My thoughts on “yume”, the third album from Maison book girl.
Release Date: November 21st 2018
4. Semai monogatari
6. Boy Meets Girl
9. MORE PAST
12. Kage no densha
16. Raincoat to kubi no nai tori
18. Okaeri sayonara
19. GOOD NIGHT
20. Fushigina fūsen
I’ve probably said this once, if not several times over the course of however many reviews I’ve done for this group but if we were to choose a food that best described Maison book girl then Vegemite would be my pick. Their music occupies an interesting space where it either clicks with people and they love it or it doesn’t and people really don’t like it. It’s a brave path to walk for anyone, especially a Japanese Idol group but they seem to have been making it work thus far so they must be doing something right.
If you’ve read any of my previous Maison book girl coverage then you’ll know that I’ve only recently come around to their eccentric musical stylings. I’m not really sure how it happened but my best guess is that it was a combination of time and repeated listening as I was working on these articles. Your mileage may vary and this is probably going to sound pretentious, but I don’t think their music is just something you can throw on for the first time and just mindlessly enjoy. It takes a lot of time to unpack and appreciate their sound, at least in my case anyway.
So this week I’m reviewing Maison book girl’s third album “yume”. As you can see there’s 21 tracks, though I’m assured that half of them are instrumentals or interludes so it won’t be too rough of a read hopefully. I’ll try my best to gloss over the tracks that aren’t actual songs but I’ll still give an opinion or two along the way. Do I wish Maison boo girl would have given me an easier product to try to sell prospective fans on? Sure, but that’s not ever really been the way they’ve done things so why start now. Join me if you dare I suppose!
The album opens with “fMRI_TEST#2”, which isn’t actually a song and more akin to the opening tracks you might have had on a lot of album that came out in the early to mid 2000s. Well, as akin as the sound of an MRI machine imaging someone’s insides can be anyway. Off to a weird start already folks.
Our first glimpse of a song from the album comes in the form of “cotoeri_” which was the title track of a single that Maison book girl released at the end of 2017. I reviewed that particular release for the site and you can read it here if you’d like. You might have noticed the “_” at the end of the track title on this album, something that signifies that this song (and a few others) have been tweaked a little for the album release. In this case it’s nothing too major, just a production or pacing adjustment here or there, and probably not anything you’d even notice unless it was pointed out. As I said in my initial review, this was and remains one of Maison book girl’s more accessible songs. It still has all of the things that make a Maison book girl song what it is, but just toned down enough so as to not scare off the mildly curious. It’s still blocky, rather syncopated and not exactly “normal” by J-Pop standards but the song has a really nice energy to it and Maison book girl’s vocals are something that should be appreciated by everyone. They just have to make it past the opening instrumental first.
Track 3 “SIX” features almost three whole minutes of rather beautiful piano playing. This is interrupted occasionally by someone walking around on, from the sounds of things, a tiled floor and then opening a metal gate or door with a very squeaky hinge. Not really sure about all of that stuff but the music was nice. An interlude this early is a bit soon in my opinion but I guess we’ll see where things go from here.
I’m not really sure if we were going for a creepy vibe or not but between that last interlude and the child’s music box sounding opening to “Semai monogatari” that’s what I’m getting from this album so far. It does transition rather quickly into a brighter, more uptempo arrangement though so maybe a bit of foreshadowing. This is one of those instrumentals that’s going to take a few plays to sink in I think as there’s a lot going on. The repeating xylophone rhythms, woodwind section, rolling drumbeats and a whole bunch of other stuff even I probably haven’t picked out yet make for a very challenging listening experience. That being said, it all does pair together rather well somehow and I found that if you don’t try to overthink it too much you really do start to get into the song. It’s actually quite a fun instrumental with a nice positive feel to it. The vocals don’t exactly match that feeling, sounding a bit melancholic at times but they do have their moments where you go “Oh, that was nice”. Maybe a little less melancholic and a stronger hook for me, but I did love how clean everything sounded and Maison book girl once again proved that they’re all really great singers.
We’re 5 tracks in and this is our third instrumental/interlude folks. The heart monitor flat lining at the start of “MOVE” is probably for a lot of peoples’ interests at this point but if you do stick around you’re treated to some pretty nice acoustic guitar playing. It’s still pretty unconventional but I think that’s more palatable with guitar than most instruments. Oh yeah, more footsteps on this one too so I guess that’s probably going to be a running theme…heh.
Back to the music for our next track “Boy Meets Girl”. No, it’s nothing to do with the 2014 movie of the same name…probably. I really enjoyed how they built up the instrumental of this song from its cat on the keyboard solo piano piece to its full rendition with drums, guitar and what have you. Sometimes Maison book girl seem to get a little too ambitious with how many layers they put into their instrumentals but I feel like they got it pretty much spot on with this one. It makes for a really fun beat that I think even the most casual of listeners could appreciate. Things do get a bit weird during the…I guess it’s a bridge, where the tempo and tone take a rather dramatic, almost dark turn. Things do end on a pretty positive, upbeat note though so there’s that. While finding myself getting distracted by the instrumental quite a bit, the vocals also deserve to get a mention. The delivery was punchy(ish) and the pacing and structure of the verses gave everything a good flow and made them kinda catchy too. The chorus was fairly simplistic but sometimes that’s the best way to go, it certainly was here in my opinion anyway. This one gets a thumbs up from me.
Knock, knock. You guessed it, it’s time for another interlude. “PAST” continues the trend of perplexing audio tracks, opening with someone knocking on a door before we’re treated to a fairly eerie, almost nursery rhyme sounding xylophone instrumental. I’m not sure how better to describe it than that. Kinda creepy stuff, made moreso by the pounding on the door at the end of the track and the door presumably being opened or forced open before the audio cuts out.
We delve even further back in Maison book girl’s back catalog for the album’s 8th track “ROOMS_”, which was originally released all the way back in July of 2017. You can read my initial impressions on both it and the rest of Maison book girl’s “412” single here if you wish. As you can see, it is titled similarly to “cotoeri_” so this song has also been reworked a little. It makes sense as a lot can change in 18 months, though the most noticeable change here is likely to be the slightly longer lead-in to the song. I really do enjoy the strings and xylophone on this song, even though they’re fighting for airtime with a lot of other elements most of the time. This is one of the more vocally dense Maison book girl songs too, so there’s quite a lot to enjoy in that department too. I’m particularly fond of the chorus in particular, but the harmonies and cohesiveness of the verses aren’t something to just hand wave either. It took me a while to really warm up to this one I must admit, but now that I have I can safely say that this is one of my favorite songs from Maison book girl. Recommended listening if you’re just getting into the group in my opinion.
What was that, you didn’t get enough from “PAST” and now you’re wanting more? Well, Maison book girl have you covered with a song that is literally titled “MORE PAST”. It’s a little bit false advertising though as this song isn’t really anything like its predecessor. Maison book girl actually sing on it for one, and quite the hauntingly beautiful performance they deliver too. Would I have preferred it if it didn’t sound like they were really far away? Sure, but that’s just not how Maison book girl roll so I shouldn’t expect much else at this point. The main thing is we got some nice, positively normal singing that showed off the girls’ talents in a (for Maison book girl) normal way. They also have a piano accompanying them and you all know how much I’ve grown to love that particular instrument over the past few years. I could have settled for a whole track of just the instrumental but I guess we’d really be defeating the purpose of an Idol album at that point, how silly of me to suggest such a thing. This is a Ballad of course, we can all hear that but when presented in the context of the rest of the album so far it’s really refreshing. We didn’t escape without a little bit of weirdness though, with the song going a bit static (or was that supposed to be rainfall) towards the end. So close, but yet so far.
Knock, knock again…well, not quite. That’s just how the opening few bars of “Juroku-sai_” sounds. Note the underscore at the end there that denotes that this is once again a slight reworked version of a previously released work. The song originally appeared on Maison book girl’s “cotoeri” release, which you can once again read my initial thoughts on here. I said I preferred this song to “cotoeri” at the time and I still think that holds true, but both songs have been growing on me quite a bit these past few months. The drums on “Juroku-sai” in particular make for a rather catchy beat and are a major although perhaps understated driving force behind the song as a whole. They do get overshadowed by all manner of wind instruments and some rather enjoyable guitar and piano though. On the vocal side things should be a lot more appealing to the casual listener as the structure and delivery is done in a much more conventional way than other Maison book girl songs of the time. There’s also some really nice hooks too, especially in the chorus which is one of the main reasons I preferred this song so much at the time of release. Somewhat questionable title aside, I feel like this is definitely one of the easier Maison book girl songs to both get into and recommend to others.
I guess maybe I was expecting something a bit more…frightening from our next interlude “NIGHTMARE”. That being said, the clanking of machinery and metal sliding against metal did serve to create something of an unsettling atmosphere in its own way. A little bit more refined than my sledgehammer to crack a nut approach. I’m not really sure what any of this means still, but metallic sounds and footsteps are definitely a theme of this album.
Acoustic guitar is a rather underrated element of the Maison book girl instrumental in my humble opinion. It’s natural to focus more on the less seldom heard woodwind instruments, xylophones and things of that nature but sometimes you do need to be reminded that they can do some pretty cool stuff with a guitar too. This can be heard in abundance on “Kage no densha” where said instrument is very much a focal point of the song. I think syncopation works particularly well with guitar, and it’s also something that people are likely to be more familiar with due to its use in the Latin and Classical genres to name just a couple. Throw in a nice synthesizer melody and some drums to tie everything together and we’ve got quite a nice little song going on here. The vocals on this one give off a feeling of Indie Pop/Rock at times, particularly during the verses, with the chorus following the more expected Maison book girl style. It’s rather catchy overall, but the vocals are mixed to sit more in the middle of the track so if you’re not a fan of them sounding like they’re actually weaved into the instrumental then that could be an issue for you. Another rather enjoyable offering from this album’s batch of new material.
Remember how we opened the album with that weird MRI scan audio? Well, looks like it’s time for some more of that and another interlude courtesy of “fMRI_TEST#3”. It’s hard to really comment too much on this as outside of a few moments of ragged breathing this is basically just more MRI machine noise. It’s certainly different but I still have very little clue what any of this means.
It took a while but we do eventually arrive at “yume”, the song that this album is presumably named after. The sound of a presumably malfunctioning MRI machine dominates the opening section of this song, so that’s some interesting continuity there. There’s also what sounds like someone beating something with a pair of flip-flops but I’m sure that’s just my imagination. In any case, both sounds start to grate on the ears fairly quickly, so it’s good that at least the constant beeping disappears when the vocals come in. Not so fortunate with the flip-flops, which remain a pretty constant feature of the instrumental. It’s a shame in my opinion, as it does rather detract from what would otherwise have been a rather nice ambient synthesizer melody. The vocals on this one are also nice and mellow, so don’t expect the usual Maison book girl energy or even delivery for that matter. It’s a pretty straightforward delivery which shows off some slightly more conventional singing, rather nice singing at that. I’m just struggling to get past the added sound effects on this one. I kinda get what they were going for, but it feels like they might have just tried to be a little bit too cute.
In case this album wasn’t confusing enough, along comes “ELUDE”. Yeah, I guess now Maison book girl actually have a song baring the same title as their most recent single…but it’s not on said single. Lovely, anyway if you haven’t been keeping track we’re definitely due for yet another interlude. This time it takes the form of a field recording as best I can tell. It sounds like we’re in a forest but then there’s water dripping onto something metal and a bunch of camera shutters. Throw in I think it’s a recorder and a synthesizer every so often and that’s pretty much what this track is. Help me out here, I have no idea what this is supposed to even mean at this point.
Okay, okay let’s get back into some more familiar territory. Next up is the rather long-windedly titled “Raincoat to kubi no nai tori”. Funnily enough, this was the lead track on Maison book girl’s “elude” single and once again you can go read my initial impressions here. The camera shutters being used to create a melody of sorts is very unconventional but the result was something unique and makes for a good talking point. They did brush it under the rug fairly quickly though so it was good to see they knew it wasn’t something they could rely on for a large section of the instrumental. Couple this with the instrumental just being generally down pitched and we were treated to something a bit different to the Maison book girl norm. The vocals themselves were structured and sung in a more typical J-Pop fashion too, being very clean but also with a bit rawness to them which I think makes for a more interesting listen but I know that’s not a particularly popular stance. I enjoyed this song quite a bit and it was good to hear Maison book girl try some new things out, which they appear to have continued to do on this album too.
As if this album wasn’t enough of a trip, now we have a second song called “YUME”. This time written in English and not kanji, which my translation for the tracklist didn’t really put any emphasis on. More field recordings, more rain and dripping water, even some Morse code or maybe it’s just the MRI machine again. We do get a bit of distorted singing this time though so they’re keeping these things fresh at least.
Maybe I’m just a bit of a nerd, but I think “Okaeri sayonara” is both a pretty amusing song title and also just a funny thing to say in general. Not quite as humorous of an opening to the song though, with more rainfall that accompanies the instrumental’s rather simple synthesizer loops and some really nice clean vocals while the song slowly builds itself up. The song then gets an injection of Classical elements before shifting back to how it was before sans the rainfall. It then closes out by turning into what I would describe as a fairly straight up J-Pop Ballad style. I was particularly fond of the often subtle use of acoustic guitar on the track, it created a nice background rhythm. It sounds like it’s all over the place on paper but the transitions actually aren’t that jarring at all, though I don’t think they really had to make the song quite so complex. What isn’t complex however is the vocals, which once again are pretty clean and not trying to do anything too unconventional or artsy. Not the most energetic song in the Maison book girl catalog but a very pleasant listen all the same, providing you can navigate all of the twists and turns in the instrumental.
“GOOD NIGHT” wouldn’t be a bad title for a closing track, but not on this album. It does actually sound like lullaby music though, so at least it’s keeping to the theme in that regard. Just a bit of a shame that there’s people rustling papers and food packaging in the background for the entire duration. I’m not into that scene in the slightest, but I feel like this track would probably make for some pretty good ASMR. Positively normal compared to most of these interludes.
Not sure if anyone actually made it this far, but if you did then the finish line is in sight friends. Our very odd ASMR from the previous track bleeds into the beginning of “Fushigina fūsen” and if you thought things we weird enough then strap yourselves in. They bluffed us folks, this isn’t really a song. It’s more of the spoken word style stuff that Maison book girl have done on pretty much all of their releases and I guess it finally made a proper appearance here. I’ve said it before but I probably would get more out of this if my Japanese didn’t suck so it is hard for me to really judge this. They could be explaining the concept of the album and I’d be none the wiser. The instrumental is pretty…odd?…different?, continuing on the theme of the previous track but without the paper rustling. It was pretty impressive to hear them get so much out of xylophones and the smoothness of the tempo transitions was really cool too. Probably not a track you can just throw on for any occasion but if you’re looking to appreciate some really nice composing then yeah, there’s definitely some of that here.
Much like how we started the album, we end it with another MRI. There isn’t really much to say about “fMRI_TEST#1” that I haven’t already said previously, it’s pretty much what it says on the tin. I do kinda like that they’ve bookended the album like this, even if these tracks and the interludes are probably going to get skipped a lot of the time. It ties everything together, well about as good as you can do with this whole concept anyway.
A 21 track album in itself is a ridiculous thing, having half of those tracks be instrumentals or interludes even moreso. While unlikely to sell Maison book girl to many people who aren’t already fans of the group, those brave enough to take the plunge will be taken on an audio journey. Said journey is confusing and at times unsettling but its soundtrack features a variety of unique songs that will all likely feature something that makes you go “I haven’t heard that before!”.
I’m not sure where Maison book girl goes from here honestly. I mean, how many Idol groups can you even say have put out anything even closely resembling a concept album? The only limit for this group appears to be their and their producer’s imaginations and they aren’t afraid of letting them run wild. Whatever comes next from Maison book girl all I hope is that I’ll still be able to bend my mind around it, even just a tiny bit.