My thoughts on “down”, the first album from the new HAMIDASYSTEM.
Release Date: December 4th 2019
2. Semi no koe
3. Kizu no oto
4. Sonzaishinai zonzaina ai
5. Yumeutsutsu ni kisuwoshite
11. Tasogare no kimi
12. Reimei no anata
The world of Idol has all manner of odd occurrences and strange decisions occurring, even at the best of times. Some of them are of course more significant and impacting than others but there’s been plenty of times both in years past and just in 2019 alone where I’ve been left scratching my head and asking myself “Why?”. Perhaps for as much as I know I still just don’t get it, and that’s why I sit at home writing about this stuff instead of having an active role in the scene. Yeah, that’s probably it.
Take HAMIDASYSTEM for example, they had a pretty good thing going for a couple of years there and then back in March of last year it was announced that the current iteration of the group would be coming to an end. It was eventually replaced by the current version and most of the old members went on to form CROSSNOESIS (who I reviewed here recently)…who are also produced by the same people as HAMIDASYSTEM. I don’t get it but here we are and I’m going to try to make the most sense of it as I can.
“down” is the first album to be released by the new HAMIDASYSTEM line-up of Me and She. I didn’t mistype there, those are actually the names of the group’s members. I believe a good chunk of this album has been floating around on places like SoundCloud in demo form for maybe 6 to 8 months at the time of writing this but I haven’t had too close of a listen as of yet. I’m interested to see what they’re working with for this new line-up though as I rather enjoyed the previous incarnation of the group and I would to enjoy this one as much if not more. Let’s take a listen and find out how I feel by the end of it.
Deep, reverberating synthesizer tones are the first thing to greet the ears on the album’s opening track “Hizumi”. It’s not the typical way of making a statement I must admit but I definitely sat up and took notice so it was effective. Clean and rather loud vocals then begin to ring out over all of this and also mark the introduction of a drumbeat which signals that the song is starting to get its feet under it. I was pretty surprised both by how clear the vocals are and of the overall quality of them. The tone and style of the delivery sits somewhere between the dramatic and the emotionally charged, with the feeling that the melodic mask is going to slip at any moment and they emotions are going to start flooding out. The instrumental beats them to the punch though, introducing guitars which bring with them a harshness by way of some mild but still noticeable fuzz. A short interlude later and the floodgates do eventually open. The vocals trade their clarity for raw passion, which I can get behind as a stylistic choice here and even if they do get a bit lost in the roil of the instrumental it’s all just sort of playing into that feeling of a raw and very passionate performance. Lots of really cool guitar and synth work in the overall instrumental and a great vocal performance from all involved. What’s not to like?
The opening…beat I guess of the album’s second track “Semi no koe” took me a bit of getting used to I have to admit. Something being rapidly tapped on a table and accompanied by some deep bass guitar riffs isn’t the kind of thing you hear every day, or at least I don’t anyway. I’m definitely down with the haunting vocal performance though, really has that eerie vibe to it and the high notes hit by the harmonizing vocals are both chilling and impressive at the same time. I think the pretty offbeat synthesizer melody during this part really adds to the uneasiness of it all too. Then for some reason things head off in this pretty funky sounding direction and I’m sort of left scratching my head. The vocals come back in after a while, in the same general style as previously but this time they’re getting smothered by the instrumental which I thought was a shame as they were really good on their own. I like the kinda Shoegazey style instrumental they’ve got going on, don’t get me wrong but it does sort of feel like the instrumental and vocals are at odds with each other a lot of the time. Or perhaps that’s the point because if the whole goal of the track was to make the listener feel uneasy then they definitely pulled that off here.
“Kizu no oto” pairs synthesizers and guitar once more in its fuzzy and somewhat dreamy opening instrumental, so it seems like we have a bit of a theme developing here. After a little while a sparkly, somewhat video game inspired synth melody is introduced into the mix and kind of brightens the mood of the song a bit. There’s also some very faint talking in the background which I thought was a pretty interesting element to include but it made me end up paying more attention to the song. Not that I think that was the main goal or anything but hey, unintended consequences and all that. Eventually some proper vocals make an appearance, in that very clear and bright style that we’ve heard previously on this release. Very melodic and quite pleasing to listen to, though they do wobble just a tiny bit when it comes to the chorus. It’s not a big deal but I noticed it so I’m pointing it out. It’s a little unfortunate that the song drifts away from its dreamy opening the more it progresses but it was replaced with some really nice energy and a ton of passion from the vocals so I think it’s a fair trade. The fuzzier, Rock style instrumental also paired surprisingly well with the starkly contrasting upbeat synth melody which made for a pretty interesting listen especially as there was so much going on.
The ambient synthesizers that open the album’s fourth track “Sonzaishinai zonzaina ai” would honestly have been worthy enough of being the instrumental for a whole entire song by themselves. After a while however, they’re eventually paired with a pretty cool Alt Rock inspired composition with some lightly distorted guitars giving the song a bit of crunch while at the same time still allowing the more melodic synth parts the space that they need to do their thing. The vocals are also afforded quite a lot of room to work with in the verses, where we’re once again treated to some excellent clean lines that go from one end of the spectrum to the other. Great melodic highs and emotionally charged lows are both key features of the track, the former moreso during the choruses and the latter being the main theme of the verses. The instrumental adjusts to accommodate both styles accordingly, effortlessly transitioning from crunchier guitar riffs in the verses to more melodic synthesizers when the choruses hit. The track on the whole is really well structured and the instrumental and vocals flow together in a very pleasing and cohesive way despite the contrast in how some of the song’s various elements might sound on their own. Some pretty entertaining stuff here.
Synthesizer static and xylophones are the key features of the opening instrumental for “Yumeutsutsu ni kisuwoshite”, another somewhat odd combination but once again very effective at creating an interesting piece of music. Very faint vocals are once again employed here, growing slightly in volume but never really getting a lot of extra power behind the delivery. I suppose equally it could be the instrumental fading out a bit as the song gets going but it’s honestly kinda hard for me to tell. If you liked the xylophone stuff from the opening like I did then I’m happy to report that it sticks around for the rest of the song, who saw that coming right? The synthesizers also keep the static fuzz to them as well but also introduce some deep ambient tones which I think balances things out quite nicely, though I guess the static does get a little bit much for me personally after a while. The vocals are pretty light and melodic, sort of in an Oyasumi Hologram way…well from what I could make out anyway because like I said they’re not the loudest ever, especially compared to the instrumental which is positively dominating by comparison. There’s a verse or two towards then end where they do manage to break through though and yeah they’re pretty great like they have been on all of the songs previously. It’s just a shame you can’t hear them too clearly for most of the song.
Well, as far as song titles go I suppose the album’s sixth track “S” is probably about as simple as you’re ever going to get short of just not having a title at all. Thankfully the song is a good bit more complex than its title, quite a bit more actually and it wastes no time in getting started with a pretty harsh cold open to be honest. Reverberating synths give off a sort of Sci-Fi vibe while another more minor part has this kind of clinking thing going on which I’m in two minds about. Part of me likes it as it does add a brighter tone to the reverberating distortion that’s going on with the main melody but it is a little annoying too so I guess it’s kind of a wash. Thankfully it fades out once we hit the middle third or so of the song but unfortunately everything else does too and all we’re really left with is a bunch of fuzz and a beat. Not really my thing personally but I’m sure some people out there will enjoy it. The song gets back on track for the last 90 seconds or so, so it’s not a total fail as far as I’m concerned. The vocals throughout are fantastic though, a really impassioned performance from the HAMIDASYSTEM members and even though it’s more of a Power Ballad style they dress it up real nice so even uncultured swines like myself can find something to enjoy from it.
“Solid” marks the mid-point of the album and brings with it an instrumental interlude. This really is becoming a trend lately and while I don’t mind it I still don’t really get why that is. This particular one is pretty entertaining at least, building off of a cool guitar riff by slowly adding in ambient synth tones, a catchy beat and finally a main synthesizer melody. It’s pretty repetitive, which is saying a lot considering it’s only about 75 seconds long but it serves a role and does it pretty well. Part of me even sorta wishes that they’d have done a full song in this style so make of that what you will. Not too much to say apart from that really so let’s stop there and get back into the meat of the review.
Eight tracks in and the album finally produces a title track, not that it’s something you expect from every release but I kinda had a feeling that one would be coming here at some point. Opening up, things are sounding very much like a Ballad with a pleasant sounding synthesizer melody with a bright tone being the main feature. There’s a bit of guitar going on in the background but more on that in a bit. The vocal performance here is once again great, nice harmonies and a strong emotional delivery seem to be this unit’s strong suit and they’re happy to play to said strengths as much as possible it seems. Watch out for those guitars though, they’re slowly building up in the background while all of this is going on and a drumbeat gets mixed in along the way too, all of this leading up to the first chorus where the song gets a somewhat needed injection of energy and the instrumental starts putting out a bit more rhythm thanks to the now much more prominently featured guitars and drums. The vocals keep to a similar style as they started out with for the most part but there’s a bit more of a spring in their step which was nice and the melodies were great here too. I always think a self-titled song should be a decent representation of what it’s named after and I think HAMIDASYSTEM did a good job of representing the overall idea of their album with this one.
We take a bit of a break from all of the synthesizers and digital stuff next, with “Aizō” opting instead to focus more on the guitar and drums side of the HAMIDASYSTEM equation for a change. There’s still a bit of synthesizer in there to compliment things, but the story of this track’s instrumental is very much the warm fuzz of the guitars and the gentle, reassuring beat coming from the drum kit. It’s another exploration of that Shoegazey, Dream Pop style that has cropped up one or two times before on this release but this would be one of the most prominent examples of it in my opinion. I really like how the instrumental almost sounds like it’s swirling around the vocals, present but still giving them the space needed to shine. Shine is a good word to use actually, as that’s what the vocals on this track do. They ring out nice and clearly over the instrumental during the verses and the chorus, where some other groups would have them buried deep in the instrumentals. Both production styles have their merits of course but I’m really liking what HAMIDASYSTEM are doing here and the contrasts in tone that they’re showing off. Even if you’re not super into all of the weird synth stuff on this album I think this track might be something that you’d want to check out if you’re into any of the stuff I just mentioned above.
“19sai” is a really interesting mixture of a lot of different musical elements that it’s kinda tricky to describe just exactly what it sounds like. When the song begins you’ve got a little bit of a piano melody accompanying some acoustic guitar and also a synthesizer that’s throwing off ambient tones into each channel in an alternating pattern. It’s a little disorientating at first due to that last thing I mentioned but I’d be lying if I said that the sum of all of the parts wasn’t pretty interesting and quite different to anything else that we’ve heard on the album up until this particular point. The vocals aren’t really going out to be too flashy on this one, with the lyrics being sung in a pretty natural tone for the vast majority of the song which plays well with the more acoustic lean that the instrumental has anyway. Nowhere to really hide on this track, not that they need to because as ever the melodies are really nice and I’m sounding like a broken record. They do pick up towards the end a bit though, as does the instrumental with the tone getting a bit brighter and the synths taking over a little bit more. For a kinda weird, acoustic meets synthesizer track this is one of the best I’ve heard in a while.
I spent a good portion at the beginning of the album’s penultimate track “Tasogare no kimi” wondering to myself if the instrumental was building to something or if there was going to be some kind of abrupt change in style at some point but neither of those things ever really ended up materializing. Most of the song is comprised of the gloomy synths and very fuzzy guitars that you hear right from the off and yeah it creates this really jumbled up and uneasy atmosphere but you do sort of expect it to start going somewhere after a while. Now granted towards the end of the song things do liven up a bit but for about three and a half minutes before that you’re left to wade through this dense, tangled mass of harsh synths and fuzzed guitars. It’s something a bit different sure, and I guess it did disguise the fact that this song is otherwise a very dramatic sounding Ballad from a vocal standpoint quite well but I don’t know man. The vocal performances themselves have great emotion to them and that haunting sort of style we heard earlier makes a return so I was pretty happy about that too I suppose. I don’t particularly dislike anything about this one, apart from it not really going anywhere for a long time, but in the context of the rest of the album I wouldn’t say that this was one of the brighter highlights.
Rounding out this rather colorful release is the album’s final track “Reimei no anata”. Ambient synth tones form the basis of the instrumental, upon which the main beat and lighter melodies comprised of various sounds and minor instrumental are built. It’s a pretty relaxing mood being created right from the start of the song and that’s something that continues if not as the main theme then certainly as an underlying one throughout the rest of the song. The alternating pattern of synth tones being fed into each channel is back on this track too, so if you liked or hated that when we heard it previously then that’s something to listen out for. Vocals are once again in that bright, melodic style that HAMIDASYSTEM have spent the entire album showing off how well they can execute it it feels like. Things pick up a bit around the middle of the song, with the instrumental gaining in tempo and rhythm while the vocals are allowed to flow a little bit more freely. This gives the song an enjoyable change of pace which it maintains for most of the rest of its duration. Not the flashiest note to end things on but an enjoyable one all the same and a pretty nice representation of the sort of album this is and the sort of group that HAMIDASYSTEM appear to be going forward.
While I’m not sure that the title totally fits the themes presented, “down” is a pretty enjoyable album and this new HAMIDASYSTEM appears to be getting off on the right footing. I will say that the vocals did feel a bit samey at times, but I suppose there’s only so much you can do with 2 members while trying to play to both of their strengths as performers. There’s a ton of interesting things going on in the instrumentals of almost all of the tracks anyway though, so it’s not like any of the songs ended up sounding too similar at least.
I wasn’t sure what I was going to make of this album coming into this review and I figured it might be a tough sell due to my enjoyment of the previous incarnation of HAMIDASYSTEM. Well, this new iteration is definitely a bit different but it’s really enjoyable in its own way and I’m looking forward to seeing where things go for both this group and CROSSNOESIS in 2020. It’s still a pretty weird situation but at least the outcome appears to have been a positive one so far.