My thoughts on “Umi to Uchu no Kodomotachi”, the latest album from Maison book girl.
Release Date: December 18th 2019
1. Kaze no ashi
2. Umibe nite
3. Yami Iro no Asa
4. Kanashimi no kodomotachi
5. No wonderland
8. Kujira kōjō
10. Nagai yoru ga akete
The Idol scene is awash with all manner of interesting styles, concepts, sounds and visuals. It’s a pretty diverse thing and there always seems to be something fresh and new cropping up every month or two that captures people’s imaginations and interest. Granted not all groups are trying to push the envelope in such a way and some stuff is a bit too out there for a lot of people. Still, if you want it and are prepared to look for it then there’s a lot of interesting things happening right now.
Maison book girl are one such group that make pushing the envelope conceptually something of a calling card. The group itself isn’t super divergent from the norm in looks or what have you but their music, composed by Sakurai Kenta, is what really sets them apart. I mean, how many Idol groups have put out a concept album like “yume” (review here) lately? Not many if any at all is how many. Sure, it was a bit difficult to wrap your head around if they’re not your thing but it did show just how far you can take the concept of an Idol album if you want to.
I wasn’t really expecting a new album from Maison book girl in 2019 if I’m being honest. They’ve had a couple of CDs come out in the past 12 months or so but it just felt a bit soon to me I guess. Well, “Umi to Uchu no Kodomotachi” doesn’t appear to be the high concept affair that “yume” was so perhaps it makes sense. It features several songs from the past year or so of Maison book girl’s output, along with some new stuff too because it would be kinda boring otherwise. I’m always interested to hear what Maison book girl bring to the table though so let’s give this album a spin and find out.
The album gets going with “Kaze no ashi” which is a short instrumental track comprising of piano, a little bit of synth and some field recording type stuff of what sounds like some pretty strong wind blowing. Makes sense given the title of the track I suppose. Not a whole lot to talk about here, I quite like the piano melody as well as the reverberating low notes and the sound of the wind does create a pretty cool atmosphere when combined with the instrumental. It’s just a short little intro track though so let’s move on from here and get into the meat of the album.
“Umibe nite” is our first proper song and it get under way in typical Maison book girl style. You’ve got a quick tempo, hi-hat sounding instrumental that alternates between channels being the most stand out feature initially before the vocals are introduced and along with them some piano to both smooth the instrumental out a bit and also provide some much needed depth. A few more percussion elements are worked in along the way as the song starts to flesh itself out, a few of them quite prominent against the more ambient backdrop of the piano and whatever other synthesizers they have going on back there. The vocals on the other hand are very bright and clean, which is probably to balance out the busier instrumental I’d imagine. In any case, it’s a great performance from all of the members with some really nice melodies and solo moments throughout the course of the track. They don’t try to do anything too odd, no weird rhythms or structure to how the lines are being delivered or anything like that. It’s just a nice, clean and natural sounding performance that lets everyone show off their individual talents as vocalists. If you’re already a fan of Maison book girl you’ll definitely like this one I think. If not, I think there’s enough here to get you hooked too.
It only took three tracks for us to revisit some previously released material for the first time. Up first is “Yami Iro no Asa” which originally featured as the lead track on Maison book girl’s most recent single “umbla” (review here). It doesn’t seem like they’ve changed much of anything between the two releases so I guess most of what I wrote in my original review still stands. Classical guitar is a little bit unconventional for a Maison book girl track, especially featured so prominently as it was starting out here. They do eventually begin to layer in some of the usual suspects when it comes to the group’s instrumentals and the song starts to come to life more and more as they do so. That mid-song, kinda ominous sounding break is still a bit weird but I guess Maison book girl’s music can be that way a lot of the time to most people anyway. It’s still a really solid instrumental composition otherwise. Vocally it’s Maison book girl doing what they do best, with each of the members trading off solo lines in quick succession to create that punchy style of vocal delivery that is a feature on many of their songs. The choruses are very harmonic by comparison which is a nice change of pace and creates a cool contrast between the two styles of vocal. Add some pretty catchy lyrics and we’re looking at a fairly accessible song by Maison book girl standards here.
“Kanashimi no kodomotachi” is up next and it’s about as close to a title track as it appears that we’re going to be getting from this album. The instrumental starts out sounding very Jazzy; with piano, a brass section and a clapping sort of…drumbeat I guess being the main things to greet the ear upon first pressing play. I’m totally down with that by the way, I really enjoy some Jazz music from time to time. The drums keep on building and building though and eventually they’re really taking over the instrumental and creating this very chaotic sounding atmosphere. There’s percussion coming through every so often but yeah, this is a bit more wild and untamed than what we’re used to hearing from Maison book girl. Even the members are letting their hair down a little when it comes to the vocals too, though granted not terribly much. Still, it’s a bit more of a fast and loose style to the vocal delivery and the tone is a bit more raw than the carefully constructed melodies we usually hear from the group. The chorus does pack a lot of that in though to be fair, with some great harmonies and catchy lyrics to make sure not everyone goes running for the hills. Something a bit different from Maison book girl and not something you probably want to hear too often but on occasion it’s kinda nice to hear them be a bit more rough around the edges.
Piano is once again a key feature of the album’s fifth track “No wonderland”, not only being the opening melody but also forming the basis upon which the rest of the song is constructed on. It’s a pretty short and simple, repeating melody but it’s quite pleasant and is effective at doing what is required of it. Acoustic guitar is also drawn heavily upon once again for the song’s instrumental, providing some really nice rhythms and a feeling of warmth to the track that adds to that overall feeling of pleasantness that we’ve got going on here. I’m not sure why more groups don’t do stuff like this but perhaps that’s a discussion for another day. On the vocal side of things, it’s a fairly typical Maison book girl performance with lots of solo lines trading off with each other during the verses and then everyone coming together for the chorus where harmonies are more of the focus. The instrumental also gets a bit brighter too which is a pretty standard technique to use in a song like this to give a change of tone without doing anything too extreme. That said, the fuzzed out nature of the bridge was a bit of a surprise and I’m not sure how well it fit with the song generally speaking but it was short enough so no real harm I suppose. Not the most standout Maison book girl song you’re ever likely to hear, but everything that it does it does well.
A second track from Maison book girl’s most recent single “umbla” makes an appearance next, with “Silhouette” being the next previously released track to join the party. You can read my initial thoughts on the song here if you’d like by the way. We get a lot more of that ominous atmosphere on this song, with a haunting opening piano piece that has a bit of fuzz on it that I personally don’t think was needed but it’s whatever I suppose. I just didn’t appreciate the crackling noise more than anything which I hope most people can understand where I’m coming from on. We get a beat to accompany it after a little while, which brings along a very weird popping noise in the right channel which I guess is intentional as it’s still present on the album version of this track. Very odd production choice if you ask me but maybe I just don’t get it. Vocally it’s a pretty powerful and rather emotional performance from the Maison book girl members and they really get to showcase their singing chops here. Some really great tones from the vocals, which is a bit different from the usual syncopated deliveries and power vocals that the group usually relies on. I suppose this style of song in a general sense isn’t really something you’d expect from Maison book girl, but they pull of this darker, more foreboding style with just as much ease and finesse as their typical material. Just with some really odd production choices added in for some reason I guess.
Speaking of that typical syncopated style, we finally get some more of it seven tracks into this album in the form of the rather oddly punctuated “LandmarK”. The song’s opening instrumental has a very familiar feel to it, with synthesizers and drums going back and forth with each other in a slightly offbeat rhythm. The tone of each is of course different to other Maison book girl instrumentals in this style but there is still that sense of familiarity here. Hopefully you like what they’ve done here because this repeating pattern of instrumentals is pretty much all that’s going into the song outside of the vocals. There’s a couple of moments with a bit of added flair but for the most part it’s a pretty simple composition. The vocals sort of go along with the offbeat nature of the song, their harmonies just being slightly out of sync so as to create an almost call and response like flow to the end of some of the lines of the verses. It’s a pretty cool way to structure lyrics in my opinion. Things are a bit more in sync for the song’s chorus, which features some particularly catchy lyrics and a really infectious energy. It’s an interesting mix of Maison book girl’s usual style and some simpler, more easily accessible melodies. Worth a listen if Maison book girl songs aren’t usually your thing in my opinion.
A song from Maison book girl’s other 2019 single finally gets its moment in the spotlight next. “Kujira kōjō” originally appeared on the group’s “SOUP” release and you can read my initial impressions of it here. It’s another track that makes you instantly go “Yeah, this is definitely a Maison book girl song” but not in a bad way, well unless you’re not partial to the group’s core sound I suppose. Synthesized percussion loops aren’t something you hear that often from Maison book girl of late but there’s plenty of them here, along with some acoustic guitar to provide a bit more depth and a more natural feeling of warmth than the synthesized beats might otherwise provide. They keep things pretty straightforward here once again, with no drastic changes over the course of the song besides a few upticks in tempo at the appropriate times. There’s a really nice, vibrant energy to both the instrumental and vocals, the latter of which is particularly obvious in the song’s choruses which are some of the more standout moments on the track. It’s hard not to get swept up in the moment while listening to this song and to me that means they’re definitely doing something right here. Sure, it’s not exactly conventional but most Maison book girl songs aren’t. That doesn’t mean that it can’t still be fun though, which this song definitely is.
As far as odd English song titles go, “Laundry” is definitely up there as far as recent ones are concerned at least. Would love to know the thought process behind it but hey it’s Maison book girl so I guess it kinda works regardless. Anyway, the instrumental is a pretty smooth, loungey sounding composition that opens with a kinda harsh repeating piano key being hit over and over. It doesn’t stick around for too long thankfully and the song shifts into the Lounge style I mentioned previously but paired with a suitably Maison book girl style beat just so it didn’t end up sounding too boring, heaven forbid. Things do get a bit more colorful, perhaps even hectic for the song’s choruses but it’s still making use of the song’s component parts so nothing too drastic in terms of stylistic changes. It’s pretty fun too which doesn’t hurt either. The vocals are kinda interesting in that the cadence of the delivery is done in such a way so as to match the beat of the instrumental. Not that uncommon for a Maison book girl song but it was pretty different here due to the style of song we’re working with. Still, more of the same great individual as well as group vocal performances with maybe a bit more personality coming through in the verses than normal, along with some nice melodies for the chorus. A bit different but in a pretty cool way I think.
The album’s penultimate track is also the final instance of previously released material to feature here. The song in question is perhaps unsurprisingly “Nagai yoru ga akete” which we originally heard on Maison book girl’s “SOUP” single. Again, you can read my initial impressions on that particular release here if you’d like. I really liked the fairy tale movie soundtrack vibe that the instrumental has going on, which wasn’t exactly where I thought the song would end up after its fairly normal opening piano instrumental but this is Maison book girl after all. Dramatic and a bit fanciful, well within the group’s wheelhouse I’m sure we can all agree. More clean vocals here, something that I’m always a fan of and something the group always seem happy to provide the listener with. The chorus is also rather catchy, in a familiar sounding Maison book girl way so if you’re already a fan of that sort of thing then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy it here either. I feel like I’ve said this a lot in this review but once again, just some really fantastic individual performances from the members vocally including more really nice melodies too. Hard to believe this song was a b-side but I guess that says a lot about the general quality of Maison book girl’s music, doesn’t it?
Come on, we all knew it was coming eventually right? The album’s final track “Omoide-kun” is the obligatory spoken word/audio drama/whatever you want to call it that always features on every Maison book girl release. One of these days my Japanese will be good enough to fully appreciate these tracks but I’m still a long ways off unfortunately, and I’d assume that many of you reading this are in a similar boat. That said, the accompanying instrumental is pretty interesting with its really rough and somewhat distorted piano notes covering a pretty wide range of moods that seemingly accompanies what is being said quite effectively. No field recordings on this one as best I can tell, which is a bit of a departure from what the group has been doing of late but I think using piano helps tie this track into the album more effectively than a field recording would have anyway. Most people are probably going to treat this as filler, but even if my Japanese still sucks I can appreciate the general idea and concept that this sort of thing brings to a Maison book girl release.
While definitely nowhere near as daring and ambitious as their previous album, I feel like Maison book girl still brought quite a few interesting things to the table with “Umi to Uchu no Kodomotachi”. They seem to be in a bit of an experimental phase right now, trying to see what other elements they can bring into their overarching sound and I think that’s pretty cool as it shows a group that is trying to grow instead of resting on it laurels.
It’s going to be very interesting to see where Maison book girl go from here. I didn’t expect an album this soon but I guess the intention is to start 2020 with a clean slate so that’s kind of exciting. They aren’t just “that group with the woodblocks and wind instruments” anymore folks and if you haven’t checked them out in a while, and I doubt anything I say is going to convince you, but you really should give at least this album a listen. Maison book girl have done a lot of growing in the past couple of years and hopefully they’ll continue to do so this year too.