vanilla-beans-5-regular

Release Date: February 5th, 2016

Tracklist: 

  1. Say Goodbye
  2. Onna wa Sore wo Gaman Shinai (女はそれを我慢しない)
  3. Night-and-fly (ナイト・アンド・フライ)
  4. DARE (feat. RAM RIDER)
  5. Brand New Twilight (ブランニュー・トワイライト)
  6. Lady Survivor
  7. BOYZ & GIRLZ
  8. Jounetsu Violence (情熱バイオレンス)
  9. Bi-nius (ビーニアス)
  10. Style and Council (スタイル・アンド・カウンシル)
  11. lonesome X
  12. Now & Forever

Review

Since their start in 2007, Vanilla Beans have been building one of the most consistently strong discographies of any idol group in recent years, relying on a heavy Shibuya-kei influenced sound with heavy 1960s European influence, and have worked with some of the strongest songwriters and producers from that era and style. They’ve released about 20 singles and 7 albums, with almost every song in them being very listenable, if not great, from start to finish.

2015 started a kind of new era for the group, with their activities slowing down, releasing only 1 album and 1 single in the whole calendar year, and also having different producers take over their music duties, which seems to be signaled by the group being signed to a major music label, Avex Trax.

Starting with that 4th album in 2015, the music seemed to take a nosedive in quality, where the few new tracks recorded for the album leaned more towards generic idol music, and further away from their Shibuya-kei roots, with the newest triple A-side single from a few months ago following the same formula.

When I heard they had a new album release coming in early 2016 with many more new songs than were featured on the previous album, I was interested to see if this new album might see a return to their previous style and form.

Here’s a quick rundown of the tracks to see if it makes any improvement over the other more recent efforts.

It starts with “Say Goodbye,” which is about as close as this album ever gets to their old Shibuya-kei style, with lots of acoustic guitars and light brass instrumentation. It’s one of the best songs featured here, but it still doesn’t say a lot, since the composition is not nearly as memorable as their older songs of this style, though it’s still a great song.

“Onna wa Sore wo Gaman Shinai” is next, and it’s the mainly promoted single off the triple A-side release from a few months ago. The song has a kind of typical disco/funk dance sound with a little jazz thrown in, almost feeling like a lesser version of early Hello!Project songs (1997-2000 era) without a whole lot being very memorable. You can hear the whole song and watch the goofy PV here:

Night-and-Fly” is next, featuring some 80s-sounding synths, which starts the song off really well, with acoustic and distorted electric guitars backing it up. The song stays at a pretty slow-mid pace throughout, and the chorus does it’s job of having a climax of sorts, but it still feels a little underwhelming, even if it’s enjoyable overall.

“DARE” is next, which is a cover of the Gorillaz song of the same name, and unfortunately, as I don’t really like the original much, this version doesn’t do much to make it any better. It’s just a mediocre and repetitive dance track with minimal melody or interesting passages. The track features RAM RIDER producing the track and doing backing vocals, making it sound a little more electronic than the original, but it doesn’t do much to improve the song.

The next track is “Brand New Twilight,” another disco/dance kind of track without much to make it stand out. This is exactly what you’d expect from idols doing this type of sound. The chorus is pretty catchy, but you’ll probably forget it by the time the song is over.

The next song, “Lady Survivor” is a bit of a polarizing track for me, since the music is a really fun electronic dance song with really heavy layered synths, sounding similar to something Perfume would release in their mid-era, but the vocals are so heavily processed and auto-tuned that they sound almost like vocaloid. It’s a really fun song with good production aside from the vocals, but even the faux-vocaloid vocals don’t ruin the song. It’s still far from any of their high caliber previous releases, but it’s one of the best tracks on this album, despite featuring some slightly grating robo-vocals.

Next is the heavily 80s/90s-inspired track “Boyz & Girls,” which has some really corny 80s synths throughout, reminding me of some similar Japanese music from the late 80s or early 90s. The chorus sounds almost right out of a TRF song, with a joyous melody and bouncy, chanting vocals, even stealing some TRF lyrics/song titles during this section as a fairly obvious homage, which probably also has something to do with getting signed to Avex last year. Another very fun electronic dance track, but still not very unique.

Next we have “Jounetsu Violence” which is a strange dance track with a heavy Latin flavor, with lots of flamenco guitars, castanets, and it all reminds me of a number of idol songs with similar style before. Things like Melon Kinenbi’s “MI DA RA” come to mind very strongly. Not a bad track, but doesn’t do anything to stand out among plenty of other previous idol songs done in the same style.

“Bi-nius” is next, and it was another previously released song from the recent single. It’s an overly dramatic rock song with a pretty typical Japanese flavor that sounds a lot like an opening for an anime. It doesn’t really do much to stand out among plenty of other songs of the same style that have been done before (notice a trend here?)

“Style and Council” is up next, and it’s another track that calls back to their previous Shibuya-kei material more than most others here. It’s not up there with most of their previous releases of this style and it has a little extra “generic idol” sound mixed in, especially in the pre-chorus. Still an enjoyable listen and nice call back to their old style, but as is the trend here, it doesn’t call for lots of repeat listens or stand out too much.

Next is another song from the previous single release, “Lonesome X,” which is actually a Christmas-themed song, but it’s a pretty boring and typical Japanese one. If you’ve heard a few J-pop or idol Christmas songs before, this will sound pretty familiar to you.

Last is “Now & Forever,” another slow ballad track that sticks pretty closely to the typical idol ballad conventions and doesn’t really do anything unexpected. If you’re familiar with this style, you’ll probably get tired of the song pretty quickly. It has some fun or pretty synths from time to time and a cute melody, but every element of the track is very typical of this style and predictable if you listen to much idol music.

Conclusion

After a few full listens, this album goes mostly in the same direction as the previous album, with no particular style or defining characteristics and no particular theme unifying the experience together. The album feels like it has a big identity crisis between lots of different styles of music, but doesn’t excel at any of them particularly well.

I’d still consider this an improvement over the previous album, but it still doesn’t even come remotely close to the quality displayed on their fantastic first 3 albums. It’s worth a listen for fans of the group, but it’d be a little tough to recommend to anyone with a more seasoned history and knowledge of music.

It still leaves me with some hope for future releases, should they happen, so there’s a positive there, and it’s a fun listen if you’re not paying too much attention or expecting too much from it. Let’s hope their following 2016 releases continue this upward trend in quality and regain some of their greatness from 2014 and before.

Vanilla Beans – V (Regular Edition)

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Vanilla Beans – V (Limited Edition)

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