My thoughts on “town”, the latest mini-album from nuance.
Release Date: April 17th 2019
3. humanized humanoid
4. time magic lonely
5. kara kurenai
7. buriki no machi
As many of you probably know, I’m always on the lookout for new groups to check out. Partly because I have a really bad addiction to both writing on this site and trying to unearth cool new music, and also partly out of necessity because most of the groups I liked recently don’t exist anymore. As such, I’m constantly trawling Twitter looking to see if anything manages to catch my eye. Or pops up in my recommended list, like the subjects of today’s review did.
nuance are a 4 member Idol group from Yokohama who have been on the go for a couple of years at this point. As such I am incredibly late to this party so excuse my tardiness. They’re produced by Sato Kafu, who has contributed a song or two to Nogizaka46 over the years according to some very basic research, so there’s definitely a pedigree here. Originally formed as a local Idol group to promote I believe the Motomachi Shopping Street, they’ve definitely come quite a ways since then, that’s for sure.
“town” is the group’s 4th mini-album, which along with a couple of singles makes for quite the impressive catalog considering some groups would barely manage half of that in the same time period. Their sound is centered in Pop from my very limited research though they definitely like to pull in and experiment with other genres. Their songs are also pretty big on melodies and have a pretty trendy feel to them. Apart from that I honestly don’t know too much about the group but this mini-album caught my attention and I figured maybe it would be fun to write up some thoughts on it. Feel free to stick around if you’re curious and want to hear my opinion.
Title track “town” gets the mini-album under way but in a somewhat unexpected twist this song is actually just an intro track of sorts. Some form of field recording accompanied by acoustic guitar and some light piano make up the instrumental, painting quite a nice atmosphere and the background static provides a bit of warmth to things as well. There’s a brief bit of spoken word dialogue from the members of the group and that’s pretty much all she wrote for this track that clocks in at just under a minute in length. Not a bad little start but let’s get into the meat of this release now.
“tomodachi” is the first “real” song to feature on the mini-album, opening with a synthesizer instrumental that is sure to both surprise and excite fans of trendy, slightly eccentric sounding Pop music. That is if their eyes didn’t completely glaze over after my brief mention of Nogizaka46 earlier. Some of these sounds and tones do end up melting into the rather all encompassing lower notes of the instrumental which is a bit of a shame but you can still pick them out fairly easily as they dance their way around the song’s soundscape. A fairly relaxing instumental that still packs in a decent amount of energy that really goes a long way to helping keep things flowing along nicely. The vocals share a similar light tone to the instrumental, so the two compliment each other rather nicely in that regard. The structure and delivery is similarly a little off the center line much like the instrumental which made for several quirky moments where a line got delivered in a somewhat unconventional way that while it might have had me quirk a brow it by no means felt out of place against the backdrop of the instrumental. There’s also quite a bit of English going on in the vocals, and fairly good English at that. The song is basically all about nuance wanting to be your friend, and other such themes. I have no doubt that they’ll gain several friends should some of you choose to check out this song.
We take a little trip back to the 80s for the mini-album’s third track “humanized humanoid”. Well, kind of at least as the song does sort of have that funky 80s vibe wrapped up in a slightly more modern sounding synthesizer instrumental. It gives things a pretty nice warmth and an ever so slight Jazz feel which I’m always pretty happy to hear. Like the previous track there’s a nice energy here that’s fairly bouncy, which gives the song a lot of its rhythm and is very in keeping with the styles that are being drawn upon as influences for the composition. A bit more high tension too so nice to hear a little bit of variety on show. There’s also an really interesting 30 or so seconds where the song changes gears entirely and goes off in this sort of Chill-Hop direction and then takes its time to eventually get back around to where we started off. Vocals are in a fairly similar bright tone to “tomodachi” but with a slightly more mature air to them which again compliments the instrumental really well from a stylistic standpoint. Even the Rap part during the Chill-Hop section is really well done I have to say. More reliant on catchy vocal melodies than actual lyrical hooks this time out but the results end up about the same in terms of how much enjoyment both I and probably a lot of you reading this will get out of this song.
“time magic lonely” from what I’ve seen would appear to be the featured song from this particular nuance release. I’m basing that purely off of it having its own EP and a live MV of sorts but I could be wrong so please feel free to correct me on that. Assuming I am right, it’s pretty easy to see why this song would be a standout on this and many other releases from plenty of other groups for that matter. The instrumental is once again very heavily driven by synthesizers, which spend much of their time trying to decide between more off-beat rhythms or just playing things straight up with a bit of a Lounge kick to the overall mood of the song. The foundation is really strong but the aforementioned split personality of the composition keeps you guessing and is a fairly smart way of keeping things fresh while not totally overdoing it to the point you’re going to be turning people off. For me though the stars of the show are once again the vocals, which is really how it should be shouldn’t it? Like on “tomodachi” the delivery is little bit different to the Idol norm, but it once again makes for some really catchy hooks and a few moments where I found myself going “There’s no way they just did that, that’s genius!” so that’s always a good thing in my mind. A more mature performance once again, like on the previous track, but with this infectious energy that’s sure to have you humming along in no time at all. Great stuff, highly recommended.
Trying to follow a song like “time magic lonely” with anything close to a similar style or energy would be a very difficult thing to do. So instead nuance opt to change things up quite drastically with “kara kurenai”. Acoustic guitar and light piano paint a very different tone right from the beginning of the song, giving off a rather sentimental feel that’s wrapped up in a warm atmosphere. Not the most energetic of instrumentals, initially at least, but again I can see what they were thinking with this song’s placement. Fear not though dear reader, around the midway point of the song there’s a pretty big uptick in both energy and tempo with the beat picking up and some of the fringe elements of the instrumental like the drums and percussion taking on a much more pronounced role. A pretty unexpected but really cool change of pace. The vocals are kind of what you would expect based on what I’ve been describing so far. Bit of a Ballad sort of style which is fine though nothing revolutionary, but the melodies were pretty nice so that’s definitely a positive. Much like the instrumental they got a lot more interesting, to me anyway, after the mid-song change-up and a bit more variety in the tone and delivery came into play. Not really my type of song as you all know by now, but there’s quite a lot here that I liked and the latter half of the song was an unexpected but very welcome surprise.
I’m not really sure why, but for some reason when I read the song title “cosmo” on the tracklist I rather quickly decided that I was going to be very disappointed if there wasn’t some sort of space theme to the mini-album’s penultimate track. Really silly of me, but when the opening instrumental kicked in and sounded like this spacey, Chill-Hop sort of thing I was actually really surprised and happy. What I wasn’t expecting was for the vocals to really heavily feature the sort of flow that you would expect to go along with this type of instrumental. It’s almost a spoke word style at times, and I’m vaguely reminded of the sort of thing that Haru Nemuri might do though perhaps she’s just the most recent example in my mind. There’s also a pretty subtle build to the song overall which eventually sees things really pick up and get a little bit chaotic even, which further backs up my Haru Nemuri comparison. I suppose it’s a slightly more sped up version of the style of off-beat Pop that nuance have featured on many other songs on this release but I guess it goes to show that you can make a song sound quite different just by changing up a couple of elements. I feel like this song might be the most hard to digest out of everything so far as it does throw quite a bit at the listener but if you’re into that well calculated kind of chaos with a heavy splash of Chill-Hop then this might be one of the most compelling songs on this mini-album.
Closing track “buriki no machi” gets off to a fairly weird and wonderful start with several rather odd sounds being produced from what could only be a synthesizer. An underlying beat and melody arrive on the scene after not too long and the instrumental starts sounding a little bit more conventional and tied together. It’s makes for quite a pleasant ambient feel to things, with some pretty significant input from the bass guitar, which does quite a lot to make the song sound fuller than it otherwise would have if it was just a selection of synthesizer patterns being looped over a beat. Quite a lot of cool little instrumental parts embedded into all of this too with the guitar riffs that seem to move around the room being of particular note to me personally. No major changes throughout the piece either, just some nice ambient beats to relax to. Speaking of relaxed, the vocals are pretty relaxed on this track. Not too low in tone but nice and natural sounding with once again some rather nice melodies that weave their way among the instrumental, providing even more complimentary tones to what was already a very nice piece of music. It’s a bit of a Ballad sure, but if you dress it up all nice like this then you’re not going to be hearing many complaints out of me. Perhaps a bit of a subdued note to end things on considering everything else we heard on this mini-album but man, it’s really pleasant ain’t it?
On the surface both nuance and this mini-album might not appear to fit with the sort of stuff I normally review on this website. However if you take a minute to dig a little deeper you’ll discover an Idol group that while looking fairly conventional on the surface, have no problems exploring and questioning just how much you can actually do with a Pop song. If you’re into that trendy, somewhat abstract J-Pop sound then I really can’t recommend this mini-album highly enough.
Considering I knew absolutely nothing about nuance (…don’t) before this review, I feel like I really need to go back and check out some of the earlier works. If they’re anywhere near as interesting and open to experimentation as the songs featured on this release then I think I’m going to be in for a pretty good time. Either way, I’m definitely going to be keeping much closer tabs on them from this point forward. Really good stuff here folks, please do check them out.