My thoughts on “CLARITY”, the latest album from PassCode.
Release Date: April 3rd 2019
2. DIVE INTO THE LIGHT
5. Taking you out
6. THE DAY WITH NOTHING
8. It’s you
9. In the Rain
13. Ichika Bachika
I’m not really sure why, but I wasn’t actually expecting to be reviewing a new release from PassCode yet. That doesn’t even make any sense whatsoever because its been over half a year since they put out a new CD. That’s a pretty long time by most Idol groups’ standards but for whatever reason I was surprised when this album got announced. Maybe its the relatively short time between the announcement and the release date or perhaps the fact they didn’t tease it to death. Either way, I’m surprised but I’m not sure why exactly.
PassCode are coming off of a pretty great 2018. The group, at least in my mind, underwent somewhat of a renaissance in the last 18 months or so and really got the creative juices going again. A “Best of” album and a couple of singles later and my somewhat dim view of their musical output has done a 180. Though I know plenty of people who didn’t have any of my personal issues with a lot of PassCode’s post-major label music I find it interesting to see how subjective music can be and also how it doesn’t take too much to change one’s opinion. At least in my case anyway.
So, here we have “CLARITY”. This is PassCode’s second major label album release and their first release of 2019. I see a few familiar songs in the tracklist, which bodes well for the rest of the album I hope. I’m not really asking for a lot from this release in all honesty, just some solid PassCode style songs but with just enough variation and, dare I hope, experimentation to stop things from running together too much. If they continue along the path they were heading down when 2018 ended then we should be in for a very enjoyable album. Let’s find out if that’s the case.
The album hums into life with opening track “PROJECTION”, which somewhat predictably elects to make use of synthesizers as the first thing we hear. This is a PassCode song after all. Guitars are quickly added into the mix however, along with some very intense and also incredibly dense drumbeats. The synthesizer plays more of a supporting role while all this is going on, offering various accents to the chaotic brutality that’s occurring. It gets subdued a little bit when the vocals are doing their thing, and probably more noticeably during the somewhat out of place bridge but for the most part this album comes screaming out of the gates. Speaking of screaming, Yuna is in fine form here. She gets quite a few chances to shine and shine she does, particularly in the chorus where she continues the brutality while the instrumental takes on a lighter tone that’s not too dissimilar to the vocals on much of the rest of this song. Quite a bit of English in the lyrics and they’re fairly catchy, especially in the aforementioned chorus. A pretty solid way to start things off and you get a pretty decent idea of what PassCode are all about.
Synthesizers are the first thing to great the ears on the album’s second track as well. “DIVE INTO THE LIGHT” does a really good job of building up its opening instrumental to the point where you’re half wondering if there’s actually going to be a drop while at the same time practically begging for it to happen. When it does the song explodes into a floor filling EDM arrangement that sticks around for a disappointingly short period of time before they cool things down with some heavily vocoded vocals that have a somewhat melancholic feel. Don’t get too used to that though because the song bursts into life again in a Digital Hardcore style that should be pretty familiar to most PassCode fans at this point. Not exactly reinventing the wheel here but the song has some great energy and the lyrics are pretty catchy for the most part. The song sort of alternates back and forth between Digital Hardcore and a softer EDM style every so often but there is another very musically different bridge in this song too so maybe that’s a theme or something. PassCode certainly seem to be trying out some new stuff while holding onto the things people know and love them for.
The album’s third track is the first time we revisit some older material on this release. “Ray” is PassCode’s third major single and it came out right around this time last year actually. I wrote a review of it at the time, which you can read here if you’d like to. Yeah, this single and more specifically this song sort of marked a bit of a transition in PassCode’s sound. They dialed down the vocoder a good amount and injected a little bit of Punk influence as opposed to the more typical Hardcore leanings that they’d been very focused on for a long time. Production also felt a little less sterile than what it had felt like for several releases prior, at least in my opinion anyway. I chalk this up to their work on the “Locus” album release where they went back and redid several older songs but who knows if that even had anything to do with it. What I do know is that Yuna was and still is incredible on the microphone and it was pretty awesome to hear some cleaner vocals out of the other members because they sure can sing and deserve a lot more credit than I’ve seen them get most of the time. But yeah, I like this one if you couldn’t tell already.
Japanese groups really seem to love simple and very literal song titles, or at least maybe I’ve just been noticing it more lately. PassCode opted for the very basic “4” as the title of this album’s fourth track but thankfully the music itself is a lot more interesting than the name. I said I would like to hear a bit more variation and maybe a little bit of experimentation and that’s exactly what this song provides. The instrumental takes on a noticeably different tone to much of PassCode’s catalog, making pretty heavy use the slap bass style to give the song a pretty funky vibe. This is combined with some fairly flashy synthesizer beats and guitar riffs to create a very bouncy rhythm which in turn gives the song great energy. The vocals are fairly clean, though do take on a vocoded element as the song progresses. The flow of the delivery is pretty different to what you’d usually expect out of PassCode but compliments the instrumental well. I’m not totally sure they had to give Yuna as many harsh vocal parts as they did but I guess it’s the brand they’re selling, it wasn’t that out of place and she did a great job. Not sure how this will play to fans of the typical PassCode sound but I enjoyed it.
We dip back into the previously released material for the album’s next track. “Taking you out” originally appeared on PassCode’s most recent single “Tonight / Taking you out”, where it received top billing alongside another song that I’ll be talking about in just a bit here. You can read my original thoughts on there single here if you’d like. Anyway, this song hits super hard right from the off with some incredibly brutal harsh vocals to really set the tone. The synthesizer work in the mid-song breakdown is fairly creative for this genre and if for whatever reason you hate everything I’ve said so far then at least the song has a nice, classic PassCode chorus for you to hopefully enjoy. Honestly, if someone told me to come up with a PassCode song this is the sort of thing I would probably end up with. It shows off all of the things the group does well, is perfect for introducing new fans to the group and above all else it’s just a great song. Oh yeah, and it’s a tie-up with a video game so I guess those can be good as long as it’s not a certain other record label involved. Go figure huh?
Okay, I know I said I wouldn’t mind a bit of experimentation here or there but this is just ridiculous. So I guess PassCode and their producers just figured “What the heck, Easycore is kinda popular right?” and here we have “THE DAY WITH NOTHING”. Don’t know what Easycore is? Well, it’s a bit of mix of the more melodic side of Pop Punk and heavier, Metal style breakdowns from genres like Post Hardcore and Metalcore. Obviously there’s a mix of vocals from both genres too, with melodic harmonies and occasional harsh vocals combining in a surprisingly complimentary fashion. I’m a bit of a fan in case you didn’t know. Anyway, that’s pretty much what this song is, though I’m a little disappointed that they washed the vocals out so much with vocoder and a fairly low intensity delivery. I wouldn’t have minded a little bit more pep and a hook or two, particularly in the chorus, but it does still work with what they’re trying to do here and I suppose they have to keep some of the usual PassCode style in here somewhere. I’m still waiting for the perfect Idol interpretation of an Easycore song but this is pretty darn close.
Following on from that is “horoscope” which also definitely doesn’t sound like the sort of thing most people would expect from PassCode. No Digital Hardcore instrumentation or harsh vocals here folks. Instead we’re treated to a little bit of piano as the song gets underway, something which definitely sets the tone for things to come. A rather emotional guitar solo leads us into the first verse and the tone is a very unusual one by PassCode standards. Clean, very sober vocals are the order of the day on this track and it’s all rather nice actually, though perhaps not the brightest of moods being cast by the way in which the vocals are delivered. Not too much of an instrumental happening while this is going on either, though the steady drumbeat and lightly fuzzed guitars make for an appropriate backdrop. The chorus adds a bit more intensity and volume to set it apart and the vocals offer some nice melodies even if the lyrical structure is a bit by the numbers. This is a nice, slower tempo song that the album definitely needs to help balance it out a bit. I’m not sure anyone is rushing out to buy “CLARITY” for this specific track but it’s a pretty nice listen so give it a spin and see what you think.
“It’s you” sees things get back to business as usual, for the most part anyway. I believe this song was originally a bonus track on a concert blu-ray or something like that so it’s cool they included it here for those of us who didn’t make that particular purchase. The synthesizers are back, though this time they’re being combined with a more Pop Punk inspired instrumental which works pretty well and gives PassCode some more options when it comes to keeping their sound from growing stale after all of these years. They even managed to sneak a bit of regular old piano in there every so often which was also a rather nice touch. The vocoder also makes a return on the vocal side of things, almost to the extreme in my opinion but the energetic, very catchy lyrics manage to shine through enough that I’m not overly mad about it. The chorus on the song feels really…big and I’m sure must come across really well in a live setting. Somewhat surprisingly this song doesn’t make any real use of harsh vocals so I guess props to PassCode’s producers for restraining themselves? In any case, this is a really fun song and definitely a highlight out of everything I’ve heard thus far on the album.
Well, I have to admit that I was a little thrown off by “In the Rain”. Out of all of the things my brain came up with when reading the title, I definitely wasn’t expecting the retro video game inspired synthesizer instrumental that opened the song. Nor was I expecting the vocals to just launch straight into some rather brutal harsh notes that were very much at odds with the rather happy nature of the accompanying instrumental. Well the song eventually transitions into the synthesizer heavy Hardcore sound that PassCode are very much known for so if the past few songs haven’t done much for you then hopefully this one will. I really like the vocal melodies in the verses in particular here and the lyrics were super catchy too. Yuna gets another chance to shine during the breakdown too so you’re covered there as well. The chorus I felt could have been a little stronger as it gets outshone by much of the rest of the song but I suppose in that sense it works in a roundabout way. If you’re a PassCode fan then I think you’ll enjoy this one quite a bit and if you’re not, I’d encourage you to give it a listen because it’s pretty damn good.
Up next is “TRICKSTER” and I must admit that I was a little surprised to see this song get included here. Not that it’s uncommon for b-sides to make their way onto Idol albums but it’s not like PassCode have included all of the ones they’ve released between their last album and now here. Well anyway, you can go read my original thoughts on this song here, as part of my “Ray” review if you’d like. This is super fun and very energetic song, with a pretty nice build up into the main instrumental where the beat drops and everything goes a bit crazy. I get a very heavy Fear, and Loathing in Las Vegas vibe from this song but if I had to compare it to something most of you should know then it’s rather reminiscent of PassCode hit “Club Kids Never Die”. Big, floor filling EDM instrumentals, heavy vocal modulation and Yuna doing what she does best though somewhat sparingly because I think this song was made around the time she was just coming back from her medical issues. I’m not sure why any PassCode fan would have skipped over this song when it originally came out but on the off-chance that you did I really can’t recommend it highly enough.
We take another short trip down memory lane next as we revisit the other half of PassCode’s most recent single. I am of course talking about “Tonight”, and just like “Taking you out” you can read my initial impressions of the song here if you’d like. Very much a song of two personalities, with a very high energy Synthcore style being offset by a much more melodic and emotive vocal which pair very well together and both are style PassCode are very comfortable with by this point. They go a bit overboard with the vocoder at times, for my personal taste anyway but other elements like the song’s very strong chorus make up for it enough that I didn’t find myself minding it too much in the end. Once again I was reminded a fair deal of Loathing in Las Vegas while listening to this song which isn’t a bad thing as I even said at the time PassCode could definitely do worse than stealing a page or three from that particular playbook. Perhaps not what some PassCode fans are personally looking for from the group but I think this diversification in sound that’s been going on for a little over a year now is pretty great.
You know, part of me was almost expecting PassCode to pull out something vaguely similar to a Maison book girl song when I was listening to the opening seconds of the album’s penultimate track “WILL”. I’m not really sure why, but I just sort of got that impression as the synthesizers hummed into life and the guitar riff came in. Not what we ended up getting in the end though, although what we were given was pretty interesting in its own right. I’m not sure the best way to describe what this song sounds like, but “when a Pop Punk band does a Ballad” is the phrase my brain keeps flashing me so let’s go with that. The instrumental is kinda upbeat but not overly so, but it still has that Pop Punk energy even if it is somewhat subdued. It’s also fairly mild on the synthesizer which is a bit surprising given how the song opened. They make up for the lack of programming on the instrumental with all of the vocoder they put on the vocals though. It’s not totally overbearing like it could be, but it’s definitely present. I kinda feel like this song would work better without it but I’m not the one producing it. Pretty standard structure of the lyrics for this style of song and the chorus is alright but nothing that will blow you away. Not bad, not great, but decent enough.
Closing out the album is “Ichika Bachika”, which I believe is being used as the opening song for the “Kakegurui – Compulsive Gambler” drama series. So yeah folks, it’s a tie-up song but PassCode did their other tie-up song fairly well so there’s hope. The song certainly starts out a bit different from what you’d normally expect, with a blood curdling instrumental accompanied by an unhinged scream or two to really establish the mood. The instrumental on the whole has a very dark aura to it, which is created using thunderous drumbeats and heavy, chugging guitar chords. Of course there’s a synthesizer or two in there as well and they get their chance to shine, but the real talking point for me is the quite different tone of the rest of the instrumental. Vocally you sort of get a half-PassCode song mixed with the ravings of a group of lunatics…oh, and screaming too. The melodic parts of the song are your typical PassCode style and much of the rest of it is wall to wall brutality or unhinged creepiness. This song kinda feels tacked on but I guess it kinda makes sense in a lot of ways. Definitely something different from PassCode and I actually rather liked it quite a bit.
Well, I asked for some experimentation on this album and I think that PassCode gave me that in spades here. This is easily the group’s most diverse album to date. Something that should stand them in good stead should they continue to explore any of these new influences further on future releases.
Speaking of which, it will be interesting to see how PassCode choose to follow this album up. They seem to be moving away from their base sound somewhat, which probably won’t please some people. However, I think it presents some interesting possibilities, though I guess only time will tell. I’m eagerly looking forward to PassCode’s next release in any case.