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Yugake, Mizukagami's second opus, rights most of the wrongs found on the group's 2003 debut. The most noticeable improvement is in the songwriting; not that the group has changed direction (we are still deep inside progressive rock territory), but gone are the clichés and in comes the drama. Tracks like "Hanamizake" and "Riu" build some nice tension and feature sound developments. Second improvement: Junya Anan's overall keyboard sound has gone from vintage '80s to vintage '70s -- and he displays good chops in the longer pieces. Futaba's flute playing has also improved, both in terms of proficiency and relevance to the music. Her voice, though, remains the main draw in the group's sound, despite occasional off-keying on stretched notes. The delicate and lute-driven "Tsukinokusa Tsuyunokusa" provides the perfect vehicle for her soaring soprano. "Yugake" is also a strong song, and the bit of music box adds a surprising touch (the group's first album was devoid of such embellishments). As for the closing "Ruten -Ame-," it features a fast-paced instrumental section, with electric guitar and organ trading lead lines à la Genesis. All in all, Yugake makes a strong album of six consistent pieces. If you like your progressive rock slightly ethereal, drenched in keyboards, and sung in Japanese, this will make a good addition to your collection. And it represents an impressive step forward from Mizukagami's first CD. Now, let us hope the third album takes less than four years to prepare!

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