My thoughts on “Beyond the Blue”, the first major label album from Yanakoto Sotto Mute.
Release Date: October 28th 2020
1. Saihate no umi
2. Sing It Out
6. Kesshō sekai
9. beyond the blue.
10. Chateau no higashi
I think it’s fair to say that while the last 12 months have been incredibly difficult for the Idol scene (and the next 6 or so are looking pretty tough too), if you’re a group that’s signed to a major label then you were insulated a bit more from the harsher reality that some groups have been facing. Even still, the difference in activity levels between even the groups who find themselves in this fortunate position has been interesting to observe, with some choosing to really take the foot off the gas while others have opted to push on as best they can.
One such group attempting to keep some momentum going is Yanakoto Sotto Mute, a firm favorite among foreign fans for quite some time now and a group still looking to grow and expand their domestic audience. In the past year this has seen them release a couple of singles, do a modest amount of nationwide touring and then capping it off with the release of the album that I’m going to be talking a bit more about here today. All in all 2020 probably went about as well or perhaps even a bit better than anyone in the Yanamute camp could have hoped all things considered.
Which brings us on to “Beyond the Blue”, Yanamute’s first major label album and not to be confused with the single that they released earlier in 2020 (review here). It’s a pretty lightweight and trim release compared to what we’d usually expect, clocking in at 10 tracks, but given the typically high quality nature of Yanamute’s output I’m very much expecting this to be a release that focuses on quality over quantity. That is of course assuming that those pesky major label record executives haven’t tried to tweak what has up to now been a winning formula, but we’ll find that out in due course here. Speaking of which, let’s press play on this release and see what we’re working with shall we?
While Yanamute have been known to produce a rather fine Alternative Rock song in their time, I wasn’t expecting the album’s lead track “Saihate no umi” to open with really dense bass riffs before transitioning flawlessly into a very rhythmic composition in a rather pleasing Rock style. The grittier tone to things makes for a great backdrop upon which the group’s bright, melodic vocals can be contrasted and much like on all of their other tracks Yanamute are in fine form here delivering an emotional and technically excellent performance. I really liked how they kept the opening bass riff around as this sort of background melody of sorts as the song started to develop more, as it made everything tie together rather nicely and hey, it’s pretty catchy too which doesn’t hurt either. While I wouldn’t call this track super uptempo it does have a nice energy to it in that emotionally charged sort of way and the guitar work throughout really is a thing of beauty as they layer together all sorts of riffs to weave a really colorful soundscape that stirs up a lot of different ideas and emotions in the mind of the listener. The star of the show here and pretty much always when it comes to Yanamute is the vocals and they’re also bringing a few nice lyrical hooks into the equation, though I did sort of feel like the chorus on this track maybe wasn’t their strongest that I’ve ever heard. That’s just me trying to pick holes in what is an otherwise great song though and as far as album openers go I don’t think that we could be starting out on much stronger of a footing if we tried.
We continue on with the Alt Rock goodness into the album’s second track “Sing It Out” which is coming out of the gate in a fairly similar sort of tone to the song that came just before it. A bit of a theme developing here early then which is pretty cool to hear honestly, considering the scattershot nature of a lot of Idol albums that tend to be released. A bit more tempo to this one though so we’re not just retreading old ground either and it gives things a bit more of an energetic vibe too which I was definitely enjoying as the song started to come more and more into its own. It’s another really strong vocal performance from Yanamute here too, again with the sort of bright, melodic style that we’ve come to expect from them over the years but this time they have to put up a bit of a fight to compete with the instrumental and they’re on the verge of losing it even in some places. I’m talking about where things got perhaps a little bit too distorted and fuzzy for their own good but it’s really hard to sit here and say that I honestly would have tried to reign in the instrumental in any meaningful way myself if I was the one calling the shots. They more than make up for it with a super catchy chorus anyway, which is easily one of the main highlights of the track…apart from the once again quite stellar guitar work throughout that is. Yanamute are really coming out swinging hard on this album so far and hopefully keep it up because this is certainly shaping up to be one of 2020’s stronger releases with the way things are currently going.
We cast our minds back a bit into the Yanamute discography for our next track, but not too far, only to the group’s first single of 2020 “Afterglow / beyond the blue.” where our third track “Afterglow” originally appeared. You can read my initial impressions of the song in my review of the release here if you would care to take the time to. Things start out with some really nice piano before the Shoegaze inspired instrumental that makes up the bulk of the track eventually sweeps in and takes everything over. Not before we’re treated to some really lovely vocals though, which are performed in this very clean and emotionally steeped style that really sweeps you up in the moment as you’re listening to them. From there the aforementioned Shoegaze dimension takes over but they do still somehow manage to hold onto quite a bit of that opening mood and it makes for what is still one of the more compelling instrumentals in this style that I’ve heard in a while. This is of course helped by the soaring vocal melodies, well executed high notes and all of the other things Yanamute do so well being able to cut through some of the heavier aspects of the track until the mood is lifted once more later on and more the instrumental’s component parts are afforded a bit more room to make their presence felt. It definitely sets things up for a very nice melodic crescendo to the song and returns us almost back to where we started off from but with just a little bit of the fuzz that we picked up along the way sticking around to remind us of the journey that this track took us on. Great stuff here once again.
It’s another trip down memory lane on the album’s fourth track, but this time we go more recent still with “Filament” which is the single that Yanamute released just a few months before putting out this album that we’re listening to here today. Like the last track, you can read my thoughts on that particular release here if you’d like to but I’ll try to sum them up here too for you as well. Yanamute are definitely playing things a bit more delicately here than on some of the tracks that have already featured on this album but the bright Dream Pop quality of this song’s instrumental by no means feels out of place here either and it’s helped along by a bit of Shoegaze inspired fuzz too which helps tie everything together quite nicely I think. The vocals also have a genre appropriate soft, melodic tone which occasionally rises to meet the instrumental when it decides to express itself a bit more, becoming more ethereal and high pitched for the choruses for example. I’m not typically a huge fan of the higher pitched stuff but it works out pretty well on this track so no real complaints here. Ear pleasing melodies of the vocal and instrumental variety, powerful bursts of emotion, great Yanamute vocal harmonies and pretty much everything else that you’ve come to expect from this group all rolled into one song? That’s pretty much what you’re getting here so I guess how much you enjoy this one is probably going to end up depending on how big of a Dream Pop fan you are. As far as I’m concerned though, this one ticks all of the boxes that I’m looking to fill.
We get back to some new material as we hit the mid-way point of the album with the rather cleverly titled “Odd・Land・Ode”. I’m a sucker for some funny wordplay, what can I say folks. Despite the flangey guitar riffs and general background fuzz of the track’s opening instrumental, the tone of everything just really lit up the word “Ballad” in my mind because while Yanamute are definitely putting their own spin on it, this sort of style is pretty well known and used when it comes to songs from that particular genre. I wasn’t even mad when the vocals came in and I ended up being pretty much bang on in my assumption because at the end of the day this is still a Yanamute song so you’re getting a fantastic aural experience no matter what with no exceptions. Of course the song has its moments where it rises out of its base, mid-tempo with some twangy guitar riffs style to give us some of that signature outpouring of emotion but for the most part it finds a nice, comfortable rhythm and sticks to it. A good example of this are the choruses, not departing too much from the overall tone of the track but working in a few catchier vocal hooks and a bit more instrumental energy to really make things pop and come alive while providing a few really memorable moments from the track overall. Not that anything else you’ll hear on this one is boring, heavens no but credit to Yanamute’s producers for knowing what they wanted to do and executing it with the sort of precision that is expected of this group at this point. A bit different to the rest of the album so far but a nice change of pace at this point honestly.
If that last track wasn’t really your thing then don’t worry, we’re diving straight back into the world of Alt Rock on the following one “Kesshō sekai” which wastes little time in building up the sort of scuzzy, ethereal instrumental that is a key feature of a lot of material from this particular genre. Rhythmic guitars are also a dominating feature here and they’re really going all out to provide as many ear catching hooks as possible while never really getting to the point where you’re going “Okay I get it, chill out” so while there is a lot of that sort of thing going on here it never at any point feels forced or unnecessary. Funnily enough the vocals are kind of in a Ballad-y style once again but the atmosphere created by the instrumental makes them take on a very different set of qualities, so if you’re a music nerd who pays attention to this sort of stuff like I do that’s another pretty cool layer to what is already a very enjoyable song even on the surface level. I think a lot of it has to do with the drums honestly as they’re giving everything this sharper edge with how the cymbals have been recorded, placing a heavier emphasis on the metallic nature of the sound being produced. I suppose for me the instrumental is the most interesting aspect of this track, which isn’t to say that the vocals aren’t great too but in the grander scheme of the Yanamute discography I wouldn’t say that the writing here is their most memorable though the energy and emotion behind it all is as always at a very high level. Still a great song but there is a debate about how much an instrumental should take away from the real product (the idols in this case) that you’re trying to market. Just my opinion though.
“D.O.A.” is pretty unfair thing to title most songs given the obvious connotations, and especially when we’re talking about Yanamute that would hold even more true. The album’s seventh track does get that distinction though for whatever reason and considering we’re heading off in a decidedly more Progressive Rock direction on this one I’m left scratching my head even more. The guitar work in the opening instrumental is once again on point and really bringing you an authentic experience of the Prog genre in my opinion, though you’re free to disagree if you’d like. Very atmospheric stuff with some cool, noodley riffs to spice things up a bit and really catch the listener’s attention. When the vocals came in I was slightly thrown off by their higher pitched tone but I kinda get what they were trying to do as it would have been easy to fall back on the “house style” as it were for this track too. I’m not totally sure they nail it 100% of the time here, more specifically in the choruses if I had to pick an actual example, because there are points where it feels like the instrumental is being buried by the brightness of the vocal track. I realize I’m now arguing the opposite side to what I was saying about the album’s previous track but like I said it really does depend how much value you put on the instrumental of a song compared to the vocals of the idols themselves. Getting back to this song specifically, despite my minor complaints about the vocal treatment I really do like the energy and progression of things as a whole and thought it had some pretty memorable moments which is something I think you need when it comes to Prog personally. Different to a lot of the other material on offer here so well worth taking a listen to if you only have time to check out a couple of tracks from this release.
We move into a bit of b-side action on for our eight track “Passenger”, which originally featured on Yanamute’s “Filament” single that we’ve already talked a bit about previously in this review. You can once again go read my initial thoughts on all of those tracks here if you would like to by the way. Much like the song it shares a single with, this track also has a bit of that Dreamy Shoegaze vibe to it but they kick everything up a few notches with some noodley guitar riffs and a more uptempo drumbeat to add a bit more energy into the equation here. It makes things a bit more vibrant and the more urgent delivery of the vocals gives everything a nice tension that can be one of the few things that’s missing from a Yanamute song at times. The catchy lyrical hooks that are also being delivered help add to all of that as well, and the way that everything flows together smoothly is also rather pleasing to the ears. One main criticism I suppose is that the chorus could have maybe had a bit more of an impact but there is a lot going on in the instrumental so I suppose the high quality, melodic vocal performance that we did still end up getting is good enough for what’s being asked of it and it does contrast rather nicely with the more rapid-fire nature of the verses too. Not quite the same sort of style that Yanamute have been known to produce historically but definitely still with enough of that same spirit so as to not look anywhere near out of place both in the context of this album and their wider discography as a whole. It’s a b-side folks, but a pretty darn good one still.
The album’s title track “beyond the blue.” eventually makes an appearance two songs from the end of the tracklist but I suppose given that it also featured on the group’s “Afterglow” single that released earlier in 2020 it doesn’t exactly need to have top billing here. Still a bit odd that they went back to the well on this when it comes to the name of this album but oh well. Lots of nice piano work early on this one, so you already know I like it, before being joined by a click track and a drum machine beat that had me thinking we were heading off deep into uncharted territory for a moment there. The vocals come in and straighten everything out though, performed in a nice Ballad sort of style while the song continues to build up this really comfortable atmosphere before being lifted into this very melodic Alt Rock style once guitars are brought fully into play. It ends up pretty far from where it started but I kinda like being taken on journeys like this and the shift in style certainly allowed the vocals much more room to do their thing so of course out come the soaring melodies and emotions that let you know that you’re definitely listening to a Yanamute song here. Perhaps a little bit on the long side at almost 5 minutes in length but there is quite a lot going on here so I guess you do need to give things a bit more time to play out or it would feel much too rushed. The way that they structure everything and how it all flows together so effortlessly also helps to make it so that you never once really feel like you’re taken out of the moment so despite this track’s slightly above average runtime it really does just end up flying by.
We close out the album with one more brand new song, which takes the shape of “Chateau no higashi”. Another slightly longer track and there’s a decent amount of build-up at the start as the sort of ambient, Jazz-tinged instrumental slowly gets up to speed. Saying that, this is definitely one of the lower tension numbers that I’ve heard out of Yanamute in a while and that’s reflected in a lot of the vocal work which is delivered in this downcast, almost melancholic tone which is definitely showing off a different side to the group’s unquestionable vocal talents than we otherwise tend to hear. The song does pick up a bit more of that Alt Rock flavor as it develops though, so we aren’t straying too far out into left field on this one but there are quite a few elements here that aren’t what you would typically associate with Yanamute that’s for sure. The choruses are definitely the group playing to their strengths though, with highly charged and very emotional performances being the order of the day and given the more downbeat tone of much of the rest of the track they really do stand out all the more by comparison. All of this is of course building up to the closing section of the song which sees everything crescendo into this one final outpouring of emotion on top of a good old fashioned, fuzzed out Rock instrumental to really put one final exclamation point on what has been a wonderful, emotional journey from start to finish. Considering the done thing is to end off an album with some overly sentimental, straight laced Ballad I’m glad that Yanamute decided to rip up the playbook here and do something with a bit more personality and most importantly of all something that’s so unmistakably them.
If I had any say in the matter then “Beyond the Blue” would easily go down as one of, if not the best albums of 2020 in the Idol-sphere. It offers everything that you would expect from a Yanakoto Sotto Mute release while also trying to bring a few new influences to the party to keep things feeling fresh and you can definitely hear the growth in the group’s sound here, even from only a couple of years ago until now. Well worth a full, uninterrupted play through but even if you only have the time to pick out a couple of tracks I feel confident in saying that you could hit play on anything listed here and both be impressed by and also have a highly enjoyable time listening to them.
While I’m sure that 2020 probably didn’t go exactly the way that Yanamute had intended, this album certainly puts them in a great place coming into 2021 and hopefully when things do eventually get back to “normal” the group can continue the growth that we’ve seen here and really break through to that next level that so many groups reach for but few ever seem to achieve for one reason or another. Well I’m no betting man, but if I was then I have to say that at this point if Yanamute can’t hit those heights then I don’t see too many groups coming behind them that would be able to either. They’re just that good folks and you should definitely be paying attention to them if you haven’t been until now for whatever reason.