My thoughts on “Himawari”, the fourth album from Toricago.
Release Date: April 30th 2020
1. Sabishi sawa naru
5. Senjō no Christmas
6. Tōmei ningen
8. 100 nichigo ni shinu
Do you guys ever have this situation happen where a group kind of crops up on the collective radar of the fandom but for whatever reason you just kinda let it pass you by? I try not to let it happen, especially these days, but there’s definitely been a few down the years. Maybe the concept didn’t wow me or the music didn’t particularly catch my ear, for whatever reason I just didn’t get it at the time and in this instance I’m not even sure if I’m going to get it now.
Toricago are a 5 members group who have been doing their thing for around 2 and half years at this point I believe. They seemed to be fairly popular with western WACK fans for a minute there from what I remember, so that was something. One of the big things about them is that they’re self-produced, but I’m not sure if that’s still the case since signing to KING RECORDS last year or not. Either way, to get to that point under your own power is something to be commended for sure.
That’s pretty much all I really know about the group honestly, apart from the release I’m talking about today being their fourth album. “Himawari” comes bearing 8 tracks which I believe are all brand new but in my case pretty much anything this group has put out is going to be brand new. I guess I’m coming at this with a true “potential new fan” perspective so that should make for an interesting review I hope. Not really sure if they’re going to end up being for me or not but I’m never going to know unless I give them a chance, right?
There’s a sort of rustic charm to the opening instrumental of the album’s lead track “Sabishi sawa naru” with its mildly fuzzed Jazz style arrangement creating a pretty warm and inviting atmosphere. Pretty upbeat stuff so we’re starting things off on a positive note it would appear. Things are eventually toned down a bit with the introduction of the vocals but not too much, with the instrumental still adding in a supplementary flair or two as the Toricago members do their thing. Speaking of which, we’re treated to a nice smooth and rich array of vocal tones which are very much in keeping with the sort of style this song is going for. Definitely a sort of throwback vibe we’ve got going on here, though I suppose the mild distortion is a more “modern” production choice. The instrumental also gets a lot of airtime by itself, with pretty much the middle third of the track being entirely that and it’s very enjoyable so fair enough I suppose. They do also pack a lot of vocals into the closing moments granted, and things take on a slightly more chaotic dynamic during this time as well. Not how you would typically lay out an Idol song but by the end of it I definitely didn’t feel like I’d been left wanting for more vocals or instrumental parts so at least in my opinion this one was executed rather well and I had a very pleasant time listening to it.
Second track “Cake” is pretty darn short by today’s standards, just managing to get a little bit above 2 minutes in total runtime. My eyes kinda glazed over when I heard the shamisen in the opening I’m not going to lie, that kind of stuff has honestly been done to death at this point in my opinion. A very quick transition into a more distorted Rock style instrumental brought my attention back however, with its bouncy beat and a piano melody that is very faint but still providing the track with just a little something extra to keep the ears entertained. The vocal performance is equally as spirited, with some really nice energy being given off especially in the chorus. There’s a time or two where I did think things started get a little bit too out of control but they pulled it back pretty quickly so no big deal. Also quite a lot of solo instrumental parts again here, which given how short the track is I thought was a fairly brave decision. There’s a decent amount and variety of vocals but it’s just a bit weird to see the instrumental get almost as much importance placed on it I suppose. Not sure I would normally be going too far out of my way to listen to this track myself personally, it’s occupying a fairly congested and well worn part of the Idol genre at this point. But in the context of this album it’s another fairly enjoyable and fun listen.
Every Idol album needs to have at least one Ballad of sorts and it looks like Toricago are getting in there early on this release with “Kujira”. The instrumental is a pretty interesting mix of acoustic, electric as well as synthesizer elements so you’ve got quite a lot going on but after you unpack it a little it’s hard to say that it doesn’t all work rather well together. It makes for a nice warm atmosphere once again and the slightly muffled nature of the vocals certainly adds to that fluffy sort of feel that they seem to be trying to put across on this one. The chorus sees things pick up quite considerably however, with a lot more intensity from the instrumental and an outpouring of emotion from the vocals, which are delivered in a very technically impressive way. A couple of nice hooks sprinkled in too which is always good to hear from a chorus in particular. From there we get another fairly interesting instrumental interlude that introduces several new toys to the toy box by way of percussion and wind instruments more specifically. This is all to build up to the closing few verses of the track where things really do come to life quite vividly, with yet another powerful vocal performance and a fairly intricate instrumental that tries to bring together all of the threads that make up this track. A bit of a journey this one but they made it pretty interesting along the way and that’s half the battle when you’re trying to do something unique with this type of song. Not bad at all.
It feels like we’ve reached the midway point of the album in no time at all, and with it comes fourth track “Shōtotsu”. An upbeat Rock instrumental with a very catchy lead guitar riff is the first impression that you’re given of the track and in my opinion it’s a pretty good one. Nice, bright and loud stuff and in a style that should have fairly wide ranging appeal. The vocals take on a bit more of dramatic tone in their delivery, which perhaps sounds a bit weird on paper but it compliments the instrumental used in the verses rather well. Said instrumental itself is fairly straightforward with some repeated guitar riffs and drum patterns not really going out their way to try and steal the show from the vocal performance this time around. I was expecting a bit more from the chorus though, both vocally and instrumentally for that matter. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, it just sort of sounds pretty similar to what’s going on in the verses with no real attempt to make it stand out too much. Catchy lyrics and a decent melody or two for sure but it kinda feels like it’s missing a little something extra. Toricago do to try to make good on that towards the end of the track though, with a pretty awesome guitar solo bridging into the closing sequence of the track that does actually contain more of the sort of energy I was hoping for out of its several choruses. Fairly straightforward stuff here, but a fairly fun listen all the same.
It’s a bit odd to see a song with “Christmas” in the title pop up on a release in April but I guess it’s probably Christmas somewhere right? “Senjō no Christmas” doesn’t exactly exude that sort of holiday cheer, nor perhaps should it given the song’s full title. There are some shimmery elements to the track’s dreamy, Synth Rock style instrumental so you can draw a slight connection I suppose but either way I’m really liking the atmosphere that is being developed early on here. The vocals play along a bit too, though the lazy fuzz to them is kept fairly minimal in favor of letting the members’ natural vocal tones do much of the talking so to speak. Interestingly the guitars and synth during the verses get fairly layered and complex even while being kind of pushed to the back so the vocals get their time to shine. Lots to listen out here for that’s for sure, I think I even heard some percussion in there too after a while. The first chorus adds a lot more energy to the composition, along with quite a bit more synthesizer ambiance and lot of this is carried through to the remainder of the track too. Some fairly catchy lyrics on offer as well, all structured in a very ear pleasing way. Another very deliberate and somewhat off-topic bridge/interlude later and the song is building up to its climax and then that’s all she wrote folks. Solid, crowd pleasing stuff here.
Despite the fairly energetic guitar lead in to the album’s sixth track “Tōmei ningen” there was just something about the tone that was screaming softer, Ballad-y type things to me. Nothing wrong with that of course but I just find it interesting that I can pick up on stuff like that these days. Oh I was right by the way, with all of the evidence that you need being presented as soon as the vocals made their first impression on the track. They’re sung in this nice, natural sounding tone and a kinda mid-tempo pace that’s pairing well with the drumbeat and warm, understated guitar riffs that comprise the bulk of the instrumental. That’s sort of the story of the song here really, it finds its comfort zone and stays in it, outside of a few flashier guitar parts here and there and maybe a slightly increase in intensity for the choruses but nothing to out there on that front. That said, the very inoffensive nature of what Toricago are doing here would likely make this song have fairly wide appeal so there’s definitely something to be said for that. I kinda feel like I haven’t really said enough about this track but there’s not a ton to really discuss. It’s perfectly fine for what it is, just don’t expect it to knock your socks off.
The album’s penultimate track “Yomigaeru” starts off sounding like it’s going to be some kind epic sounding, emotionally charged Rock song with a bit of synthesizer to add a bit more flavor to the mix. The vocals then come in a bit low and melancholic sounding and the instrumental goes into a bit of a holding pattern of repeating riffs and drumbeats while this is all happening. It’s all clearly to build up to the song’s first chorus though and very much a key feature of songs in this style so it would appear that I am correct in my assumptions thus far. The mood brightens over time and the instrumental begins to slowly build in intensity as well as complexity and before we know it we’re hitting that first chorus. Now in my opinion I think they could really could have opened the dam here and gone all out but they chose to be a bit more subtle and controlled with it and that’s fine too as the vocal performance is still really powerful and hits on all of the right notes so to speak. From there a good amount of the mood is maintained for the rest of the song and while I personally might have preferred them to have gone back to building things up again for another stab at the chorus later on it’s hard to argue that the result isn’t still very epic, emotionally charged and most importantly enjoyable. Pretty much what I expected, just not how I thought that we would get there.
Rounding out the album we have track number 8 “100 nichigo ni shinu”. Upbeat Rock instrumentals have been a bit of a theme on this release I’ve noticed and that’s what we’re starting out with here as well. The energetic, catchy riffs of the track’s opening instrumental get toned down a touch with the introduction of some fairly relaxed, natural sounding vocals that if I’m honest don’t totally match the initial tone we had going on here. The delivery is perfectly pleasant to listen to of course, with some really enjoyable tones and nicely structured lyrics…I guess I just expected a little bit more energy is all. The instrumental is also a bit repetitive after a while, though they do try to sprinkle the odd riff or drum fill in along the way to keep it interesting. The choruses fare somewhat similarly, but with a bit more intensity and emotion coming through from the vocals at least. Not the most earworm-y of hooks but they get their claws into you after a few listens for sure. We also get treated to a rather nice guitar solo in the bridge which is easily one of the highlights of the track. Yeah I dunno man, there’s nothing wrong with this one really but I feel like it started out with the promise of something more and never really got there. A fun listen but hard not to come away feeling just a little bit disappointed.
“Himawari” is a pretty enjoyable album and while I still don’t think I fully “get” what makes Toricago so popular with a lot of people I do think I understand it a little better now. They’re really good at taking styles with fairly broad appeal and just changing a few little things to make them sound a bit more “alternative” in nature. They also have a really strong group of singers which never hurts either and I never once found myself not enjoying the vocal performances here.
That said, I wouldn’t say I’m particularly blown away by this release though maybe past works are a better indicator of what people love so much about this group. As it stands, “Himawari” is a solid addition to the catalog of Rock-style Idol releases that will hold its own quite well against a lot of its peers. If you’re trying to dip your toes in the pool I’d say it’s a pretty decent jumping off point and shouldn’t be too jarring to anyone with more mainstream tastes.