The first album “Unhappy Refrain” by wowaka (also known as GenjitsutouhiP) has been released recently and one of the Vocaloidism readers riningear has gotten hold of the album and kindly provided us with a review of it, which you can read right after the break~
And here’s riningear’s review below, with all credits due to her.
For over a year now, I’ve been a fan of wowaka. It wasn’t just one or two songs that I enjoyed; it was his sound, which to me has always been very fresh and typically very upbeat. Then, “Unhappy Refrain” was announced, and of course I got very excited – and not just because it was wowaka.
As many of you may know, it’s his first major album release. There aren’t that many artists that can say that – the most recent one to have such a status is DECO*27. What you may not know (or remember) is that it’s also the first album of the independent label “balloom” started by wowaka, hachi, Furukawa, OSTER and several others.
I listened to the album and took the chance to listen to all the songs with a clear mind, really to filter out the songs that I might not enjoy or listen to in the future. (Of course, we all have those few songs that we like at the moment but never listen to later.) Even to my own surprise, I ended up not deleting anything.
Really, there’s a lot to be said about this album. In a good way.
1. アンハッピレフレイン (UNHAPPY REFRAIN)
2. ローリンガール (ROLLING GIRL)
3. 積み木の人形 (Building Blocks’ Doll)
4. 僕のサイノウ (My Talent)
5. 日常と地球の額縁 (Usual Life and Earth’s Frame)
6. テノヒラ (Palm of Your Hand)
7. とおせんぼ (Standing In [Your] Way)
9. 裏表ラバーズ (Two-Faced LOVERS)
10. グレーゾーンにて。(In the GREY ZONE.)
11. ずれていく (Out Of Step)
12. レバシバルドール (REVERSIBLE DOLL)
13. ワールズエンド・ダンスホール (WORLD’S END DANCEHALL)
14. プリズムキューブ (PRISM CUBE)
(DISC2 – remixes)
1. 裏表ラバーズ (CaptainMirai)
2. とおせんぼ (acane_madder)
3. ローリンガール (acane_madder)
4. 僕のサイノウ (toku feat. pagodes)
5. 積み木の人形 (toku feat. pagodes)
6. ずれていく (whoo)
7. ワールズエンド・ダンスホール (dixie flatline)
The first thing you’ll notice about wowaka’s first disc, especially compared to his older works, is that it’s very heavy in rock influence. His older songs tend to have a more shrill, electronic feel to them, as if he was almost going for techno; here, he phases out of his electric sound a bit more and almost entirely wanders in the pop-rock realm. He’s switched the roles of his musical interests, switching from an almost-electronica sound with rock influence to rock with electronica influence. Though, where he does have the electric sound, it sounds distorted and grungy, and only enhances the flavor of the song. The introductions, breaks and conclusions often include some extra sound effects, like static or whooshing. It’s a very interesting sound, actually, and not one to be missed at all.
wowaka picked his “greatest hits,” which is like picking “great cream” from the cream of the crop. His songs are very high-quality in most respects – great compositional quality, interesting lyrics and even impressive mixing, all done by one person. One downside of his works, though, is that the structure, themes and even a bit of the melodies may feel a bit recycled. With this, often, fans compare songs to each other by layering them on top of each other. Still, each individual song, as a unit, is still unique in its own way, with a different beat, feel or theme. They’re distinguishable as wowaka songs, but identifiable as independent songs. His works are also criticized for making Miku sing in an extremely high pitch. The problem is that it’s hard to imagine most of the songs originally done otherwise, especially with his electronica influence; it’s argued that her high pitch adds to the style of the music, along this with being a bit of wowaka’s trademark voice style.
It doesn’t seem like the songs themselves are in any obvious chronological order. Maybe it is, and we’re missing a point of some sort, but even trying to connect the lyrics into a story is hard (especially since I’m an English speaker). We’ll just assume wowaka wanted this order for some reason. Still, it works. “Unhappy Refrain” kicks off the album with a bang, and “Rolling Girl” keeps it going. The flow of songs is great; then again, his songs tend to flow one into another easily anyway, so it’s to be expected.
One hook of the album is that all of his songs that he uploaded onto NicoNicoDouga, up to “World’s End Dancehall,” are on this CD, revamped entirely. One that seemed a bit similar was “Rolling Girl,” and of course, he left “Unhappy Refrain” untouched. “Two-Faced Lovers” has a nice change to it, and “Lineart” has a nice improvement as well, being a little more so, if I must use a word, flowing. The one with my favorite improvement is “Reversible Doll,” previously only featured on his independent album “SEVEN GIRLS’ DISCORD.” This was one of my favorite songs of his already, even before this album, and something about this new version seems so more engaged and intense. If you’re going to listen to any of the revamped songs, make it this one. It’s an intense, high-paced song that will get you going on any day.
Other notable changes are the audibility of the guitar solo at the end of “World’s End Dancehall,” which was previously drowned out, and how “Standing in (Your) Way” seems a little more… synthesized. It feels like an 80’s song, really, though not for the worse. The song itself builds up well as it goes on. Also, if you want to talk about drastic change, “Two-Faced Lovers” has this. It also adapts a more synthesized feel, but at the same time it still feels like a true rock song.
The new releases are great. I won’t talk about “Unhappy Refrain,” since many of you have probably already heard it, though I’ll say that if you’re looking for “pure rock,” wowaka-style, this is it. The other two songs, though, are pretty good. “Usual Life and Earth’s Frame” sounds very typical of wowaka. The structure and style really match his other songs, though it’s still very enjoyable. However, “Prism Cube” is very soft and different in comparison to his recent hits. It builds up nicely, though, and has a great beat. It’s definitely worth the listen. These are two new tracks worth waiting for.
Quite frankly, I’d be content if they simply sold the first CD as an individual CD – but the other hook of the album is the second disc. This is full of remixes of wowaka’s songs by other artists, including Dixie Flatline of “Just Be Friends” fame and acane_madder, a popular Nico utatte.
Personally, I don’t have anything negative to say about any of these. Really. They’re all remixes by different artists, so they each have their own styles – from whoo’s jazzy “Out of Step post-rock” remix to the techno-electronica take on “World’s End Dancehall” by Dixie Flatline. I have to say, though, my favorite is toku’s remix of “My Talent.” I think it’s kind of how I envision a remix to be, but that’s just me. The “Two-Faced Lovers reverse-Edge mix” also has a great beat. It’s easily one of the catchiest songs on the entire album. I’m sure there’s a different favorite for each person, depending on tastes. You’d have to pick through every remix to find the one that fits your tastes. It’s a good variety.
In fact, this entire album is a nice variety. I’m not just saying that because I’m a wowaka fan. In a single disc, you listen to the soaring emotion of “Lineart,” the slow, moving ballad “Tenohira” (which wowaka has redone quite a bit – this is the third version) and the softer yet very upbeat feel of “Prism Cube,” along with the different great remixes by the artists on the second disc.
Mastering is the part of the album that should frankly be the least noticed, because if it’s good, there’s nothing to point out in the first place. Still, with a professional like John Davis of the Metropolis Studios in London in charge of the mastering, I have to take note here of the excellent audio quality of the whole album. See, what someone in mastering does is make a “master disc” that all the other discs to be distributed are copied from. It’s not just copying and pasting music to a disc; it’s making sure there’s no “peaks” in the music, no unnecessary cracks and no tracks with uneven volume, when compared to other tracks.
Certainly, wowaka left this in the right hands. It was probably essential that the audio quality was at its best for such an important album as “Unhappy Refrain,” especially with all the little sound effects and moments of silence that wowaka incorporates. So, I have to give major props to John Davis for his work. The audio is crystal-clear, there’s no static where there shouldn’t be, and there’s no peaking. For all the CDs I’ve listened to, this is honestly and sincerely the highest-quality audio I’ve ever heard.
If you have the money to get it, I highly, highly recommend purchasing Unhappy Refrain to support wowaka and the balloom label. The album costs 2500 yen (about 30~31 USD) before shipping, and it’s available on Amazon.jp and CD Japan (cdjapan.co.jp) for purchase. It comes in a 2-disc edition, in a normal-sized CD case, and, for those of you who can read Japanese, the lyrics are included in a little lyric book. If you can also find the first-press edition somehow, it comes with a nice cover slip and a sticker. (No guitar pick, however.) Some Amazon buyers have also found off-vocals of this album’s versions of “World’s End Dancehall,” “Rolling Girl” and “Prism Cube” included.
Don’t forget, Unhappy Refrain not only a well-done album by a talented musician; it’s also a milestone in the Vocaloid community.
P.S. If you listen hard to some of the tracks, I’m suspecting use of other Vocaloids, but I can’t be sure of this… Also, thanks to xxKMSakura and vgperson for helping me translate that one track’s title, and for helping me figure out some of the song translations.