Saturday, March 9, 2024

CD Odyssey Disc 1718: Wagakki Band

I wanted to wash my car today but the weather is not cooperating. My car’s loss is your gain, dear reader. Here is a music review for your reading pleasure.

Earlier (when I was also not washing my car) I did some download shopping, landing albums from Ancient Empire, Liquid Mike and five by my newest musical discovery, "The Paranoid Style". More about those when I roll them, of course.

Disc 1718 is…Otonoe

Artist: Wagakki Band

Year of Release: 2018

What’s up with the Cover? Bright splashes of colour which I can only assume is the residue left over after an interdimensional portal closes. The cover shown online has a bunch of band portraits on top of this design, but my copy (which is a special edition with a bonus DVD) has them nowhere to be found. Likely sucked into the portal earlier.

How I Came To Know It: The band through an article that referenced them many years ago, but this album was picked up for me by my buddy Nick when he was in Japan last year.

How It Stacks Up: I have seven Wagakki Band albums. It is difficult to separate them in my head, mostly because I got six of them all in one glut, making them blend together. That said, Otonoe is one of the better ones. I place it third best.

Rating: 3 stars

Welcome back to the wild and wacky world of Wagakki Band, the Japanese phenomenon that mixes J-pop, Japanese folk and power metal. “Otonoe” is the last record of what I think of the band’s golden age. Later records are good but don’t capture the magic of mid-tens Wagakki Band.

It all starts with the star of the show, vocalist Yuko Suzuhana. Suzuhana sings with a strong and pure tone, and the songs, which have an anthemic rise to them, are perfectly matched to her style. Suzuhana comes across bright and clear, soaring over the eclectic mix of electric guitar, wagakki folk instruments and strange percussion that mark this band’s sound.

There are lots of influences on Otonoe, and my lack of understanding of Asian musical styles means I’m probably missing 80% of them. Some of the tunes have a pop sensibility, and others feel very folksy, to the point where I was thinking of New Age Celtic bands like Capercaillie. There are places where it sounds almost Indian as well, but again I don’t know enough about India’s music scene to be sure. It has the same frenetic gallop anyway.

Most of the tunes have a breathless pace, and the western and traditional instruments play off of each other with a focused and complementary intensity. To play this many different sounding things all at once, you need to have precision and the timing down at a micro level. Wagakki Band delivers, weaving an intricate latticework of music for Suzuhana to soar up from.

Otonoe is slightly ‘lighter’ than previous records, with a bit less of a metal edge, and more of the pop/folk sensibility. This did not bother me, and I like how the band has adjusted their sound over the years.

There are even ballads on Otonoe, and they are some of the better tunes. I don’t know the lyrics to “Doppo (Walking Alone)” but it is full of pensive heartbreak all the same. Less latticework here, and more sparse beauty.

Listening to Wagakki Band feels a bit like holding your breath. The songs race along, jumping from one big note to another and not know quite where they are going next you are on the edge of your seat throughout. I think detractors would say they are “busy” but I just found them hard to the task, drawing out as many notes and notions as the song’s structure will allow.

So it not for everyone, but it is definitely for me, and I look forward to my next encounter with this wild and wonderful bunch.

Best tracks: Hakanaku mo Utsukushii no wa (What is Ephemeral and Beautiful), Yuki Kageboushi (Snow Silhouette), Doppo (Walking Alone)

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