My thoughts on “Zetsu”, the first album from Screaming Sixties.
Release Date: March 13th 2019
1. Sakura wa Nido Chiru, Sohsite Nido Saku
2. Love Letter
3. Mata ne
4. Independence Day
5. Utsusemi no hana
6. Tightrope Dreamer
7. Gyakushū to iu na no senritsu
8. Sai no ame ni utarete
9. Zettai Reido Funk
11. Zekkyō Judgement
12. Dai sanji botchi sensō
13. small money, sweet honey
14. T junction
15. Three years days
16. Dōkeshi no Puzzle
17. ONLY PLACE WE CAN CRY
18. Mugen no gayōshi
Well, I guess I’ve put this one off long enough haven’t I folks? I’m a procrastinator at the best of times but it is a lot easier when there’s a little bit of dread involved too. It’s not that I don’t want to do this review or anything, and I’ve been writing about a whole host of other stuff recently too, it’s just that it’s going to be…long. 18 tracks long in fact, so hopefully some of you read it because I’m about to spend a lot of time writing this thing.
So I’m checking out “Zetsu”, the first album from Screaming Sixties (or Zekkyou suru 60-do). The duo have been around for about 5 years at this point and kind of tread a fine line between Idol unit and band, though it’s more often a band configuration these days. Kind of a long time to be around without having put out an album but KAI and Montero seem to favor relentlessly touring all over Japan over releasing CDs in general so clearly they know where to make their money better than any of us do.
The album features new songs, re-recorded versions of older material as well as some songs that have never had an official release before. A good mix of tracks then, and pretty much the ultimate Screaming Sixties starter pack for anyone who has been curious about them but has been put off by having to pay eye watering secondary market prices to procure several key parts of their discography. I think I’m probably going to approach this review by taking this album at face value, so I’ll keep the comparisons and mentions of where songs did or didn’t get released before to a minimum. You’re here to read my thoughts on the music at the end of the day, so that’s what you’re going to get. Sound good?
The chugging Metal guitar riffs of “Sakura wa Nido Chiru, Sohsite Nido Saku” kick off the album in fairly typical Sixties style, starting things off on an appropriate note. Fairly simplistic chord progressions but very effective in building up the song and giving it a good base from which to work from. The instrumental does get dialed down a bit when the vocals initially come in, which I thought was good from a composition standpoint as it let them have a moment to breathe and for the listener’s ears to hear them clearly. Though naturally everything ends up getting brought together and then the song really gets going. With the very melodic vocals mixing very well with the grittier sound of the instrumental accompanying them. Both sides get their chance to shine, with some pretty slick guitar work in the form of various riffs and solos and the soaring chorus produced by KAI and Montero’s combined efforts. If for some reason you expected a bunch of harsh vocals you’ll probably be disappointed but as far as I’m concerned things are off to a strong start here.
For a song titled “Love Letter” you might be expecting something sentimental, maybe in the style of your typical J-Pop ballad. That’s not Screaming Sixties’ style though, instead they decide to treat us to a screaming (heh) guitar solo right out of the gate to get us fired up for the album’s second track. Granted after all of that is said and done, the song does get a little bit less intense, with some fairly low vocals that have a somewhat creepy vibe to them. Well, as creepy as you can be when you’re being backed by some particularly heavy bass guitar at least. This happens a couple of times throughout the track, but on the whole things are pretty intense and energetic, particularly in the chorus where they do a particularly good job of hiding a Power Ballad in a Metal style instrumental. Absolutely fantastic range and control on the vocals from KAI and Montero, something I don’t think they get enough credit for personally. Add in a cool guitar solo or two along the way and I’m not really sure what more you could ask for from a song like this honestly. Good stuff.
Perhaps “Mata ne” would have been better suited to having the title “Love Letter”, at least as far as the song’s overall sound and impression that it imparts on the listener goes. Things get off to an incredibly mellow start, with some heavy fuzz on those guitars and a bassline that’s verging on being a little too blown out for the effect that I assume they were going for. While all this is going on, the vocals weave their way through the cacophony, offering a more soothing tone to the ears as they are assaulted by the wall of noise created by the backing track. Then we reach the chorus and things get a little…odd. I’m by no means a producer of music, but I found it a bit strange that they seem to have stripped out most of the backing track here, leaving the song to feel very empty as a result. The chorus vocally is great, so I guess maybe they wanted to focus on that but it sounds weird to my ears. This only happens during the chorus so I guess it must be by design. Not really doing it for me but art is subjective and all that. At least the breakdown they used in the bridge was pretty cool so it kinda makes up for it a bit. A bit so-so for me this one, if you couldn’t tell.
Things get a bit patriotic for fourth track “Independence Day”, at least for the title of the song anyway. We kinda get bait and switched a bit here, as the song leads off with some good old fashioned, very substantial Metal instrumentation. Great for making you want to bang your head, rock out and all that other fun stuff. Yeah, then that sort of gets faded out and we get some really nice, soulful singing to calm us all down. I don’t know, it was funny to me anyway. The song eventually meets somewhere in the middle, with vocals and instrumentals combining in the sort of way that the Screaming Sixties have really perfected over the past 5 years that they’ve been with us. Unlike on the previous track, they didn’t strip the instrumental out of the chorus here which was good. Instead they took the totally reasonable approach of just turning the vocals up a bit and sitting them slightly higher in the mix. This results in a more full sounding song for the entirety of its duration and I didn’t feel like I was taken out of the moment for a second. Really liked the power and emotion shown from the vocals here too, along with a pretty catchy chorus that definitely made this one stand out a bit more than it otherwise might. Kind of interesting to compare these two song and see what a difference just a few different production and writing decisions can make.
If you were coming into this album expecting a ton of Heavy Metal and its related genres then you’re probably scratching your head a little at this point. Even more so once “Utsusemi no hana” comes on I would have to imagine. So yeah, hopefully you all enjoy the shamisen and other such traditional Japanese musical instruments because this song has a bunch of that kind of stuff going on. Hardly surprising given the, admittedly rather subtle, use of traditional Japanese imagery that the Screaming Sixties have used on CD jackets, promotional artwork and the like. Of course the entire song isn’t just some random throwback that adheres rigidly to tradition no, there’s definitely a good shot of the usual Sixties style injected into this track as well. The result is a pretty pleasing Rock tune with the aforementioned traditional elements, something that has been shown to work time and time again and this effort is no exception to that. There’s also a nice mix of vocal work here, from the very emotive ballad style to the more typical Sixties style that we’ve all come to know and love over the years. Something a bit different but sometimes different is a good thing, and that’s definitely the case here in my opinion.
Yeah, different is cool but let’s get back to what you’re all probably here for. “Tightrope Dreamer” is loud, in your face and with a little bit of a psychedelic vibe coming from the guitars at times. Kind of a cool little accent to the song as opposed to being a major influence, though I wouldn’t mind hearing more of that I guess. Fans of Melon Batake a go go will probably appreciate the vocal style that this song is performed in, though here the tempo is a little bit quicker than your average Melon number. It definitely has a similar attitude to it though, at least in my opinion anyway. I’m also a big fan of the chorus, which follows the Sixties style of being soaring and full of hooks that while perhaps not hitting you over the head are by no means any less effective. Lots of great little moments in the instrumental too, from the aforementioned psych riffage to more great guitar solos that carry the song as well as any verse would at times. More the sort of thing most people would be checking this album out for I would imagine and hey, it’s some damn good stuff so enjoy it won’t ya?
“Gyakushū to iu na no senritsu” pumps the breaks on that little outburst we just had and returns things to the slightly calmer, more melodic state that has been present on a good chunk of the album so far. This is kinda what the Screaming Sixties do, so hopefully you’re enjoying it because I imagine we’re going to be getting a lot more as we continue along here. What can I say, more fantastic vocal work from KAI and Montero, displaying some really rich tones and hitting quite literally all of the right notes. They turn things up for the chorus and really pour a lot of emotion into it and just make it sound like it’s a big deal, if that makes sense. The instrumental is nothing to turn your nose up at either, offering yet more thundering drumbeats and appropriately distorted guitar riffs for the vocals to weave in and out of. I guess most if not all Sixties songs require a guitar solo or two because there’s one in this one too. I think the majority of them sound pretty cool but I’m open to hearing arguments that it’s a little bit formulaic. Every song so far has been really fun to listen to though so I don’t really mind too much personally.
How about an injection of Punk to add a bit more variety to the party we’re having here. That’s the sort of thing that “Sai no ame ni utarete” looks to provide the listener with, taking a markedly different tone to basically anything heard in the first half of this album. The guitar riffs are fun, catchy and really energetic while the drumbeat provides the song with a very pleasing tempo and rhythm that should make even the most cynical music fan begrudgingly nod their head along. There’s also a guitar solo on this song too, because of course there would be! I could have maybe gone for a slightly cleaner mix but that’s about the only nitpick I have about the instrumental. On the vocal side of things your still getting what you’d expect from the Sixties, certainly when it comes to the verses at least. They do put a more upbeat and energetic spin on the chorus, as opposed to the more dramatic, and I guess kinda serious delivery that you’d perhaps normally hear. I really like this song, it provides a different take on the more well known Sixties sound while still retaining enough of it to not sound too out of place here. It also cleansed the palate after a stretch of songs that featured a lot of similar influences.
“Zettai Reido Funk” continues in a similar vein, drawing on more influences that we haven’t heard out of this album so far. It also well and truly lives up to the “Funk” part of its name with tons of nods to the genre in question. Hopefully you guys enjoy bass slapping because that’s a very present element of the instrumental and the overall rhythm of the song seems to be built up around it too so you can probably get a fairly good idea of what it sounds like it just by me mentioning that. The drums pack a nice punch while also providing a complimentary bouncy tempo that just adds even more to the aforementioned guitar work. Oh yeah, there’s also a solo in this song too if anyone is keeping count at home. Definitely a very different vocal performance from the Sixties on this track, taking on almost a Hip Hop flow at times but never quite going all guns blazing in that particular direction. They kept enough attitude in the delivery to prevent it from getting too weird on us. I feel like the chorus could have been a little better on this particular track, not that it’s awful or anything but I feel like it gets outshone by the instrumental and even some of the verses have more impact to them. Still a really fun song though and I should probably just sit back and enjoy it and stop being so critical.
This album isn’t officially divided into different thematic sections but it’s hard not to get that feeling with the run of songs that are clustered around the middle of the running order. The rather simply titled “8:30” continues exploring this more uptempo, bouncy rhythm that has been introduced and once again we’re forgoing the thick, distorted guitar riffs and heavy drumming. Instead we get some rather impressive noodling, accompanied but an appropriately bouncy drumbeat to make up and instrumental that you wouldn’t be surprised to hear coming from the speakers at some indie show in a Shimokitazawa live house. I love all of these things so I’m definitely on board with the instrumental that the Sixties are working with here. Surprisingly it’s the vocals that I’m not the biggest fan of on this particular song. They’re kinda low, lacking the sort of energy you’d expect for a song like this and they do a couple of bits where it sounds like they’re about to do a Hardcore breakdown or something. Not what I was expecting and I feel like the vocals just miss the tone created by the instrumental, though once again it’s not terrible but just not what I would have done personally.
The surprisingly danceable theme continues into the album’s eleventh track “Zekkyō Judgement”. Maybe it’s just me but I get this sort of Metal Disco vibe from this song. The Disco part coming mainly from the very energetic guitar riffs, which are accompanied by some fairly light synthesizer which is an instrument we haven’t heard a whole lot of on the album up to this point. The Metal element of course coming from the thumping, very much in your face/ears drumbeat that really just sets the whole thing off somehow. It’s a very fun, addicting rhythm that should definitely make you want to get up and move your feet, unless you’re a total stick in the mud who can’t find the fun side of music like this. I think they did go a bit overboard with the synthesizer in the chorus however, way too many sparkles for my personal taste. The vocals in the chorus and the song in general are great though, being delivered with the same rapid fire pace and with all of the attitude that the instrumental possesses. Always nice to hear a bit of variety on this front too as the Sixties can stick to a similar style of vocal a lot, we’ve heard it a decent amount on this release too. Another fun song here though, with only a minor gripe or two from me.
You better all be ready to clap your hands because “Dai sanji botchi sensō” is a song that calls for it. Lots, and lots, and lots of hand clapping which actually isn’t that common a method of injecting a bit of hype into a song these days. Especially if we’re talking about in a live setting, which the Screaming Sixties seem to find themselves in on any day of the week with “y” in it. This song takes a decent amount of influence from Punk music in both the instrumental and the vocals, which is pretty great for me personally and it adds yet more variety to an album that started out with a fairly well defined sound. I really like the chorus on this song, it’s so catchy and the punchy delivery of the vocals really adds to that. The verses are nothing to sniff at either, following a similar concept but toned down a bit so as not to overdo things. Set that to a bouncy Rock instrumental and things can only go well. This is definitely one of my favorite Screaming Sixties songs and it’s a pretty old one too so I’m pretty happy that it got a bit of TLC and a fresh coat of paint for the album release. Highly recommended, go listen to this one right now.
I don’t know why, but “small money, sweet honey” is a pretty amusing song title to me. I’m not even sure what it’s supposed to even mean, if anything at all. Anyway, the opening instrumental is dense in sound, mainly due to the high levels of distortion on some of the guitars. There’s a riff in there that vaguely reminds me of “Stand” by R.E.M. which just goes to show how my brain works. There’s also an underlying playfulness that becomes more apparent as the song goes along. It ends up becoming a pretty unusual mix of Punk, Ska and almost Metal but not quite. I’m not totally sure how I feel about it honestly because I like the Punky, Ska parts but the distortion levels on the guitar is just not something I ever associate with those genres. The vocals play more to the Punk side of things thankfully, which does a lot to alleviate my prior criticism. Really good energy, the lyrics are catchy with a good flow and you can really pick up on the 90s influences that they’re drawing from. Another really fun song that comes very close to being amazing, but those guitars man. I guess I’ll have to settle for it just being “very good”. I’m sure I’ll live, somehow.
Well, we’ve done a pretty good job of dodging overly sentimental sounding, Ballad style songs on this album so far so I guess it’s okay that one gets included now. I’m joking by the way, calm down. “T junction” is that type of song though, even if you do kinda question just where they’re going for a little while as the song starts to build up. Definitely not your generic Pop Idol Ballad though, there’s plenty of guitar and drums going on because well. It’s a Screaming Sixties song and it’d be kinda weird if those things weren’t involved somehow. The drumming is actually very pronounced at times though, which made me think they might not have gotten the memo. Add in a heart wrenching guitar solo and we have ourselves a pretty nice instrumental going on. Vocally this song is just on another level though. Just a fantastic performance from all involved, great emotional delivery and the richness of the vocal tones really gives this song an extra dimension, or I’m just making all of this up because I really enjoyed it. Considering this sort of song isn’t typically my thing I’d say “really enjoyed it” is glowing praise coming from me.
Okay, enough of all of these different genres already. “Three years days” takes us back to the first half of the album when songs were much simpler and had more of a theme running through them. This track comes out swinging for the fences right from the get-go, with only a second or two of a lead-in before the ears are assaulted by thunderous drumming and some fat, heavily distorted guitar riffs. They keep this up for pretty much the entire duration of the song too so hopefully you don’t end up needing a moment to scoop your brain off the floor after the drumbeat pounds it out of your head. Vocally things also return to the more dramatic, emotive style we heard a lot of on the front half of the album. The mixing kind of drowns the vocals out with the drumming at times though, which I thought was a little unfortunate and I normally don’t mind stuff like that. A little bit more variety in tone wouldn’t have gone amiss either, and might have cut through the wall of noise more effectively. Not my favorite song on the album by any stretch but still fairly decent despite my critique of some of the production choices.
Considering we’re 16 tracks in at this point, I didn’t really mind that “Dōkeshi no Puzzle” ended up being pretty much a standard Ballad because there haven’t really been many to be fair. The opening instrumental sort of sets the tone, with I think it’s a piano accompanied by a guitar that create a rather forlorn atmosphere. They really pile it on with a heart wrenching guitar solo to lead into the vocals too. Said vocals are very…pure in both tone and delivery. Definitely not the typical energy and passion this album has lead us to expect from the Screaming Sixties but still very emotionally charged despite much of the song’s rather downcast outlook. I say much because the chorus does definitely bring a lot more very raw emotion into the song, and certainly stands out because of this. I also like how they used guitar solos to transition out of the choruses as it was a fairly unique way of dialing things back down that might have otherwise fallen to the vocals to achieve. If for whatever reason you’re looking for a song in this sort style, this is the best one that I’ve heard in a while for however much that counts for anything.
Okay, enough of all of that stuff. The album’s penultimate track “ONLY PLACE WE CAN CRY” shouldn’t need much introduction to long time Sixties fans but if you’re new here just know this. This song is pretty iconic and very much loved by the fans. It’s pretty easy to see why that would be the case too. Opening things up with loud guitars and even louder, thunderous drumming is a pretty good recipe for success around these parts and really let you know what the direction is for the rest of the track. High energy, great intensity and heavy on the distortion pedal to really hammer it all home. What’s not to like here really? The vocals seek to soothe the ears from this onslaught, with their smooth tone both serving to contrast as well as compliment the instrumental very effectively. They turn things up for the chorus though and we’re once again treated to a fantastic, soaring display of vocal prowess. Very catchy too might I add, though perhaps not in the most typical of ways. In any case, this is an absolutely essential listen that probably shouldn’t have been buried this deep in the tracklist.
The album closes on “Mugen no gayōshi” and I think that this song is very appropriate as the closing track here. Once again it’s a very different style than much of the rest of the album and certainly different than what the Sixties’ look would suggest they should sound like. Like a lot of Japanese acts who put out full length album, they usually reserve a sentimental, fairly optimistic sounding track for the finale. That’s the case here too, with us getting a pretty bright sounding track that’s a very clear departure from the other 17 songs we’ve heard. It’s still fairly loud though, and with very full bass despite the kind of acoustic feel they’re trying to impart with the instrumental. There’s even a little bit of piano going on too which was nice and very appropriate. Vocally it’s pretty much what you’d expect from a song like this, very light and fairly happy sounding tone to the delivery and a fairly mild but also catchy enough chorus to give the song a bit of a kick. The instrumental actually almost drowns out the vocals at times, which I thought was kinda amusing considering how these songs typically sound. A very nice note to end things off on and another chance to show that KAI and Montero really can do it all vocally.
Huge props to all of you who made it this far. Also, huge props to the Screaming Sixties for putting this 18 track monster of an album together for us. I know they worked really hard redoing a lot of the older songs but it definitely paid off and we were treated to a fantastic celebration of the past 5 years of their career. Hopefully they don’t make us wait another 5 years for the next album, though I’m sure it would be worth it.
I can’t imagine we’ll hear too much more on the new music front from the Screaming Sixties for a while now. They’re not prolific CD releasers at the best of times. Though when they do give us new material it’s pretty much always quality stuff. Speaking of which, I would definitely encourage you all to seek this album out and give it a listen. It probably won’t be entirely what you’re expecting but I think you’ll be able to find quite a few things to enjoy here. I know that I certainly did anyway.