My thoughts on “Tokyo”, the major label debut album from CY8ER.
Release Date: January 22nd 2020
1. Tokyo Rat City
2. Tokyo Innovator
3. Yumezora Kokoro
4. Tokyo Shoujo
5. Next door。
6. Moshi Moshi Japan
7. Tokyo Identity
8. Renai Reality-sho (feat. Nakata Yasutaka)
It’s finally here folks, the first review of 2020 content on the site. I know it’s like mid-February already but hey, I had a bunch of other stuff to get to first and it’s not like the Idol scene has been particularly bountiful when it comes to new music in the opening months of the year. It’s starting to pick up a bit now though so there should be plenty of reviews and such coming your way from me in the coming weeks and months.
The honor of first review of 2020 goes to CY8ER and their latest album, the rather simply titled “Tokyo”. It’s the group’s major label debut through Victor Entertainment so it’s kind of a big deal in that sense. It does feel like its been a long time coming though so it’s cool that Rinahamu and the gang are getting some extra cash and promotion behind them after doing a rather stellar job all by themselves for the past several years. Hard work does get rewarded sometimes it seems.
Major label status brings its pros and cons as we all know, especially when it comes to the con side of the equation. That said, it also allows groups like CY8ER to work with producers like Nakata Yasutaka and Moe Shop in addition to their usual collaborators in KOTONOHOUSE and YUNOMI. That said, this album does look a little bit thin on paper with only 8 tracks featured but I’ll take quality over quantity if that’s what they’ve opted for. Lots of questions about CY8ER swirling in my mind right now and I think the best way to answer some of them is probably getting into this review so let’s do it.
“Tokyo Rat City” opens the album (well, the physical “Regular Edition” at least) with some twangy shamisen, something that isn’t super uncommon to hear paired with the EDM genre when it comes to Japanese artists over the past several years. A static laced synthesizer is brought in before too long to rough things up a bit and the song’s vocals also make their first appearance here too. They’re done in a sort of Rap style which matches pretty well with the beat and overall tone being laid down by the song’s instrumentation though I wouldn’t call it the most groundbreaking of stylistic choices. Things brighten up and get a bit softer in the lead-up to the chorus, where after a drop the song really opens up and takes on this floor filling Club style with synthesized wind instruments providing much of the instrumental melody. The vocals are super sparse here though which I feel like is a bit of a missed opportunity as the ones that are there have a nice hook to them, especially with the rapid-fire nature of their delivery. To be fair the song does retain much of the lightness from that first chorus for the rest of its duration, creating something of a contrast between its two halves. You get to hear all of the members do what they do best and YUNOMI has crafted a solid enough instrumental to accompany it all. A decent enough start to CY8ER’s first major label release.
The light, almost playful tone continues into the opening of the album’s second track “Tokyo Innovator” which sees ambient synthesizers and muted beats form the main framework upon which various sparkles and short melodies are constructed. The vocals match the tone being set very well with their dreamy, almost whispered delivery adding to the warmth and mildly fuzzy atmosphere being impressed on the listener by the instrumental. They’re also pretty catchy too despite their subdued nature which is never a bad thing in my book. The tempo does slowly start to build up over time though and the vocals start to wake from their sleepy state and get a bit more power and energy behind them also. Things do get a bit busy in the chorus in my opinion, with the vocals and instrumental struggling with each other for the top billing at times. A bit weird to have things mixed like this here as I felt like they got it right for the rest of the song but I guess KOTONOHOUSE knows what they’re doing better than I do. Though I do still sort of question that rather deep and kind intense instrumental break about two thirds of the way through the song, talk about a change in tone there. It was cool, don’t get me wrong but I’m not sure how it fits with everything else going on. A pretty short song but it did what it needed to in its just over two and a half minutes of runtime.
Brightness is once again the name of the game on the album’s third track “Yumezora Kokoro” with a very clear synthesizer melody ringing out right from the word go. It’s accompanied by some repeating piano scales to give a bit more depth to things before a pretty deep, deliberate drumbeat is also introduced to give the song a bit of a bass kick. From there an 80s style synth is also introduced as the song continues along with its comparatively slow build-up in the context of the other songs we’ve heard so far. When the vocals do come in they’re once again in that warm, mildly modulated style with just enough definition shaved off to have the desired effect but not too much to the point where things are getting muddy. The lyrics are fairly catchy for the style I suppose but nothing too crazy going on because it probably wouldn’t be that appropriate anyway. About half way through the instrumental gets let off the leash and we get a much more energetic and pronounced melody along with a higher tempo beat with a bit more vigor to it. It’s a nice change of pace for sure and injected some nice energy into an otherwise sleepy track. The vocals don’t really go along with it though which I thought was interesting but the contrast in styles once again worked out pretty nicely so we’ll chalk it up as a win for Pa’s Lam System who oversaw the production of this particular track.
It was hard for me not to be reminded just a little bit of Maison book girl at the beginning of “Tokyo Shoujo”, in a sort of “If Maison book girl did a nursery rhyme instrumental” sort of way at least. That probably makes no sense but oh well. The instrumental does have that sort of quality to it I think, with some mildly offbeat synth melodies being accompanied by all manner of quirky sounding sound effects. It’ll take a moment to get used to for sure but the end result is a pretty mellow and pleasing listening experience. The vocals are also pretty mellow, opting for soft melodies to compliment the instrumental very effectively. There’s a nice flow to things and the lyrics themselves are once again fairly catchy, something this album has had no problems with providing so far. The build-up to the chorus and the chorus itself is a more lively affair, but at the same time retaining that overall feeling of softness that was established early on. It’s just sort of like they turned the volume and tempo up a little bit and it worked out so hard to argue with the results. A couple of nice vocal hooks also feature, so they didn’t opt to dull down the lyrical content for the chorus like some groups occasionally do for whatever reason. Not a lot for me to complain about on this one, it’s a really pleasant song providing you’re in the mood for something in this style.
We cross the halfway point of the album, which feels a bit weird to be saying already by the way, with “Next door。”. Pretty distorted synthesizers mark the beginning of the track, sounding like they’re coming through a very badly broken set of speakers or something I must say. It gives the song a bit of a darker mood than we’ve experienced so far though so a bit of variety entering play here it seems. Vocals come in sounding rather melancholic and the instrumental shifts a bit at this point to some gloomy sounding ambient tones so they’re really trying to convey a duller atmosphere on this one. The song does eventually build up a bit more steam, with the introduction of a pounding beat and a glitchy synthesizer I guess marking the transition into the meat of the track. I’m not really sure I’m that big of a fan of this sort of style, it’s a bit repetitive especially considering it goes on for a good two thirds of the song and the glitchiness feels a little bit abrasive at times too in my opinion. Perhaps most odd is the fact that the vocals don’t really adapt to the change in tone of the song, sticking to a pretty similar style to how they were initially presented. That can work a lot of the time but it feels like too much of a disconnect here for me. Definitely some interesting things going on in this track but not really feeling it as a complete package unfortunately.
If you were looking for something with a little bit more energy to it then “Moshi Moshi Japan” goes some ways to providing you with that sort of thing. The instrumental is still pretty light in tone but there’s certainly more of an edge to it than the sort of songs we’ve been hearing earlier on this release. The first couple of verses provide a nice steady build-up of synth melodies and a nice light beat which accompany some vocals that are fairly vocoded but it’s CY8ER so hardly outside of the norm for this group. Again, some fairly catchy lyrics and I suppose an overall anime feel to things if that makes sense. The chorus brings in a lot more bass to the track, something that has been missing a bit from this album in my opinion so nice to hear some here at least. The vocals get a bit more loose in their delivery during the chorus too, taking on a mild Rap element at times though the lyrics do start to sound a bit nonsensical if you’re not paying particularly close attention to what is being said here. From there we go back to a slightly more energized rendition of the song’s opening style before there’s an instrumental break of sorts that got pretty groovy, which was unexpected by pretty cool. It kinda lasts for the last minute or so of the track with a few vocals added in here and there occasionally. A pretty fun track, though maybe a little lacking on vocal content after a while there.
If for some reason you put on a CY8ER CD in the hopes of there being a track with some guitars then I’m shocked to inform you that that’s what you’re going to get in the opening moments of this album’s penultimate track “Tokyo Identity”. It’s a very happy sounding composition, with some bright riffs accompanied by a nice bouncy beat and some lighthearted synthesizer melodies. Very much in keeping with the overall tone of the album but just putting a different spin on how they’re presenting it, some added variety if you will. The pacing and delivery of the vocals share in the bouncy tempo being created by the instrumental, with a thick coating of sugary sweetness applied to them that definitely fits with the overall idea of the track but might be a bit too much for some people depending on what they’re into. The chorus on this one feels a little bit weak for me personally, which was surprising given how much went into the rest of the track. I’m not really sure what the problem is as it’s pretty much the same style as the rest of the song but the slight tempo increase and the lighter vocals just don’t really sit that well with my ears. Other than that though this is another pretty enjoyable song for sure.
Closing out the album is “Renai Reality-sho” which is probably going to be the main draw of this release for the casual listener. That’s because it’s produced by Nakata Yasutaka who I’m sure most people will know of from his work as part of the duo Capsule with Koshijima Toshiko. After a brief opening segment comprised of synth ambience and some clicking the song gets underway with an instrumental that has a (admittedly very) vague “oriental” vibe to it which is achieved very effectively with some rather simple, repeating synthesizer melodies. Oh, the clicking is still a feature here too by the way. The vocals ring out nice and clear which is nice to hear and the song slowly builds and builds towards its first chorus, shedding its more “traditional” elements as it goes for a more contemporary synthesizer sound. The chorus itself is pretty energetic and bright though the lyrical content is fairly disappointing and leaves quite a bit to be desired in my opinion. I just feel like they could have done a bit more with it is all. I’d say the rest of the song somewhat makes up for it with some pretty interesting synthesizer melodies, especially during the break about two thirds of the way in. It is hard not to feel like CY8ER themselves are somewhat of an afterthought here though as they definitely didn’t get as much of a chance to showcase their own talents as they did on the album’s other tracks. Just my opinion though.
It’s safe to say that “Tokyo” as an album has a pretty clear theme, that being warm, soft songs with bright instrumentals and light melodies. It does all of those things rather well though with a couple of disappointing moments here and there. In a vacuum where you just play this album to someone with no preconceived notions I’d say it’s a really good release. Whether it’s what fans of CY8ER as a group want is another matter entirely and I can definitely see reasons for both loving and not loving this release depending on what you’re into the group for in the first place.
2020 should be a pretty interesting year to watch what CY8ER do. They’re on a major label now and with that comes various new responsibilities and expectations. It also opens a lot of doors for them to work with new, and potentially higher profile producers too and if that does end up happening then I’m certainly looking forward to hearing whatever might come from such collaborations. For now though it’s very much waiting to see how major label life treats Rinahamu and the gang.