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Monday, January 31, 2005

Reviews (3) Ongaku no Susume (Recommended Listening)

I kept postponing writing this review. It's impossible to dance around the subject of "why?", so lets get right to it. Its a poor follow-up to Halcali Bacon. It's not as tight, as stylish, as effortlessly cool and deep down in its heart its just not as much FUN. Time to reassess though, as is nearly always the case when you're exposed to a new take on what had been so familiar. Even the casual fan of their first release surely couldn't help themselves from tearing off the headphones at the listening post in HMV (they're only a casual fan remember) and shouting "OK so its slicker, but this doesn't sound like Halcali!". And they'd be right. It doesn't. The last track and singles apart (and we'll get to that later), what this really sounds like is the fat bassline of two girls trying to grow up too fast. The predictable attempts most bands make to "move on" with their second album inevitably involves some forced attempt to craft a more mature sound which says "hey! Look what we're capable of!". You should have seen it coming though really, the splendid first album had that impossible to recapture energy of two kids running, shouting out of seemingly nowhere, full of pop and colour and reinvigorating the Japanese pop charts in a quick blast of sound. So that couldn't be done again. So perhaps no one can be held responsible for Ongaku. Perhaps this is the inevitable comedown from such a brilliant, explosive start.

So, the real difficulty with this album probably lies in being able to divorcing it from Bacon and trying to assess it in its own right. After the initial shock/disappointment wears off you know, its not half bad. The sweet chiming pop of Brand New or Hare Doki Doki. Wait a bit longer and Rhymester's Utamaru joins in on the thumping Wakusa Dance. Stomping and addictive, its got a chorus that could kick down a house. And although its slightly disappointing to see the inclusion of a year old song on here (Strawberry Chips), the strength of the three singles does help to take the bad taste out of the couple of the limper tracks. And if even that is not enough then just you wait until the end, when 'Continued' manages to do what the rest of the album couldn't- moves Halcali on past Bacon while still retaining everything that you loved about them in the first place. Check out the production credits- its an O.T.F song. This really points out the best way for Halcali to progress onto album 3. While there is nothing actually wrong with having so many people working on the album, Halcali were left totally unable to pull the rope tight enough and ended up with something a bit clunky and awkward. O.T.F have got to take the time out to make it just them and the girls in the future. Like they sing in 'Continued', "we're not going solo...just yet". So we're left with that to look forward to at least.


2. Fuwa Fuwa Brand New
3. Marching March
4. Strawberry Chips
5. Hare Doki Doki
6. Oboroge Copy View
8. Shibafu
9. Wakusa Dance
11. Densetsu no futari
12. Continued

Something else that really needs commenting on is the design of the sleeve. I can't remember the last sleeve I saw that was so interesting and inventive. If you look at the front cover above, you'll see what looks like a map at the top of the picture, with a road that rolls down and becomes the white parted hair line of Haruka and Yukari. Open the sleeve out, and the map continues along to the left (again, like the Tandem video, a perfectly natural progression if you're Japanese), featuring the back of people's heads, again with their partings joining up with the roads in the map. The seasons on the map change as you look through it to the left. The front cover, with Halcali, is spring, and as you move through to winter the people get older, until we get to an old guy at the end, whose bald head joins up with a patch of barren land on the map! Obviously its much better if you take a look yourself, but folded out across several pages it looks really good.

It was designed by Nagi Noda. She is also behind Hanpanda, the disturbing creatures on the Baby Blue! PV and CD single cover.


watch a promo clip made for musicnet.

and here's a second opinion.


Anonymous jordan craw said...

you say about O.T.F loosening the riegns a bit, but i loved every signle song on Ongaku no Susume, and the ones that H&Y had a good contribution to, i loved even more!

You're right though, if HALCALI started becoming a diversified music producer, whereby all the songs, although well written, would just sound too ambiguous. I love the idea that HALCALI has its hand in different musicl pots, particularly because the girls can handle them no problem!

All in all, i love all their songs, they're really really cool, especially LAWN and other songs like that, really shows you that the girls can sing with subtle nuances to the lyrics they use :)

Long Live Densetsu no Futari!

11:15 AM

Blogger jariten said...

The main problem that I had (and still have) with Ongaku is that with them bringing so many different producers on board, the Halcali sound just became too watered down. I remember during an interview I heard online, the interviewer described 'Continued' as ハルカリっぽい ('sounds like/resembles Halcali', y'know). Its odd when someone singles out only one song that actually sounds like Halcali, when its supposed to be a Halcali album! It just really nailed it for me how far away they've drifted. I'm not against moving on or changing your sound, its just that on Ongaku, the result sounded too abrupt and forced. Wakakusa dance is still great though (and hopefully hints at a future where h and y will be given a bit more freedom)!

12:08 PM


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