Sunday, June 8, 2014

Especia's "GUSTO": Not Enough Zest

Last week, I managed to get my hands on the first studio album from Japanese idol group Especia. Now, I should point out that I dislike idol groups as a rule. They're like these cult bodies with carbon cut-out people, barely there voices, and really weird contracts that forbid members -- particularly in the female groups -- from having any sort of love life. Maybe you've heard about AKB48 member Minami Minegishi, her secret love affair, and the following shaved head apology. Yeah, things get real weird where idol groups are concerned.

Anyway, that long-winded digression aside, Especia's first single, titled "No1 Sweeper," got me interested. The band clearly loves the sounds of late 70's, early 80's disco, as is evident in the sultry saxophone lick in the single, the video of which you can watch below. Because of genius or madness, I ended up listening to all 16 tracks of "GUSTO," meaning "taste" or "zest,"  in an afternoon. Was it worth it?


The Pure Period Music is Spot On
Especia really shines when they stick to the music they -- or maybe their manager/label/corporate overlord -- love best. "No1 Sweeper," "BayBlues," and "Abyss (アビス)" all stand out on this album because they stick so close to the sounds and quirks of the world of disco lights and tight Jan Thozomas John Travolta pants. Where there's basses being slapped, sax being boldly overlaid over everything else, and audio tracks that don't incorporate four voices layered on the melody -- the latter of which is a real problem with idol tracks -- the aforementioned tunes and a few precious others almost make this an album I'd recommend fans of J-pop listen to. Almost.

"GUSTO" Loses Its Focus and Its Zest
Unfortunately, the majority of "GUSTO" isn't pure 70's/80's homage music, and far too often, it veers too closely to other idol fare. "Midnight Confusion" captures the group's identity crisis perfectly. They can't really decide if they want to be a throwback group, something they do really well, or an idol group with horribly doubled verse and chorus lines, tossed together unceremoniously with the 8-bit pop sounds that noted synth-pop group PERFUME does so well. This translates to this sense that you're listening to two, even three, different groups within the span of 16 uneven tracks. All this to say that while I'd love to recommend you pick up Especia's freshman outing, I'm going to have to recommend you instead settle for catching a few of their tunes on Youtube, if at all.

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What do you think of Especia's first big release? Don't be shy. Get at me in the comments :)

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