ball is back in my court. I’ve already alluded to it in my little intro and, as some of may already pieced together, we will be talking about albums that we didn’t really like at first. Like, maybe we weren’t feeling the album when we tried listening to it some time ago in the past, but after revisiting it we end up coming to like it after all. Something that I like doing as of late now that I’ve been been in this hobby for a fair amount of time is checking out songs that I remember having listened to in the past to see if my opinion about them still holds true or if it has since changed over the years. I think this is a good metric to see how much more open one has become to certain sounds and ideas. I personally find it fascinating seeing how my tastes have since evolved.
The album I picked out for this month is TAMTAM’s NEWPOESY, which is an album that I didn’t pick up again until a good two or three years after listening to it when it first launched (lol), but is now one of if not my favorite album by them (catch Al’s review here!). Al went ahead and gave me tonari no Hanako’s Kittara, Sora for me to go ahead and review for you guys today.
tonari no Hanako is a music group primarily composed of ame (Vo./Prod.), sobu (VJ), and Hanako (visual). Their motto, to which they center their ‘floating’ take on Pop is that “[the] more hardships in life that you’ve had to endure, the more beautiful your life ends up being”.
（＊Spotify link to the full album)
CDJapan Affiliate Link(s):
Kittara, Sora / tonari no Hanako
０１・そしてまた缶は置かれ/soshite mata kan ha okare
０２・シーツの紐も、/sheets no himo mo,
０５・茹ですぎたパスタ/yude sugita pasta
Ａ ｌ : ‘Once cut, sky’ (or ‘Kittara, sora’ in Japanese) by tonari no Hanako is one of those albums/EPs that Spotify just automatically recommended to me one day, a couple or so years ago. Even though it’s been a while since I first listened to this EP, I remember not particularly liking it. I don’t know if it was because I wasn’t really feeling it at the moment, didn’t line up with my personal tastes, whatever. But after letting it sit in my library for a while, I recently came back to it and I can say that it was a much different, more positive experience this time around.
I really enjoyed the overall somber and low-key atmosphere of a lot of these songs, and at the same time, the inclusion of some unique guitar riffs/patterns and other noticeable instrument performances simply made it much more interesting to listen to. Tracks like “Shiitsu no himo mo” with its mellow pace or the more acoustic-based “Harukaze”, a lot of these songs had a very relaxing tone, and were most definitely easy to indulge in and enjoy. Add on Ame’s soft and almost muffled-sounding vocals…this was a pleasant EP, especially one that’s only 21 minutes in length.
＜Ｓｏｎｇｓ ｏｆ Ｉｎｔｅｒｅｓｔ＞
０１・そしてまた缶は置かれ/soshite mata kan wa okare
I feel like, after listening to just this first track, right away I kinda understood why Al picked this EP for this month’s Exchange/Rate theme. For me at least (and this becomes somewhat of a prevailing thing for the majority of the tracks here) is that upon first listen, I do believe there’s actually a bit of a disconnect between the instrumentation and vocalist ame’s singing. In particular, the latter’s light and nasally tone doesn’t immediately resonate with the otherwise darker Jazz-y sound of Soshite Mata Kan Wa Okare I would think, whereas you’d normally expect to hear these kind of vocals being used in a song with a brighter and more Pop-y sort of vibe.
Not to say that this doesn’t work (I think a more extreme example of this that I’m reminded of off the top of my head is something like Regal Lily), just that you might need some time to sort of adjust and orient yourself to ame’s vocals as you go through each track, which then in my opinion already warrants you to reexperience the whole thing once you’ve gotten accustomed to it. Some might get used to it faster compared to other people, especially if you don’t normally listen to artists with this style of singing, so the first impression is going to be different across the board here but to those having second guesses already about this EP I do implore you to stick around.
０２・シーツの紐も、/sheets no himo mo,
Before I get into it, and before I explain why Sheets no Himo mo, is actually my favorite song off of Kittara, Sora, I very quickly want to point out how *immensely* different the instrumentation is in this track compared to the first one. There’s only six songs total in this EP and tonari no Hanako do a good job maximizing that by making quite the assortment of styles here. Of course, as this is the band’s first official release, they could have also still been at the phase where they’re still figuring out what works for them. Either way, this is primarily the reason why you can’t just stop at the opener here as you can’t really judge their overall sound just based off of that.
Now, as to why I like this song so much… I mean, it’s a Sakanaction song (XD) Not in the literal sense but I can’t help but be reminded of Yamaguchi Ichiro’s work with the use of repetition and the looping Electronica to accentuate the Pop/Rock. Going back to what I said about a disconnect between the vocals in the instrumentation, my first thought when I heard this track was that it sounded a lot like if someone like Koresawa sang a song composed by Yamaguchi (lol). For what it’s worth, in contrast with the previous track, I thought this more Electro/Synth Pop-oriented style works better with ame’s singing. I also really just love the brass that comes in midway through.
０５・茹ですぎたパスタ/yude sugita pasta
Towards the latter half of Kittara, Sora we get Yude Sugita Pasta, which is actually the shortest song off the album clocking in at a little under three minutes, making it somewhat of an interlude track as we come up to the end of the EP here. It’s a bit of a shame because had this song been a little bit longer I might’ve favored this more than I currently do now. That said I do still like it well enough, or at least enough that I felt like I wanted to bring special attention to it for this review. Granted, I make it a point to talk about at most four songs each time, and seeing as there’s only six tracks here I guess it would’ve been more unlikely for me *not* to talk about it (XD)
The tone comes back to being a bit darker again here with elements of Blues/Jazz mixed in with the drums and the piano similar to Soshite Mata Kan wa Okare. More than that, Yude Sugita Pasta actually feels more like an extended verse to the aforementioned opener, featuring similar phrasing in the verses. That being said, I do feel the vocals flow a little bit better here. The delivery is just a touch calmer and the actual singing itself is above the instrumentation rather than following it, so you can kinda get this nice slow-fast contrasting sound wherein a slower rhythm like this where ame can comfortably extend her notes might actually favor her singing style more.
Kami, Kittara is the final track of Kittara, Sora, and is arguably the most different sounding song compared to the rest of the album. In a lot of ways it’s the most stripped down of the bunch in terms of instrumentation, doing away with the electric guitar and instead opting for an acoustic one (a trait shared only with one other track in the EP, Harukaze). Though unlike Harukaze with its more synthesizer-driven sound, Kami, Kittara lends itself to being the more archetypical AcoGui Singer-Songwriter kind of tune which (as some of you might already know of me by now) I tend to be a fan of generally. I do think they nailed it if that really was what they were going for here.
Though I did say as much about how slower tracks might be the way to go for tonari no Hanako, on the contrary I thought the singing was on point here. I wanna say that a lot still has to do with the slow-fast sort of sound which they go for again here like in Yude Sugita Pasta except this time it’s the singing that’s on a faster rhythm compared to the instrumention. Might be a dynamic that I just like personally though. The track also starts, almost uncharestically (in relation to every other song that preceded this one), with a spoken verse section; something that I consider as being more of a Japanese Alt. Rock staple which I thought was pretty neat.
＜Ｗｈａｔ Ｉ ｔｈｉｎｋ ｏｆ Ｋｉｔｔａｒａ，Ｓｏｒａ＞
It’s always interesting going through a band’s/artist’s first releases (as I’m sure I’ve brought up in some capacity in the past already) as you really do get this feeling a lot of the times where it seems as though they’re still figuring out what to do in terms of what sound they ultimately want to have and be known for. Almost always this leads to them just trying out a myriad of things to see what sticks and then they go from there. Much of the value here with regard to that are in the ideas they end up pursuing which over time do make for a fun revisitation once the band or artist has (ideally) already established themselves in the mainstream further down the line.
tonari no Hanako isn’t there yet in so far as them being a known commodity is concerned (though funnily enough the group *just* made their media debut just this month, a week or so removed at the time of writing), though going with this month’s theme, I do find it interesting in that you sort of kinda have to revisit Kittara, Sora once you listen to it for the first time. As I mentioned in the review proper, for some people there’s going to be a bit of an adjustment period on your first playthrough of this, especially if you’re particular about how someone’s vocals sound. This is where I think this release, and the group’s music as a whole, might be a bit of a hit or miss.
I personally don’t mind ame’s singing a whole lot if at all now, but admittedly I do think of it as being an acquired taste, or at the very least it was for me and my listening experience over the course of writing this review. That being said, if you’re able to come to terms with how she sounds (or if you didn’t really have an issue with ith from the get), you are and will be rewarded with the group’s instrumentation and their take on J-Pop. I do believe this is where the EP shines, and is what makes giving it it’s fair shake well worth your time. For what it’s worth, ame’s voice does grow on you after a while so if I made you hesitant to try out their stuff, rest assured on that.
３.７５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ ５
７.５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ １０
Not much else to say given how this would be one of the more concise releases that I’ve had the pleasure of getting to talk about for the Exchange/Rate. I do try my best to not rob your guys’ own initial impression on the albums that I do a review on should you want to try them out for yourself. However I do want to at least stress, as I close out my thoughts here, that there’s definitely some promise to be had here in my opinion, specifically with their compositions as I said. Something to note is that tonari no Hanako has since also released a *full* instrumental album, which might also go to show where the group themselves sees their own strengths.
What did you guys think of tonari no Hanako’s Kittara, Sora? Let us know in the comments! Likewise, what are some albums that you didn’t really like at first, but are now some of your favorites? We’d love to know too so feel free to drop us a link below! 🙂