UNCHAIN - Hello, Young Souls!!

review - 03.09.2011 10:01

Still happy, but a bit more mature.

Melodic core band UNCHAIN expanded upon their discography of upbeat rock/pop music with their third album, Hello, Young Souls!!, in July 2010. While their previous album, Music is the key, was a non-stop optimism ride, this newest release is a mash up of that style with a complex exploration of musical genres and a touch more grown up sound.

At the start of the album we are greeted by a bizarre a cappella half minute "welcome to the no-where land" by singer Tanigawa Masanori and an angelic choir in no-where [intro]. His last line "Hello, Young Souls" echoes off eerily into the starkly contrasting intro of Saves The Day. A bright and explosive opening track, it is a good example of the band's ability to mix and merge all different facets of world music. Anchored at its heart is a strong rock guitar thread, similar to something one might hear utilized by bands such as U2. Mixed in is some gritty picked guitar a la punk rock band STRAIGHTENER. An electro loop is added for a dance flavour, and another guitar joins off-the-beat to give a funk slant. The choir from the introduction track has been borrowed to join in with the joyful chorus of "follow me, you'll be free" and provide some whole-hearted "hey"s to give the track a hint of gospel. During the second verse a Caribbean drum rhythm joins the musical soup, followed by electric guitar impersonating an Asian sitar. On paper it sounds like the musical equivalent of a multi-car pile up, but somehow UNCHAIN weave their magic to bind it all together to make a very nice listen.

Next track Super Collider's stand out points are guitarist Sato Masafumi's speedy riff running throughout and Masanori's falsetto delivery of the title lyric. For a rock band they have a great sense of choral arrangement. They produce choruses that are spine-tinglingly smooth and tightly performed by the lead singer with bassist Tani Hiroaki and Masafumi on back up, who also possesses a fine voice capable of reaching eye-watering high notes. The same is true for almost all the tracks, especially in the unashamedly disco Don't Stop The Music. Featuring an intro of an aged, tinny recording of funk guitar and the repeating refrain of "don't stop the dance music, get it on", it's like an homage to 70s "Blaxploitation" music. The most fun track on the whole album, it blends sharp strings and trumpet with some of the funkiest bass and guitar they could muster. Drummer Yoshida Shogo has a real job to do here as he switches rhythms between the verse, chorus, second verse, bridge and final chorus. He bangs out a perfectly timed Latin rhythm to bring a bit of the carnival to town, and it succeeds as the track as a whole has a great party feel, even if it feels a little tongue-in-cheek. Slightly cheesy but undeniably catchy, it's guaranteed to get people bopping.

There are a few tracks that are very reminiscent of their previous album's peppiness. Graffiti Book is a sunny take on light rock mixed with classy bebop. The pop-rock Higher has the characteristic positive lyrics: "Baby take you higher, let me free your soul, smashing through the darkness of the mind". This is sung amidst ska-esque percussion and jazz vibes. Stay In The Rough is another track featuring their signature non-stop rapid drums, going at all cylinders to maintain the 200bpm tempo that they're so fond of.

The band have tried to add an edge to some of their songs this time around. Gravity has a heavy guitar intro suggesting something darker, although it leads into their trademark bright melodic core rock and silky harmonies once more. The punky Love The One is pure skater rock, complete with the repetitive bass strumming, hand claps and "ooh ooh" backing vocals. Or it would be if the sugary lyrics didn't contain the likes of "I love her with all my heart" and "she loves me for sure". Don't Know Why has a moody bassline, angry drums and more restrained vocals, making it the least upbeat tune they've come out with. All of this is a welcome addition among the more recognisable happy and jolly melodies.

Title track Hello, Young Souls seems to have borrowed from Radiohead in its first minute - it's all cymbal-heavy drumming, distorted guitar and squealing feedback in the first 30 seconds. However, Masanori's vocals are much more mellow than the depressed tones of Thom Yorke. Sung in English like the rest of the album, this final tune has a blues and soul influenced main melody beneath the rock outer shell. They've managed to team a cool, relaxed tune with heavy rock instrumentation to create a strangely pleasing mix. The choir also makes a reappearance for an abrupt divine intervention two thirds of the way in. The choir's final contribution is to finish the album in the same way it began, with sweet choral singing and some clever wordplay in now-here [outro]. The first press of the album finishes with the bonus track Sugar - reminisce over 90's, an affectionate take on 90's pop with Masanori singing about making babies with such a carefree boyband swagger that it's easy to picture him in a fluoro shell suit and high tops.

Hello, Young Souls!! doesn't completely break new ground for UNCHAIN, but it does show that they're more than capable of giving us more variety than previously thought. Their catchy tunes, detailed arrangements and intricate playing show that they have bags of talent for sure (even if not so much in the lyric writing department), and make this album a must-listen for any fan of melodic rock.
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