My thoughts on “The Both Sides of the Bloom”, the first album from xoxo(Kiss&Hug) EXTREME.
Release Date: September 9th 2019
2. Hatsukoi no tōrimichi
4. Salty Sky
5. Time and tide wait for no man
7. Rinne ~rinne~
8. Idol no meikai kudari
Well, that was nice little run of reviewing some more well known releases from groups that plenty of people are sure to have heard of by this point. What say we get back to that whole “reviewing stuff I might have otherwise missed” thing I’ve been banging on about all year and take a look at something that I imagine is a little less heard of and appreciated than the majority of the stuff I’ve been reviewing recently. Man, I sure hope this album is good after that set-up.
xoxo(Kiss&Hug) EXTREME claim to be the first and perhaps only Idol group that produces music based around the Progressive Rock genre. The group currently consists of 3 members and 1 trainee, and has been active for about 3 years at this point. They’re a group that I’ve seen brought up in conversation in passing from time to time and I think I’ve heard or song two over the years, but much like a lot of stuff I just haven’t ever made the time to really check them out. Well, that changes today.
“The Both Sides of the Bloom” is the group’s first full album and not only does it have a brilliant title it also has a pretty interesting concept too. That being that the album apparently tells the story of the life of an Idol. The fact my Japanese sucks and I don’t currently have any lyrics in front of me is going to make this a tricky review but I’ll try to do my best here folks. I’m definitely intrigued by the concept and I don’t mind a bit of Prog Rock every now and then so on paper this should be an interesting listen. Let’s find out if that’s the case in reality and get into this thing.
Rather fittingly, the album begins with a song titled “Birth” which is presumably in reference to the start of someone’s Idol career. I say presumably because the lyrics aren’t exactly clear on that, instead alluding to things like self doubt, wanting your voice to reach people wherever they are and the beginning of a dream. I’m getting ahead of myself though, so anyway the song opens with sort of 80s inspired synthesizer instrumental which vaguely reminded me of “Jump” by Van Halen for a second. It ends up building into this pretty funky sounding arrangement that combines proggier elements with synths to create a great groovy vibe. I liked the lo-fi treatment of the vocals during this part as it felt pretty authentic and true to the sources they were drawing influence from. There’s then a mid-song transition that sees the synths fade away to be replaced with a more symphonic sound, with the tone shifting to something a bit more melancholic and dramatic. The vocals come through nice a clear here and have a haunting quality that works really well with the mood. There’s then a brief reintroduction of the more Rock sounding style that is heard earlier in the track towards the end of the song before things close on a rather long orchestral piece. A lot to digest here, even after several repeat listens.
Up next is “Hatsukoi no tōrimichi” which sees us experience the thoughts and emotions behind a girl’s first love. Crushes, wondering if the other is thinking about them, wanting to hold hands, crying when things are difficult…oh to be young again, am I right? A lovely, repeating piano melody opens the song before some light drumming and in my opinion a slightly too dominating synthesizer are introduced to accompany it. Thankfully the synthesizer makes way for the vocals before too long and the instrumental settles into this fairly pleasant sounding arrangement with the piano being a key feature along with some deeper bass guitar notes. It’s a bit of a Ballad, as most songs involving love and such typically are but the energy does ramp up some during the last minute or so of the track where the synthesizers reappear along with a touch of fuzz and a slightly quicker tempo to the drumbeat. Throughout all of this the vocals are bright, at times earnest and tentative and unsure at others. The melodies are pleasant and while the lyrics aren’t going out of their way to be super catchy they do a decent job of being just that. It’s a Ballad at the end of the day and it’s not generally my thing, but this is a pretty solid example of one.
I’m not totally sure I understand what the subject matter for the album’s third track “Orange” is exactly, but it kinda seems like it’s talking about unrequited love or something to that effect. If you have a better understanding of the lyrics, feel free to let me know in the comments if you like. This song is kinda ridiculously long at just under 7 minutes in length but it’s not really in that much of a hurry to get anywhere judging by the sedate, loungey vibe that the opening instrumental is giving off. The vocals follow suit, being delivered in that low, breathy style that works so well with genres like this. We get a bit of momentum going after a while before the song abruptly changes into this sort of uneasy Polka thing for a little bit. Definitely didn’t see that one coming folks. We’re then treated to a bit of Piano Rock before returning to a slightly more energetic take on the Lounge style instrumental we started with. I’ve probably missed a ton of stuff out here but it’s a 7 minute song so you’ll have to forgive me. The only thing that doesn’t change that much throughout the song is the vocals, which retain their rich, smooth qualities while the instrumental transforms around them. They’re already great and they work with everything else going on, so I appreciate that they didn’t try to do too much with them here.
If you thought that the last song was a little on the long side then “Salty Sky” at 7 and a half minutes blows that out of the water. This song seems to be about reflecting on the past and trying to come to terms with mistakes that might have been made or words that were said. Or I could be totally wrong because my Japanese still sucks. Anyway, the song opens feeling pretty sparse with just some light guitar and a bit of piano being the main features. It’s all pretty lowkey and subdued, until the vocals come in and a drumbeat gets added but even then it’s all still pretty low tension. It’s quite pleasant though, especially the vocals which ring out nice and clear thanks to all of the room they’re afforded to work in. Things build further still with the introduction of a flute melody that isn’t something you hear very often but boy was it fantastic here. There’s then a minute long intermission mid-song which doesn’t seem like it’s that necessary honestly and we’re right back to a similar instrumental style as we had before that. There’s noticeably more vocal harmonies in the back half of the song though so they keep it fresh in that regard at least. This is a really enjoyable listen, especially if you like mellow, slightly Jazzy stuff. I still don’t think it needed to be 7 and a half minutes long but they kept me entertained for most of it so hats off for that.
“Time and tide wait for no man” isn’t just the title of this album’s fifth track, it’s also a pretty old saying. It basically means that no matter how powerful someone might be, they can’t stop the passage of time. That’s kind of what the song is about, but with a slightly more positive spin on it in that it also talks about living for the moment, trying your best and always chasing your dreams. The synth tinged Rock sound from earlier in the album makes a return on this song and with it comes a spark of infectious energy that while enjoyable in their own way, wasn’t quite present on the past couple of tracks. The overall tone is still kept pretty light but there’s some great hooks in the synth melodies and the drumbeat makes it so you can’t help but tap your foot and nod your head. I’m definitely getting some strong 80s vibes from this one too so if you like your throwbacks definitely check it out. Vocally it’s kinda surprising because there’s a ton of English on this one, quite well sung English at that. There’s also some great solo moments along with some pretty nice harmonizing for the chorus and there’s just this fun, positive energy which makes sense given the lyrical content. I feel like we could have maybe gone a bit further than we did in 5 and a half minutes but as it stands this is really fun one I’d definitely encourage you to seek out.
Things take a pretty dark turn on the album’s sixth track “Utsu。” or “Depression” if you want the English translation. A side of the business that probably isn’t talked about enough, and given the dark lyrical content of this song and all of the references to “giving up” and “throwing it all away” perhaps it’s something that should be talked about more. The song’s instrumental is a chaotic sounding but very well structured blend of many of the genres we’ve heard previously on the album so far, with Lounge combining with Prog Rock combining with Orchestral combining with flutes for one big, beautiful mess. I’m not totally sure if this was supposed to represent the swirling thoughts and the highs and lows that come with a disease like depression but if it was this is a pretty great artistic take on what goes on in a lot of peoples’ heads, mine included. This is sort of mirrored vocally as well, with the verses having a lower tone and darker mood and the chorus being much brighter and more energetic in comparison. It’s all very beautifully delivered and much of it is quite catchy despite the rather dark lyrical content. It feels kinda weird saying I really enjoyed a song like this but it’s art right? And sometimes art isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
The album’s penultimate track “Rinne ~rinne~” (the first bit was in kanji, I tried) is a bit difficult for me to wrap my head around lyrically. It talks about the changing seasons and there’s a whole lot of repeated “like, like, like” of everything and “hate, hate, hate” of everything going on so probably not the happiest of subject matters. It’s actually a fairly simple song in that regard so it makes me even more annoyed with myself that I don’t totally understand what they’re talking about. Once again there’s a mix of darker and lighter moods in the delivery which makes sense, though I have to admit it was little weird hearing them repeat “hate” over and over in such a bright tone. Instrumentally speaking we get a much more guitar driven variant of the Lounge style sound that we’ve been hearing a good bit of on this release, which is fine by me as I’m quite partial to this sort of thing in the first place. There’s some really cool riffs on this track that really compliment the piano and flutes very well and it all has this sort of jam session air to it. I know I keep describing the same instruments when writing about these songs but they’re doing so many different things with them that no two tracks sound the same.
Closing out the album is “Idol no meikai kudari” or “Idol’s Descent” which sounds like an incredibly ominous title for an album ending song. It’s not quite so dark lyrically, with the song talking about the sort of things you might aspire to as an Idol like getting a member color, or your own song as well as acknowledging the love and support of their fans. The song also touches on some slightly more psychological topics such as wanting to create a new persona and the pressure of losing weight and trying to look cute. With that said, I wasn’t expecting the Industrial meets Synthwave instrumental that greeted my ears upon hitting play, I’m only half embellishing that as well. Deep bass lines and keyboard melodies fill things out with some pretty distorted guitar and then the vocals come in, singing about all of that stuff I just mentioned in a sugary sweet Pop tone. Mid song sees us take a bit of a break to explore something a bit more ambient before the song takes on a bit of a psychedelic tone and then the guitars and drums go a bit crazy with the Prog Rock, then it’s back to the initial synth style to close things out. We went on quite the trip on this one folks, but then I suppose that’s what the life of an Idol is, right?
“The Both Sides of the Bloom” is a rather complex and at times challenging album that certainly took me several repeated plays to even start to get my head around. I think the concept is fantastic though and we see something like this so rarely from an Idol group that it’s hard not to be impressed when it is executed as well as it is here. xoxo(Kiss&Hug) EXTREME aren’t afraid to experiment and take risks and we’re rewarded with some very interesting and enjoyable material as a result.
Man that was a trip. Sorry if my ham-fisted explanations of the songs’ lyrical contents weren’t totally accurate or downright wrong but it’s a concept album so I figured I’d give it a try. Speaking of giving it a try, I’d suggest that you do that with this album and xoxo(Kiss&Hug) EXTREME in general. There’s definitely no one else out there doing what they’re doing right now, that’s for sure.