My thoughts on “Indies Best”, the debut album from Gekijou-ban Gokigen Teikoku.
Release Date: November 22nd 2017
1. Hito no Kane de Yakiniku Tabetai
3. Nice to meetune
4. Taisetsu na Oshirase
6. Idol Nanoni
8. Shinya no Ramen Saikou
9. I NEET YOU
10. Sugoi Sugoi Youshou no Uta
It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while a group comes along and makes you sit up and take notice. Gekijou-ban Gokigen Teikoku (or Gokigen Teikoku, or simply Gokigen for the remainder of this review) are one of those groups, for me anyway. They’re a 5 member, fully independent, self-produced, managed, etc group with member Shirahata Ichiho (Blue) being the brains behind much of the operation. Much of their activities take place in Tokyo and the surrounding areas but they are definitely a national Idol group, as the national release of this debut album shows.
The group itself has been around in one form or another since 2015. Perhaps the name Ultimate Future Weapons mofu rings a bell with some of you, well this is technically the same group. There’s just 4 new members, a new name, some fun business issues that got us from where things were to where they are now with a few other developments along the way. All you need to know is Shirahata Ichiho is the only holdover from the group’s previous incarnation and I do sorta get the feeling that she has a point to prove. As for the name Gokigen? It basically means to be in high spirits or a good mood. That’s also the group’s mission statement, to raise people’s spirits and combat the stresses of day to day life in Japan.
As I previously mentioned, “Indies Best” is Gokigen’s debut album. It has a pretty interesting title considering their whole thing is about being self-produced and independent but I guess we won’t dwell on that too much right now. The album features 10 tracks, with a mix of updated and rerecorded versions of older material as well as some songs that are either brand new or have never seen the inside of a recording studio before. Now, before I get into this review I have to be honest and inform you that I went and saw Gokigen 3 times when I was in Japan recently. One could see that as maybe having colored my views on this album ever so slightly, or you could choose to see it as me thinking they’re so good that repeated live viewings were warranted. You guys can figure that out amongst yourselves while I get into this review.
The album opens with “Hito no Kane de Yakiniku Tabetai” which roughly translates to wanting to eat grilled meat with other people’s money, fair enough. It’s pretty hard not to bop your head along to the shamisen meets EDM instrumental, not a new concept but well executed here. The chorus and most of the vocals on this song are pretty silly but they will get stuck in your head which is the important thing, it’s also in keeping with the mission statement of the group. It was also pretty nice of them to introduce all of the members in the first song on the album, right? I’m not entirely sure how I feel about putting call and response segments in the studio version of your song but it’s a big part of what Gokigen is all about and you’ll notice it sets the tone as we progress through the album. Awesome song, and an awesome way to kick off the album.
From that fantastic start we go head first into the album’s second track “GGT-ROCK” which as you might have guessed is “Gokigen Rock” (I ain’t typing out the full name again). That’s quite the earworm of an instrumental they’ve got there to start the song off so I was definitely giving this one my full attention. I think the song lives up to its title, with some punchy verses with a nice clear build-up to the chorus that has the very unfortunate task of trying to compete with the synthesizer hook. I’m not sure it quite gets there but it’s still a lot catchier than the majority of songs I’ve heard this year so all good in my book. I also just want to take a moment to say I appreciate the placement and execution of the bridge in this song, it actually feels like it’s meaningful which definitely isn’t something I find myself thinking very often. Also a good call to end things with the main synth instrumental. We’re two for two boy and girls.
You know when you read something a little corny and just sigh? That’s kind of what I did when I saw the title of “Nice to meetune” for track 3. I get it, I see what you did there, etc. Anyway, this one dials it back a bit in contrast to the two songs that came before it. It’s a bit more mellow than I’d generally like but there’s some really great vocal performances so it would be insanely stupid of me to criticize. Once again we also get a nice build-up to the chorus which I never knew I wanted more of in songs until listening to this album. There’s a breakdown in this song that is so out of place that it’s hilarious but at the same time it also somehow kinda fits which is just great. It’s nice that they toned down on the gimmicks (kinda) in this song so we could hear that Gokigen aren’t just all style and no substance. I also can’t help but do the calls and hand motions while listening to this song, which I’m pretty sure gets me some funny looks out in public.
Guys, Gokigen have an important notice and they want all of you to listen to it. Man, even I’m getting bad at this song title thing now. “Taisetsu na Oshirase” (that’s “Important Notice” if you haven’t figured it out) opens with a nursery rhyme style instrumental that probably threw a few people off but things quickly transition into the Rock style instrumental that underpins the majority of the song. Once again the composition here is fairly simple but very effective in its execution. I thought the contrast between the attitude on display in the verses and the more traditional sounding Idol chorus was pretty interesting, even if the chorus itself wasn’t the most instantly catchy thing I’ve ever heard. Stiff competition from all of those previous songs though and it does grow on you after a few listen to be fair. I also thought the song was going to end about a minute before it actually did but they pulled a fast one on me, again something that doesn’t happen very often.
I guess it’s time to really reveal how much of a nerd I am, but when I saw the song title for our fifth track here was “vs.MAD” I pretty much instantly thought of those remix/parody videos from Nico Nico Douga that were really popular back in the day…just me? Can’t say I was expecting that Metalcore instrumental we got here but given how random things have been so far, why not? I think the real question we should be asking is can Gokigen actually write a bad chorus? Based on the evidence so far, I’d say it’s pretty unlikely. One pretty significant note on this song is that there’s a lot of talking/conversation parts so if that’s not your thing then maybe you won’t enjoy it as much as I do. I’m also really digging the solo vocal from I believe it was Hibiki (Purple) that bridges us into the last 30 seconds or so of the song. Like I said before, it’s not all smoke and mirrors with this group.
I’ve probably spent more time trying to find a good way to explain the meaning of “Idol Nanoni” than writing parts of this review. It doesn’t really have a good translation honestly, it’s almost like it would be “Idol but…” then there’s be another part of the sentence. This song is a bit of a throwback to older style Japanese Pop Rock which is cool to hear every now and then. Not something I actively seek out but it definitely feels right at home on this album. It’s not a super big deal, but I couldn’t help but notice that the drumming on this song super repetitive. It works fine but it was definitely noticeable to me. Once again we have a great chorus because Gokigen aren’t allowed to write a bad one and that guitar solo around the 3 minute mark was very pleasing to the ears. This is probably the “weakest” song on the album so far, but have you even heard the other ones?
Are songs about Gods the new thing now? I’m pretty sure BiSH had one too in the review I posted last week (review here). Gokigen go with the shorter and more to the point “Kamisama” as their title though. It sorta sounds like we’re having a rave in a church when this song starts but then another stupidly addictive synth part comes in and we’re off to the races. Well, I say off to the races but this is definitely a slower number by Gokigen’s standards. They still make sure it has a bit of a punch to it though, to keep people with ADD like me from losing attention. Neither are bad, but I’m not sure if the chorus or the build-up to it are totally to my tastes and it is hard at times not to think that the song might be missing a gear. You have to have these slightly more middle of the road songs to balance everything out though so I’m not going to dwell on it too much.
Everyone loves ramen right? Well how about eating ramen at midnight? Gokigen seem to think it’s so good that they’ve written an entire song about doing just that. It does rather feel like the bulk of this album could have been written over late night dinners at the local izakaya. “Shinya no Ramen Saikou” is the shortest song on the album at just shy of 3 minutes, but it’s certainly one of the most memorable. I’m getting a lot of You’ll Melt More! (Shirahata is friends with Younapi) influences from this one, in the best way possible, but maybe I’m reaching on that one. Once again there’s a good amount of chatter on this one so if quirky monologues aren’t your thing you have been warned. Also of note is another great build-up to the chorus, I’m starting to think that might be my new thing so I’m going to try to stop mentioning it at every possible opportunity. I care about your sanity and my own.
“I NEET YOU” has another very “I see what you did there” song title but to reduce it to just that would be a great disservice. This song is serving as the main promotional number for the album which makes a bunch of sense but at the same time doesn’t give you a full idea of what to expect. This is a very honest, no gimmicks attached attempt at an emotional “ballad” style song from Gokigen. This song, and in particular the chorus might be the best thing I have heard in 2017. If you listen to this song and don’t at the very least think it’s really good then I’m not sure if this whole music thing is for you my friend. Man, I don’t say stop what you’re doing and go out of your way to listen to stuff too often but there’s a Spotify embed right up there and a music video so you really don’t have to look that hard. This song probably added an entire star onto my pointless review score by itself so yeah, check it out.
The album closes with “Sugoi Sugoi Youshou no Uta” or…”Song of the Amazing Victory”? It’s something like that anyway, I’ll let someone who actually knows Japanese give a better translation if they feel like it. It feels like we’ve gone back to church for this one, or maybe the school assembly hall. After a rather protracted choral intro, we settle into a Jazz meets EDM kind of affair for the most part, with vocals that are in a fairly similar style to “Idol Nanoni” at times. There’s some nice solo moments on this one but I’m not totally convinced this was the best song to end things on. It’s not like it’s bad, I guess I just feel like things peaked with “I NEET YOU” so this feels like it could have been better served if it were slotted in earlier in proceedings. I’m just spouting nonsense at this point though, good song.
Gokigen Teikoku’s debut album “Indies Best” is appropriately named, as it is one of the best albums I’ve heard this year. It’s very honest and it’s very fun, things that aren’t as common as they should be. That being said, if serious and edgy are what you’re looking for then you won’t find much of that on offer here. It’s actually pretty impressive that a self-produced group that isn’t on a major label was able to put out such a high quality album, packed with great songs.
It’s definitely going to be interesting to see where Gokigen go from here. Onigiri Rin (Pink) is performing while currently injured so hopefully she’ll stick around because she’s one of the best vocalists they have. Then there’s the obvious question of what’s next. When you’re self-produced you can do whatever you want, if you have the money anyway. Keep an eye on Gokigen in 2018 guys, and 100% clear out an evening in your schedule to go see them live if you’re in Japan and they’re playing. It’s one of the best live experiences I’ve ever had.