My thoughts on “Neko ga naiteru”, the latest album from Toricago.
Release Date: October 26th 2020
2. Midori no yume
As I’ve been told in the past, I’m getting a bit long in the tooth when it comes to being a fan of all of this Idol stuff…well, to the people who are a massive 5 years my junior say anyway. I’m still trying to be down with the kids though and I’d like to think that I have a pretty decent idea of what the current trends and popular groups are right now. I don’t claim to understand why some groups are popular while others aren’t, but I can recognize when there’s hype around something and when there isn’t at least.
Like I mentioned in a previous review, I never really got the hype behind Toricago. There was a vague WACK/SCRAMBLES connection early in the group’s career I think but a lot of the interest from foreign fans seemed a bit overblown at the time. After listening to and reviewing the group’s last album I think I got a much better handle on what makes people like the group as much as they do. They’ve got (well, at least the songs I’ve heard anyway) a very appealing, contemporary sound that mixes in all of the best elements of Rock, Pop and what have you with some slightly more experimental elements to create crowd pleasing, easy to listen to songs.
That’s what I’m coming into the group’s latest album “Neko ga naiteru” expecting as well really. It follows a similar 8 track format to their previous outing on “Himawari” back in April and has a few pretty interesting track titles just right off the bat. Maybe something along the way will surprise me, that’d be pretty cool but either way hopefully you guys find this more casual listener’s thoughts interesting and maybe I’ll gain a bit more of an understanding and/or appreciation for the group by the end of this article. That’s kinda what this is all about after all, so let’s fire things up and see what’s on offer here.
The opening few verses of the album’s lead track “Trauma” are an interesting contrast between the quite bright but still with an element of somberness instrumental and the vocals which are definitely leaning much more heavily into that particular mood. There’s that very accessible and listener friendly Rock base to things but then Toricago do their thing and bring in a few more alternative elements by way of things like ethereal synthesizer melodies, mildly psychedelic guitar riffs and what have to make things sound just that bit more unique. The drumbeat is a bit lacking in that regard for me personally but I suppose there is a logic to having it being as steady as it is, keeping a bit more of a structure to things as the other elements of the instrumental poke at the boundaries a bit more to find out what is and isn’t acceptable on a song like this. Vocally things play out a bit more like your typical Ballad in style I suppose which actually works really well when paired with the instrumental oddly enough, and I think a lot of that is to do with the strength of the melodies which lets them really stand out from the busier backdrop that they’re set against. Hard not to appreciate the emotion on display too as they really try to drive home the idea of…gloomy hopefulness I suppose. The choruses are easily the standout moments from all of that for me though, with their soaring displays and subtle hooks certainly leaving a strong impression, but I think there’s also a lot to take away from the performances on the rest of the track too. Not my usual thing I must admit but I actually found myself rather enjoying this one surprisingly enough.
Perhaps it’s just me, but I got a little bit of an Oyasumi Hologram vibe out of the album’s second track “Midori no yume”. I think it’s something to do with that piano melody and beat that gets the track going, the tone of it all just felt really Oyaholo to me for some reason. That goes away a little bit when the vocals come in with their really light Rap-ish flow but there’s just something about the brightness of the atmosphere here that I’m really latching onto and enjoying quite a bit. By the time we hit the song’s first chorus things have transitioned rather decisively into a much more Ballad-y style which is mildly disappointing to me but I can certainly still appreciate the vocal performances that are going into it, following a similar sort of style to the previous track where they start out kinda gloomy in tone but really begin to soar when the occasion calls for an impactful moment. You can definitely tell that this sort of style is something that Toricago are very comfortable with pulling off as I can’t really point to a moment where they put a foot wrong here. It’s a pretty straightforward song, with just the verses and the choruses for variety outside of the admittedly very impressive crescendoing finale where we get one last outpouring of emotion before the track fades out on a few final piano notes. That said, and I’ve said this a lot recently, you don’t have to over-complicate things if you do the fundamentals really well and I think it would be more than fair to say that that’s the case here. Again, not my typical style of song but Toricago seem to be doing a really good job of giving me little things that I like to latch onto so far on this release. Hopefully they can keep it up because we’re off to a much stronger start than I could ever have anticipated coming into this review.
We then head off in a very bright, Punk Rock sort of direction on the album’s third track “Hanamizu” which wasn’t something that I was expecting out of this release but the energy of the song’s opening instrumental is infectious and the riffs, as simple as they admittedly are, are very catchy and ear pleasing too. Throw in a galloping drumbeat to really set things off and we’re have a pretty fun time with this one early on. The vocals in the opening verses don’t exactly have too much of that Punk attitude, but their very melodic tone is definitely adding an extra dimension to things and there’s some pretty strong lyrical hooks and a nice flow to how everything is being delivered. Then we hit the first chorus and…things kind of go off the rails a bit as far as I’m concerned. The track heads off in more of a Ballad-y direction, which doesn’t sound terrible by any means but did they really need to do this on this track too after what we’d already heard previously on this album? I suppose there’s something to be said about keeping a running theme but there was nothing wrong with the direction the track was already heading in is I guess the point that I’m trying to get across. Thankfully this is the pattern in which the track plays out, so I still get plenty of that Punk style from the verses and even the bridge but man they kinda knocked a couple of points off of this one with me with the chorus. With that being said, this is still a really energetic and fun song and definitely a highlight of the album so far so you should 100% still check it out even if I would have done things a bit differently.
Another quick change of genres occurs as we hit the midway point of the album, with “Bō” presenting a pretty contemporary take on an Indie Rock instrumental as the basis for the song’s sound. Quirky, catchy guitar riffs, an ever so slightly unconventional beat and a bit of distortion make up the bulk of the composition and if you heard this from some up and coming indie band then everyone would probably be making a much bigger deal about and singing this track’s praises a lot more loudly than they are currently. It legitimately sounds like something you would hear from a band and not just an Idol group doing their take on the genre, something that happens quite a lot but is a whole other can of worms that doesn’t need to be opened here so let’s move swiftly on. Vocally we’re sticking with that melodic, mid-tempo style that we’ve been hearing a lot on this album and it’s definitely a style that Toricago are super comfortable with and it’s easy to see why when you get good results like you can hear here and on many of their other tracks. In a sense things are perhaps a bit too similar in some ways because of this but I think Toricago do just about enough here, be it tonally or otherwise, to change things up just enough to keep things from getting too repetitive. That said, for me I think the instrumental is the star of the show on this track because I really liked all of the little riffs and drumbeats that comprise it and there were a few pretty cool solo parts in particular that I felt really stood out. You can debate if the instrumental should be the standout component of an Idol track I suppose but if you forget about all of that and look at this track objectively as a piece of music, there’s plenty of things to like about it and hey my opinion is dumb so who cares anyway right?
Things then take a flair for the exotic with the introduction of some Spanish guitars as a fairly prominent component of following track “Habakarinagara”‘s rather funky sounding opening Rock instrumental. Another pretty good example of Toricago taking something that has pretty broad appeal and putting a slightly more alternative spin on it, and I have to say that it definitely caught my attention so clearly it worked quite well here. The vocals when they are eventually brought in share a similar rich quality to their tone as the guitars in the instrumental with some low, almost smokey notes adding yet another layer of complexity to what had already been shaping up to be a pretty intricate arrangement. I would have perhaps preferred a slightly more apparent shift in either style or tempo for the track’s choruses but I can also see why you probably wouldn’t want to go too crazy on that front either. That said, and while the melodies and lyrical content are both as strong as what is on display in the song’s verses, I just don’t think they’re quite as memorable as they maybe could/should be. It’s a fairly minor personal preference type of thing obviously, but when I think back on the track I’d probably struggle to really pick out the chorus from everything else going on. Still, there’s plenty of other stuff that I do really like in here like the awesome guitar solo just after the midway point which really marks an uptick in urgency and intensity which sets the track off on a course that leads to a particularly lively finish. This one might start out a bit slow for some people but by the time it’s in full flow at the end I think the majority of you reading this would really enjoy how things ended up.
Calming things down a little off of the back of all of that is “Koshitantan” which I have to say has some really enjoyable guitar work during its lead-in, as well as throughout the rest of the track but we’ll get to that in a second. I know it doesn’t make a ton of sense but the phrase “Ambient Rock” is flashing in my mind to describe this one, which I guess is shorthand for a sort of overdriven chorus tone from the guitars which are combined with a pleasant but fairly simple drumbeat to provide the backing for what is heading back towards a more Ballad-y style of vocal delivery. Nothing wrong with the latter of course, as I’ve previously said that it’s something that Toricago appear to be more than comfortable with so why not stick to what you’re good at and change up all of the other stuff. I think for me the choruses are probably the highlight, quite literally, of the song with quite frankly standout guitar playing which makes for this ethereal sort of atmosphere upon which the vocals can really crank up the outpouring of emotions and really put the entire track over the top. Things kinda follow a similar formula to the album’s previous song, with another impressive guitar solo signalling that it’s time to really get things going and we’re once again treated to a closing segment that’s high on emotion, intensity and technical guitar work. Perhaps a little bit repetitive as far as structuring is concerned but both tracks more than stand on their own even when you’re quite literally comparing them side by side like I am here.
Just when you thought that this album couldn’t get any more diverse with its genre selection, along comes penultimate track “Bunkiten” with its Piano Rock arrangement which while clearly bringing something else new to the party also fits in very nicely when set beside the previous 6 tracks on the release. It’s a bit more upbeat in tone than some of the other offerings featured here but there’s definitely still that underlying melodic Pop theme that’s very much a part of the Toricago sound. It’s another one of those songs where the group doesn’t try to get too fancy with the instrumental, which is something I’ve been growing to appreciate a lot lately, instead making use of a couple of well thought out and executed riffs and melodies to construct the majority of what’s going on here. Of course we also get another cool guitar solo later in the track because I guess that’s part of the package too and hey, why not if they’re going to be as fun as they have been. I feel like I’m probably going to undersell the vocal performance on this one if I refer to it simply as more in the same, mid-tempo melodic style as what we’ve heard previously on “Neko ga naiteru” but that is essentially what it is and there’s nothing wrong with that. More strong melodies, some catchy lyrical hooks and a chorus that’s trying to both stand out while also not getting too far away from the base theme of the song. Pleasant, pretty fun stuff and one that fans of piano being used in songs that aren’t just Ballad will surely appreciate.
Wrapping things up on Toricago’s second album offering of 2020 is closing track “Masayume”. I wasn’t really sure what sort of note that Toricago would choose to sign off on here given the variety we’ve been treated to on this release but I guess maybe a more typical Ballad style track should have been an obvious guess on my part. The instrumental has a nice jangly dynamic to it thanks to the guitars and some percussion so once again they couldn’t help but put a slightly different spin on a well explored style of music. You guys all know by now that this isn’t really the sort of stuff I get down with too often but if you give me an interesting take on it like they have here then I have very little in the way of complaints to make, both from an objective as well as a personal point of view. Perhaps even more surprising is the lack of any sort of guitar solo on this one, but then I suppose it might sound just a little out of place wouldn’t it? On the vocal side of things we’re treated to the sort of bright, fairly high pitched at times, melodic performance that you would expect from a song in this style so not too many surprises to be had on that front but it doesn’t mean that it’s any less enjoyable or well executed. There’s a tendency for groups to get a bit too eager with hitting those high notes but Toricago have it dialed in and only reach up there for important moment like during the track’s choruses or its closing sequence. It’s a nice note to end things off on and probably the only track that you could say was even approaching “typical”. That probably sounds kinda weird but it’s a compliment of both this track and the album as a whole, promise.
Well then, as you might be able to tell I actually enjoyed “Neko ga naiteru” quite a bit more than I thought that I would at the start of this review. Sure, there’s a very obvious base Pop style that features on the majority of the tracks but the really cool thing is how Toricago will take different elements and slot them into it to make for some interesting combinations. It doesn’t always land with me clearly but it did on this release so full credit where it’s due for what is a rather enjoyable album from front to back.
Don’t worry, I’m not about to go become some diehard Toricago fan or anything like that. I do think I’m starting to develop a better understanding and appreciation of their music though…or perhaps they’ve just been making stuff that appeals a bit more to my tastes lately. Either way, I’m actually kinda looking forward to hearing what they put out next though after having put out 2 albums this year I probably shouldn’t expect much on that front any time soon. When the time comes though I will be listening with interest and probably writing a review up for the site too.