WagakkiBand - Otonoe

review - 02.05.2018 10:01

WagakkiBand trade in madness for mellowness on their third original effort.

Five years into their career, no one has yet thought up a name for the music WagakkiBand plays. To describe their own sound, fellow crossover act AKARA have coined the term “J-trad rock”, but that’s not really caught on elsewhere. Then again, it’s fair to ask whether a genre tag is even needed for a band whose sound is so unmistakable, even as they continue to drift ever further away from their roots as a Vocaloid cover band. Their third original album Otonoe, which was released on April 25th, finds WagakkiBand at their mellowest yet.

As long-time fans of theirs will know, WagakkiBand’s journey away from their signature ‘blitzkrieg’ style – featuring all instrumentalists playing at once in seemingly chaotic arrangements – began as soon as they started writing their own material. Roughly half of 2015’s Yasou emaki consisted of the kind of uptempo bangers that’ve led some to mislabel the group as a folk metal outfit. Shikisai saw this figure drop to about a third, whilst on Otonoe, about a quarter of the twelve songs fit this mould. There are still plenty of nods throughout the album to the old ‘blitzkrieg’ style, but nothing that quite reaches the lunacy of Ikusa.

Instead, the majority of the album is given over to a selection of breezy midtempo tunes, with many evoking the feel of some members’ other projects. For instance, the acoustic ballad Doppo is a piano away from sounding like Hanafugetsu. The tidier arrangements don’t mean we hear any less from the various instrumentalists. If anything, the calmer style makes their individual performances much easier to pick out. A special mention must go to shamisenist Ninagawa Beni’s turn on the absurdly catchy Yukikage-Boushi.

Halfway through, Otonoe hits listeners with a curveball. Complete with autotuned vocals, turntable scratches and a looped sample resembling Panjabi MC’s Mundian To Bach Ke, Shizumanai-Taiyou is the closest WagakkiBand have come to EDM. The composer responsible is Kurona, the band’s self-styled ‘heretical’ wadaiko drummer who has a long history of experimentation. Another surprise, albeit a lesser one, is the slow-burning majesty of Sabakuno-Komoriuta, which was somehow overlooked as the closing track.

Understandably, the decision to favour mellowness over madness will disappoint some purists. However, the emergence of other crossover acts in WagakkiBand’s wake, such as the aforementioned AKARA, mean there’re now plenty of alternative sources for that blitzkrieg fix. On the other band, for anyone who may have found the likes of Ikusa a little overwhelming, Otonoe provides an opportunity to experience WagakkiBand in a more tranquil light.

Otonoe can be downloaded or streamed via the following digital distribution platforms:

iTunes - https://itunes.apple.com/jp/album/id1364392075?app=itunes&ls=1
Apple Music - https://itunes.apple.com/jp/album/id1364392075?app=apple&ls=1
Spotify - http://open.spotify.com/album/6oxsOR237wEfw6b3yLLdhP
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