My thoughts on “Stand up”, the second album from Gekijou-ban Gokigen Teikoku.
Release Date: November 21st 2018
1. Stand up
2. Kimi no Mei, Chikai no Yoru
3. Kagakushiki AI
4. Uretai Capriccio
5. Egosa Shite Block
9. Hito no Kane de Yakiniku Tabetai -stand up ver.-
This week’s review is going to be a bit of a weird one for me as I can’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu coming into it. It released at pretty much the same time as the group’s last album did a year ago, I went to an in-store release event for it while in Japan and I also went to one of the member’s birthday lives. The only way things could get any more similar is if this album ends up being my favorite album of the year as well. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves though.
The group in question is Gokigen Teikoku and the release that I will be reviewing this week is their second album “Stand up”. You probably already figured that out from the title though. It released almost a year to the day since their first album “Indies Best” (review here) hit store shelves and marks the start of the group’s rather ambitious plan to perform at Nippon Budokan sometime in 2021. If it was anyone else I’d be skeptical, but Shirahata Ichiho’s will always seems to find a way.
Gokigen Teikoku as a group are looking a bit different these days, after a rather turbulent year of line-up changes. The backbone of Ichiho and Pero remains, supplemented by Shino Arisu who makes her recording debut on this album. It’s just the nature of the Idol business I suppose, but one does have to wonder where we’d be if there hadn’t been so many departures this year. Anyway, I’ve heard most of these songs performed live already so I’m not coming in blind, but how it all works as a package remains to be seen. Let’s find out.
Album opener and title track “Stand up” gets things underway in familiar Gokitei fashion but with a slightly more mature feeling than what many may be used to or expecting. Ichiho opens the song singing solo, which is a theme of several of the new songs on the album, and if it weren’t for the building drumbeat in the background you’d almost think that this was going to be some kind of Ballad. A quick verse from Pero and this song shifts through the gears and flies straight into its chorus. The punchy, almost rapid fire delivery of the vocals create a great energy and I found it hard not to end up nodding my head and attempting to sing along despite my Japanese being severely lacking. The verses follow a similar pattern in both structure and delivery just with a little less energy being expended so we aren’t all exhausted by the time the song reaches its conclusion. This might be a bit unfair to the song’s perfectly serviceable Rock instrumental but for me the vocals were what really caught my attention and drove the song. The instrumental definitely played a part but unlike with a lot of Idol songs I didn’t ever feel like it was the focal point. That honor went to the members of Gokitei who put in a really great performance. Arisu definitely left a good first impression and she ended up complimenting Ichiho and Pero much better than I originally thought she would. This song is awesome and it’s only the first track, what a great way to start things off.
The album’s second track “Kimi no Mei, Chikai no Yoru” is also a new song so we’re keeping the new material flowing, something that I definitely approve of. Ichiho once again opens the song singing solo, this time accompanied by a piano that is giving off some serious “I NEET YOU” vibes in my opinion. I would have probably been totally fine to have the whole song play out in this style, with Pero and Arisu getting their share of airtime of course, but this is Gokitei so they had to inject a little bit more energy into it. This is achieved with a tempo shift and the addition of guitar and synthesizer into the mix. The piano does thankfully remain a feature throughout much of the song although it is relegated to a supporting role and rather muted as a result. It’s a bit hard to describe the instrumental for this song, there’s definitely a lot of Rock involved but it’s softened a great deal by the synthesizer and mild distortion effects. Tell me what genre this song is in the comments I guess. Once again I really enjoyed the chorus on this song, and I thought it was pretty nice that all 3 of the members were singing together for a lot of it. I’m not normally one for “Woah”s but they worked well enough here, although to me it did kinda sound like a male vocal at times so that was interesting. The verses allowed for some solo moments, and I was again impressed by Arisu’s contribution. Ichiho and Pero smashed it as always too of course. Two tracks in and I love both of them, this is great.
Track 3 “Kagakushiki AI” is yet another new song so I guess they’re front loading this album a little bit, not that I mind as everything new so far has been great. The instrumental for this song is really interesting to me as I’ve never really heard acoustic guitar get combined with synthesizers that much before, though I’m sure a ton of people have done it. The almost Latin flair that the guitar gave to the song was really refreshing and the synthesizer complimented it very well while also tying it into the rest of the album. Gokitei like to think outside the box a lot of the time but this isn’t something that I ever thought I’d hear from them, it also fits with that more mature theme I mentioned earlier. On the vocal side of things we get to hear Ichiho make quite a bit of use of her lower register which I think suited the theme of the song rather well and also showed off how good of a vocalist she is in her own right. Pero and Arisu also got a chance to show off some really nice harmonies that also reminded you that this is in fact a Gokigen Teikoku song. Compared to the heavy hitters that have already come before it on this album, I think it’s fair to say that this song’s chorus doesn’t land quite as well although I suppose that depends entirely on what you’re looking for in a Gokitei song. While not my personal go to sound from this group I definitely enjoyed the new ideas that this song brought to the table.
It took a little while but the album does eventually decide to include some previously released material. The first track being “Uretai Capriccio” which was released as a digital single earlier in the year. I reviewed the song when it was originally released and you can read my original thoughts on it here if you’d like. Of course the group’s line-up has undergone some pretty significant changes in the time between this song’s original release and this album here so there’s going to be a few slight differences between the two. Nothing too crazy though as the song did rely rather heavily on Ichiho and Pero’s vocals to begin with. The instrumental as best I can tell hasn’t had much of anything done to it either so no huge surprises. If you didn’t check out my original review, I really like this song and its lively, fast paced structure and delivery. I think it has a really good energy to it and it blends Synth-Pop and Rock together in a way that is really pleasing to the ears. The lyrics are written with the intention of getting them stuck in your head and that is something that they certainly do do. I said it at the time but Ichiho must be one of the more underrated lyricists in Idol right now, she deserves way more credit than she gets for a lot of these songs. If you’re a Gokitei fan then you already know that this song is awesome and if you’re only starting to get into them then this song is recommended listening for sure.
Next up we have another previously released song in “Egosa Shite Block”. It was released in a similar fashion to “Uretai Cappricio” as a digital download earlier this year and as such we do have a fairly different line-up that’s currently performing it. You can read my original impressions here by the way. Unlike the previous song the change in membership is quite a bit more noticeable on this one given its lower reliance on Ichiho to perform much of the heavy lifting. They haven’t gone crazy and changed things up too much but you can definitely notice the absence of Onigirin and Nagi and the addition of Arisu. Being sad about member departures aside, I don’t think it has that negative of an effect on the overall song and I think the chorus even benefits a little by sounding a bit cleaner on this rendition. I’ve said it before but this isn’t exactly my favorite Gokitei song ever but I still think it’s pretty interesting and not something you necessarily hear from idol groups all the time. I dunno, I think Chill-Hop and some more outside of the box synthesizer effects are pretty unique at least. The song has also grown on me a bit since my initial review so perhaps I was a little too quick in my judgement back then. I mean, it’s a song about looking yourself up online and blocking haters, it’s pretty hard not to like it at least a little bit right?
“Iketaraiku” is another new song so we’ve got a pretty good ratio of new to old going here so far. This one takes a noticeably different approach to everything else we’ve heard on the album so far with some (comparatively) hard style EDM elements being used for the instrumental. This isn’t something completely foreign to Gokitei as their first album did feature this particular style on a few of its songs but it’s not something we’ve really heard out of them lately. I do feel like they could have probably put a bit more bass behind the song but there’s a decent amount of it present so personal preference on that one I suppose. I did like several of the synthesizer melodies and that instrumental interlude about half way through was pretty cool and interesting to listen to. One the vocal side of things there were some really good hooks, particularly in the chorus which was pretty repetitive but in the good way where it gets embedded in your brain real deep. I also enjoyed the solo parts that each of the girls got, it did a good job of showcasing their vocals talents which I always think is a good move. In a lot of ways this song really stands out on the album just because it’s so different in musical style and really breaks the…theme I guess you could say. It’s still very clearly a Gokitei song though and a rather good one at that as well. Good to see this style hasn’t been completely shelved as the group keeps growing.
They included two digital singles on this album already so it would have been pretty strange if the third didn’t also make an appearance at some point. I am of course talking about the rather humorously titled “Summer☆panty” which also finally sees a physical release after being put out as a download early on in the year. I also shared my thoughts on this song when it originally came out and once again you can check them out here if you wish. As the title suggests, this song has a pretty strong summer feeling to it and like I originally said it does somewhat remind me of the One Direction hit “What Makes You Beautiful”. It’s all very lighthearted and most importantly fun, with plenty of funny voices, crowd participation parts and things of that nature. Once again I don’t think much has really changed with the instrumental, which makes sense because it was more than good enough originally and it’s not like Gokitei have reinvented themselves as a Death Metal group in the last 8 months or anything crazy like that. Arisu is obviously added to the vocal track and does a good job although the song maybe feels a little less full since there has been a net loss in singing voices. This song is another fan favorite and another one that I would consider to be essential listening if you are a new or casual fan who is looking to start getting into the wild world of Gokigen Teikoku.
It looks like we’re closing things out here by flipping back and forth between old and new songs, of which penultimate track “Re:starlight” is one. In case you didn’t see this coming, this song is the prerequisite Ballad that it seems every group is pretty much obligated to include if they’re releasing an album. You guys know this style of music isn’t really my thing but I will happily admit whenever a song like this works for me. This is one of those occasions although the opening bars of the instrumental did have me a bit lukewarm. Once Ichiho started singing though my interest definitely warmed up considerably, it’s kind of hard to believe that she had to take time off last year to get vocal chord surgery. Indeed the first half of this song is pretty much an Ichiho solo performance, backed by a somewhat rather sparkly Jazz inspired instrumental that I found pleasant though very inoffensive. The song picks up a bit when it hits the first chorus and Pero and Arisu join the mix. Things never really get too crazy but you know what, they worked a pretty strong hook into the chorus and it really gave that extra dimension that a lot of these types of song are missing. Who knew that it’s perfectly okay to change the tempo a bit, well I guess Gokitei did. Not a song that I’m rushing to the playlist to put on but credit where it’s due, this one is still a very enjoyable listen.
Which brings us to the final track on the album, a new version of what I would personally consider Gokitei’s most well known song “Hito no Kane de Yakiniku Tabetai”. I talked about the original version when I reviewed Gokitei’s first album “Indies Best” around this time last year actually so that’s kinda cool/weird. Again you can check out that review here if you would like to. Well, they definitely changed the instrumental up on this one which I must admit took a little bit of getting used to. They pretty much stripped out most of the synthesizer and replaced it with guitar which is an interesting choice as this song is pretty much Gokitei’s “nerve”. I think the drums are actually programmed, or the cymbals just sound a bit off, which would be a very strange production decision given the aforementioned introduction of guitar. They also changed up a few of the lyrics, which they had to as the song does refer to each member by name and several who featured on the original are of course no longer with the group. I would also love to know what they bleeped out in that one part but I guess it’ll just end up being one of life’s great mysteries. I personally prefer the original version but that might just be because its had over a year to get its hooks into me. This new version is by no means bad, it’s just…different and that’s okay. I would be interested to hear which version everyone else prefers though so leave a comment and let me know if you’d like to.
I’ve said this before but I’m pretty much convinced of it now, I don’t think Gokitei or Ichiho have it in them to produce a bad or even average song. I’m probably just really bias so it’s a good thing nobody takes these reviews seriously but man did I really enjoy this album. The new songs are great, the older material got a facelift that was admittedly forced upon it but the end result was just as good. Though that’s helped by Ichiho’s vocals being the backbone of most of the songs. “Yakiniku Tabetai” is perhaps a bit debatable but the new versions is growing on me.
2019 looks to be another interesting year for Gokitei. I believe they are currently looking for new members so hopefully they can pick one or two up and start to focus on more important things like that 2021 Budokan performance that Ichiho seems to have her heart set on. I’d expect a new song or two before too long as well, possibly as a means to debut any new member that might come along. No matter what happens I’m along for the ride and maybe this review has convinced a few of you to join me too.