Ikimono Gakari

Hajimari no Uta

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Ikimono Gakari feel more comfortable in their niche with each album, honing their brand of sugary pop/rock that owes as much to Celine Dion as it does to the Carpenters, and on Hajimari no Uta, they finally get to the point where they begin to expand their living space, not really to try new things, but just for the fun of it. The result is, indeed, more fun than their previous outings, which were as soft and pleasant as they come and sold like hotcakes, but remained thin on memorable songwriting. Not to worry, fans looking for another shot of their favorite band will find all the Ikimono elements in the expected places -- Hajimari no Uta is all sun, optimism, clean guitars, pianos and wide oceans of keys and synthetic strings in the background. Kiyoe Yoshioka's voice is as girly as always -- not very unique, maybe, especially on the Japanese scene, but sounding just the right way and without a touch of shrillness that's often the downside of this type of vocals. There's nary a minor chord in sight on the album, except for a couple of ballads, which still sound hopeful, not wistful or, God forbid, sad. But this time around, the music has much more dynamics, as well as some memorable hooks. Tunes like "Akizakura" grab the attention by keeping an energetic tempo, "How to Make It" has a bluesy slant, and "Joyful" opens like a garage rock track and plays like the Pillows, which is a very nice -- and logical -- direction for Ikimono Gakari to take: the Pillows, after all, play in the same musical area, just several levels higher on the maturity ladder. Hajimari no Uta is not an indie rock album by any means, but it has more to offer than hackneyed melodies and stock chord progressions, and comes across as the best and freshest thing Ikimono Gakari have recorded to this point.

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