My thoughts on “PARADISES”, the self-titled debut album from PARADISES.
Release Date: July 22nd 2020
1. Owaranai tabi
2. TWINKLE TWINKLE
3. BRIGHT FUTURE,YOUR SMILE
8. PURE GIRL
9. Inochi mijikashi otome-tachi
10. Zurui hito
11. Aoi haru
12. GOOD NIGHT(FRESH ver.)
When it comes to WACK, there’s usually always something going on involving at least one of the agency’s groups. So things have been a little bit weird the past few months with everyone pretty much taking a hiatus as Japan attempted to ride out the worst of their pandemic troubles. No wacky stunts, headline grabbing scandals or anything of the sort as things were pretty much frozen in time for the most part. Including the establishing of two of their newest properties.
PARADISES are one half of what eventually became of GANG PARADE after the departure of Kamiya Saki. Sharing the opposite side of the same coin with GO TO THE BEDS but with arguably much less of the vocal talent, at least on paper anyway. We got a bit of an idea of what the group might sound like on the “G/P” split EP from earlier in the year (review here) but the release I’m going to be talking about is the group’s first solo effort.
So what do we have here then? Well, “PARADISES” is the self-titled debut album from PARADISES and features 12 tracks of which I believe 11 are totally brand new. It’s a similar idea to the GO TO THE BEDS album that came out alongside it (review here) but hopefully this release might feature a few more new ideas and less WACKisms than their counterparts’ did. That’s what I’m hoping for here but then I did say I enjoyed the GO TO THE BEDS side of that split EP the most out of the two so I’d say PARADISES have a bit more work to do here to impress me. Can they do it? Will they surprise me? Let’s hit play and find out!
We’re getting things going on a very Classical sounding note as the album’s lead track “Owaranai tabi” delivers a sweeping symphonic performance for its opening instrumental. It’s kinda easy to go “Oh, this is a Ballad then” and considering how the vocals are delivered when they’re eventually brought in, there’s not really anything to go against that notion. It’s a performance that features some nice clean vocal tones and this very pure sounding emotion behind it all so if you’re into that kind of stuff then I think is a pretty strong showing. The tempo does pick up a little bit as the verses move along, with a pretty nice drumbeat making its presence felt on the track. I wouldn’t really say that the vocals rise to the occasion exactly but there is a slight bit more urgency to their delivery by the time we’re getting into the first chorus. Speaking of which, the instrumental brightens up considerably here, with a little bit of light fuzz also creeping in in places. Vocally we’re still very much sticking to the overall style we’ve been hearing but with a bit more emotion behind it all which was nice to hear. After we’ve done all that it’s back to the beginning for a couple more plays through and then the track ends with some more nice symphonic sounding stuff. Not really my thing personally but it’s quite a lovely song and has an appeal to it for a pretty wide range of people I would imagine.
From there we head into “TWINKLE TWINKLE” and once again you kind of get this preconceived idea in your head that there might quite a few sparkly elements coming into play on the instrumental side of things here. I liked how we sort of came in right off of the end of the previous track before seamlessly transitioning into something a bit more lively that yes, does have quite a few sparkles sprinkled in. A bit more of a Rock component to this one which while somewhat mute did pair rather well with the piano that’s also trying to dance a few melodies into our ears. The vocals are still fairly light and clean sounding but with some more energy about them so as to mesh with the tempo being set by the instrumental. There is still this hazy, almost sleepy vibe to them but I guess that’s just how this group of singers sound I suppose. Can’t say I’m a huge fan of how busy and blown out the instrumental sounds in the choruses but the lyrical content is catchy enough when paired with the changes in vocal tones to make it much less of an issue than it could have been. I also liked how some of the energy bled through into the rest of the track over time as one of my bigger criticisms early was that we were lacking a lot of punch from a track that had quite a lot of guitar and drums going into it. They got there in the end though and it makes for fun listen, I just wish there was a bit less muting on the instrumental still.
More bright piano melodies showered in sparkles to open the album’s third track “BRIGHT FUTURE,YOUR SMILE” then. I kinda like this running theme of sorts that we have going on here but it doesn’t hang around for too long before being pushed out of the way by a new, rather energetic and very uptempo synthesizer melody that’s being kept in time by a drumbeat that’s pounding away to its heart’s content. We settle in to a fairly unassuming Rock arrangement for the first few verses, allowing the vocals a bit more room to breathe than they might have otherwise had if we’d kept up with all of those bombastic synths. A fairly similar sort of performance to what we’ve been hearing on previous tracks I must say but things do get a bit more of a flow to them by the time we’re warmed up for the chorus. Again the instrumental is a bit muddy to my ears but I like the energy that it’s bringing and the structure of the vocals and their lyrical hooks do make for a pretty catchy segment of the track. It takes until about the last minute or so for things to really get where they were heading in my opinion but it makes for a high intensity, feverish sprint to the finish line with the chorus style fully taking over the track like it had been threatening to all along. A little bit of a slow burn this one but the destination was pretty cool even if it took a little while to get there.
Fourth track “STARE” is probably the most distinctive track on offer so far if you’re asking for my opinion. Its opening take on a slightly glitchy Electronica style of instrumental definitely got my ears to prick up a bit after some admittedly fairly similar sounding material from the tracks previous to it. It eventually transitions into a very lively arrangement with some rather catchy melodies and beats all in a very familiar Electronic style that I’m personally quite partial to a bit of from time to time so things are really off to a good start on this one for me. The vocals have a quick but very smooth flow to them, almost in a sort of Chill-Hop style upon first hearing them which if you’ve read some of my other reviews you’d know is something I’m also all about lately. I’m less down with the chorus, which features quite a lot of power behind the performance but also some rather unpleasant high notes…at least in the wider context of the track anyway. Not as interesting as the structure and flow of the verses for me but it does stand out and sounds fairly impressive while doing so, even if the treatment isn’t to my personal taste here. As such, this track ends up being a bit of a mixed bag for me but I think the positives more than outweigh the negatives here and if I remove my personal biases for a second there’s no way I’m going to argue that this is anything less than a very enjoyable song. Probably the best on the album thus far in my opinion.
Now this is what I’m talking about! Loving that Rock riff that kicks off the album’s fifth track “YEAH!!”. It’s fairly simple granted but it’s one of those tried and true things that’s always going to get a reaction out of people when they hear it. This is also easily the most attitude I’ve heard from any of the tracks on this release so far, especially when the vocals come in and at times are almost sneering their lines out into the microphone. Not quite to the level that you’d hear from their GO TO THE BEDS counterparts but I definitely appreciate this change of pace after the more sedate nature of the album’s opening few tracks. The chorus is a bit brighter and more melodic in nature but still roughly in keeping with the overall tone of the track. Maybe not the strongest of vocal hooks by comparison but it’s not the end of the world and the held note on the “Yeahhhhhhh” to transition out and back into the verses was pretty awesome sounding and definitely a highlight moment of the song in my opinion. Nothing super complex about this one really nor does there need to be, it’s just a song packed full of cool riffs and a stompy beat to accompany a very colorful Rock style vocal. I was getting a bit worried about how this album was going to play out but it looks like things are starting to heat up a bit with these past couple of tracks.
We keep the Rock theme going into the album’s next song “Onegai” but with a bit more of an Indie vibe to things this time around. Some nice soft riffs set a pleasing rhythm, accented occasionally by a few piano notes and kept in time by a fairly unassuming beat that while not trying to be too flashy does provide a catchy element to the composition. The vocals are back to that hazy, fairly low tension style that I’m fairly confident in saying at this point is a key feature of PARADISES’s overall sound given how frequently they’ve made use of it on this release. Again, they’re playing to the members’ strengths most likely so fair enough. Things do get turned up a bit for the chorus, certainly in terms of volume at least, with a bit more power and emotion getting thrown behind the lyrics for what I would say is a much more typical WACK style of arrangement and structuring. I kinda feel like they’re maybe overdoing it a bit but I know a lot of people like that rawer style of delivery so it’ll depend on your personal tastes here I think. A pretty interesting track that sort of goes back and forth between being brimming with energy and feeling a bit more on the sleepy side. It’s hard not to come away thinking it’s a bit middle of the road as result but that’s not a fair analysis. The lulls make the highs seem higher while providing a bit of a break from the song’s more emotionally intense moments and it all combines for a pretty compelling listen.
There’s a bit of a retro feel to the opening moment of “ALIVE”, as the song comes across sounding like some kind of background jingle for a shopping mall or retail outlet of some description. Things then progress into a Piano Pop sort of style that’s packing a bit more punch on the instrumental side of things with a catchy mix of guitar riffs, piano melodies and drumbeats all coming together to create a pleasant but also rather energetic accompaniment to the vocal performance that’s also going on at the same time here. A very bright and at times often high pitched performance that blends well with the piano melodies though almost too well as there are a few occasions where the instrumental threatens to swallow up the vocals due to how loud everything is coming through in the mix. I wouldn’t say this is the most memorable of songs from a lyrical standpoint, though there are several hooks in the chorus that were rather pleasing to the ear so it’s by no means a dull affair. I just sort of feel like the more compelling content on the track is coming from all of the little elements going into the chorus and I found myself spending more time trying to pick those out than focusing on the vocals, at least initially anyway. I still like the song a whole lot, just probably not for the reasons that the people who wrote and composed it initially had in mind.
The irony of a WACK group releasing a song with a title like “PURE GIRL” definitely isn’t lost on me, and it probably isn’t lost on any of you reading this either. The fact the track opens with a pretty funky sounding, party beat just further cements that thought in my head, not that I’m complaining about the results by any means. Loving the keyboards, the bass and pretty everything else that’s being incorporated into a really lively and fun atmosphere. They do eventually ease back on things just a bit to let the vocals do their thing, coming in with a Rap flow which isn’t something I ever really thought I’d hear out of this group given every indicator we’ve heard previously. The chorus then goes in a more typical Pop sort of direction, making for a decent enough listening experience but I couldn’t help being a little bit bored by what is admittedly a rather common and often heard style at this point. Nice instrumentation behind it though, as well as in the bridge near the end of the track but I suppose I’m a bit more partial to that keyboard/synth sort of stuff coming from being a fan of Kinoco Hotel, who parts of this track reminded me of quite a bit. Wish the chorus had a bit more to it but still a cool sounding song that I enjoyed listening to besides that.
We’re treated to another dose of that throwback, retro style on ninth track “Inochi mijikashi otome-tachi” which has an instrumental that’s calling back to many of the hallmarks of that late 70s into early 80s Pop sound that has seen a huge resurgence in recent years. A fairly sparkly interpretation of it I suppose but nothing super out of the ordinary as far as the instrumental is concerned. There’s some nice, light melodies and that sort of lightly fuzzed production style that was not so much an intention of the time but more a limit of the production techniques. As such, it’s amusing to hear this push to be more Lo-Fi, despite the huge technological advances in the past several decades. Vocally things are a bit sharper, which helps set them apart from the instrumental quite effectively. A nice soothing style for the delivery, coupled with a smooth lyrical flow makes for a pretty relaxing listen though with just enough tempo to keep the good times rolling along at an enjoyable pace. I wouldn’t say that this track is going to be the most memorable vocally or instrumentally outside of perhaps the last minute and a half or so, and I’m not really sure they’re going for that in the first place. What it is in my mind is a mood maker and regardless of if that’s the true intention of the song or not, it does it very well and I had a nice time listening to it.
Well if you like throwbacks then we’re continuing the trend straight into the following track “Zurui hito” with a bit of a Van Halen sort of deal going on as the song starts warming up. A heady mix of synthesizers and Rock style guitars which make for a nice beat to bop your head along to and if you’re old like me you can even start to cast your mind back and fondly reminisce on simpler times. It’s a fairly repetitive sounding arrangement, that’s not something anyone can really argue but if it’s your thing then I don’t think you’re going to find yourself minding or noticing all that much really. The vocal side of things isn’t really anywhere close to Van Halen in their prime unfortunately, sort of just sticking to that comfortable style that we’ve been hearing up and down this release. They turn it up ever so slightly for the choruses but not in any real sort of significant way which is unfortunate because I think there was a lot of fun and potentially quite interesting things that they could have done here if they were perhaps willing to be a bit more adventurous or had a slightly stronger group of core vocalists to work with. Still fun stuff in that throwback sort of way but yeah, could have really had something special on our hands here with just a few more pieces added to the puzzle.
Which brings us onto the album’s penultimate track, and the last instance of new material to feature on this release. “Aoi haru” is the name and…Rock-ish, Acoustic-y, Ballad-y type thing is the game I suppose? Yeah let’s go with that, even if there’s a bit of piano and what have you also contributing to the song’s bright and fairly upbeat sounding instrumental. It’s sort of treading this thin line between unassuming and barely contained exuberance which I thought was pretty cool because it kept you guessing where things were going for a while. This is all an accompaniment to a very nice vocal performance that you wouldn’t say was out of place on some kind of singer-songwriter type of acoustic release…except with maybe a couple of extra singers I suppose. It probably isn’t going to turn the head of the average listener but there’s some really heartfelt sounding moments and just this sense of purity behind the emotions that are being poured out over the song’s near 5 minutes of play time. It all makes for a very warm, familiar feeling while listening so even if it’s not the flashiest sounding track you’re going to hear out of WACK I’d still encourage you all to give it at least a couple of listens.
Closing out the show we have “GOOD NIGHT”, which originally featured on that “G/P” split EP that I mentioned all the way back at the start of the review. You can get my initial thoughts on it here if you’re up for doing even more reading after getting this far, but no pressure. This is the “FRESH ver.” apparently, which I’m assuming just means that they’ve replaced Haruna’s vocals with those of the group’s new member Kila May. It’s a nice lively track, thanks in large part to the quick tempo drumbeat and noodly guitars which provide the backdrop to which some fairly repetitive but also quite catchy lyrics are allowed to do their thing. They tone it down for a spell with some more bass heavy elements and some less energetic and vibrant sounding vocals before building back up into that energetic, very happy sounding mood that we were presented with initially on the track. We get a couple of run throughs of this structure so plenty of opportunity to hear everything going on in the song, even if there is an argument to be made that things are perhaps a little too simplistic in that regard. In my opinion this is a pretty fun track and sometimes you don’t have to over-complicate things to get a very entertaining outcome. I said in my initial review that this track was one of the highlights of its original release and I’d say it’s also one of the highlights of this album as far as my money is concerned.
In trying to sum up my thoughts on this release I find myself somewhat torn. On the one hand it’s great that this group seems to have a very strong identity and sense of direction, especially considering it’s a WACK group and all. On the other hand I feel like the vocals are holding things back quite a bit, though it’s not even the members’ fault at all. There just isn’t enough diversity in the range and tones that they’re able to produce as a collective and you can’t really fix that without probably adding more people into the mix.
That said, this is a fun release with quite a bit of personality behind it and should stand PARADISES in good stead as a starting point from which to build from. I don’t really sense a lot of hype around this group currently (or GO TO THE BEDS either to be fair) but there’s something in there I think that could be quite special if it’s given enough time and perhaps a helping hand or two to develop.