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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Reviews (9) Cyborg Oretachi

Speaking as a Halcali fan, the last year hasn't exactly been easy. I still remember waking up early one Sunday morning to catch a preview of their then new Sony single Tip Taps Tip on Eureka Seven. It was a shocking lesson in not getting your hopes up, as so much patient expectation was met with what at the time easily ranked as their most timid and mediocre releases (little did I know their was worse to come). Disappointing, you might say.

What has happened since then can probably be best described as frustrating; Tip Taps Tip, which I came down hard upon at the time, was followed by the block busting Twinkle Star, which despite it's abysmal chart showing was a marvellous single, containing almost everything I loved about Halcali in the first place. Again, my hopes went up.

Then straight back down again with the release of the criminally weak LOOK, and of course you know how the rest of the story goes. The reason why I mention this is that their third album seems to have taken this feeling of frustration, compressed it into sound and burnt it onto a CD. Whenever you start to feel like the album is going up, they find a way to bring it back down, and even after one listen it's hard to ignore the feeling of discontentment, and yes, disappointment.

I mean, just look at the track listing again. Frankly, having nearly half of a relatively short album be comprised of old material just isn't good enough. I know it's the industry standard to do such things, but there's just something irritatingly lazy about it- even worse when you try to mask the fact of what you've done by sticking the words SPECIAL EDITION next to one of those old singles, only to reveal that it is in fact little more than the radio edit! It makes an already short album feel even shorter, and puts the weight of it's success or failure almost entirely on the shoulders of the 6 tracks worth of new material that's on here.

Right then. The first 15 minutes of this album are fantastic. Opening track Doo The Hammer is actually a full, proper song, unlike the 'introduction' type skits that opened their previous two. It's a great start too- with the vocals pushed right to the front, it falls under that brilliant rapping/singing hybrid they do so well, with a sweet chorus that sneaks up on you and stays with you. It reminds me a bit of those great b-sides Hiroshi Nakamura was putting out- the perfect mix between older 'goofy' For Life Halcali and newer 'grown up' Sony Halcali.
Even better, it picks up and even improves the following track, their last single It's Party Time. I was never sure about that as a choice for a single, but it flows out of Hammer almost as if in one continuous beat; the two compliment each other perfectly.
Even better is the next track, Koi No Bunbunbun. I'm putting this down as not only my favourite song on the album, but also as one of my favourites full stop. They haven't made nearly enough songs like this recently- a pop song with a brilliant synthesised bass loop, a simple, maddeningly catchy chorus and that overall unusual sense of Halcali-ness that some producers can bring out and some just can't (and this album has both types).
This track is followed by Twinkle Star, and despite the two tracks clashing a little (another problem the album predictably has, but we'll come to that later), I still take my hat off to one of the best j-pop singles of the last year, and it wraps up a solid, 4 track opening for the album.

Then things start to come unstuck.

Again, I think the trouble ultimately comes down to the fact that this album has too many singles, and singles that weren't particularly strong to start with. So like I said, we look to the remaining 6 songs worth of new material to make or break it. I would say that three (possibly four) make the cut; the two mentioned above and the Polysics title track.
OK, so Cyborg Oretachi sounds exactly like a Polysics song, but it's still got that catchy electronic beep beep beep that seems to go together with Halcali so well, and a hardcore rap in the middle. After the double hum drum hit of endless lover's rain and LOOK Special Edition (rolls eyes) it sounds even better, with a surprisingly discordant "guitar battle" at the end between Haruka and Yukari.

It's not enough though. Remember when Halcali first signed to Sony and they came out with that awful press release shot where they looked just like harmless MTV R'n'B stalwarts The Heartdales? One thing I was grateful for was that, whatever happened to Halcali this year, they didn't go down that route. That is, at least, until track 8 on this album, Driver's Licence. It's the absolute worst kind of blandly inoffensive, production line R'n'B, and Halcali should never have been allowed to waste their time on it. I have no love for LOOK, but this is one of the worst songs they've ever released. It's utterly soulless. Skip.

I don't know what's going on with Fessu De Ouissu either, except that, even after listening to it 5 times, I still can't remember a single note of it. I have heard enough of producers Your Song Is Good though, to know that it just sounds like a weak YSIG song. What is it with these producers? Both these guys and Polysics have basically released, what, abandoned studio tracks from their last albums? I hope that isn't true. There really isn't much to say for this song in any case.

Just look back on the last few tracks though, LOOK, followed by a weird electronic dance track followed by a rank and file R'n'B number followed by some kind of cod reggae track. Even a novice producer must have looked at that tracklisting and thought "this won't work". And it doesn't. The album feels exactly like what it is- a lot of singles padded with filler. It's even less cohesive than Ongaku, which suffered from a similar problem (although I'm getting more and more tempted to go back and give that album a second, long look).

Despite coming up with a fairly decent closing number in Harukari Michi (which, like Driver's Licence, they had a hand in writing the lyrics for), after track 4 on this album the smile pretty much goes from my face, reappearing only sporadically. I'll sum it up like this, starting from track 5 through to track 12- not bad I suppose (a grower?), skip, good song, skip, skip, OK single, skip, good song.

So, again, frustration. Tracks like Koi No Bunbunbun show their potential for greatness, while at the same time, lazy rubbish like Driver's Licence brings it back down.

It Tip Taps Tip all over again- a long, long wait for something that, in the end, really struggles to deliver.


I gave this album about four listens before writing the above. I realise that I deserve to give them much more than that. I'm going to stay with this new album for a week, then come back to it. Please, if you haven't listened to the album yet, or are new to Halcali and thinking of trying them out, don't let what I wrote above discourage you!


Blogger Heywood Mogroot said...

heh, we agree completely. First half with the singles, not bad to pretty good, 2nd half . . . ugh.

From the previous entry, I do think the 3 singles between LOOK and Tougenkyo sound *very* similar to Oboroge Copy View, Shibafu, and Wakakusa Dance, respectively.

1:53 AM

Blogger BanFan said...

Hm. I loved all the singles, so I hope I love this. It'll be here tomorrow. :)

5:20 AM

Blogger Heywood Mogroot said...

also, I think you're too harsh on LOOK and Tip Taps Tip. I like their positive subject matters and lyrics -- other than the "Cr-p your hands" part of LOOK ;). Plus with TTT we get to picture their cute syncro-dance with the song. :)

Yukari's voice on the endless lover's rain chorus goes into a musically interesting place for me, too. The song is ~way~ too similar to Find A Way and Highway to the Beach to be a favorite, but it's not bad.

Anyhoo, I only found out about Halcali late last year, so it's been fun waiting for this album. . . the first half of the album can certainly hold its own against any other JPop released this decade at least.

5:20 AM

Blogger Andy said...

I'm still excited for the album (I haven't ordered it yet). I only learned of Halcali after "Ongaku..." was released, and I find it interesting now that I approached that album as a cohesive whole without having heard any of the tracks as singles beforehand.

And indeed, on that level, I far prefer the 2nd album to the first, because the strongest songs on that record (the 1st half, and Baby Blue) are the most inventive and fully developed non-Timbaland pop music I've heard this decade -- the 1st album WAS more consistent, but I also take that as a bit too "samey".

(All of that is to say, please do give the 2nd album another try! And for that matter, I still defend "Tip Taps Tip" as a beautiful song -- not a real Halcali song, but a pleasure to listen to.)

As for the 3rd album: I expect I'll enjoy it best by approaching it as a whole, and not considering the singles on another level. (Besides which, I can't afford all those singles, so this will be my first chance at owning them all.) Writing from the U.S., that is probably an easier approach here than in Japan, where there's at least some mass-culture exposure for the group, and a greater market for CD singles.

I am still pessimistic about the record simply because none of their producers outside OTF and FPM have such novel ideas -- and that explosion of creativity will undoubtedly be sorely missed. But in the end, even half-assed Halcali is better than most groups out there.

And, on that note, thanks again for keeping us so well-informed on my new favorite band. :)

7:43 PM

Blogger ssslithe said...

Couldn't agree less. sure, Endless Lovers Rain and Tip Taps Tip are shit, but other than I like it so far (haven't quite got to the end yet though).

You do seem to get disappointed too easily, you know. Give it a week to grow on you.

11:07 PM

Blogger BanFan said...

Woah, this album is great, I loved every single song! Too bad Japan hasn't been showing them any love lately.

2:23 AM

Blogger jariten said...

andy- Good post, thanks. One of the unavoidable consequences of following this (or any) band so closely is that, once the album rolls round, I'm tired of the singles and eager for something new. I'm definitely going back to Nosusume sometime this week or next week, and I've also taken ssslithe's sage advice and decided to wait a week and go back to Cyborg again.
If I had no idea who Halcali were before this album, I have no doubt that I would have liked it a lot more, but even Nosusume didn't feel as top heavy with old material as this does.

banfan- glad you like it!

ssslithe- I've taken your advice. Although I don't think my review was too negative, I'm coming back to it next week.

heywood- Remembering what you said, I'm going back to endless lover's rain too. I'm still not sure that two wishy washy songs like that and LOOK back to back in the middle of the album was such a great idea though.

5:01 AM

Anonymous Whiskey Spider said...

The only track I could find online was It's Party Time (which I didn't like)... scouring the internet for the other favorites you guys listed. If there's even one new song that's at least half the caliber of something like Tandem, I'll buy it. I really, really want to like this album.

5:32 AM

Blogger Heywood Mogroot said...

ws, koi-no-bububun is pretty much a somewhat slowed-down Tandem. Worth about an 8 out of 10 maybe.

Each of the 3 albums has 12 tracks. . . here's my track-by-track scoring:

Track 1................1........1........6
Track 2...............10........6........5
Track 3................8........9........8
Track 4................5.......10........7
Track 5................5........4........3
Track 6................5........2........5
Track 7................0........0........3
Track 8................0........0........0
Track 9................3........2........0
Track 10...............4........9........5
Track 11...............9........7........6
Track 12...............6........5........4


9:58 AM

Anonymous Novaforever said...

Okay, so I had to wait to get back to America to listen to the new album as I didn't have a cd player in Japan. And actually I think it was worth the wait.

I loooved Koi no Bububun and Cyborg no Oretachi. Sure Cyborg sounded like a Polysics song, but they totally rapped like their old selves on it and it made me so happy. I agree that the flow from track 1 to track 2 was nice. I don't agree with what everyone else is saying about the ending of the album being crap. I actually found it really interesting, like they were trying out a new style for each of the songs. And I love Halcali because all their stuff is different. Drivers Liscence does sound a little Heartsdales-y though (Rhymster worked with them a lot too) but I guess i'm even okay with that cause I liked the Heartdales too.

Overall I guess I feel everyone is being a little harsh on the album. Did anyone actually expect it to be their best album ever? I went in figuring it probably wouldn't be, but I loved it all the same. And while it isn't my favorite Halcali album (that goes to Bacon hands down) It was more fun than a lot of albums coming out now a days.

Also, DVD bonus! And it was a real DVD release too, not like the lame LOOK one. I wish I had read your post about the sticker (scan please?) or I would have considered getting my copy at Tower. Which brings me to another thing...

What the hell Sony. Did they just not tell anyone this album was coming out or was the marketing really THAT terrible. I went into every record store I walked by during my week in Tokyo and not a single one had the Halcali album up on their upcoming releases board. There were no posters, cutouts, displays or anything before the release. Post-release I went into all the stores I walked by again to see what kind of display Halcali got. Most stores had the bare minimum (tower in Shibuya had practically no display at all which blew my mind). It is really not surprising that Cyborg isn't even in the top twenty right now... Sony is on my epic fail list right now. Until I get my Halcali shirt. Then I will be placated.

11:43 PM

Anonymous Whiskey Spider said...

I don't suppose anyone could post a couple of tracks for those of us in lesser Halcali-aware parts of the world? I'm dying to hear Koi no Bunbunbun and Cyborg no Oretachi.

12:30 AM

Blogger jariten said...

heywood- Interesting list- it seems like we're getting a pretty wide range of opinions about Cyborg. I'm sure we couldn't disagree more about Bacon though! I'd give both Otsukare Summer and Halcalism 8 or 9 at least. They're probably among my favourite Halcali songs. I noticed someone mentioned you on 2ch too!!

novaforever- Spot on about Sony. It wasn't up on the upcoming releases board in Tower either (even more surprising considering they were running some kind of Tower exclusive promo). I keep hoping to find a stand or something devoted to Halcali in one of these places but so far it seem like we'd be lucky to even find the record on the shelves. Bizarre, considering that with the amount of name producers surrounding them (especially on Cyborg) the album would just need the smallest of pushes to get a decent amount of exposure. I'm glad you like the album too, I'm hoping the initial shock will wear off and I'll start to enjoy it more.

whiskey spider-I think the album is probably up for download on jpop suki. If you download utorrent or something, you'll be able to get the whole thing.

1:45 AM

Blogger Heywood Mogroot said...

Yeah, but if you could only choose 20 Halcali tracks for your music player, which would you choose?

My new top 20:

Strawberry Chips
Ni Fuku Hoshi
Sister Ship
GiriGiri Surfrider
Electric Sensei
Maachingu Maachi
* Koi no bububun
* Twinkle Star
* Doo The HAMMER!!
* Tip Taps Tip
Otsukare SUMMER
Densetsu no Futari
Fuwafuwa Brand New
Baby Blue!
* Tougenkyo
* HariKariMichi 19
Tsuzuki Mayonaka no Grand

So IMV 8 of the 12 songs on this CD are in my top 20. Not too bad, even if they didn't push any new tracks into my top 5. . .

5:23 AM

Anonymous Whiskey Spider said...

Not impressed. Bunbunbun is ok. (I guess they feel the need to keep reminding us what kind of sound they're going for by repeating the words "hip hop" in the song.) HaruKari Michi is also ok -- if not for my pet peeve (overuse of the vocoder) I may actually have liked it. Twinkle Star is pretty good, but that's nothing new. As for the other stuff: meh. It's strange though: it's like all the right sound ingredients are there (minus the vocoder), just not arranged in the right way or something. Arrange it one way and you get the genius that was Tandem, another way you get this kinda stuff. I mean, it's all not terrible, it's just not memorable. As for the first two albums, I'd say 75% of the songs I liked instantly the *first time* I heard them. Another 10% grew on me and I started to really like them eventually. But with this album, it feels like I have to *try* to like them.

4:52 PM

Blogger Heywood Mogroot said...

I like the vocoder stuff. . . Ni Fuku Hoshi blew my mind when I first heard it . . . HALCALI is a fun band I just wish they get to work on stuff they personally enjoy doing. They're most certainly not writing songs with me in mind so, any enjoyment I get from it is gravy.

I agree that 8 out of 12 songs on their previous albums were likeable on first listen . . . but it's not like their songs were weighty topics the first two times . . . the 8 starred songs in my list above are from this album . . . they're certainly in the listenable category.

We all want home runs, but RBI doubles work just as well, right?

9:26 PM

Anonymous Whiskey Spider said...

No, I want an album with 8 Tandem grand slams, 2 Otsukare Summer home runs, a Wakakusa Dance double, and maybe a Baby Blue base hit just to mix it up. Is that really so much to ask? :-)

Despite the new album, I still love Halcali.

11:37 PM

Blogger jariten said...

I think the only way I'm going to keep any perspective with this band is to judge them by the standards they set themselves. I know they didn't write songs specifically with me in mind, but since I like so many of them, it's not entirely accurate to say that they didn't either.
Once I get into the "well, this isn't very good, but, hey it's Halcali, what do you expect?!" I'll be in trouble.
Interesting top 20 list by the way, with so much material out their now , I should make a top 20 list myself. I'm still trying to find time to get this What's In interview translated though...!

1:41 AM

Blogger beneneuman said...

I've had my copy of the album for a couple of days now, and I have to say on a track-by-track basis, I prefer this much more to Ongaku No Susume.

I have to agree Driver's Licence is the most horrible thing I've ever heard, but it's only that track, and Endless Lover's Rain that let the side down. There's also something wrong with the track listing. I can't put my finger on it, but I'm sure putting these tracks in a different order would improve the album immensely.

Stand out tracks for me are the Cyborg No Oretachi and Koi No Bunbunbun, and of course, Twinkle Star always sounds great. In my opinion, Halcali's second best album to date.

10:50 AM

Anonymous Hasuko said...

I am VERY DISAPPOINTED of this album T___T

Frankly, I expected this album enormously from it and frankly, that afflicts me to see that best the songs are those which were left into singles ("Twinkle Star" "Tip Taps Tip" "It's PARTY TIME" and "LOOK" y_y).
"Endless lover's rain" isn't to bad too, and "Koi no BUBUN" could be good also, if the verses could be less boring and long... ^^" (in fact, i only love the refrain x3)
"Cybord Oretachi" is also a very interesting electro song (the rap part is excellent!) but it is wasted at the middle by a transition to the unmatched guitar electric, too long and boring =_="

The others songs are very average and one approaches the pop dangerously sweetened with denied : "Fessu de Ouissu" <_<"
In conclusion, this album is well below its predecessor "Ongaku No Susume", who himself was much worse than "Halcali Bacon" (which remains per hour that it is the best album of Halcali)
Really, I did not recognize any more the Halcali group of formerly which had made me tripper during hours with "Stawberry Chips", "Marching March", "Tandem", "Electric Sensei", "Giri Giri Surf Rider" or "Baby Blue", to quote only them =D

Here is my analysis of this album! (I hope that machine translation will have gone well! xD lol) But in any case, I am reassured to see that I am not the only one to be disappointed of this album, I expected this album enormously from it (3 years of patience nevertheless!) and really, that afflicts me to see that a group formerly as original and funny as Halcali arrived from there at there... (to be able to widen its public...?)

I thus expect from them enormously their forthcoming news songs, but with this time even more aprehension than before... On this, thank you to have read me! ^^

Gros Bisous ! Bye !! ^3^

3:19 PM

Blogger Risa said...

I was expecting the album to be worse than it was, so I'm happy that I was a bit surprised in that sense. But I think what it all comes down to is... death threat letters need to be sent to OTF to dig Halcali out of the ditch they're in. Haha

6:44 PM

Blogger jariten said...

risa- In the What's In interview I'm still translating they mention OTF, and how they struggled trying to find a decent order to put the tracks in. It's pretty interesting, I've nearly got it done!

hasuko- I agree with you about Cyborg, that guitar solo is about twice as long as it should be.

1:50 AM

Anonymous sora-kara said...

my copy hasn't arrived yet.
seems like a lot of mixed opinions about this album....

apparently it ranked at #49 on oricon for the week.

6:12 PM

Anonymous mw_jimmy said...

It's a bit of mess isn't it? :(

We need somebody to put together a hack and slash job with Nakamura B-Sides in, and the rubbish cut out. I think my favourite new tracks are those that bookend the album. "Endless Lover's Rain" is great too, but it's placed really badly.

9:22 PM

Blogger Heywood Mogroot said...

I agree with Jimmy ^ just counting the B-sides from 2006 there were 4 quality Halcali songs that didn't even make it onto the album.

The negativity above seems to be kinda, "If you remove all the good songs, this album is disappointing!" . . .

The album certainly starts strong with 3 new(ish) pure-Halcali tracks, then hits the Tandem/Strawberry highpoint, then a slow track as good as Hello Hello or Hare Tokidoki, a nice Polysics surprise, and ends with 3 solid upbeat singles each with a different sound.

There were two lame tracks, but even Bacon had its Stylee Stylee, and Ongaku had Shibafu and Wakakusa, which are nearly identical to the two skippers on Cyborg.

2:21 AM

Anonymous Novaforever said...

I find your comment hilarious Heywood, since Stylee Stylee Wakakusa are two of my favorite Halcali songs ever. Maybe that is why i'm not feeling as negative towards this album as everyone else...?

2:35 AM

Anonymous sora-kara said...

As good as the b-sides on the singles were, if they were included on the album instead of new tracks we'd all be sitting here going "What the hell Sony? I'd kill for new tracks! Even if they weren't as good as these! We've heard all these already! Already bought the singles...now we're spending how much just for a couple new album tracks?! What a rip! Im not buying it." etcetcetc

haha, fans are soo hard to please. :P

5:34 AM

Blogger jariten said...

I'm glad the b-sides were no where near Cyborg. As much as I like them, there's too much old material on there as it is.

I also love Wakakusa and Stylee too, and I found a new appreciation for Shibafu (and much of Nosusume in general in fact).

11:43 AM

Anonymous xthrowxxdownx said...

i came across a review of Cyborg Oretachi on a site called Japanator

2:14 AM

Anonymous Patrick said...

I'm a bit late, I received my copy yesterday and had a first listen this morning. I had read all the reviews here first, and I was a bit expecting the worse, but I thought I'd try to forget about my preconceptions from the singles and the reviews and just give it a good old listen to see what it felt to me.

First I thought that it was pretty well balanced. I was never bored, I didn't think of skipping track. I definitely liked all the new tracks, and I didn't even mind "Tip Taps Tip" as much as I did when I listened to it on its own.

I think I felt a bit glad actually that it's not all upbeat tracks. "endless lovers rain" and "Drivers License" bring out other styles/moods that they do well at. I also felt that there's plenty of rapping throughout, and not too much "singing".

In my book, it's a pretty fine album, and I'll be listening to it many more times!
Go Halcali! : )

9:01 AM


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