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Release Date: February 17th 2016

Tracklists:

AMARANTHUS

1. Embryo -prologue-
2. WE ARE BORN
3. Monoclo Dessan
4. Gorilla Punch
5. Buryoutougen Nakayoshi Monogatari
6. Katte ni Kimi ni
7. Seishunfu
8. Saboten to Ribbon
9. Demonstration
10. Bussouge
11. Naitemo Iin Da yo
12. Guns N’ Diamond
13. Bye Bye de Sayonara
14. HAPPY Re:BIRTHDAY

Hakkin no Yoake

1. Kono A, Hajimari no Z -prologue-
2. Tougenkyou
3. Hakkin no Yoake
4. Mahalo Vacation
5. Yume no Ukiyo ni Saite Mina
6. ROCK THE BOAT
7. Kibou no Mukou e
8. Country Rose – Toki no Tabibito-
9. Imagination
10. MOON PRIDE
11. “Z” no Chikai
12. Ai wo Tsugu Mono
13. Mokkuro Ninaru Hate
14. Momoiro Sora

When Momoiro Clover Z started to mature their sound back in 2012 with “Mugen no Ai,” this was the first time they caught my attention. When I realized later in that year that they’d be continuing that trend of maturing and expanding their musical style and complexity, I started to follow them more closely and actually anticipate what they’d do next.

The subsequent years had many ups and downs, with the wonderful and innovative but flawed 5th Dimension album dropping in 2013, and a slew of singles that ranged from bad and boring to quite good leading up through 2015.

This current set of double albums was announced late in 2015 for early 2016 release and after seeing how many conceptual ideas were going into it, I was interested to see if they could make the improvements that needed to be made to the 5th Dimension sound and concept to make these albums truly great.

They pooled together a plethora of high-profile musicians and producers to assemble these albums and work together to follow the overall concepts, and it’s something that hasn’t been done many times before, so it was especially interesting to see if such a feat could be properly executed within the idol industry.

Both albums feature 14 tracks, and are meant to be very symmetrical, both having a prologue intro track for the first song, and a number of other links between the two along the way that we’ll get to later.

The two albums actually follow a sequential format for the concept, with AMARANTHUS being the first of the two, so we’ll begin with that, track by track.

AMARANTHUS Review

1. Embryo -prologue-: The album starts with a mostly atmospheric track featuring sparse piano, heartbeats, babies crying and other sounds that represent “birth” in some form or another. It’s interesting in that it sets up the theme to follow through the albums (birth, death, reincarnation/fantasy,) but not much is accomplished here musically.

2. WE ARE BORN: Starting off the real meat of the album, “WE ARE BORN” is a classical piano infused bombastic rock track with lots of loud guitars/drums and is what I’d consider a slightly more mature version of an old-school MomoClo rock song.

There’s some twists and turns to keep an element of relative “surprise” or unpredictability with the listener (something I’ll mention a lot throughout these reviews) but those moments feel a bit forced into a track which is just a basic, uninteresting idol rock track at its core.

The song ends up being boring and a little bit of a mess, and this may appeal to some of MCZ’s older fans (which seems true from the impressions from fans that I’ve read online) but it fails to accomplish anything valuable to my ears. You can listen to a preview of the song here:

3. Monoclo Dessan: “Monoclo” is a track that has almost nothing in common with the previous track, as the style is a polar opposite from the loud and messy elements of “WE ARE BORN” and opts for a more cute and delicate style with lots of playful piano and lighthearted melodies. The arrangement and instrumentation here is done very well and sounds very bright, but the composition falls a bit flat here, especially in the chorus

It basically sticks to the same formula throughout, only speeding up a little in the bridge, so even though it’s one of the most enjoyable tracks on the first half of this album, it doesn’t do a lot to make subsequent listens very interesting or enticing.

4. Gorilla Punch: Here we have another song that’s pretty similar to “WE ARE BORN” in many ways, being a loud rock track, but this one brings in an interesting element, in that it features the lyrics and guitar work of ANCHANG from the awesome SEX MACHINEGUNS as well as work from AKIRASTAR (Kusumi Koharu, Buono!)

Unfortunately, even with such cool guest features on this track, it has a lot of other elements to bring it down. Firstly, it also has a large amount of ADD in the composition and structure here, so it never really seems to flow together, with more effort seemingly given to the “surprise” element of it than actually writing a cohesive and interesting song. Many parts seemingly crushed together haphazardly without any real sense of movement or overall feel to tie it all together, even if a few of the hooks are cool, they don’t last long and are compressed between a bunch of other contrasting musical passages.

The other major down-side is that it’s a Momoka-featured track, and this girl has one of the absolute most grating singing styles in the idol industry to me. While it is apparent that the production on her vocals is well done, they’ve purposely made her sing it in a way that manages to surpass good production and still be annoying. Fans of older MCZ music or Momoka will probably eat this up, but it’s not for me.

5. Buryoutougen Nakayoshi Monogatari: Next we get to the first track on these albums written by the one and only Hyadain (Maeyamada Kenichi,) who used to be one of MCZ’s biggest musical contributors, but actually hadn’t worked with them in over 3 years until this album came out. The caveat here is that he only wrote the song, and did not arrange it, which may have a bigger effect on the song than you’d think.

The song (like many of his,) is a quirky “storytelling” type song based around the concept of people stealing food from each other backstage at a concert, but then making up and staying friends in the end. Similar to most of his storytelling songs, the composition is full of abrupt changes in style, but unfortunately I don’t think it works very well in this case.

The arrangement is a kind of corny and artificial-sounding swing/big band or Broadway musical arrangement. There’s a few of the musical hooks here that really shine, but they’re crushed in the middle of other passages that don’t fit at all, and they usually only last for a few seconds at a time before switching to another passage that usually doesn’t follow a progression very well. In the end, the song doesn’t accomplish a whole lot besides being a musical mess. Again, we have another case of a song feeling too much devoted to a “surprise” element than a well-produced musical product.

It’s hard to tell if this style’s inability to work here is because Hyadain didn’t arrange the track himself or if it was innate in the songwriting, but I’d guess more towards the former, since many of the songs he’s written but not arranged for various artists often fall flat, while the ones he arranges shine like diamonds. He seems to work best by arranging his own music, but he’s a pretty busy guy nowadays, so he can’t do everything like he used to.

6. Katte ni Kimi ni: This song was used as another musical theme played before baseball games for Japanese player Masahiro Tanaka (New York Yankees player, also married to Satoda Mai of Country Musume) for whom MCZ has written before, so it’s a fairly safe kind of anime-ish “anthem” song that doesn’t accomplish a whole lot musically. The members of MCZ actually contributed to the lyrics here, the credits say, which is slightly interesting, even if fairly anecdotal.

The previous song they did for him, “My Dear Fellow” from their “Naitemo Iin da yo” single was a much better song in every way, so this one just lacks uniqueness or quality, especially knowing a better song has already been made for the same purpose and somewhat similar style.

7. Seishunfu: “Seishunfu”  was released as a movie tie-in single last year, and it’s one of their most boring songs to date. It features a lot of Japanese choral singing and piano, sounding close to a typical “sakura” or graduation themed song. It never picks up much from there, keeping the slow, ballad-like pace throughout, so there isn’t much of value here for me.

8. Saboten to Ribbon: This song is an Ayaka-featured song and sounds more like a song from a Disney cartoon or children’s anime, with lots of circus and marching band sounds in the arrangement. The song wears out it’s welcome within the first minute and a half, but continues to plod on for almost 5 minutes with the same passages.

There have been lots of idol songs done with this style that turned out well, but this one just feels boring and contrived. Not much of note here unless maybe you’re an Ayaka fan.

9. Demonstration: OK, this is where the album really takes a turn for me, and I’m just gonna say it now: “Demonstration” is probably the best song I’ve heard in all of 2016 and might be the best one I hear all year. This track brings in relative newcomer to the mainstream idol scene, Kiyoshi Ryujin (Dempagumi.inc, Horie Yui, Kiyoshi Ryujin 25,) for writing, arrangement, and production duties, and I’ll be damned if this isn’t one of the most unique, powerful, and exciting songs I’ve heard from this industry in years.

The best way to describe this song is a prog-rock epic mixed with an orchestral symphony, with constant crescendos in each passage and a perfect element of build-up and climax throughout the whole song. There’s constant rises in pitch with these crescendos, giving a certain sense of floating or flying as it goes, which makes sense, since the lyrical themes are about the universe and the cosmos. The complex drum patterns carry the song from passage to passage, accompanying the strings in a way that makes every orchestra hit feel like an emotional punch in your face while the guitars soar above it all. This is my idea of bliss in musical form.

This is also the first song on the album that starts to showcase the improvement MCZ has made on their vocal performances and production since their last album that pushed the envelope for composition and vocal performances. The lines they’re tasked to sing here are extremely complex and showcase a huge range from very low notes to jumping octaves higher within the same passage. I’ll talk more about the improved vocals on the other songs which showcase it the best throughout this review.

The level of layering, classical composition, complex melodies, orchestral string arrangement, and vocal harmonies make this stand out unlike any other song I’ve heard lately and it was the first song that truly made me think something special might be waiting in the remainder of the music on these albums.

This track is also linked in some ways to the 9th track on the other album of this , it also being produced and written by Kiyoshi, so look forward to the discussion on that one in the review of Hakkin no Yoake on the next page.

10. Bussouge: Here we have a track that MCZ hasn’t really done in a studio setting before, which is a classical 1950s-1970s Japanese folk style. This is a style I personally love and they got musician Kenji Kondo to work on the track, so everything flows perfectly here.

It’s full of swaying rhythm reminiscent of even 1950s American music, with lots of acoustic guitars, mandolin, piano, strings, harp, harmonica, slide guitar, and even banjo and flutes to top off the classic arrangement. The whole song is a perfect representation of this style, and the vocal production is up to standard, with all the girls sounding very pleasant even in the most difficult of the vocal passages.

11. Naitemo Iin da yo: Next we have my personal favorite of all of MCZ’s singles since their previous album, the dramatic rock song “Naitemo Iin da yo.” The song features frequent key changes, a great string arrangement, a saxophone solo, tons of acoustic and electric guitars with all sorts of embellishments and harmonies with the instruments.

The song repeats the main chorus many times throughout its running time, but is constantly changing key between the repeats, which keeps it fresh each time. This is definitely a welcome addition to the album, making the 2nd half of this one loaded with quality songs, even if previously released. You can (maybe, if YouTube lets you..) hear the song below if you haven’t before.

12. Guns N’ Diamond: This song ends up the sore thumb in the end of this album’s tracklist, featuring a really boring attempt at a dramatic jazz/rock arrangement. The whole song has really uninspired vocal melodies with brass instrument accents and some jazzy piano throughout, but neither the songwriting nor the arrangement do anything to stand out here.

13. Bye Bye de Sayonara: Here’s another interesting track for this album, even if it starts out a little rough with some strange piano and vocal passages along with some really loud chanting parts. It soon gets into a slightly more jazz/rock arrangement for the chorus and gets a much-needed boost in songwriting catchiness. The middle and end parts have a group chant “na-na-na” chorus reminiscent of songs like “Hey Jude” from The Beatles, which is a fun change.

The subsequent passages change up the arrangement even more, adding harpsichords, more percussion, and some layered guitar leads reminiscent of the Queen/Beatles style. I wouldn’t say this is a great track, but a pretty good one compared to many others here.

14. HAPPY Re:BIRTHDAY: This track starts out with a delicate piano passage straight out of a stadium rock ballad, but soon calms down into a quiet verse with strings and more piano. This track also showcases very well how much the vocal production and performances of the group have improved over past attempts, with some of the vocal passages being very emotive and beautiful with no trace of the grating or shrill elements commonly heard in MCZ recordings.

I wouldn’t quite call it a full-on ballad, even though it has many elements from that style, since it changes things up a few times. About half way through the track, it adds a lot more elements to the arrangement to liven things up a little.

Similar to the previous song, there’s a repeated chant-y chorus that closes the song out, and it ends with a quick “mata ne~” from Kanako, signaling that the album is ending and “see you on the other side,” meaning the other album.

Please click here or on the page button below to see the next page for the review of Hakkin no Yoake and see you on the other side.