Here’s where we’ll start the review of the 2nd part of this release, going right into the track reviews for Hakkin no Yoake:
Hakkin no Yoake Review
1. Kono A, Hajimari no Z -prologue-: First is this album’s intro/prologue track, which actually accomplishes a lot more musically than the first album’s intro track, starting with a music box rendition of the main melody from “HAPPY Re:BIRTHDAY,” (the final song from the first album,) with some ambient noise behind it that’s very similar to the ambient noise in the AMARANTHUS‘s intro track.
Soon after, some synth keyboard progressions start to fade into the mix as the girls start singing a sweet melody over the synths, and it carries on for over two minutes, layering vocals over these synth progressions for a really well-done intro track that actually has good music to back it up. It’s a cool way to link the two albums together and sounds really good for an intro.
2. Tougenkyou: Here’s a great track to start off the album (we’re already off to a much better start than the first album.) The track bursts out from the calm of the previous track with some really loud and abrasive 1980s/early 90s synth-pop keyboards that makes you immediately wake up. Soon a similarly 80s synth-pop dance beat kicks in, letting you know this sound isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
It keeps up with this awesome representation of the style while also having really bittersweet vocal melodies on top of it all, similar to a slightly more upbeat version of Tommy February6. This sound persists all the way up to the chorus, when a heavy synth cymbal hit signals the more dreamy, electronic chorus with more wonderful melodies with some extra synth layering behind it.
After another short chorus, we get a cool instrumental break before having a further bridge with some talk-y vocals. After a very extended bridge section, we come to a new vocal melody towards the end, with a little more melancholy added for effect to close out this awesome trip back in time.
3. Hakkin no Yoake: The title track of the album here is a very inconsistent track and one that seems it can’t decide what it’s trying to do very well. It starts with very calm acoustic guitars and light percussion/strings with a very bland vocal melody, but after almost 3 minutes, the song turns into a trance-pop track with electronic keyboards filling the background.
The progression of the song doesn’t feel very naturally flowing and just seems to drag on for most of it’s running time. You can listen to it here:
4. Mahalo Vacation: Next up is another song that got promoted a little before the album was released, in the form of this mess that is “Mahalo Vacation.” It starts out as a funky disco track with a huge, funky bassline contributed by the bassist from rock band OKAMOTO’S, but soon gets diluted with silly vocal patterns and a boring pre-chorus section with multiple parts.
The flow of the song is broken by this structure in the pre-choruses dragging on too long, and the chorus doesn’t do a whole lot to bring the attention back, sounding like a pretty typical idol chorus for this type of song. Nothing much is accomplished here, as it becomes another set of ideas crushed together without much mind for structure or flow. Fans of older MCZ might like this one. You can hear a preview here:
5. Yume no Ukiyo ni Saite Mina: Next up is MCZ’s collaboration with American rock band KISS, which was released as a single last year. The song is an interesting mix of both styles, even if the end result isn’t the most exciting thing ever, it definitely has its moments.
The loud rock guitars from KISS add a cool accent to the mostly traditional Japanese-inspired arrangement for most of the song and Paul Stanley’s backup vocals during the chorus add a cool and distinctive KISS sound to the song, but the whole thing feels underwhelming as a whole and gets pretty repetitive until it finally changes right towards the end with a very KISS-sounding keyboard section that ends pretty quickly.
The vocals here are also not produced all that well, with MCZ sounding more like their very squeaky former selves, and it makes this song stick out in a bad way among the album’s tracklist. You can hear the whole song here:
6. ROCK THE BOAT: Here’s a strange track with an even stranger background and history to it. This song was originally written and produced by American producer Greg Kurstin (Adele, Kelly Clarkson, and just about any major Western pop artist from the 2000s) and a demo version was even made with American pop queen Britney Spears under the name “Dangerous” but was never actually fully recorded or released by Spears, so MCZ’s producers snatched up the track and re-recorded with them doing vocal duties and changing the melodies and lyrics a bit.
It sounds like an American pop tune, as you’d expect, and even specifically like one Spears would do, with a bitchy edge to it, and samples from old rock songs in the backing track. As such, it’s not really all that interesting and basically repeats itself over and over until it ends. It’s sad to say that I actually think Spears’ demo version is slightly more enjoyable than MCZ’s even if it’s still not very good.
7. Kibou no Mukou e: Next is a track that features Takagi Reni, and it’s a straight acoustic Japanese ballad without a whole lot of uniqueness or complexity to it. It’s still fairly pleasant to listen to, even if really not very exciting. The instruments sound natural and full, and Reni’s usually-painful voice actually sounds pretty nice here, which is another testament to the work they did on their vocal performance/production on these albums.
8. Country Rose – Toki no Tabibito-: “Country Rose” is next, which is a song written and produced by the eclectic NAOTO (Orange Range, Dempagumi.inc, SCANDAL,) and if you know anything about his post-Orange Range music style, you might know what to expect here. Despite the name, this song has nothing to do with country music of any kind, as it’s a hyper-active and unique song full of strange and creepy melodies and even stranger arrangements. The arrangement features tons of synths and sounds of all kinds from classical piano, xylophones, Middle-Eastern instruments, synth horns, Japanese percussion & shamisen, and dubstep beats.
NAOTO is really good at making compositions that have tons of surprises and changes throughout, but still making it feel like one flowing piece despite the little detours, and it shows very well in this song. This is one of the better songs on either of the albums, with the song constantly changing and staying consistent for all nearly 6 minutes of it’s running time. Definitely a recommended track.
9. Imagination: Next we have the 2nd track from Kiyoshi Ryujin, who also composed and produced “Demonstration” from AMARANTHUS, which absolutely blew my mind on the first album. While “Imagination” is a very different song, it’s just as fantastic, from start to finish.
The best way I could try to describe this song is if you’ve heard anything Dempagumi.inc released from 2011-2014, just mix all those songs together and you’ll get “Imagination.” The song is dempa pop at it’s finest, with a high BPM, lots of bouncy or stop-start rhythms, high-pitched and rapid-fire vocal patterns, cute piano riffs, playful fantasy sound effects and instruments; the whole package is here in full glory. This shouldn’t be too surprising since he also wrote and arranged what is easily one of my favorite Dempagumi.inc songs of all time (“Yumemi Nemu nanda..”) as well as two other singles for the group in the last few years.
It seems Kiyoshi can really push the MCZ members to get the most profound vocal tracks out of them, because they really shine here and deliver some very high-pitched vocal parts and harmonies without ever being grating at all. Another masterpiece here from Kiyoshi makes me start to feel like he might be the next Hyadain-like super producer hitting the scene, since almost all of his work with idol music has been stellar so far.
10. MOON PRIDE: Most people reading this probably already know about “MOON PRIDE,” as it’s the opening for the new Sailor Moon anime from last year, Sailor Moon Crystal. The track features furious guitar work by virtuoso and previous MCZ-collaborator Marty Friedman all over the place, which is a huge bonus, and it’s a pretty damn good song overall; my second favorite of their singles since the last album.
That said, I don’t think the song is flawless, as I think the verses are rather boring (even though I get they’re a tribute to previous Sailor Moon music,) but it’s a cool addition in the album here and fits well among the other songs, and I even think a few of the other songs on these albums used this song as an inspiration or musically thematic link to the others, which I’ll talk about on my “Ai wo Tsugu” discussion. You can hear it all below:
11. “Z” no Chikai: Next is MCZ’s song made for the recent Dragon Ball movie from last year, which is a big hit or miss for me. The song has a lot of cool parts and an especially cool heavy metal arrangement for much of the song, but the parts that aren’t as heavy on the metal and seem to be pushing the “Chinese kung fu” element of Dragon Ball really fall flat and feel out of place in the song.
Overall, the song is listenable, but not overly exciting except in the verses where the metal flows free. The key changes in the bridge part are pretty notable as well, but there’s not a whole lot else to say about this one, and you can listen to the whole thing here:
12. Ai wo Tsugu Mono: Next is another song written by Hyadain, but this time arranged by Tom-H@ck (K-On!, Dempagumi.inc, Hirano Aya) and the results here are much better than the song he wrote for AMARANTHUS, but keeps the distinctive Hyadain “storytelling” elements that make the music sound like his.
Many things about this song make it feel almost like a culmination or thematic collection that links to a few previous songs on these albums, including “MOON PRIDE,” “Imagination,” and “Demonstration,” with the main melody having strong similarities to all of these songs. It feels like this song takes everything the others did and makes a sort of digest of it all, in the best way possible.
After a strong intro showcasing the main melody (just like “Demonstration”,) it breaks into a very dramatic verse with brooding strings behind it, with a slightly gloomy feel, almost like the verse of Dempagumi’s “W.W.D II” before the strings turn a little more triumphant for the the extensive pre-chorus section, which also features four different melodies and parts.
Right after the pre-chorus parts, it explodes into the great chorus, which returns to the melody showcased right at the beginning of the song. After the chorus, the song takes several great detours, starting with an instrumental section featuring the string orchestra playing a sweet and uplifting melody not heard before. Next there’s a section with only an accordion and glockenspiel playing behind the girls’ singing which includes a very classical-inspired vocal melody.
Just after these parts, it explodes into the chorus again, then quickly transitioning to a fun and sweet interlude featuring heavy piano and guitar leads with a brand new vocal melody, never giving any rest period without great music flowing out. After this section, we’re treated to yet an extremely emotional and strong key change before the chorus repeats again. On this chorus, the percussion also picks up the pace, reminiscent of Dempagumi’s “W.W.D” chorus, with very quick bass drum hits backing up the chorus.
Another fantastic song and one of the best on either album here. I can’t say enough good things about this.
13. Mokkuro Ninaru Hate: Here’s the token MomoClo hip-hop song that seems to pop up on all of their albums. While it’s a fun song and a reasonably well-made one, it doesn’t do anything terribly special with the beat or the rhymes.
It sounds pretty similar to the stuff Lyrical School are doing lately, in a good way, but also has a lot of other weird detours. It’s pretty enjoyable with its early 90s synths backing up the rhymes, but a number of other artists are doing the same thing just as well nowadays, so it’s not as noteworthy as it may have been otherwise. Worth a listen if you’re into retro-style hip-hop.
14. Momoiro Sora: To close out the 2nd album, we have a smooth and sweet Japanese rock/soul/gospel track written and produced by Domoto Tsuyoshi (Kinki Kids, Domoto Kyoudai TV show.) The song features mellow jazz organ, lots of soulful backup choirs, light funky guitars, vocal harmonies, jazzy horns, sweet piano passages, and great emotive vocal deliveries from all the girls.
This is one of the sweetest and most relaxing songs I’ve heard in a long time, and I mean that in a good way. Everything about this track just flows so smoothly from start to finish and gives an uplifting feeling of ascension as it goes, making for a great close to an album (or two albums, technically.) I find myself listening to this one a lot. I’m guessing most MCZ fans will strongly dislike this one, but I think it’s one of the most standout tracks on the whole set.
I’ve got a lot of final thoughts here, but I’ll try to keep it relatively short. After these albums begin with a pretty messy and uninspired start with the first half of AMARANTHUS, things definitely pick up just after the half-way point and barely let up after that.
Unfortunately, with the way the tracking was arranged, I can’t say either album is great from start to finish, but there’s enough great songs on both of them to make up for the low points. And when I say great, I truly mean it: many of the tracks here are some of the strongest pieces of music I’ve heard from the idol industry since around 2014, and I’m glad their producers managed to pull this project off even as well as they did, as it feels like all the different musicians and producers worked together here for a common cause.
They made improvements in all the places they needed to from previous material (especially vocally) and managed to create a unique, expansive set of albums that keeps it’s concept running pretty well throughout, even while having to splice in all the obligatory previous single releases in the tracklists. They’ve created a set of music that has a little bit for everyone’s taste somewhere in its running time and does them all pretty well, even if you’re not a fan of that particular style.
After listening to these so many times and giving time for everything to sink in, all the strong songs are still strong as ever and the weak ones are still forgettable, but if you do like I will and make a compilation of all the songs you like here while excluding the less interesting ones, at 13 great tracks (11 of them fully new,) I think there’s more than enough to constitute what I’d call a great and successful collection of music.
Check these albums out if you like experimentation and variety in your idol music and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Thanks for sticking through to the end of this and I hope you got something out of it. Discuss in the comments or wherever you prefer to contact if you’d like, I’d love to discuss more about the albums.
We’ll also have a few other opinion pieces about these albums from the other Selective Hearing writers going up soon, so keep an eye out for those in the next week or so to get a few other perspectives.
AMARANTHUS (Regular Edition)
AMARANTHUS (Limited Edition)
Hakkin no Yoake (Regular Edition)
Hakkin no Yoake (Limited Edition)