My thoughts on “CARROTS and STiCKS”, the latest album from BiSH.
Release Date: July 3rd 2019
3. MORE THAN LiKE
4. FREEZE DRY THE PASTS
6. I am me.
7. NO SWEET
9. Mada tochū
10. YASASHi PAiN
13. CAN YOU??
14. GRUNGE WORLD
WACK has had a fairly busy first half of 2019, with pretty much all of their groups having released one or more CDs in the past seven months and a few even have another one on the way at the time of writing this. The Idol juggernaut continues full steam ahead, while trying ever so hard to maintain that they’re still Punk Rock, anti-establishment and all of that fun stuff. I prefer to think of them as Hello! Project for cool/edgy young adults these days myself, but that’s just me.
One WACK property has been very quiet thus far in 2019 however. I am of course talking about the flagship, the crown jewel, the group rocking the 10 inch plot armor…it’s BiSH obviously. Not much of anything on the new music front, outside of I think a digital single and maybe a cover song or two but they’re looking to make up for that in a big way with the release I’m going to be reviewing today. Starve everyone for new content then release a slew of it all at once, nice business strategy there.
“CARROTS and STiCKS” is the fifth studio album from BiSH. That’s a kinda crazy thing to say now that I’m typing it out here but it’s true, the group celebrates its 5th anniversary next year in fact. Anyway, the album is rocking 14 songs and I believe they’re all brand new so that’s pretty cool. A good chunk of it has been released digitally in EP format in the lead-up to the album coming out but I’ve held off on writing about and listening to them until I had the whole thing in front of me. That time is now so let’s hit play and see what BiSH are bringing to the table this time around.
Lead track “DiSTANCE” gets things underway with a fairly ambient style opening instrumental, consisting of strings, piano and some very light synthesizer. Vocals get introduced not long after, pretty low and smokey in tone and with a feeling that they’re swirling among the instrumental which is achieved by placing them more towards the middle of the mix. I know people feel a certain kind of way about that, but it works well enough here for me. After a fairly subtle but noticeable build the song really gets going and it’s at this point it kinda loses me a bit. The vocals sound strong, and are delivered with great passion but it’s really hard to both make them out and not be distracted by what’s going on with the instrumental. It’s really loud, which isn’t a terrible thing, but it’s so distorted that a lot of the elements sound blown out. This isn’t present for the whole song thankfully and the calmer, more tranquil moments in between are actually rather pleasant and nice to listen to. I kinda get what they were going for, creating a contrast between the two sides of the song and all that, and this certainly isn’t the worst BiSH song I’ve ever heard. It’s just not quite to my personal tastes I suppose.
Well, I certainly wouldn’t have minded some sort of warning before “TSUiNiSHi” started playing but I guess my hearing will eventually recover from whatever that noise was at the start of the song. Seriously, headphone users beware. The distortion carries over onto this track as well for what it’s worth, and I guess given the theme it’s pretty appropriate. The instrumental has a pretty heavy Industrial Metal meets Punk type of thing going on and is definitely the “heaviest” thing I’ve heard out of BiSH in a long time. Lots of screaming synthesizer melodies, heavy basslines and crunchy guitar riffs make for a very…abrasive listening experience. I’m not really sure what to say about the vocals if I’m being totally honest, they’re definitely buried in there somewhere I think. Lots of screaming, incomprehensible lines and distortion because that seems to be a bit of a theme thus far. There’s a couple of clearer moments that take on a kinda Hip-Hop flow that sounded pretty decent but everything is just noise really (man I sound old). BiSH definitely show here that they can still sharpen up their edges if they want to, though it does feel a bit like they’re trying too hard to me.
BiSH love a tie-up, and I suppose WACK in general do too now that all of their groups are on major labels. As such it should come as no surprise to anybody that there would be at least one included on this album. “MORE THAN LiKE” is one of many opening themes for the FAIRY TALE anime, a show that BiSH have provided music for in the past too if my memory serves me correctly. The tone of this song is noticeably different from the previous two on the album, taking on a much more family friendly theme to bump up that mainstream appeal. I’d probably describe it as having a fairly soft Rock instrumental but with a bit of distortion to give it at least a little bit of bite. The drum cymbals are a little bit louder compared to pretty much everything else, which is a bit jarring to me personally but it’s a fairly inoffensive instrumental outside of that. The vocals are nice and clean and you can hear the lyrics clearly which is appreciated. Definitely a very radio friendly appeal to this one which is fair enough and makes all the sense in the world given what this song is being used for. Not sure if this is a good thing or not, but this is probably the best song on the album so far. Granted we’re barely scratching the surface.
Digging a little deeper, next up is “FREEZE DRY THE PASTS” and honestly I kinda feel like filling the hole back in and tramping the dirt down for good measure. After a rather creepy, almost spoken word opening segment that was once again fairly heavy on the vocal distortion, the song screams, quite literally, into life. At least I think that’s what’s happening, the instrumental is once again incredibly distorted to the point of being mostly just static and noise so it’s kinda hard to tell. There’s a moment or two where some low harsh vocals do manage to cut through and they sound pretty decent to be fair. It just feels like a waste of a group with some pretty darn good vocalists in all honesty, especially now that there have been multiple songs in this style on the album. The songs bounces back and forth between the creepy spoken word monologue and the aforementioned Noise Rock sounding stuff and that’s pretty much the story of its four and a bit minutes of runtime. I’m sure if you’re someone that’s super into this style of music then this song is great but I didn’t find it particularly enjoyable to listen to so I suspect that it’s going to have fairly minimal replay value as far as my playlists are concerned. I’m very perplexed right now if you can’t tell.
I was actually fairly optimistic for the opening few bars of fifth track “CHOP”. It sort of felt like it might end up being this pretty upbeat, fun Digital Hardcore/Punk type of song. I suppose that is kind of what it is, if you can pick it out underneath all of the once again very present distortion. To be fair, some of the effects used on this song work pretty well like when they digitize the vocals every so often, that sort of stuff is fine by me if used sparingly. The instrumental is probably okay too, if once again it wasn’t so blown out and heavily distorted. At times I can hear what sounds like pretty cool synthesizer melodies but it’s hard to really get much out of them when they’re being drowned in pounding drumbeats and I’m assuming guitar, it’s pretty hard to tell at times. There’s a good energy to the instrumental which I guess I enjoy on some level but it’s a tough listen for this old man. The vocals when you can hear them clearly sound really good and the flow of the delivery is pretty catchy. The chorus sounds like it could be amazing too if it wasn’t being molested by the instrumental and whatever that vocal modulation they’ve done is. I’m sure I’m repeating myself at this point, but it sounds like there’s a good song buried in here somewhere.
We take another break from the…madness, or whatever you want to call it for “I am me.”. The opening instrumental has this trendy Indie Rock vibe to it that takes on an almost dreamy quality, which I personally rather like so we’re already off to a pretty decent start here. There’s still a pretty fuzzy tone as well so I guess they’re all in on this as a connecting theme of the album, for better or worse. The vocals do a pretty good job of cutting through all of that though, finally getting some room to breath and not having to navigate their way through a maelstrom of noise. The verses are sung in a pretty low, I’d call it natural, tone with both the energy and pitch ticking up several levels when it comes to the chorus, which is pretty catchy so we’ve got the makings of a pretty good song going on here. I also liked the small moments where the BiSH members get a bit playful and have some fun with the song. A little fourth wall breaking comment here and there gives the song a little bit more personality, well I got a kick out of it anyway. I also got a kick out of the guitar solo towards the end and I also found several of the little riffs they incorporated throughout the track to be pretty cool little moments that rewarded you for paying attention. Add this to my list with “MORE THAN LiKE” for favorite songs so far.
We mark the mid-point of the album with “NO SWEET” and considering we haven’t had the prerequisite Ballad yet I suppose now is as good a time as any to include it. After a rather pleasant opening sequence consisting of piano accompanied by I think electric violin the vocals make their entrance and if there was any doubt about what sort of song this was going to be then those doubts get pretty swiftly erased. Clear, fairly non-processed vocals (well, there’s a bit in places but whatever) carry the song forward as the instrumental kinda builds itself up in the background. Lots of impressive notes getting hit and nice melodies so if you’re into this style of song then you should enjoy this one. It doesn’t really shift through too many gears though honestly, finding a tempo that the orchestral style they’re working with is comfortable keeping and settling into it for the rest of the song’s duration. Quite a lot going on back there too to Matsukuma Kenta’s credit, a rather complex but well balanced arrangement so don’t think I’m trying to be unfairly harsh on the guy for everything else that has transpired on the album. As most of you know, this isn’t really the sort of song I typically go for but I like it a lot more than some of these other songs so there ya go.
After that tranquil little interlude it’s back to the loud, in your face stuff with the very simply titled “O・S”. The song features a pretty nice Rock instrumental that’s rough around the edges and puffing out its chest and doing everything it can to let the world know that it just walked into the room. I actually like it quite a bit, it has a nice beat to it and puts out some really great energy without ever getting too wild and out of control. It does start to lose me a little bit towards the end but overall this is some pretty good stuff. I sure wish I could say the same about the vocals but oh boy are they a train wreck. You have a group of 6 girls and for argument’s sake let’s just say at least half of them are very good at singing. Why then do the people producing them feel the need to put all manner of distortion, auto-tune, kitchen sink, etc effects on top of their vocals? I think their regular voices would work well enough with this song but maybe the producers think otherwise. If that’s the case though, why give them this song in the first place is my question? I dunno, I kinda half like this song but again I don’t get why we’re wasting talented vocalists by burying their voices under six feet of post production. I guess in the name of “aesthetic” or something. Next!
“Mada tochū” starts off with quite a lot of promise, presenting the idea of what sounds to be the makings of a pretty upbeat and fun Punk song. Sure, it’s sort of sounding like it’s coming through an old radio a bit but I can overlook that. What I can’t overlook unfortunately is what this song ends up turning into. I probably sound like a broken record, much like this album I suppose, but the mixing on the instrumental is just not great once again. The guitars seem to just lose all definition for some unknown reason, giving off a very dull but dominating sound which ends up smothering a lot of the other stuff that’s going on in this song. A riff or two battles valiantly through the mud every so often and one is left wondering why they should even have to in the first place honestly. The vocals to their credit do a much better job of cutting through the din and they’re quite lovely actually. The chorus has a nice hook to it, which is one thing that I will admit the song has going for it and the verses are also pretty strong though they do struggle a little against the instrumental due to their lower pitch and less powerful delivery. Again, it’s a shame that they’ve done what they’ve done with the production because there are quite a few positives to this song. Stop me if you’ve heard all of this before.
I’m not sure if the pain this album is causing me is particularly friendly, but it lets up ever so slightly with “YASASHi PAiN”. I kinda dig the grungy, Shoegaze style instrumental they’ve got going on on this track I have to admit. I don’t mind a bunch of fuzz and distortion if the song is composed with that in mind, I just don’t care for it when we’re slapping it on top of what would otherwise be a fine song. That said this track does plod along a bit, which given the 5 and a half minute runtime isn’t something you really want to be saying about a song that’s already pretty long by design. They definitely could have done a little bit more with the instrumental but there were a few pretty cool moments in here so definitely positives to be taken. Even the vocals are pretty well paired with the instrumental in this instance, performed in a sort of dramatic and pretty emotive style that match the atmosphere created by all of the fuzz and what have you. I have to commend BiSH and their producers for finding an inventive way to serve us up what is essentially a Ballad if you strip away all of the distortion. Maybe my expectations have been worn down over the course of this album but I genuinely do think this song is pretty good. Bet you didn’t see this wave of positivity coming, did you?
I kind of figured that we were in for more of the same as the opening instrumental of “iDENTiTY” started playing. I ended up being fairly surprised, in a good way, by the rather clean vocals and the pretty groovy instrumental accompanying them. I could have done with the drums being turned down just a little bit but that’s a minor thing really. Definitely some enjoyable stuff going on there, but it does kind of fall apart when the song builds up to and enters its chorus. That pretty cool instrumental we had going on dissolves into the same sort of definition lacking style that plagues a lot of this album. The vocals also take on this rather jarring, high pitched quality that isn’t the most pleasing thing to the ears though I do sort of get that they were going for a change in tone to stop the song from being too one dimensional. I feel like there was probably a better way to go about this but I’d have done a lot of things on this album differently so maybe it’s a good thing I’m not a producer. The stuff I liked does reappear fairly frequently throughout the duration of the rest of the song however so they’re giving me something to grasp onto at least. Very much a song of two halves but once again we’ve got the makings of a good song that doesn’t end up quite being realized ultimately.
“FiNALLY”…a good song? Well, yeah this one is pretty good actually. I was caught a little off guard by the opening couple of synthesizer beats and wasn’t really sure where the song was going to go initially but it ended up being pretty fun, well I liked it a least. The instrumental is this sort of Hardcore, EDM, bass heavy sort of thing which has been proven to work pretty well over the years and it remains the case in this instance as well. The beat is nice and catchy, while also giving the song a good tempo and the guitars and drums flesh things out some more and also give the song a cutting edge that it might have otherwise lacked if they hadn’t been included. I also liked that both instrumental components got a few chances to shine on their own over the course of the song too. Vocally things compliment the instrumental fairly well, taking on a very fiery quality with quite a bit of shouting and gang vocals to really drive home the sort of tone that the song is going for. There’s a few times where they come very close to losing too much definition with their wildness but I think they get about as close to the line as possible without actually stepping over it. Maybe my opinion of this song is slightly at odds with my thoughts on many other songs on this album but there’s just something about this one that grabbed me and I’m not above admitting that. It’s good, I like it.
The album’s penultimate track asks a fairly simple but rather vague question, “CAN YOU??”. I’m guessing the the other part of it is something “Can you have two good songs in a row?” and yeah you actually can as it happens. I know, I’m shocked too, but this track is actually quite enjoyable. The Punk sound that BiSH are quite adept at finally makes a real appearance on this album, in the form of an instrumental packing quite a lot of energy and a super high tempo. It’s maybe a bit more muted than I would prefer, but there’s much less of all of that distortion nonsense that has been ruining songs left and right on this album so I’m not going to complain about it too much. The guitars definitely have a pretty familiar feel to them, easy to tell that they’re a Matsukuma Kenta work that’s for sure, but the riffs are catchy and that’s all anyone should really care about. Vocally this song plays more like a Ballad, and coupled with the markedly more energetic chorus this all gives the song an even more familiar BiSH feel. Things are kept pretty clean though so at least you can hear the melodies and the chorus, both of which are quite pleasant and should have a good amount of appeal to a pretty wide audience. BiSH have done much better in similar styles previously, but context is key so this song is pretty great in that sense.
Wrapping things up is “GRUNGE WORLD”, which has the unenviable position of trying to end this album on a high note. I dunno about you guys, but if you’re calling your song “GRUNGE WORLD” I’m expecting a certain kind of song. You know, maybe one that’s pretty heavily rooted in the Grunge genre? Instead we get a beat driven Downtempo instrumental with quite a few elements of Shoegaze incorporated along the way. Could you make some sort of case for this being a bit grungy? Yeah maybe, but I feel like energy you would expect from such a song is definitely lacking here as the song takes on a more relaxed atmosphere and opts to forego the kind of intensity that we’ve heard out of many of the other songs on this release. I actually really like the vocals on this song, which isn’t something I’ve been able to say a lot in this review so I’m going to savor the moment for a second. Anyway, the flow is great and combines with the lyrics to create some pretty catchy hooks and also just a few moments where you stop and go “Man, that was pretty smart way of delivering those lines”. They’re also not buried under layers of filters and distortion so that’s good too. I guess they saved the best until last because this is probably my favorite song from this album and if it isn’t then it’s a super close second. Man, we actually did kinda end on a high note. Who saw that coming?
As you can all probably already tell, this is an incredibly disappointing album for me. I’m sure there’s plenty of people out there who absolutely love it, but I just can’t get down with all of the distortion, vocal effects and what have you that they’ve drowned an album of what would otherwise appear to be pretty good songs in. There were a few personal highlights for me for sure, but if I finish listening to a 14 track album and can honestly say I’d only go back and listen to 3, maybe 4 songs from it I think that’s a pretty big swing and a miss. Personal opinions and all that of course.
I dunno, this “Hey look guys, we’re low budget and gritty sounding! Isn’t that cool!?” thing seems to be something WACK are doing with a couple of their groups, as the recent GANG PARADE release was also in a similar style. I think it wastes the talents of many great vocalists personally but that’s why I’m not a producer and I’m just writing about this stuff on my fan blog from the comfort of my bedroom. Hopefully the next BiSH release is a bit more to my tastes but we’ll just have to wait and see how that pans out I suppose.