My thoughts on “Hana uta”, the latest mini-album from caeca.
Release Date: April 15th 2020
2. Seiun shōjo
4. caeca no MUSIC
5. Akai kutsu
6. Yubisaki ni himawari
As you’ve probably figured out by now, I do actually have my own preferences when it comes to this music thing. Of course I’ll listen to pretty much anything but like most people I do have my biases and what have you. Said biases tend to be towards energetic Punk style songs or fuzzy Dream Pop/Shoegaze compositions but I try to give everything a fair go where possible. After all, who knows when a group from a genre you don’t usually particularly care for might come along and surprise you.
By all accounts I really shouldn’t be all that interested in a group like caeca. With their very (by Idol standards) normal, straight laced sort of look and focus on vocal melodies as one of the main “instruments” in their songs it’s all sounding a bit like a pretentious way to say “we do “Traditional” sounding Idol music”. Not so however, with Sakurai Kenta of Maison book girl fame and Takahashi Hyouri on production things are definitely a bit more than they might initially appear.
“Hana uta” is the latest release from the group and comes in the form of a mini-album, following on from the “caeca no MUSIC” EP (review here) that came out last September. It’s being billed as the culmination of the group’s first year together, which would explain why there are several familiar songs featured. There’s also a couple of new tracks included too so if you’ve been following the group for a while or are just about to check them out for the first time then we should all be pretty well catered for here. That seems to be the idea at least!
Much like with many other groups these days, caeca also elect to kick off this release with an intro track. It’s pretty simple stuff, just a 20 second audio clip of the members singing a few lines acapella to give you a little hint of what to expect from the rest of the release. Despite there being no instrumental track involved you’ve got to admit that you don’t exactly miss it, with the vocals packing in more than enough harmonies and melodies to carry things all by themselves. Not much more to say other than if you’re not impressed by this performance you might have a hard time appreciating what’s coming up next.
“Seiun shōjo” is the first proper track from the mini-album, and originally featured on caeca’s “caeca no MUSIC” EP that I briefly mentioned earlier in the article. You can check out my initial impressions here if you’d like to by the way. The combination of piano and acoustic guitar that comprise the bulk of the song’s instrumental is as pleasing as ever, and the tempo created by the drumbeat just makes for a very cheerful mood. The vocal side of things never really leaves you wanting as I’ve discovered and that’s definitely the case here with the caeca members putting in a very warm, rich performance with some great melodies that make you feel like you’re floating along on a lazy summer’s day. It’s a pretty carefree sort of vibe and one of the first times we ever really got to hear caeca with a more casual sort of take on their, usually quite regimented by nature, vocal work. For that reason it’s probably my favorite song that the group has released up to this point, it just all seemed to fall into place pretty much perfectly on this track. The vocals and instrumental work seamlessly together to create a really vivid atmosphere and there’s a bunch of piano involved which is never something that you’re going to hear me complain about. Starting off this release strong, that’s for sure.
Next up we’re treated to our first piece of new material from the mini-album, well it’s new to me at least. “Saffron” once again makes pretty heavy use of both the piano as well as the acoustic guitar, but in a much more different style than we heard on “Seiun shōjo”. Here the instrumental takes on a much more retro feel, with a fairly prominent 70s-ish influence making itself known in a lot of the piano playing as well as in the way the lyrics are structured and delivered. There’s still all of the great melodies and harmonizing that you’d expect out of caeca but you can tell that they’re going for a slightly less contemporary style by how things are paced and sung. There’s also a bit of a Lo-Fi component to the instrumental that’s not overly obvious but does add a nice warmth to things in my opinion while further adding to that retro kind of feel they’re going for. One thing I would say is that at a shade over 5 minutes in length this track is a little on the long side. It wouldn’t be so bad but outside of the last minute or so it doesn’t feel like there’s a destination in mind and it’s hard not to notice how repetitive the drumbeat gets after a while. Outside of that though, if you’re into your throwback/revivalist stuff then I think this track will find a home in many of your playlists.
We’re back to more familiar territory once more, with “caeca no MUSIC” making an appearance as the mini-album’s fourth track. Indeed, the title track of the group’s previous release also features here and gets decidedly higher billing than on the release that bears its name too. Again, you can check out my initially impressions here should you wish to. Incredibly experimental by caeca’s standards, which is a little odd given the song title and you hear it pretty early as Sakurai Kenta dusts off the Maison book girl playbook to give us all manner of snaps, clicks, water drips and what have you to build the foundations of the track. Things eventually take on a more Jazzy tone with the introduction of guitar and piano and some pretty upbeat drums. The song then proceeds to flip between these styles rather effectively for the rest of its duration. The vocals also see a fair bit of experimentation, with rapid fire lines being a big feature but we do also get a slightly more typical, but with a perhaps more Poppy take, vocal compliment as well. It’s kind of hard to believe that a song like this can actually work as well as it does but after this many years being into this whole Idol thing I’ve learned that nothing should really surprise me when it comes to songs from Japanese producers these days. Different, but still highly recommended.
“Akai kutsu” is the second new track to feature on the release and it’s also a pretty long one, clocking in much like “Saffron” at a little over 5 and a half minutes in length. The solo piano piece that opens the song definitely gets your mind thinking that this one is heading in a Ballad sort of direction; with its bright, mid-tempo tone creating a pretty pleasant atmosphere as each note rings out and into the ears. Anyone doubting the Ballad angle should be convinced once the first set of vocals come in, matching the tempo of the instrumental with a nice, clean performance that’s certainly going for substance over style I think we can all agree. If anyone didn’t really get the whole “using their voices as an instrument” thing I mentioned earlier, then this song shows pretty effectively what caeca mean by that. Sure there’s a piano in play but that’s pretty much the only instrument used throughout the song. Everything else is put on the vocals and they play their part very well, providing additional melodies and tonal changes as the song moves through its several progressions before ending off in a way that perhaps felt just a bit underwhelming to me personally. Not the sort of thing I typically look for, but it’d be hard for most people not to be impressed by the vocal performances on show here I think.
We make our third and final trip back to the “caeca no MUSIC” EP for the mini-album’s penultimate track “Yubisaki ni himawari”. As one last reminder, you can read my initial thoughts on that release here if you’d like to. The Sakurai Kenta influence is pretty apparent on this track I think, with quite a bit of percussion and syncopation featuring along with some pretty deep synthesizer tones that make for quite the listening experience if you’re doing so through half decent audio equipment. The ambience of the latter pairs very well with the patterns and rhythm of the former and that’s even more apparent once the song really starts to pick up and get moving. There’s just this really great groove and vibe to the whole thing, assuming you’re open to enjoying this sort of stuff anyway. The vocal performance here is pretty solid, which is almost as if I’m insulting caeca right now by saying that but they’re doing their thing and doing it quite well. There are however times where the vocals do have a bit of a tussle with the instrumental and they don’t always fully win out either. Even with that said, they add some really enjoyable melodies to the overall track and the lyrics are well constructed so that they flow nicely with the accompanying instrumental. A very interesting listen in my view.
And so we close things out with our last new song “Poplar”, which kinda made me think of that one anime from several years back…you guys know the one. It’s also a Japanese convenience store chain but that’s besides the point. The vocals we heard in the mini-album’s intro track reappear here, which is a pretty cool way of tying the release together I must admit. They’re accompanied by an instrumental this time though, with quite a bit of percussion being incorporated with a very bright and upbeat sounding synthesizer melody. Pretty cheerful sounding stuff and with a fairly catchy beat to it as well which I appreciated. If you felt like this release was lacking songs with a bit more pep to them then I think you’ll be pretty happy with this one, though it is caeca doing it their own way of course. The vocals are still very melodic and harmonic, which is of course the group’s calling card and it works well enough here thanks to the lyrical hooks and structuring. Maybe the pitch could have been a little lower in a few places, but that’s probably just a preference thing on my part I suppose. It’s a fun song with some great vocal melodies, a catchy chorus and a whole bunch of interesting instrumentation going on as a backdrop for it all. What’s not to like here exactly? I’m struggling to find things personally.
“Hana uta” was billed as a culmination of caeca’s first year as a group and I think it definitely lives up to that tagline. You got the main songs that have propelled the group to where they currently are, along with a few newer ones to give us a hint of what might be coming next. Not the usual sort of thing I review here but caeca’s ability to experiment and incorporate an arguably seldom heard vocal dynamic into their songs under a veneer of Traditional Pop is pretty fascinating to me and hopefully some of you guys too.
That said year two is off to a pretty rocky start for caeca, though you can say the same for pretty much every group so far in 2020. Hopefully this whole pandemic deal doesn’t derail them too badly though because they are one of the groups that have captured my imagination of late and I want to hear more from them as they expand on both their sound as well as their creative vision. I get the feeling that I might be waiting a bit for their next release but who knows, the only certain thing is uncertainty these days.