My thoughts on “World Fragment Tour”, the latest album from sora tob sakana.
Release Date: March 13th 2019
1. whale song
4. Time Travel shite
5. Moenai jumon
6. Usotsuki-tachi ni hima wanai
8. Arifureta gunjō
9. Shooting Star ・ Rendezvous
10. World Fragment
I feel like lately all I’ve been reviewing are singles, or if I’m feeling particularly adventurous then maybe a mini-album. Albums have kinda been in short supply in recent months which might be a bad thing for some of you but my sanity is loving it. You guys don’t even know how much work goes into reviewing one of these things. Ahem, sorry for the shop talk there folks I’m sure none of you care to hear how hard it is for me to do something I enjoy. You’re here for a review…presumably.
Anyway, this time out I’m taking a look at “World Fragment Tour” which is the latest album from sora tob sakana. I’m not 100% sure on this but looking at the tracklist I don’t really see any familiar song titles in there. Their last single “New Stranger” (review here) didn’t even make the cut for some reason, which in the Idol world is pretty much unheard of when it comes to an album release. Well, if sora tob sakana want to give us an album full of all new songs, who am I to complain really?
I have to be honest with you guys coming into this though. I’ve not exactly been wowed by the material sora tob sakana have been releasing since going major with Warner Brothers last year. There hasn’t been anything particularly unpleasant about the songs they’ve been putting out but “fair to middling” would be a reasonable description of my opinion. Well, it looks like they’re going to have 11 brand new opportunities to impress me on this album so let’s get this review going and see what’s on offer.
Kicking things off is “whale song” which is pretty much just an intro track, something I’ve noticed that’s been creeping in a bit on Idol albums lately. It starts off fairly slow but with a pleasant ambient vibe and what does sorta sound like whale noises in the background. Other instruments get layered in as things go until the track bursts into life and gets very colorful and upbeat. Not too much else to say really, it’s a nice instrumental that warms up the ears for everything else that’s to come. Now onto the actual meat of the album.
Our first full fledged song is “knock!knock!” which starts out with a very smooth and easy to listen to synthesizer instrumental that sets a pretty mellow tone but with an underlying energy that never quite fully bubbles to the surface. What we are treated to is still pretty great though, that being an instrumental that pulls in all manner of elements from synth to traditional piano to things you usually only hear in an orchestra. Set it to a consistent but not too rapid tempo and you get something I would describe in layman’s terms as a slightly more Pop leaning Maison book girl sound. It’s a bit of a mixed bag in the vocal department, for me at least. I really like the lower tones that the girls use for the song’s slower moments but I’m not so much of a fan when they get high pitched during some of the more emotionally charged sections of the song. Everything in between is good too though so minor personal preference on my part. Should also be noted that the vocals are mixed into the instrumental here so look forward to things overlapping a bit and maybe not being crystal clear all of the time. I don’t mind though and apart from that minor gripe I think this is a pretty good song.
“FASHION” continues the ambient theme but in a somewhat glitchy way as the song begins. Not glitchy in the sense of crazy EDM system crash noises, more in a jumping between one idea and another in fairly quick succession sort of way. Once again, I’m somewhat reminded of Maison book girl here for what it’s worth. There’s then a very quick transition with a drumbeat being brought in, and an incredibly catchy one at that. It definitely gives the song a bit more punch which I think is the sort of thing you need to do with this style of music to stop it becoming too homogenized over the course of an album. Granted this stuff gets dialed down when the girls are singing which makes sense. Speaking of the vocals, I thought they worked really well on this track with some particularly nice harmonies and likely also helped by not trying to hit too many high notes. Not performed in a traditional Idol style by any stretch but if all of the piano melodies and guitar riffs whizzing around in the background should probably clue you into the fact that sora tob sakana aren’t exactly playing by the rules here. I really enjoyed this song, hopefully there’s more like it to come.
Things take a bit of a different direction for “Time Travel shite” which starts out with the kind of bright, sparkly sounding instrumental that you hear a lot these days although there’s a sora tob sakana twist to it that becomes more apparent as things get going. Basically the song starts building in quite a lot of different instruments that at times give it various different feelings. Violins for a bit of Classical, then maybe we go orchestral for a moment then how about some guitar. As they’re bringing all of this stuff in the song does start to feel a little disjointed at times which both somewhat put me off but also made me want to keep listening to see where they were going with this. The vocals during all of this were fairly slow and deliberate which I guess is probably the only style that would work with everything. The song then bursts into life down the back 9 with the vocals soaring as the instrumental somehow all comes together to make this really great, complex piece of music. I actually think this time they got the high notes spot on, or maybe I’m just getting used to them. This one is probably trying to be a bit too clever but if you can stick with it to the end you’ll be rewarded, I’m not sure how many people will though.
sora tob sakana strike up the band for “Moenai jumon”, quite literally actually. Though granted it is a little difficult to hear some of the more subtle marching band elements to this song as they’re kinda pushed to the back for whatever reason. Opening on a very sombre note very much sets the tone for this song as it is noticeably less bright and sparkly than other offerings we’ve heard from this album so far. I really do like the use of brass horns to really drive home the feelings that this song is looking to impress on the listener. The vocals perhaps unsurprisingly follow a similar path, which looks to play on the emotions that the instrumental has already teased out by the time they come in. Obviously not energetic or very tempo rich here but there’s a haunting beauty to how the vocals are delivered and this song actually shows that sora tob sakana are quite good with higher notes, just so long as they’re not being asked to go too high. I’m probably making this song sound really sad and it kinda sounds like that but they do manage to sneak some piano, a triangle and a few other things in as they go along to take the edge off a bit. This one definitely isn’t going to be for everyone but probably for way more normal reasons than much of the rest of this album. I can say that I did enjoy what they did here though, so there’s that.
“Usotsuki-tachi ni hima wanai” has a very odd opening sequence, comprised mainly of a repeated guitar chord that feels like it repeats one or two times too many. It makes for this really weird rhythm that threw me off quite a bit, but once again I was very curious to see where things were going. The vocals come in before we get that far though and honestly the instrumental sounds a lot less out there when there’s singing accompanying it. One incredibly pleasing but maybe a little too show stealing guitar solo, and some piano and sparkles later and the song picks up in tempo and doesn’t sound as foreign to the ears. Don’t get me wrong, the bass guitar heavy approach is still pretty different by Idol standards but it replaces what would have most likely been drums otherwise so it’s not too overbearing and actually gives the song a lot of its substance. I kinda feel sorry for the vocals in a way because the instrumental is quite dense with a lot going on so the ears do wander a little while trying to pick parts out. The vocals and the way they’re delivered does serve to cut through all of that quite well though and creates a pretty cool contrast. I wouldn’t say the lyrics are the most memorable on this one but the instrumental is worth the price of admission alone.
It’s interlude time because I know I sure need a minute to process all of the weird and wonderful things I’ve heard on this album up until now. “Hima” continues that theme though, opening with some field recordings accompanied by fuzzy guitar before switching into bass heavy synthesizer beats with some percussion and other odd sound effects added for good measure. The members of sora tob sakana also pop up to say “Hima” at various points. Not too much to say about this track, it’s pretty quirky and kinda fun and keeps the themes that have been developed thus far rolling.
Well, despite what part of its title might translate to, I was actually rather surprised by “Arifureta gunjō”. Quite pleasantly actually, as I didn’t really expect to hear a song like this either on this album or from sora tob sakana in general. A smooth, Lounge style song with a ton of Jazz influences is something I can definitely get behind though and the instrumental is a very pleasing arrangement with many Japanese sensibilities. They haven’t tried to reinvent the wheel here, or put a weird spin on the instrumental to tie it into the rest of the album. It’s just a really solid take on a popular style and that’s all it needs to be. The vocals have the smooth, rich quality to their tone that a song like this calls for when done in a lower pitch but once again there’s a high note or two in here that kinda take you out of it for just a second or two. I’m being really harsh given how young the members are, because they do a great job despite their still youthful inflections and lack of a smoking habit that would really add some…smokiness to their vocals. Joking aside, this song is right up my alley and a very pleasant surprise that makes me glad I picked up this album in the first place.
“Shooting Star ・ Rendezvous” continues with the throwback theme, which makes me want to reiterate just how unexpected this section of the album was for me. This time we’re drawing inspiration from 80s Synth Pop for the instrumental, which is another genre that I’ve developed a particular fondness for over the years. The song hums into life and takes on a bit of a “City Pop” dimension as sora tob sakana put their spin on things, with some more modern synthesizer sounds being introduced along with a somewhat syncopated rhythm at times. I respect that they want to make each song their own, even if the influences are still pretty clear to the listener. They also pretty much nailed the vocals for this song, likely helped by the fact that this style doesn’t really demand the sort of rich, soulfulness that the song they attempted one track previously could have benefited from. The…bouncy(?) delivery compliments the flow of the instrumental very well too and gives the song a subtle kick that adds a little bit more energy in a not too inappropriate way. If sora tob sakana are trying to win me back then they’re definitely going about it in the right way with songs like this.
We return to the modern era (god I feel old saying that) for the album’s penultimate and kind of title track “World Fragment”. Things get off to a fairly Ambient start once again, so we’re back on theme with the majority of the rest of the album. The vocals that accompany the instrumental for this section of the song are fairly subdued but you can tell they’re just waiting to burst into life. That’s what they, and also the instrumental do and things get a little bit…chaotic I suppose would be a good term to use. There’s a lot of ideas in this song, often times trying to exist alongside each other at best or attempting to outdo each other at worst. Now, there are some perfectly sensible moments too and those are actually some really good Alt Pop material. The vocals and lyrics during these parts as well as the chorus are pretty darn catchy too which I’ll admit isn’t something that can be said about most songs on this album upon first listen. It’s a bit of a weird listening experience because half of the song is pretty experimental and not going to suit everyone’s taste but the other half I feel would have fairly wide appeal. I’m still not sure how I feel about this one and I’ve listened to it quite a bit at this point.
The album closes with “WALK”, a song that opts for vocals right out of the gate which isn’t something you can say about many of the songs featured on this album. The vocals actually take much of the spotlight for a solid minute of this track, accompanied by some soft guitar chords and light drumming. Naturally things aren’t too energetic during this time but it’s nice to hear some fairly unobstructed singing for a change. I’m not sure if that is going to be a popular opinion or not but don’t worry, the song eventually gets fleshed out with string instruments, chimes, piano and all of the good stuff we’ve come to expect from a sora tob sakana song at this point. It’s all still fairly light and not overly crowded, like a few of the more challenging songs from this album are when being listened to. I kinda dumped on it a bit earlier in the review but the higher pitched vocals really worked well for this style of song so credit where it’s due on that one, I’m not above that. On the whole this is a nice, bright note to end things on and a bit of a palate cleanser too after the weird and wonderful journey we just took over the last 40 minutes or so.
Considering I was debating whether I even wanted to review this album in the first place, I have to say that I’m glad that I decided to in the end. There’s a few songs that you would definitely have to be in the mood to listen to, in my opinion anyway, but I really enjoyed it on the whole. The instrumentals did kinda feel like they stole the show at times though, so I’m not totally sure if it was all sora tob sakana themselves that contributed to said enjoyment.
That said, I think I’m back on the bandwagon. For now anyway, we’ll see how the next release sounds but I’m coming out of this review very entertained and looking forward to hearing more. That’s a significantly better place than I was in at the start I’m sure we can all agree. If anyone out there reading this is into Maison book girl, experimental Pop music or anything along those lines then I can’t recommend this album highly enough. Go seek it out and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.