My thoughts on “botän”, the latest mini-album from nuance.
Release Date: December 18th 2019
2. I know power
4. Harbor Moon
5. Which’s Witch
7. Kitto itsuka
2019 was a year of discovery for me when it comes to new music and new Idol groups. Sure, it meant I’ve been writing way more than I used to but there’s been so much cool stuff that I want to share with you that it has been an absolute pleasure. There have been several surprises along the way and I’ve ended up enjoying quite a few releases from groups that I probably wouldn’t have even given a second glance this time last year.
One such group is nuance, a four piece idol group based out of Yokohama who are produced by Sato Kafu. They’ve been putting out music for a couple of years now, but my first introduction to them was their recent “town” mini-album which I reviewed for the site here. I really enjoyed that release and it seems like a lot of people (Japanese fans especially) liked that I covered them so that was nice. At the end of writing it I was left with a sense of anticipation as I really wanted to hear what the group was going to produce next.
Well it wasn’t a long wait and now it’s over with the release of nuance’s new mini-album “botän” which carries with it the overall concept of trying to “find a new self” if my still quite poor Japanese is anything to go by. What that means as far as the music goes is anyone’s guess though, including mine. There’s 7 tracks in total so quite long for a mini-album but if it’s anything like nuance’s last one then I expect that we’re going to be in for a pretty good time here. Well, I hope we are anyway but there’s only really one way to find out for sure. Let’s get into this.
The mini-album opens with “tsukeru” which is a short 40 second intro track I suppose. It’s a bit of an odd one really, though the repeating synth melody and beat that comprise the majority of the instrumental are effective at creating an enjoyable little composition that’s pretty fun for what it is. There aren’t vocals as such on this track but the nuance members do chime in from time to time with various sound effects, literally, which works with what the instrumental is doing though it is a bit of an odd listen until you figure out exactly what is going here. Not a whole lot to say other than that, these short intro/interlude tracks really are becoming a popular thing again it seems and they’re perfectly fine for what they are in the majority of cases. This one included.
“I know power” is the first proper track from this release and what a name that is for a song, isn’t it? The thumping bass of the opening drumbeat is the first thing to greet the ears upon pressing play before some wind instruments are brought in to provide the song with a bit more of a melody. It makes for a pretty dramatic sort of mood, at least that’s what I was picking up anyway, but in a much less traditional sense than most J-Pop songs are known for. The vocals come in fairly quickly, adopting some of the instrumental’s tempo and dense tone but still providing a fairly melodic Pop experience. The lyrics have a really cool flow to them and despite it not being your typical Pop song everything is quite catchy still. The chorus offers up something a bit brighter, which was probably a good call, with the instrumental taking on a bit more of a funky dimension at this point which was something I also thought was pretty cool. After the first chorus the song sort of goes off in a bunch of different directions; bringing in flashy guitar riffs, aquatic synths and a host of other elements while somehow still managing to maintain some semblance of cohesion. The vocals really helped with that I think, keeping to a similar flow for much of the track but injecting energy and more power to the delivery at appropriate moments. A bit more on the experimental side than most people are probably used to but I had a pretty fun time listening to this one anyway.
Up next is “Amatsubu”, which brings together elements from Electronica and the world of Orchestra for its opening instrumental which works out pretty well if you ask me. They definitely worked in that idea of water they were going for pretty well too, which given the song’s title means “raindrop” is some pretty clever though perhaps somewhat predictable thinking. The vocals when they come in are nice and clean, which is great because nuance have some really good vocalists and they should be showing off their talents as much as possible in my opinion. The lyrics are pretty catchy, with some nice melodies worked in too though the overall tempo of the song is bit on the low side so you’re probably not getting yourself too worked up while listening to this all happen. The chorus provides a bit more energy so that’s nice, but I’m in two minds as to whether I like it or not. The bright, soaring synthesizers are a bit by the numbers though the beat remains pretty interesting throughout and the vocals show off some nice range, but they’re kinda getting a bit lost in the shuffle which I think is a shame. It’s also just not as catchy as what’s going on in the verses to me. Not a bad song by any stretch but I feel like the chorus is the weakest part of it and I’m not sure if that should be the case here.
Experimentation seems to be the name of the game on this mini-album for the most part, and that trend continues into its fourth track “Harbor Moon”. I got fairly tripped out by how the song opened, initially acting like it was going to be some kind of Jazz or Lounge style arrangement but then bringing in some glitchy synthesizers which I definitely did not see coming. I’m not really sure it should even work but somehow it does after a bit of getting used to. I also didn’t expect the vocals to have a Rap-like flow to them either but that’s how the opening verse opens and in fairness it is a style that compliments the beat of the somewhat odd sounding instrumental rather well. The song’s choruses are what actually ended up sounding more like what this song was going to be from the outset, a nice rich Lounge style instrumental with some nice, smooth vocals with a rich tone and some catchy lyrics. I suppose in the end they did actually give me what I wanted but if I had to choose I do wish that the rest of the song sounded closer to what the chorus does. They definitely did some pretty interesting things with the instrumental here, I can absolutely appreciate that and the vocals are really good in the verses as well. I just feel like the Idol take on the Rap style of vocal has been pretty thoroughly explored at this point and nuance didn’t really bring anything new to the table in that department.
A song with a title like “Which’s Witch” tends to…conjure up certain ideas in ones head of what the instrumental for such a song might sound like. Those ideas certainly did not include a Piano Pop song at any point though, which is what this track chooses to open on. It’s really energetic and upbeat, with a pretty fun party-like atmosphere being created with the addition of a horn section. It’s also one of the more normal styles that this mini-album has thrown at us thus far which is no bad thing after the very colorful and inventive stuff that nuance have been showcasing on this release. The vocals are a bit more subdued by comparison, though still brimming with personality in the way that the lines are structured and delivered which also allows for more great melodies that this group has no problem providing. It’s a bit different sure, but it almost gives a classy vibe to the otherwise rowdy party atmosphere. The choruses turn things up a bit, with the vocals’ pitch being the main difference besides the increased energy and tempo behind their delivery. The lyrics are fairly catchy too so perhaps a bit more in line with the instrumental than the verses in those regards. It’s a pretty decent chorus as far as choruses go but maybe a little bit safe in my opinion. I suppose you could argue that about the song in general though, not that it’s a bad thing though.
I thought we were heading back to the world of Electronica when the mini-album’s sixth track “Peony” hummed into life quite literally with a sort of glitchy synth part being how nuance chose to open the track. We’re then throw a very big curveball as the song abruptly changes into this rather classy sounding City Pop inspired instrumental. Far be it from me to complain about that though, you guys know I’m quite partial to that genre by now. It’s a pretty funky composition with some really nice energy to it, and I rather liked the snappiness of the snares they used to sort of simulate a clapping effect of sorts. The vocals are really nice a smooth with the sort of flow you’d expect to hear from a song in this style, catchy lyrics too in case anyone was wondering. Then we get to the first…chorus I guess and things kinda go a bit weird with the reintroduction of the Electronica element we heard earlier. Not my favorite decision I won’t lie and the sort of scattershot approach to the sound of the rest of the song was odd too, like did we really need a Rap breakdown here? Things get back on track eventually and I’d even say that the last minute or so of the song is really strong while being pretty much a more upbeat version of the style the track opened with. I just don’t get what happened in the middle there. Kinda odd if you ask me.
Rounding things out for this release is its final track “Kitto itsuka”. Well, if this song doesn’t have one of the happiest sounding opening instrumentals I’ve heard in a long time I don’t know what does. The rhythm of the guitar combined with the beat of the drums are just so incredibly pleasing to my ears and the warmth being given off by the overall tone of the composition is just very pleasant and fun. The vocals are also nice and warm in their tone and the structure of the verses compliments the instrumentals very well, it’s almost like the song really is bouncing along and this is especially true during the chorus. Great bright melodies and an even brighter instrumental are the main feature while maintaining the overall vibe of the song that had been being built up up until that point. The lyrics aren’t trying to do anything too flashy when it comes to hooks or what have you, instead opting to sweep you up in the flow of the song as a whole though that’s not to say there aren’t some catchy lines along the way too. No weird changes of tone on this track either thankfully, just a nice straight up Pop song with nuance doing the sort of things that they do best from both a vocal and an instrumental standpoint.
“botän” is certainly a much more experimental release than “town” (review here) was, though that’s just one man’s opinion. There was definitely some pretty interesting stuff going on over the course of the mini-album but I also felt like there were a few moments where things didn’t really click for me too. nuance seem to be a group that aren’t afraid to push the envelope though and such results should be expected from time to time with groups where that is the case.
Not my favorite batch of songs from nuance but I’m still excited to see where the group goes in 2020. They seem to be gaining a nice amount of popularity of late, something that is well deserved in my opinion. They’re definitely a group that have the potential to do well and get pretty big so hopefully more and more people will keep discovering them and they can do just that. I wouldn’t complain if we got some more music along the way too, but I doubt that’s going to be much of a problem if the last year or two are anything to go by.