Galileo Galilei - PORTAL

review - 14.02.2012 11:01

A superb second outing for the indie rockers.

Hokkaido rockers Galileo Galilei have been enjoying a good deal of success since their debut in 2008. Their first major album, Parade, placed at an impressive number five on the Oricon Charts at the start of 2011. A year on, their second album PORTAL seems set to be as big a hit, not least because some of the tracks are featured as opening themes for popular anime series.

PORTAL is made up of a generous 14 tracks, although a couple are shorter and instrumental-only. They vary from electro-pop tunes to more conventional indie rock, but all have a mellowness and innocent joy about them. The first track Imaginary Friends is a good example of this. It starts out as a typical indie rock track, with it's upbeat electric guitar riff and punctuating bass drum beat. However a sharply contrasting synth melody soon shows us that it's a bit different. Vocalist Ozaki Yuuki's relaxed tones have been complemented here by an unassuming female voice sung an octave higher, giving the song an air of whimsy. The track has also been given a healthy dose of reverb to add to the sense of fantasy. The chorus is a very uplifting one where the vocal union really shines. It's a delight of an opening track, and so it is unsurprising that it was snapped up to be used as the theme song for the Shueisha Young Jump weekly manga magazine spinoffs, "Aoharu Sweet" and "Aoharu Bitter."

Dancier pop tunes are dotted throughout the album. Sako Hitoshi's complex, bouncy bass part is the solid foundation of the disco track Roujin to umi. The band members all seem to have fun with this energetic track, especially Ozaki who shows off his easy falsetto in the chorus. Freud is a is quite similar in vibe, but is heavier on the synth. A muted drum and bass beat has been used to provide a twist on the otherwise bright and breezy pop-rock Sayonara FRONTIER. In the uber catchy Asu e, it's funk meets rock to produce a great rhythmic verse yet anthemic and recognisable chorus. Some may recognise this as the first opening theme for anime series "Gundam AGE."

Producing feel-good rock/pop seems to be second nature for the band, as there's no shortage of them in this offering. The rapid rock track Kite flies and soars like its title, with Iwai Fumito's quick guitar strums never relenting. The much more relaxed Good Shoes chooses to plod along at a slower pace. Again the guitar is a highlight but this time as a sweet, flatpicked riff instead. Hana no ookami features more fine guitarwork on both electric and acoustic guitar, the high-pitched, ringing notes able to evoke images of sunny springtime during bitter winter. Similarly in the smooth and flowing Swan the delicate guitar helps bring out the mellow huskiness of Ozaki's voice, giving the song some gorgeous verses. The chorus has a harder, anguished rock sound, so that it seems to contrast the grace of a swan above water with the turbulence of its kicking feet beneath. It's a real gem of a song on this album.

The simple guitar riff followed by twinkling glockenspiel at the start of Aoi shiori will be recogniseable to many, as it was used as the opening theme to hit 2011 anime "Ano hi mita hana no namae o bokutachi wa mada shiranai." The guitar and glockenspiel riff runs its way through the whole song to the end like a thread, upon which the warm and happy melody plays. It's quite a nostalgic and thought provoking song about revisiting the past with someone to "fill in the blanks." Maybe because of this the female backing singer who showed up in Imaginary Friends is quite prominent in this heartwarming track where she and Ozaki seem to be conversing.

One of the biggest highlights on the album, although it only just pips the others to the post, would be Hoshi wo otosu. In this the synth and reverberation that pop up so frequently on this album work to their fullest. The synth is less shrill and is used more as atmospheric drones, which together with Ozaki's echoing vocals gives the song an otherworldly feel. The guitar melody loops dreamily and is especially effective in the wonderfully elating chorus, where it joins all the instruments to moving effect. The female backing singer has also lent her vocals again to produce high, staccato notes that sound artificial but also angelic. The overall impact of the song makes you feel wide-eyed, as if you're staring into the vastness of space.

Galileo Galilei had quite a lot to prove after their successful debut, and with PORTAL they have shown that they can more than deliver the goods. Their second album is full of well-crafted compositions that stick in the mind, and the use of several tracks in the media is proof that others have recognised this. One would be hard pressed to find a weak song in this release, although some may feel that they use too much synth. The drawback for the band is that expectations will be set even higher for album number three.

The limited edition of the album comes with bonus DVD featuring the music videos for Aoi shiori, Sayonara FRONTIER and Asu e.
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