My thoughts on “Pink”, the first album from RAY.
Release Date: May 23rd 2020
1. Fading lights
2. Butterfly effect
3. Sekai no owari wa kimi to futari de
4. Blue Monday
7. Tōtoshi anata no subete o
8. Hoshi ni negai wo
9. no title
12. All need is love
While I would never claim to be a particularly active participant in the Western side of this whole Idol fandom thing (not these days anyway), I’d like to think that I still pay enough attention to know when a group/release/song has some buzz around it. I can’t say that I always understand why the buzz exists in the first place but in a community where it seems very hard to make an impression, when a group comes along and manages to do so I tend to sit up and take notice.
RAY are one such group currently getting quite a bit of buzz and initially I wasn’t really sure why. They’ve been active for coming up on about 18 months or so and have had a couple of singles in that time but I never really paid them too much attention. Well apparently the 4-piece are pretty much the spiritual successor to “Dots”…and so things began to make a bit more sense. I was also fairly partial to a bit of “Dots” given my Dream Pop and Shoegaze background but I was but a mere casual fan in comparison to some people I know.
“Pink” is RAY’s first album and it boasts quite the credits section. The combined songwriting power of bands such as Ringo Deathstarr, cryuff in the bedroom and ForTracyHyde is all being put into this release and I listen to these bands in my private time and quite enjoy them so good things abound I hope. I also believe there is an old “Dots” song or two on this release but its been a while so I’ll do my best to pick those out as we come upon them. Yeah, fairly high expectations for this one I suppose given the pedigree and what have you but who knows, right? This thing also weighs in at a hefty 14 tracks so we should probably get going here and stop burning daylight.
“Fading lights” opens the album with a fairly bright sounding, Shoegaze inspired instrumental that’s sounding a bit more on the energetic side than can sometimes be the case with songs from the genre. Bit of an odd title for your album’s opening track in my opinion but hey, what do I know. With a lack of much else to listen to, I did find myself thinking that the instrumental was a bit repetitive which I get is supposed to be a part of music but I dunno, my mind went there I guess. Vocals enter the fray after a while and they’re pretty typical of the slightly more Dream Pop leaning songs of the genre, featuring some very melodic and ethereal sounding deliveries that you’re never going to accuse of being overly intense or high energy but very pleasant to listen to nonetheless. It’s still slightly bothering me that the instrumentals seem so repetitive and straightforward though, they definitely are going somewhere but taking plenty of breaks along the way it seems. That said, this track definitely has a strong chorus which can be a bit hit or miss in the world of Dreamy Shoegaze but they managed to get some good hooks in there and the instrumental woke up a bit too which was cool. Ebbs and flows from start to finish on this one and about as an accessible introduction to the genres involved as you’re likely to find. Not bad.
I’m assuming the repeating drumbeat that leads off second track “Butterfly effect” is some kind of nod to said animal’s wings flapping but maybe I just went looking for a connection that isn’t there while waiting to see where exactly the instrumental was going. I was reading “warm, fuzzy, Indie Rock thing” and that is kinda where we ended up but damn did they take their time getting there and boy were those guitar riffs repetitive when they did come in. Call me impatient but they could have made it a bit more interesting, or switched to a different riff once the vocals eventually showed up even. Speaking of which, the vocals once again are very nice and melodic in that sort of hazy, ever so slightly lacking in definition style that has been proven to pair very well with this style of music down the years. Nowhere near as ethereal this time as that just wouldn’t be appropriate and things do sound quite a bit more natural as a result. More catchy hooks feature in the chorus too so keeping things fairly accessible once again, while introducing another branch of the genre tree to potential new listeners. I’m not really saying much about instrumental anymore because honestly, outside of a couple parts it’s pretty much just the same riff repeating over and over again to the point that I kinda just wanted it to stop. Props to the vocals because they definitely carried this one in my opinion.
Okay not going to lie, I thought I’d accidentally clicked onto Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” when I first heard the opening riff of “Sekai no owari wa kimi to futari de”. It quickly brings in a bunch of fuzz and a slapping drumbeat but that foreboding riff remains and you can’t help but get the feeling that the song is building up to something, but it’s hard to say exactly what. I also feel obligated to point out that the brighter, more melodic guitar riff is so damn repetitive and just refuses to go away no matter what else is going on in the track…well, for the most part anyway. It’s a cool little riff but man, it ain’t that cool. The vocals are a bit more processed on this track than the previous one, kinda higher pitched with an almost reverberating echo effect or something going on which does work pretty well in the verse so no real complaints there besides it being a little hard to focus on them due to that one riff. The pitch does feel like it goes a bit overboard in the chorus however, reaching heights that both make it a little hard to pick out the lyrics being sung and also not interfacing in a particularly complimentary way with the more pointy, fuzzed out instrumental accompanying them. That said, the instrumental in the chorus is awesome in its intensity and density of tone and was definitely a welcome break from what is going on in the rest of the song. This is a weird one for me in that I like pretty much everything they’re doing here but that one thing really does just about as much as it can to ruin the experience for me. It’s kind of unfortunate really.
I think that it would be pretty fair to say that the opening sequence of the album’s fourth track “Blue Monday” is easily the harshest instrumental arrangement that we’ve heard thus far. It has this kind of glitchy thing going on, the guitars are coated in a pretty thick distortion layer and the cymbals and drums are very harsh and metallic sounding on the ear. It’s a pretty cool way to build up to what you’d expect to be a pretty intense opening verse…but then it all kinda just dies when the vocals come in. What they do do with the drum machine and guitars is pretty catchy, if a little repetitive once again, and it gives the track some nice energy while the vocals provide a light melodic element…it’s just kind of not what I expected I guess. Midway through the song the beat begins to build up once again and I wonder if perhaps they’ll pay it off this time but once again they don’t really go anywhere with it and it’s back to the thick distortion, clanging cymbals and what have you until there’s a reprieve of sorts and the song launches back into that glitchy drum machine style from earlier. At nearing five and a half minutes in length I felt like I’d more than had my fill by the time this one had run its course and found myself enjoying the drum machine element less and less over time. I also felt like the chorus was pretty lacking too which is a shame because things did start out pretty well for the most part.
I actually had to go look up what “Nemophila” meant when I saw it as the title of the album’s fifth track. Turns out it’s a genus of a particular type of flower, so I guess I learned something new today. There’s nothing very floral or delicate about the track’s opening instrumental though, with deep drumbeats and reverberating synthesizer distortion being the main things coming through early doors here. It’s pretty repetitive once again though there is something of a hint that we might be building up to something eventually…maybe. It doesn’t really pan out though and as the vocals eventually come in over pretty much the same instrumental we started on and I can’t help but feel a little bit disappointed about what could have been. The vocals are nice enough, back to that higher pitched more ethereal style we’ve heard earlier in the album and it does a good job of breaking through the fuzz and what have you that’s going on around it. The melodies really create a nice contrast with the harsher instrumental. Maybe about three quarters or so into the track’s near 5 and a half minute runtime things mellow out a bit instrumentally and we get a nice calming bridge of sorts before everything gets ramped back up for the song’s closing sequence. Could have really done with a lot more variety out of the instrumental on this one in my opinion, it just didn’t really go anywhere until near the end there.
Warm and very dense guitar tones are the name of the game that “Meteor” is playing and that’s very apparent right from the second that the song starts. The ears are awash with these very bright, almost dreamy tones coming from the guitars which aren’t so much fuzzed out as they are…softened and lacking clear definition around the edges is how I suppose I would choose to describe what I’m hearing. It makes for a pretty warm and soothing atmosphere which is nice given some of the harsher moments we’ve been through up to this point on the release. Again there’s a drumbeat in there that’s tempting us with the promise of something more but I’m learning to discard those notions at this point. Vocally I’d say the verses match the intensity of the instrumental, in that they sort of just float along in this lazy haze and do about as much blending in as they provide the song with a more melodic element. They do kinda lose me at the choruses a bit, because things really do get quite muddied instrumentally, outside of a more melodic lead guitar part that is very much appreciated at these particular points. The vocals do their best to pile on some more melodies but I’m not really vibing with the more repetitive lines used here. A bit too droning for my personal tastes. There’s a few more interesting guitar parts towards the end of the track and I never really found myself bored while listening but at the same time I wouldn’t say I was paying particularly close attention to the song after a while.
I just want to start off by saying that I really like the opening guitar riff of “Tōtoshi anata no subete o”, like a lot. I’m also rather enjoying the drumbeat that’s accompanying it. Could have maybe done without the distortion that gets introduced after a short while personally but I get that we’re trying to keep to a theme of sorts here so all good. You can have too much of a good thing though and that’s kind of how I started to feel as the song progressed and, outside of a few parts, the same guitar riff and drumbeat were pretty much the standout components of the instrumental. It’s fine if it’s going to be the main hook, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like they could have colored in the lines a bit more if you catch my drift. The vocals are mostly alright, sort of sung in a Ballad style but covered up by some instrumental distortion and a bit of reverb to make it a bit less obvious. A pretty nice performance until the end there where they just start making whale noises into the microphone for some reason. The instrumental got a lot more interesting during that part to be fair, with some nice melodic synthesizers creating this hopeful, sweeping sort of vibe. I just don’t really get why they needed to add a minute and a half to this track to include this is all. Bizarre and not exactly in an interesting way either, not sure what they were going for here honestly.
Eight tracks in and we finally come to a track in “Hoshi ni negai wo” that I was honestly expecting more of the album to sound like really. It starts out with a nice, bright and kinda ethereal sounding Shoegazey Dream Pop instrumental that’s very genre appropriate in its lazy, and somewhat hazy style that it’s being performed in. It’s building up a nice atmosphere as it slowly comes to life more and more, with the vocals playing into the somewhat melancholic mood being presented while also providing a cleaner melodic dynamic to what’s going on. None of it is super energetic or high tension but when it comes to this style it really shouldn’t be anyway. After a while the distortion gets turned up on the guitars and the drums get a bit more urgency behind them as a very deliberate change in tone occurs when we enter the song’s first chorus. Things get a lot more intense and dare I say frantic even, and this is reflected in the vocals to a slightly lesser degree but the change in pace and increased emotion behind their delivery is certainly noted here. The track then proceeds to flow back and forth between these two main styles, with the odd breakdown or spoken word interlude included along the way. It’s a fairly typical sounding Shoegaze song but unlike much of the rest of this album so far, I felt like it actually tried to go somewhere and there was some good variety in the instrumentals so I’ll be chalking this one up in the win column I think.
There is a very strong sense of irony that one of what is easily the album’s more interesting songs comes bearing a very dull and nondescript title. It doesn’t get much more nondescript than “no title” folks, but don’t let the name fool you as this one is going places. Uptempo Indie Rock is what we’re working with on this one, mildly fuzzed and slightly dreamy sounding to be keeping in line with the rest of the album of course. Very bright, energetic guitar riffs catch the ear rather effectively and are assisted by some slightly wailing synths and a catchy drumbeat. Much like many of the other tracks on the album, it takes a while for the vocals to show up but when they do they’re also rather energetic which is pretty cool to hear. They’re still appropriately dreamy and such of course, but there’s a nice energy to the delivery and several nice lyrical hooks to compliment what the instrumental is bringing to the song too. The chorus does get a bit too high up there in pitch for my personal liking, and probably most people’s too to be fair, which is a bit disappointing but in some ways this track is almost like one long, continuous chorus with how many hooks and riffs it’s bringing to the party so it’s a little easier to overlook. Despite that small wrinkle, this is easily one of my top tracks from this album so far. It’s catchy, dreamy fun, what more could you ask for?
Tenth track “GENERATION” comes with the distinction of being the album’s shortest track at just a hair over 3 minutes. Not that hard to achieve when most of the others are pushing on towards 5 minutes though to be fair. Once again we’re treated to a pretty upbeat Indie Rock sounding instrumental, which tends to suggest this actually being a change in musical direction as opposed to a one-off thing which is kind of interesting. Still a healthy amount of fuzzed distortion coming from the guitars though, don’t you worry about that but yeah something a little different and a slight trend appearing to develop here. I’m really liking the flow of the lyrics in the verses too, they’re delivered at a pretty decent clip and are quite catchy too despite their rather soft and mellow exterior. Could have maybe had a tiny bit more of a bite to them in places but I get what they’re trying to go for here and it’s far from a deal breaker. The chorus is kind of along the same lines as on the previous track, though they don’t push the high notes quite as much this time and I think the song benefits from it personally. I wasn’t overly sold on the hooks the first couple of times I listened to these choruses but after a while they definitely started to grow on me. Quite a few subtleties in this one despite coming across as a fairly typical Indie Rock song initially, worth a play or three for sure in my opinion.
How about something with a bit more of an Alternative Rock lean to it? Well, that’s what RAY are kinda doing on “Silhouette” with the instrumental taking on a slightly harsher fuzz component that is very effective at knocking some of the shine off of the rather melodic Rock instrumental that’s trying its best to do its thing despite the distortion’s best efforts. The clash of styles do compliment each other rather well though, and the end result leaves us in the fortunate position of getting the best of both worlds; an instrumental with a bit of bite to it as well as a rather catchy melodic element. Vocally, RAY don’t really deviate from their typical script here for better or worse. The soft, kinda washed out treatment given to the vocals does work here but it can be a bit of a struggle to compete with the rougher edges of the instrumental at times. The chorus is pretty good still though, with some nice soothing melodies sweeping the listener along as the instrumental buzzes around it. They could have gotten away with injecting a bit more emotion into it than they ended up doing in my opinion, but these are the vocals you’re getting if you’re listening to a RAY track it seems. Not a huge deal, just something to be aware of and it’s not like it’s bad or anything. The instrumental is great, the vocals compliment it well, I just would have done things a bit differently is all.
We enter into the final stretch of the album with one last RAY original in “All need is love”. I feel like they might have missed a word out in there somewhere but I can’t quite put my finger on where. This one weighs in at a scale tipping 6 minutes in length, making it far and away the longest (original) track on the album. We get treated to a pretty bright opening instrumental, with a fairly catchy lead guitar riff being supplemented by some fuzzier notes and a pretty pleasing drumbeat. A little bit of synthesizer also gets worked in over time before things calm down a bit for the opening verses. The vocal performance is very natural sounding and the instrumental is giving it plenty of room to breathe, though I wouldn’t have minded something slightly more interesting personally. I’m just impatient though, because that does come after the first chorus, where the song fully leans into the style it was presenting in its opening sequence and we get something that’s bit more balanced and lively. I really enjoyed the chorus on this one too, some really catchy vocal hooks on offer despite the very RAY style of their delivery though to be fair this is one of the more energetic performances on the album overall. You know what, I didn’t even really notice that this track was 6 minutes long while listening to it. That’s kind of impressive honestly, and probably say a lot about how much I enjoyed the experience.
To close out the album we take a look into the past, with RAY…covering I suppose, a couple of Dots songs that a few of you might be familiar with if you followed that particular group at all. First up we have “Slide” which does a pretty great job of constructing this really dreamy, shimmery sort of atmosphere with the instrumental’s incorporation of ambient synthesizers to supplement its fairly mellow guitar and drums. The lead guitar riff is bright and very apparent in the mix, giving the song a fairly strong melodic component in conjunction with some of the more strongly defined synthesizer parts. Vocally it’s pretty much what you would expect from a song like this; fairly light in tone, with a little bit of modulation to give things more of that dreamy sort of feel and to tie in with the instrumental a bit more closely. They turn it all up even more for the chorus, so if you’re not a huge fan of whispy, high pitched vocal work then you might not be having the best time on this particular track. I liked it well enough when it originally came out and it’s still good here but 13 tracks deep the style is a bit fatigued by this point. That’s totally unfair of me of course but I’m the one writing the review so it is what it is.
Finally we drop the curtain on the album with a RAY rendition of “Satellite”. A 7 minute closing track is a bit of a big ask honestly but it’s a fairly important Dots song so if they’re going to include some in here then this one had to make the cut. It’s really only about 5 minutes too honestly, as the last 2 is just instrumental until it all fades out. This one goes pretty heavy on the fuzz if you’ve never heard it before, sounding more along the lines of what I would consider to be Shoegaze but I know better than to present opinions as fact on the internet. The drums are creating a pleasing, steady tempo and the guitars are catchy and energetic which shows Shoegaze doesn’t always have to be super fuzzed out and droning. Well, at least the instrumental is packing in the energy because the vocals are kinda just doing their own thing and being very “my pace” in their sleepy tone. They wake up occasionally to provide a bit more emotion during the odd part or two but for the most part they’re just kinda chilling out and letting the instrumental do the bulk of the heavy lifting here. The last two minutes of the track are totally unnecessary in my view but this is a very much loved song so fair play to them for keeping it alive with this new group.
“Pink” is a fairly interesting album in my mind, though not for all totally positive reasons. I feel like the front half of the album is a bit boring and repetitive as far as instrumentation goes, it kinda felt like each song got given one really good riff and then played it to death. The second half of the album is much more of a compelling listen in comparison with a lot more variety and intricacy involved, though the inclusion of two Dots songs probably doesn’t make for the most fair of comparisons.
So yeah I kinda get the hype around this release in that it’s technically Dots under a different name, but musically it’s a little bit lacking for me. I say that as a fan of Shoegaze and Dream Pop, as well as several of the people who contributed their songwriting talents here too. If you’re already into this stuff it’s still a fine release of course, but I would say that this one is probably being aimed more at attracting new listeners to the genre, which is great. Just adjust your expectations accordingly is what I would say.