Tuesday, July 3, 2007

FictionJunction YUUKA - circus album

circus album insert art

Notes on the latest album from Yuki Kajiura and Yuuka Nanri follow. Some of the tracks I've commented on before, and have added the appropriate reference links.

I wrote these entries out of order, and it probably shows. As per Yuki Kajiura's style, there is a lot of overlap in the elements that get used. I've saved the most description for particularly stand-out tracks.

The executive summary: where Destination did not have many stand-out tracks in the new material, circus contains well-written songs that can and do stand out from each other. Another great vocal performance from Yuuka Nanri.

All romaji conversions performed by — what else? — Romaji Translator. Great little service.

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circus has a 3/4 bar division, a bit of trivia given the dominant 4/4 time that the vast majority of pop songs are written in. Given the moderate waltz tempo, appreciating all the vocal and instrumental layering is a breeze. The rich texture is not to be taken for granted. Yuuka doesn't get much solo time in this one, as choral lines seem to stalk her everywhere she goes. Fun and flighty.

Question: do those held cadences end on tonic and dominant only? I get the impression that there is a hollowing out of the chord due to a dropping of the third/mediant.

aikoi is oriental pop/electronic distortion fusion. The melody is instantly interesting because it uses a non-western scale, and it's in these moments I hang my head for recalling pushing only black keys on a piano to get a pentatonic scale and then saying that I'm playing Chinese music.

Violins and choral are present to add distortion and dissonance, enhancing the club atmosphere put forth by the heavy bass drum back beat. This is pretty good in its original form as club music, but definite re-mix material.

Silly-Go-Round [PV] is a strong classical rock track. When I say classical, I mean the introduction of classicist elements. There is Yuki Kajiura's trademark inclusion of floating choir in otherwise instrumental-only passages, for instance, and the use of old instruments such as acoustic piano and an oriental stringed instrument that I tend to lump into a generic er-hu category out of ignorance. While the er-hu is not a western classical instrument, it is nonetheless a nod to history.

One gets the sense that running, movement, is a strong theme in Silly-Go-Round. Tempo is a big factor, but movement is also generated by typical rock elements like strong back beat in the snare, as well as the flowing minor key melody in the verse section, with piano emphasizing the harmonic progression. Yuki, no doubt due to her operatic influences, writes a really tight recitative-like line as demonstrated in nowhere and other songs. Yuuka Nanri, meanwhile, delivers the necessary performance with precision and poise.

This is not an over the top performance. Composition, and the symbolism of history, keep this track grounded. There is rocking out, but something is held back for the sake of ornamentation. This is one of those tracks that I can loop for quite a while, enjoying the little details over and over again.

blessing is another 3/4 time track, and served as the Kouya Ruten single's b-side track. There is zero modern instrumentation, unless you want to count the accordion as relatively modern. This song has strong Nutcracker vibes and waltz vibes in general: very light texture, strong general emphasis on all beats of the measure in the chorus, almost march-like with the inclusion of snare and bass percussion.

Damn, why am I trying to conduct this in front of my computer monitor? I should stop.

Kouya Ruten [PV] I have commented on before, and don't really have anything to add. It's a solid, period inspired work, that sounds just a bit like from out of an old western (i.e. cowboy) movie. The album version is extended by an intro section before getting into the song proper, as well as an outro section.

yorokobi was disconcerting as I got lost trying to find the beat, having just come off 4/4 time. Yep, it's another 3/4 track. Incidentally, verse material is pulled from blessing to construct the chorus. Sleigh bells, electric guitar, drum kit, are used to brighten the previously delicate melody.

The verse melody itself is modal, and so contrast is generated in part by a transition from modal to tonal harmony. There is more movement and layering in this verse section compared to blessing's, the acoustic guitar making the most impact. There's nothing wrong with atmospheric east/west fusion, but I don't think it's for me.

hikaru sabaku is almost like the obligatory ever-sunny pop song embellished with Yuki's choral touch. I retract that, actually. Maybe it's more accurate to say that it's a healing song, like Christian rock, which I had the pleasure of listening to a couple weeks ago. Walking pace, lyrics written in quarter notes, up-lifting, strong harmonic progression and equally strong backing vocals. One would have to be pretty jaded not to feel something.

That said, is this just an easy play on the heartstrings? It's not the most original or compelling work, and this is not the first foray into this kind of music, Seiya being more to my liking. But hikaru sabaku sounds quite dignified, without understanding the lyrics.

romanesque [PV] suffers from sounding too long, even though something like Silly-Go-Round is longer in absolute terms. I was initially tricked into thinking that the opening section was the verse since, as previously noted, the arrangement is sparse enough that, without another section to reference against, it could pass for a verse section. Another reason was because it was quite long. This slight inversion of the typical song structure weirded me out at first, as the conclusion of the chorus naturally transitions into the contrasting verse section. Except, when you're expecting the chorus to be up next, the reality is rather jarring.

I suspect it's this tension that makes romanesqueappear to be longer than it is, which is good if you can latch on to a hook. I couldn't, as the melody and style aren't the kind of things that resonate with me.

I might sound inconsistent, and I am. I can't articulate why I kept thinking that the opening was the verse whereas for other songs, like blessing I could quickly recognize that it was opening with the chorus.

piano, trio for vocalist, piano, and cello. Chamber music on a Yuki Kajiura album? Not unexpected. Not unexpected at all. Being chamber music, it's kind of (just a tad?) to difficult to appreciate without having that kind of background. What is easier to appreciate, and therefore probably a more likely metric to be used by most people, is Yuuka's vocal performance.

On that front, her sudden transitions into the upper ends of her range are effortless. One of my friends has complained that her voice tends to have a nasal quality, especially in the upper register, but nasal timbre is greatly softened throughout the album. This song, whose arrangement leaves her much more exposed, is direct testament to that fact.

rokugatsu ha kun no eien is by far the slowest song of the album. Indeed, it's the only lounge ballad. Ballads are hard, the contemporary judge of vocal ability. Yuuka has no cover at all, with only the piano to keep her company. To get a ballad right takes a lot of power and dynamic range at both ends of a vocalist's register.

She's airy trying to get her dynamic range down, and her nasal timber is most noticeable in the chorus, when she tries to inject more power into her upper range. The moment she backs off towards the end, the nasal quality fades. Despite timbre troubles, she continues to be expressive.

The track is short, second only to piano, and Yuuka's singing time is even shorter. It's worth your while to listen at least a few times, if only to soak in the atmosphere. On that tack, here's an alternate look at the song that might account for some of my initial misgivings. I did say it was styled for the lounge, not for the concert hall. Is intimacy bordering on the edge of airiness in keeping with the style? Perhaps. It stills conflicts with what I usually hold to be good singing qualities. This is one of those songs that I have to be in the mood for before playing.

honoo no tobira [PV], meanwhile always puts me in a 1-3 mood.

angel gate is movie credit music: slow anthemic rock, doesn't really make much of an impression nor is it original, but hey— most people get up and leave when the credits roll. Is this listener's fatigue setting in? I don't think so, but angel gate's placement as the last track is kind of convenient, and does reinforce that image, desired or not.

circus is a much more consistent (in strength) and varied (in style) album than Destination. I like the majority of the new tracks, something that can't be said for Destination.


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