My thoughts on “WONDERLAND”, the second album from Kolokol.
Release Date: February 20th 2020
1. Pale Star
7. Sennenju Monogatari
2020 is still in the process of warming up as far as the Idol scene goes, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t already been quite a few releases heading our way. Included in those are several albums, most if not all from groups who I don’t think get enough of a spotlight because they’re not a “big name” or what have you. I’m guilty of it too of course, there are only so many hours in the day after all, but since I’ve got time right now I figure why not check out something from another group that I’ve only really heard of in passing before.
Kolokol are a 4 member Idol group who should just about be coming up on their 2nd anniversary at the time that you’re reading this, assuming you’re reading close to when this article was originally published anyway. They’re under the same agency as PassCode so the fact I’m only now just getting around to writing about them is probably sacrilegious in some ways. They seem to split their time between Osaka and Tokyo from what I can gather so I’ll use that as a really lame excuse as to why I haven’t paid more attention to them in the past year or two.
“WONDERLAND” is the group’s second album and collects the main tracks from their 3 singles to date, as well as the title track of their “Bookmark” mini-album. As such it’s a pretty great jumping off point for people like me who are only really checking the group out for the first time. Longtime fans also get a couple of new tracks to enjoy as well though, as they should. I’m not really sure what to expect and I feel like I’m saying that a lot lately but I really am just grabbing stuff that seems interesting and writing about it here. Part of the fun is in the not knowing and potentially unearthing a new favorite group in the process. Will that be the case today? Let’s find out!
The album opens up with “Pale Star” which boasts a very upbeat, synthesized orchestral element as the main feature of its opening instrumental. This seems to be a popular style currently which is interesting to note I suppose. This is then paired fairly quickly with thunderous drumming and heavily distorted guitars, two styles that are pretty much the polar opposites of each other but somehow when put together just find a way of working really well somehow. We even manage to work in some piano by the time the first verse hits and with it comes some really nice vocal performances from the Kolokol members. Great, somewhat dramatic tones in which the lyrics are being delivered and said lyrical content is also quite catchy. It’s a shame they’re getting crowded out quite so much by the instrumental because if they just toned the distortion down a bit there’s a really great song under there. The chorus suffers a similar fate, though the melodies from both the instrumental as well as the vocals are doing their best to cut through the chaos unfolding around them. Not quite as strong as the verses for me but the verses are really good so don’t take that as major criticism or anything. Yeah man, kinda feels like a WACK song from last year in the sense that there’s a lot of unnecessary distortion that’s detracting from what otherwise seems like an excellent track.
Up next is “VISTA” which once again opts to open on a very bright and upbeat note but this time by way of a slightly different musical style. Instead of Orchestral elements this track makes use of a very vibrant horn section to set the tone early on, accompanied by a light but catchy drumbeat and some warm, fuzzy guitar riffs. Very pleasant all around and a good bit less chaotic sounding than the track that immediately preceded it. The vocals featured in the opening verses don’t necessarily match that exuberance, coming across as a little understated by comparison but their melodies and the lyrical content make them pleasing enough to the ear that they don’t sound all that out of place. It also helps that they eased back considerably on the instrumental as well, unlike the album’s previous track. I was kinda hoping things might have picked up a bit for the chorus but in the end all we really get is a slightly brighter, higher pitched version of what’s going on in the rest of the track. The percussion used in the instrumental is keeping that feelgood vibe going though, and it’s quite interesting to pick out the various instruments used there too. That said it’s still a bit disappointing that they didn’t elect to do a bit more, especially vocally as it feels like the song is leaning very heavily on the instrumental when I’m sure they could have come up with some more interesting stuff for the vocals to do. Not a bad track by any means but just not quite hitting its full potential for me.
Despite having a title that would perhaps make some people imagine a fairly dark, spooky sort of atmosphere, that’s far from the vibe that the album’s third track “Witch” sets out on. A pretty pleasant Piano Pop instrumental greets the ears upon hitting play, though it doesn’t stick around for too long before the song transitions into this really cool, noodley guitar riff that’s accompanied by some pretty energetic drumming. I certainly wasn’t expecting this change in direction and it made me sit up and pay a bit closer attention while taking down my notes for this review. This leads us into the song’s opening verses, which feature some great clean vocals with some nice melodies and a few good hooks to catch the ear. They’re sung in a bit of a dramatically hopeful style which is something you hear quite a bit in J-Pop and they’re backed by some punchy guitar riffs and a fairly catchy drumbeat so there’s a lot to like here. The chorus then ups the tempo a bit, with the vocal lines coming with increased frequency, but overall it’s a fairly similar style to the rest of the song. A bit too high pitched for my personal taste but I enjoyed the flow of the lyrics and while the instrumental might not be as memorable as in other parts of the song it does a fine enough job of keeping the mood light and the atmosphere bright. Some good stuff on show here; fun guitar riffs, catchy emotionally charged vocals and overall just a great atmosphere.
Once again I’m caught somewhat off guard as “Doodle” opens on a very classy, Orchestral style instrumental that definitely isn’t living up to the track’s somewhat cartoonish title. Things do get a little bit chaotic as the song moves towards its first verse though, with a rabble rousing drumbeat being the main culprit. Normally I’d be a little disappointed that they decided to go this route but I guess I’m in the mood for something like this right now because I actually thought it sounded pretty cool. The vocals are very bright in tone once again, performed in a somewhat Ballad-ish style but with a decent amount of cutting edge still left in so as to prevent them from getting lost in the rather busy instrumental that’s unfolding all around them. It’s not my favorite style as you all know, but they do enough here to keep me interested so I’m sure everyone else will manage just fine too. I also quite liked the energy that the chorus injects into the song, not needing to do too much other than upping the tempo of the drums and letting the vocals off of the leash a bit. It does get a little bit out of control at times on that latter part though, with the vocals hitting some rather high pitches and not being quite as well delivered as a result. Trying a little bit too hard at times in my opinion, but I can see why they felt like they had to here. Apart from that though I thought this was a pretty good track and the way it crescendo-ed at the end was some pretty awe inducing stuff.
We mark the halfway point of the album with a song titled “Rebellion”, which for me gives off the idea of an emotionally charged, perhaps even violent atmosphere as far as music goes. Turns out I’m wrong once again, with the song gracing my ears with a very beautiful piece of solo piano as its opener. Great, melodic stuff here and when they build in some other Orchestral elements the song takes on this high fantasy sort of vibe which I thought sounded pretty cool. Then some squealing guitars and aggressive drums rip right through all of that and so enters what I can only assume is the “Rebellion” part of the equation. Great emotion is also being pumped into the song from the vocals in the verses, adding this regretful, pained dynamic that takes us on a journey far from the sort of melodic tranquility that kicked off the song. The chorus ratchets everything up a few more notches, with the vocals becoming even more emotional and the instrumental more intense and distorted. I liked the flow and hooks of the former and didn’t care as much for how muddied the latter ended up sounding but it’s totally understandable why they went in that direction. Add in a really intense, crunchy mid-song interlude and you’re really painting a very vibrant emotional picture with this song. Perhaps I’m reading far too deeply into things but even if I am, the fact that this song was even able to put those thoughts into my head in the first place should be a pretty clear sign of how good it is from a conceptual standpoint at least.
Things calm down considerably on the album’s sixth track “Lullaby” which actually does live up to its title, with a leading instrumental that is very bright, sparkly and giving off a pretty calm sort of mood. Sure, it’s not super flashy or anything like that but it’s a pretty pleasant composition and that’s nice too every now and then. The vocals come in fairly quickly and they’re nice and clean, and fairly bright too which is pretty much what you’d expect and want from a track like this in my opinion. No crazy filters or high pitched melodies, just some natural vocal tones that let the talent of the members do the talking…or singing in this instance. The song then slowly builds to it first chorus by way of a marching band style drumbeat which leads into some increasingly higher pitched vocals and synth melodies before the instrumental really gets cut loose and we’re treated to a funky, EDM inspired melody that’s super catchy. Considering the overall style and mood they’re going for with this song, I think we got a lot more out of that chorus than many would have expected or even hoped for. Definitely a highlight of the track, as it should be. I also really enjoyed the last minute or so of the song where the verse and chorus styles sort of melted together and we got this somewhat Lo-Fi sound going on while still holding onto what made the chorus so great. I recommend checking this one out folks.
I kinda got the feeling that I was really going to enjoy “Sennenju Monogatari” as soon as the opening few bars of the song started playing and I was presented with a very pleasant piano melody and rich vocal tones that had a sort of Jazz vibe to how they were being delivered. Even more so when they brought in the string section to accompany all of that and really poured on that Classical feel to the track. I also rather liked the transition that saw the introduction of a fairly catchy Rock drumbeat along with a guitar solo that somewhat unfortunately does a fantastic job of disturbing the atmosphere that the song had been working so hard to build up to that point. Did the song really need it? Probably not but the middle ground that it ends up occupying after settle down a bit is pretty enjoyable to the ear still so I’m not hating it, that’s for sure. The vocals are strong throughout, be it the richer, more mature style of much of the verses, the more frantic emotionally charged delivery during the choruses or the in-between style they find themselves in as the song progresses. Sprinkle in some fun little guitar riffs and a catchy piano melody or two along the way and I’m not finding too many bad things to say about this song. The back half of this album is starting out strong, at least as far as my personal tastes are concerned anyway.
It feels like opening a song up right away with vocals is a fairly uncommon thing in Idol these days, but that’s what Kolokol opt to do on the album’s eight track “Bookmark”. They provide the bulk of the song’s melody in its opening moments, being backed by a pleasant but understated Dream Pop inspired instrumental track. They do however add a bit more texture to things as the song develops, introducing additional elements like lightly fuzzed guitar along with piano to round out the track’s sound a bit more. We get pretty close to full on Piano Rock at a few points but never quite commit fully to it, not that either of the song’s styles or a combination of the two are a bad thing in my book. The vocals are very much positioned to be the stars of the show for the most part however, with their bright melodies coming through loud and clear no matter what might be going on in the instrumental. There’s a nice range of emotion on display, as well as vocal talent when it comes to delivering the song’s lyrics which are fairly catchy but not in an overly aggressive way. The chorus is also rather strong on the track as well, and one of the few moments where things get a bit rougher around the edges by way of increased distortion and fuzz. It does make the instrumental a bit muddied but not to the point where it’s completely drowning out the more subtle elements of the chorus like its piano and vocal melodies. The more dramatic tone the track picks up towards the end is also pretty awesome with some really great piano parts getting a chance to shine. Lots to like about this song for sure.
We’re rapidly approaching the end of this album, but there’s still a couple of songs to go. The first of which is “Fragment” which has a really great build-up of a catchy synth melody paired with an equally effective beat as a means of getting the track under way. It eventually evolves into this Ballad sort of style with a pretty funky sounding lead guitar part that’s definitely doing a lot to keep things feeling fresh. Vocally speaking the opening verses are definitely performed in what most would consider to be a Ballad style. Fairly low tempo in their delivery with lower vocal tones and an emphasis on the sort of emotions you’d expect from this sort of style. It’s all also backed by some fairly inoffensive piano, drums and muted guitar riffs. The chorus does provide the song with something of a shot in the arm though not anything too crazy admittedly. The emotion behind the vocal delivery gets a bit more raw and there’s more variety in the tone and pitch as a result which was nice to hear. The instrumental also loosens up a little bit and spreads its wings some, though still very much in keeping with the overall style of the track. That’s pretty much the bulk of the song, outside of a cool instrumental bridge towards the end and a slightly more energetic closing sequence. Enjoyable stuff though perhaps not the flashiest of songs in the context of the album as a whole.
Closing things out we have “Fanfare”, which unlike its title doesn’t get off to the most lively of starts. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with the song’s ambient synthesizer melodies and understated guitars and horns that it opens with. I was just maybe expecting a bit more energy is all. The vocals aren’t trying to provide much of that either, though once again their lower tones and more measured delivery are perfectly pleasant to listen to. Even more so when things begin to pick up a bit and they start to flow a little bit more freely. The instrumental during this time is a bit of a mixed bag for me though, as while I do enjoy the ambient style they’re going for it does feel a little bit washed out when you bring everything together. I think the most obvious example of this comes during the chorus, where even the vocals are starting to get encroached on a bit too much by the fuzz and such that’s happening in the instrumental. Though to be fair the lyrical content is fairly catchy and the delivery is as great as ever but I would have liked to have seen the members given a bit more room to breathe there personally. There are some less busy and more melodic moments both vocally and instrumentally later in the track though so my critique is far from a sweeping one and the instrumental also provided some pretty enjoyable piano and guitar parts along the way too. Kind of a microcosm of this album for me so a fitting note to end things on in my opinion.
I feel like “WONDERLAND” start off a bit slow for me personally but it turned things around by the time I got a few tracks in. I’m not a huge fan of fuzz and distortion when it’s suppressing more interesting instrumental elements as you all know, so there’s a few tracks where it took the shine off a little. I think the overall vocal performance from the group as well as the genres and styles incorporated into the album on the whole just about balance it out though.
Considering this was my first real introduction to Kolokol as a group I have to say that my first impression is mostly a positive one. While “WONDERLAND” doesn’t really set out to reinvent the wheel with the genres it’s working in, I feel like it’s going to be one of both the stronger and more underrated albums of 2020. I’ll also be adding Kolokol to my list of groups to keep tabs on going forward as I definitely heard a lot of things I liked from this release. Hopefully I can be equally if not even more impressed whenever they release their follow-up to this album.