My thoughts on “Playplay”, the first mini-album from akugi.
Release Date: June 16th 2021
1. r u serious? (feat. Yamakomaro)
2. addict (feat. Motochika Kasane)
3. Period (feat. Mei Yui Mei)
5. with u (feat. Setsuna Uine)
6. daydream speaker (feat. Towa Shiki)
These days it feels like Idol groups and their producers/agencies are bit more willing to take a shot at something to see if it works out or not, which is pretty cool to me because even just a few years ago that was pretty much never something that happened. Of course it’s more a symptom of the times we’ve found ourselves in over the past year and a half or so but it really has made for some interesting projects and other developments that we might otherwise never have seen. It almost sounds like I’m saying a global pandemic that ruined a lot of lives was a good thing, that’s a bit weird.
akugi are a pretty good example of this in some ways I suppose. A “super group” in pretty much everything but name under the codomomental banner featuring girls from the company’s various Idol projects coming together to put out some music that probably wouldn’t really fit that neatly into the confines of any of their main groups. Komari Yuu, Ama Mauru and Tokanai Nonno form the core with the former singing and the latter two dancing and then they bring in a guest vocal depending on what the track in question calls for. It’s a pretty cool little setup and has resulted in a couple rather interesting songs being produced since the group debuted at the end of last year.
“Playplay” is akugi’s first mini-album and it does rather feel like it has been a long time coming. Several of the songs have been doing the rounds for a while now and I’ve even written about both “r u serious” (review here) and “daydream speaker” (review here) on the site previously. I haven’t had a chance to touch on any of the release’s 4 other tracks though so I’m looking forward to doing so today. As you can see they’ve got quite the guest vocal line-up going on here and I imagine it’s going to translate into some pretty enjoyable music when all is said and done. So without further adieu let’s take a listen and see what the combined talents of many codomomental members have in store for us here.
Kicking things off is “r u serious?” which was actually the first digital single that akugi ever released as it happens. You can even read my initial thoughts on the track here too if you’d like. The track even features Yamakomaro who only recently returned to codomomental at the time of its release so to say this one was kind of a big deal would be something of an understatement. Not the longest track by today’s standards but they do quite a lot with the time that they’re given here, with the song starting out with a very dark sounding synthesizer arrangement that is accompanying chanted vocals to give things some nice tension. Eventually we transition into this sort of Breakcore style which isn’t something we’d ever heard from codomomental before so while this particular genre might not be to everyone’s tastes it is something fresh and different in this context at least. Rapid fire Rap lyrics, heavy synthesizer distortion and lots of drum machine are what’s on offer here so you’re either going to be down with that or you’re really not in all likelihood. The lyrics are very catchy though and there is a similarity to older Kaqriyo Terror Architect material the longer the track goes, though it is more reserved for the choruses than anything. That’s pretty much the flow of things for this one and while I struggled a bit initially I did find myself rather enjoying it in the end so maybe some of you will too.
Up next is “addict” which features Motochika Kasane from Zenbu Kimi no Sei da, so akugi really are drawing in the star power from all the way up and down the codomomental roster here it would seem. A very minimalistic approach to the instrumental to start things off, with Kasane’s modulated vocals ringing out very brightly in contrast to the more ambient nature of the backing track. After a bit of a build-up and then a drop the track flips into this very deep, Trance sounding style which feels quite warm and enveloping in an odd way, you’ll probably get what I mean if you listen to this sort of stuff I hope. It’s all getting very intense after a while so bringing back in the vocals is a welcome thing to break it up a bit, though they do sound a bit paint by numbers if we were to compare them to similar offerings from this genre. Still, quite catchy while being helped along a fair bit by the instrumental which sort of ebbs and flows between a deeper, steady tempo and a more energetic, bright style which I guess sort of fills the role of verses and chorus even if the vocals aren’t exactly structured in that way. In fact there aren’t that many vocals here honestly, so anyone hoping for Kasane to really get a lot of time to shine might be a little disappointed. I think she does well for what is asked of her though and if you’re looking for an authentic take on this Deep House/Techno style then that’s pretty much what you’re getting here as far as I’m concerned.
Three tracks in and former Yukueshirezutsurezure Scream Queen turned Zenbu Kimi no Sei da member Mei Yui Mei drops in to lend her vocal talents to “Period”. Mei doesn’t do a lot of screaming these days and akugi doesn’t exactly feature much of it on any of the tracks I’ve heard from them thus far so I wasn’t sure exactly how this one was going to play out. A very relaxed, ambient Chill-Hop song is apparently the direction that they chose for this one and I’m a fan of the genre so I’m all for it, though people wanting harsh vocals and such might feel a bit differently. I liked how they took the time to really build this one up, starting very minimalistic with the instrumental before slowly developing everything while adding in vocals that start as whispering before eventually getting to that full Hip-Hop flow a little later on down the line. Thing get a little bit glitchier along the way too which was interesting and made me wonder where they might be going with it exactly. Well turns out we do actually get a bit of screaming on this one in the bridge where we get quite the intense breakdown with the lyrics taking on this very dark tone and the instrumental firing off salvo after salvo of rolling drum machine beats. A pretty cool moment that snaps you out of the comfort zone they’d worked so hard to develop and for that it’s a very clear highlight and it also clears the air too. If you don’t like this stuff then it might ruin the song for you but I thought it was pretty cool personally.
Track 4 “CC” is a bit of an outlier in that it’s the only song on this mini-album not to feature a guest vocalist. In fact it might be the only akugi track not to so far so yeah, should be interesting to hear what they’re going to do here. Well the instrumental is dark and atmospheric in nature and there’s some pretty intense beats layered into all of that as well which gives off a bit of a “wall of noise” effect at times but never to the point where I thought it was getting to be too much. Quite subtle on the melodic hooks but they are there if you look hard enough for them and towards the end of the track they do push forward quite a bit more and really take the wheel in fact so there’s a bit of a payoff there too in that regard. Vocally this is a really strong performance with both a mellow, ambient style as well as a slightly more aggressive, harsher Rap flow being the two main styles that they went with here. The former is more for the verses and the latter stars more during the choruses and towards the end of the track where that aforementioned shift in the instrumental occurs. Lots of catchy lyrics and melodies no matter where you look though and it all makes for a rather compelling take on a darker Electronica style while still being very much in keeping with the general tone and energy that you expect out of akugi.
Setsuna Uine from TOKYO Tefutefu then steps in to offer her vocal assistance on “with u”, so I guess complete disregard for the English language is a bit of a theme when it comes to akugi if some of these track title are anything to go by. The track itself is this very bright, super ambient, synthesizer sort of thing with a shot of Chill-Hop injected in to give everything a bit more of a defined flow. Definitely different to “Period” so just because I described them similarly doesn’t mean that they are. This one has a lot more energy to it early on and a bit of a summer vibe to it as well which is fitting given the time of year that it is right now. The vocals also very warm and rich, and they don’t go too overboard with the Hip-Hop flows or anything like that and instead pretty much stick with a very pleasant Pop style for the most part. There are a few points where it does go a bit in that direction and yeah, they stand out very distinctly and shake you out of the agreeable flow of the rest of the track and allow you to re-center your attention if it had begun to drift away on one of those ear bending melodies. It’s a bit hard to pick out initially but by the end of the track you’re struck by how well they built everything up and the reward is the fantastic energy and flow that the song achieves by the time it’s racing towards its conclusion. A different take on a previously used style, who said Idol groups had to be paint by numbers all time?
To close things out we’re taken back to another piece of previously released akugi material in the form of “daydream speaker” which features guest vocals from Towa Shiki this time and you can read my initial impressions of the track here if you would like to. Starting off with some grainy, atmospheric synthesizers before bringing in bright guitar tones and a nice steady drumbeat to push things along before we slide back into that chilled out, Hip-Hop style that I guess we’re sort of making akugi’s thing at this point given how much of it has shown up on this release. The vocals do trend much more ethereal here though, which matches up with the instrumental rather well in my opinion but we are also treated to a bit more of a Rap style as well which adds in a few much needed hooks as well as shoring up the structure of the composition a bit so it doesn’t just disperse into nothingness if it were left to its own devices. Basically it’s a bit of a mix between Hip-Hop and a Ballad and the results are rather enjoyable I must say, though it is quite straightforward in places but you know, you don’t really have to get too fancy with this sort of thing as long as you’re doing the fundamentals right and akugi are definitely do that here. It was also nice to hear something that was approaching a bit more of a “normal” vocal performance too.
On the whole “Playplay” is a very entertaining mini-album and I don’t think there’s a single track here that I didn’t enjoy in at least some aspect. That’s pretty rare, but the combined powers of codomomental appear to have pulled it off somehow. There’s actually a lot of things going for it, the songs are very contemporary, they’re drawing from multiple fanbases, there’s an undeniable novelty factor, the list goes on. The main takeaway here though is that the songs are great and you should definitely check them out if any of the genres that I’ve mentioned in this article are something that you either are already or think that you might be into.
Hard to really say where akugi are going to go from here honestly. codomomental seem kinda behind the project right now which is great, and it allows them to do some stuff that might not fit elsewhere like I said. I joked a bit about the super group thing earlier but the reality is that at least for now this has to be more of a side project than anything else. That said, stranger things have happened in the past so I’ll be watching with great interest and eagerly waiting to hear what akugi come up with next and to see just how far they can actually run with this whole thing.