Talking about our favorite albums of 2022!
Yep, that’s right! One more year of J-Music Exchange/Rate in the books, and as some of you guys might already know, Al and I like to cap off this little project of ours every December the same way we have been for the past two (now coming up to three) years of us doing the thing, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
If, however, this is your first time here: the Exchange/Rate is the tandem album review series between myself and my good friend Al from Omunibasu.Blog. Every month we trade each other albums that we pick out from our respective music libraries based on a theme that we decide on beforehand. We then listen and subsequently do a review of said albums in our blogs. Not only has this become a platform for us to showcase some of our favorite albums, but it’s also been a great way me and Al to both expand our horizons so to speak. Although there’s definitely some overlap, our libraries do carry differences from one another, so a lot of times we recommend to each other albums the other person hasn’t listened to, which is its own fun in and of itself. It is our hope that you guys enjoy our journey of musical discovery as much if not more than us.
This month’s theme was decided by both of us essentially since, as I mentioned, we’re going with the theme we’ve gone for come this last month of the year, and that’s for us to go ahead and give the other person our personal Favorite Album of 2022. There have been a TON of fantastic releases this year, and narrowing it down to just a single one is honestly quite the task….. is what I would’ve said had it not been for one album in particular that was just the clear cut winner for me even just going by sheer play counts. If you’ve been keeping up with the Roundups this year you might have an idea which album I’m talking about with how much I’ve been raving about it. For fun though, I’m not gonna reveal what it is, so you’re gonna have to go to Omunibasu.Blog to find out 😉
As for Al’s Favorite Album of 2022 however, I present to you….. !
BATTEN GIRLS (ばってん少女隊/batten show jo tai) is a six-member idol group based in Kyushi comprised (at present) of Kiyama Ai, Ueda Riko, Haruno Kiina, Seta Sakura, Aoi Rirua, and Yanagi Miyu. Having started activities under Stardust Promotion in 2015, alongside “other sister” groups such as Momoiro Clover Z and Team SHACHI, the group have since represented themselves under their own BATTEN Records label in 2020. The group aims to enrich Kyushu through their sound, which largely features musical influences from their beloved home region.
＜ＣＵＥ－ＳＡＩ (九祭/kyusai) ＞
(＊Spotify link to the full album)
CDJapan Affiliate Link(s):
Cue-Sai / Batten Showjo Tai
０１・OiSa (2021 ver.)
０２・わたし、恋始めたってよ！/watashi, koi hajimetatteyo!
０８・ Bright & Breezy
１０・禊 the MUSIC/misogi the music
１１・虹ノ湊/kou no minato
１２・OiSa PARKGOLF REMIX
Ａ ｌ : Funny enough, I have to thank Leap for coincidentally leading me to this group and my personal choice for favorite album of the year. Shortly after I reviewed the TEAM SHACHI album he gave me back in April, I discovered another group that happened to be related to the SHACHI gang (via both of them being Stardust Promotion talents): the BATTEN GIRLS, or Batten Shoujo-tai, idol unit. The timing of me getting into this Fukuoka-based group was a little odd, as they recently went through a member change and thus, made it a bit strange when I found out that certain tracks didn’t include the newer girls (Aoi Rirua and Yanagi Miyu, whom I’ve been familiar with the most). But confusion aside, BATTEN GIRLS has been a really nice music and idol-related discovery this past year, especially as someone who has recently, and finally, broken into the non-anime related idolsphere. And their most recent studio album release, CUE-SAI, has been a nice way of learning more about what this group is all about, and I believe it even displays the creative changes and overall direction they’re heading towards in this new ‘era’ with Rirua and Miyu.
When compared to their previous releases such as their 2020 album Fun, it’s clear that they decided to go towards a MUCH more refined, modern and sophisticated direction with their music. And I think that’s shown perfectly throughout the whole album, but it’s especially apparent towards the beginning where they placed some of their big hits like the INCREDIBLY catchy “OiSa” (the updated version which features the two new members), “Watashi, Koi Hajimetatteyo!” with its mixture of melancholic lyrics and light dance music, as well as the house vibes within “YOIMIYA”. While I do feel like they shouldn’t have piled most of their hard-hitters right at the beginning of the album, some of the later tracks on CUE-SAI were also great listens, like the DAOKO-written/composed “Wa・Ka・Ran” and the upbeat funk-pop style of “Bright & Breezy”.
Overall, this is a very, very, very solid album from an idol group that, I believe, should get more attention. Not only was this a great showing of all these ladies and their talents as idols, but the fact that they also based these songs around the prefectures of the region they come from (Kyushu) makes this an interesting expression of historical traditions with a more modern twist.
And because it’s absolutely customary whenever you get into a new idol group… I think I’m leaning towards being a Sakura or Riko oshi (although I love all of them lol)
＜Ｓｏｎｇｓ ｏｆ Ｉｎｔｅｒｅｓｔ＞
０１・OiSa (2021 ver.)
CUE-SAI starts off with… arguably, quite possibly statistically going by the numbers, the “best” song by BATTEN GIRLS if at least on the album in OiSa (2021 ver.). This specific track in particular is an updated version of the group’s breakout hit from their 2021 album Fuan that features reworked line distributions to accomodate the changes and additions to BATTEN GIRLS’ member lineup that had since occurred. Other than that, the track otherwise sees little to no changes from its previous iteration, and still retains what I would consider the key theme for the album in BATTEN GIRLS’ modern take on traditional festive Japanese sounds.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call this track a bit of a lightning in a bottle in terms of how everything about this song ended up working so well for it, especially in the context of BATTEN GIRLS’ previous work where OiSa would be the anomalous track amidst the more conventional idol album with predominant Ska influence in the aforementioned Fuan. It’s interesting how, because of how much of an unexpected success OiSa was, the group’s creative direction completely revamped BATTEN GIRLS image to this “shrine girl aesthetic” whilst continuing to tap into Wagakki and other traditional Japanese music influences, thus resulting in this album.
０２・わたし、恋始めたってよ！/watashi, koi hajimetatteyo!
In some ways you can even say that leaning as heavily as they did on this new image gave BATTEN GIRLS a new lease on life in terms of exposure and popularity where the group started to rake in views in the millions whereas before the group’s prior videos only ever got up to as much as tens of thousands at a time. Watashi, Koi Hajimetatteyo! is BATTEN GIRLS’ follow up single to OiSa after the group reinvented themselves and in keeping with the same *visual* aesthetic they were able to achieve a reasonable amount of retention and success despite deviating a bit from what was (in my opinion) the more impactful change in the group’s sound.
That being said, what Watashi, Koi Hajimetatteyo! lacks in terms of an OiSa-like bop-y earworm tune, it more than makes up by showcasing the group’s vocal lineup in one of the more creative ways I’ve heard vocals be produced in Idol Music, Alt. Idol, or even just vocal units in general. The song does this by making use of the different individual vocal tracks by the members, and transposing them over each other, which makes this beatiful multi-layering of their singing. I liken the listening experience here as that of a musician using a loop pedal to “build” up a song using segments of melodies at a time with the end result usually being something remarkable.
As important of a song as OiSa was (and continues to be) for the group, and despite Watashi, Koi Hajimetatteyo! being a crucial proof of concept for BATTEN GIRLS to be able to push through with their newfound aesthetic, if I had to pick out a “theme song” for the group out of all the tracks from CUE-SAI, it *would* be O-matsuri Sawagi. Of note with regard to this notion specifically is that the shrine girl costumes that the members are wearing for the PV here are the same ones used in the album’s main promotional material. The song is also the first one to reference the group’s name, incorporating chants of “Batten!” in the pre-chorus.
But of course, more than any of that, the song is the first from the album, four tracks in, that starts to remotely resemble Idol Music and subsequently serves as a reminder for people that BATTEN GIRLS are in fact an Idol group (XD) This starts to get reinforced the deeper you get into the album, and it’s actually fascinating hearing the group revert back to their old ways with each track after this, but more on that later. If anything else though, I do think though that they hit the sweet spot of being shrine idols (lol) here, and if they ever revisit this theme, O-matsuru Sawagi is a good reference point on how to do it. Oh yeah, shouts out to the K-Pop-y rap flow at 01:45.
１０・禊 the MUSIC/misogi the music
Those of you who might already know of my proclivities with regard to music (particularly Math Rock and Alt. Idol), and perhaps even Al himself, might be led to think that my favorite track off of CUE-SAI was going to be Watashi, Koi Hajimatatteyo!. And while you guys wouldn’t be wrong to think that I would adore that song (as I honestly really do), the more I listened to the album the more I found myself drawn towards Misogi the MUSIC instead. Though I say that, I actually like both songs for largely the same reasons, though probably not ones that might seem all that apparent given how different both are from one another in terms of how they sound.
While the Wagakki Synth fusion in tracks like OiSa, YOIMIYA, or even Sagashimono all go hard and all, they’re also songs that I feel like I already have my fill of after only a couple of times listening to them. Not to say that I get tired of them, but they’re also tracks where the track takes over the singing at times, and as a listener I tend to prefer listening to vocals more than anything. Watashi, Koi and Misogi are also the only two songs that try to build on itself with the latter bringing back the repeating verses from the first half of the album, while also just having a nice and cleanly sung chorus as opposed to Watashi, Koi’s ultimate payoff being towards the end of the song.
＜Ｗｈａｔ Ｉ ｔｈｉｎｋ ｏｆ ＣＵＥ－ＳＡＩ＞
This was a tough one, not gonna lie (XD) But at the same time, I honestly think it didn’t have to be if CUE-SAI didn’t fall for this trap that seemingly all Pop artists and groups tend to fall into, and that’s loading up most if not all your A-sides in the first half. BATTEN GIRLS had five A-side tracks coming in (counting O-matsuri Sawagi being the promotional track) and of those five, four of those were literally the first four tracks of the album. Like I always say, this isn’t something inherently bad, but at the same time, when those A-sides are *massive* hits (relatively speaking) like OiSa and Watashi, Koi, you kinda wanna space those apart for the sake of the rest of the album.
What I mean by that is those four tracks in sequence kinda buried the middle to latter portions of the CUE-SAI, at least in my own personal opinion. Partly because those four songs are arguably much better than the latter half of the album collectively, but also due to the shrine girl Japanese festive music motif that BATTEN GIRLS seemingly was trying to build up with OiSa, Watashi, Koi, and YOIMIYA just abruptly goes away past O-matsuri Sawagi. As a result there’s a very noticeable dip in the energy and just a change in the overall vibe of the album from Sagashimono onward (if you look at Spotify play counts from first to last you’ll see a peculiar trend)
Which is a shame because the latter half of the album isn’t all that bad. Like, Wa-Ka-Ran and Wakusei have some nice distorted Shoegaze-y Lo-Fi going on, and again, huge fan of Misogi the MUSIC as I mentioned. Bright & Breezy is a cute Jazz/Pop track that for the most part seemingly just got tossed into the mix for some reason. Not completely sold on Kou no Minato as a closing track (I’d actually put Watashi, Koi in this slot instead fwiw) but it’s good fun for an Idol track. The OiSa – PARKGOLF REMIX sort of works as a bookend but that largely depends on how you feel about remixes of a track from the same album, though it definitely doesn’t hit the same.
４.７５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ ５
９.５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ １０
I’d be curious to see whether or not BATTEN GIRLS goes back to the well with this festive shrine girl theme they have going on in a future release. If they don’t, OiSa did what it needed to do and it’s up to them and their team to make something of this momentum that they’re currently riding. CUE-SAI is one half of an interesting experiment to see how far an Idol group singing over Wagakki Synth tracks can go, but otherwise also very much whole in terms of just being a solid release. Tracks like Watashi, Koi and YOIMIYA will probably get a lot of mileage out of people still, and the adventurous who stick around past that might still like what they hear anyway.
What was your Favorite Album of 2022? Let us know in the comments!
No preview for you this time so if you want to find out my Favorite Album of 2022, go ahead and check it out over at Omunibasu.Blog in Al’s review of it if you haven’t yet 😀
Quick little reminder too that this is actually sneak peak of one of the many awards that we will be giving out as part of the annual Roundup Awards coming later this month, but don’t you worry, I have a lot more in store for you guys so stay tuned for that.
See you guys there! And until then, Happy Listening!