My thoughts on 『5』, the latest album from Oyasumi Hologram.
Release Date: May 29th 2019
1. happy songs feat. Russell Lissack
2. friday feat. Russell Lissack
3. dancing in the pool feat. Russell Lissack
5. ghost rider
8. son’na hikari
9. last scene
It feels like it has been forever since I’ve been able to write about Oyasumi Hologram for the site. That’s probably because it has been, with “4” (review here), the duo’s last (widely available) release having come out more than a year prior to the subject of this week’s review hitting store shelves. While not exactly the most prolific of releasers, that’s still a fairly long lay-off between new material from Oyasumi Hologram. I’ve certainly been impatiently waiting at least.
The group haven’t been keeping that quiet in this time though, with a short American tour being one of several projects that have kept them busy over the last 12 months. Though having said tour smash its crowdfunding target by a country mile probably afforded everyone involved a bit more downtime than they otherwise might have had. Though latterly live performances have been a bit lacking, presumably in preparation for the release of the album I’ll be reviewing today.
Speaking of which 『5』 is, as you might have guessed, the fifth studio album from Oyasumi Hologram. It features quite a few new songs, several from their US tour exclusive EP “27”, along with some rerecorded material of which some features Bloc Party guitarist Russel Lissack of all people. I believe the album is billed as mainly being Electronic in style, as opposed to the acoustic or band configuration that we sometimes see. Either way, it’s Oyasumi Hologram so I’m pretty hopeful that there’s going to be some quality stuff on show here. I’m itching to hit play and have a listen as I’ve been anticipating this album for a while now. So let’s do that and get this review started.
The album opens with “happy songs”, the first of the three aforementioned tracks to feature Bloc Party guitarist Russell Lissack. The song starts with the usual style of Oyasumi vocals, pretty clean and not overly processed though perhaps a little bit more than usual. The instrumental builds up gradually in the background before settling into a fairly pleasant, repeating synthesizer melody. Pretty catchy stuff that should hook most peoples’ attention when they first hear it. Hachigatsu and Kanamiru get plenty of room to show off their skills too, almost too much perhaps at times as the song does feel a little sparse, though there is the occasional burst of energy where guitars (presumably from Lissack) are brought in to fill things out a bit more. By the time it draws to a close almost 5 minutes later it has built up a bit more steam, though never drifting too far from the tempo it established early on. Not a super energetic track by Oyasumi Hologram standards, but the vocals are pretty darn good and the instrumental is very pleasant outside of that so off to a good start.
Up next is “friday”, also featuring Lissack. This song originally appeared on Oyasumi’s third studio album “…” (review here) so it’s a little odd to see it make a reappearance here. I suppose at least it’s not yet another version of hit song “neuromancer”, right? The instrumental definitely sounds noticeably different between the two versions, with this new one sounding a lot less bright and they’ve also stripped out a lot of the synthesizer that really gave the original such a unique sound, for the time at least. They’ve basically replaced it all with guitars which is alright…I guess. The vocals have also been updated, for better or worse. While the quality of the singing definitely sounds better, for some reason they’ve decided to put a bunch of effects on the vocals at various points. It’s pretty jarring if you’ve been listening to Oyasumi for a while and just expect clean vocals all the time, but it doesn’t even add anything to the song that the girls couldn’t just do themselves naturally. Saying you like the original more is a bit cliche, but this re-recorded version doesn’t hold a candle to it in my opinion.
We’re treated to another rerecording of a previously released song in “dancing in the pool” to follow that up. This marks Russell Lissack’s last involvement with the album so I guess they just front-loaded this thing with all of the songs he contributed to. Anyway, this song originally came out on “27”, the EP exclusive to Oyasumi’s US tour that happened last year. Probably the first time a lot of people will have heard a studio version of this track so it might as well be a new song. Having heard the original, I think I prefer the instrumental on this new version more as it’s less muddy and the song’s main melody comes though a lot more clearly. Quite a catchy piece, especially when it picks up a bit of momentum so very little complaints from me on this one in that regard. The vocals are pretty decent here too, with Kanamiru and Hachigatsu once again getting plenty of room to do what they do best. Maybe a little less raw in the delivery on this version which kinda sucks for me but I’m sure people who didn’t like that quality to Oyasumi’s music will be happy. While a ittle bit of a mixed bag for me personally, as far as re-records go this is more than acceptable.
“fire” should be a song that’s fairly familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in Oyasumi Hologram at this point. It got a digital release last September, has a music video and also featured on the aforementioned “27” EP if you were lucky enough to get a copy. The synthesizer instrumental on this track is infectious, using some fairly simple, repeating loops to build a very energetic and bouncy beat. Things start out pretty clean, before there’s a drop of sorts, the restraints get loosened and the song bursts into life. It doesn’t seem like they’ve done too much to the instrumental for the album version of this song either, so that’s a plus in my book. I also appreciate that they haven’t touched the vocals much if at all because those were great already anyway too. Hachigatsu and Kanamiru deliver a fantastic performance, packed with great melodies and in the more “natural” style I always thought to be one of Oyasumi’s more unique selling points. This is one of the best songs they’ve put out, possibly ever and I’m glad that it’s included on this album and not hidden away in the depths of their back catalog.
Much like “fire”, “ghost rider” is another Oyasumi song that has been around for a little while now. It also got a music video and its own digital release last August and just like “fire” it also featured on that annoying hard to get a hold of “27” EP. This song goes neck and neck with “fire” for me as one of Oyasumi’s best works, for many of the same reasons actually. The songs are actually structured rather similarly now that I’m actually paying close attention to them, though “ghost rider” leans more heavily on guitar whereas “fire” takes off in a more synthesizer type of direction. Again, the instrumental is fantastic on this song, just packed with hooks and infectious little moments. Hachigatsu and Kanamiru are in fantastic form as always, trading off lines back and forth like it’s nothing, with each delivering yet another hook that will see this song and its melody embedded into your brain before long. This song and “fire” are what I would consider to be two songs that are essential listening when it comes to Oyasumi Hologram so if you want a quick taste of just a fraction of what the duo are all about I can’t recommend these two songs highly enough.
We get back around to some totally new material for the album’s sixth track “neon”. This song starts off by taking a much calmer approach than the previous couple of tracks, with a fairly chill synthesizer meets percussion instrumental opening up the track. This backs some very nice, and mostly (but unfortunately not quite totally) unaltered vocal work from both Hachigatsu and Kanamiru. Then they bring in this really bass heavy beat and I’m pretty okay with it for the most part but it’s a little disappointing that it ended up drowning out quite a bit of the percussion, despite said section’s best efforts to try to cut through the very dominant bass. Don’t get me wrong the instrumental has a great tempo to it and it’s very enjoyable, I’m just putting the thoughts that come to mind while listening down on paper. Vocally this is definitely a more measured Oyasumi Hologram delivery and a slightly more melancholic performance overall but that’s fine because they can do that just as well as anything else. Like I mentioned previously this song also gives the ears something a bit different to digest after some pretty energetic and upbeat tracks that came just before. Of the new stuff, this is probably my favorite so far. We’ve got a long way to go yet though.
Oyasumi Hologram aren’t really a group that go all in on the traditional concept of a Ballad very often, if ever. Usually there’s sort of spin on it to make the song feel more like it’s theirs. That’s pretty much what they’ve done here with “awake” and to their credit they’ve made quite an interesting song despite its oddly short length at about two and a half minutes. Of course there’s the vocals which are excellent like they always are, though if I had to nitpick one thing it would be the subtle but noticeable effects that seem to have crept in on this album. You don’t need to reverb a note I know both of these girls can easily hold themselves but whatever man, I’m not producing. Instrumentally is where most of the interesting stuff is going on with this song, not that the vocals are boring by any stretch. Piano definitely comes across as the driving force for a lot of the track, though it is supplemented by a bit of synth and a repeating drumbeat that provides a bit of oomph by way of injecting bass into the song. It’s decently catchy and quite pleasant to listen to, and it does sorta build up a bit more by the time we reach the last thirty seconds or so. Continuing on with the more lowkey theme the previous song introduced but managing to keep things interesting at the same time.
Remember the synths that I lamented about being stripped out of “friday” earlier in the album? Well turns out I’m kinda getting what I was looking for, just on another track. “son’na hikari” doesn’t totally plagiarize the aforementioned song, but if you listen to the two you have to admit that’s a little bit of a similarity going on here. Not that I mind because I’m actually quite fond of the pseudo-woodwind thing they’ve got going on with the synths here. Must be the Maison book girl influence finally getting to me. I also like how warm the instrumental feels, this being accomplished by using some light distortion and I believe a synthesized string section that also bulked the song out quite effectively as well. Add a fairly simple but effective drumbeat and we’ve got a good thing going on folks. On the vocal side of things, this is to my mind the most obvious example of Hachigatsu and Kanamiru’s wonderful harmonies on the album so far, I’m sure there’s other instances but this song is where I noticed them the most. Much like the instrumental they toe the line between whimsical and melancholic which looks really weird written down on paper but you’ll have to take my word for it. So much diversity of sound on this album, it’s really quite something.
Another song from the album that people might already be somewhat familiar with is penultimate track “last scene”. Why this isn’t the last track with a title like that I’ll never know. Anyway, this song got a music video and a digital release ahead of the album and quite a dark MV at that, with the suggestion of someone committing suicide as the closing scene. It does rather go against the song’s fairly bright, almost sparkly at times instrumental. I’m quite partial to the underlying synthesizer melody that after being rather in your face at the start of the song sort of fades into the background to play more of a supporting role. That, along with a few well placed drumbeats really gives this song a lot of it energy. All good on that front, but the vocals are little of an “Ehh, I guess” from me. On the whole, it’s your usual Oyasumi style with, with great solos, melodies and all that jazz. Then there’s the parts where there’s that gosh darn modulation. You probably think I’m overreacting and that’s fine, but it just isn’t needed man. Let Hachigatsu hold a note or have whoever do a melody instead of this echoey reverb thing. You have two fantastic singers, you don’t need to do this sort of stuff. Opinions, I have a lot of them.
Album closer “wonderland” continues with the them of a bright mood and fairly light instrumental, though with much less sparkling than on the album’s previous track. It’s not the most “full” sounding instrumental you’re ever likely to hear, though there is a fair amount going on. It just sounds like there’s a lot of room if that makes sense, with a sort of mild background static trying to loosely tie the various synthesizer melodies and drumbeats together. It’s pleasant enough to listen to though I wouldn’t say there’s a very obvious element for the ears to latch onto. Vocally things are pretty good, much better than on the previous track at least. Hachigatsu and Kanamiru are for the most part unimpeded in their delivery, though it’s not the most energetic of songs but I get that it’s the closing track and you probably do want a song like this in that position. There’s a small hook or two in the vocals at least but again, it just sorta feels like there’s something missing. I’m not saying the song is terrible or anything like that, it just doesn’t really have that one thing that makes it memorable. Still, a suitable closer for the album and one of the less produced tracks to feature so that’s a plus too.
In the end, I’m left with mixed feelings on this release. The mastering on the digital version is absolutely unforgivable in 2019 and honestly I can’t recommend that version unless it’s literally your only option. Besides that though, I think they over thought certain parts of this album with the all of the post processing on the vocals being my main complaint. I dunno, I get you’re doing an Electronic album but there was nothing done in post that Hachigatsu and Kanamiru can’t just do live in a studio. I don’t know who to blame but the whole thing just feels a bit overproduced.
That being said, there’s definitely some really good material here. “fire”, “ghost rider” and “neon” stood out for me personally and I liked quite a few elements of several other tracks too. I still feel pretty let down though which is unfortunate as this was one of my more anticipated releases of the year. Hopefully things will go a little smoother on the next Oyasumi Hologram release, whenever that might end up being. All the talent is still there, they just need to fix the presentation on the next one.