Ikimono Gakari

Life Album

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Soundtrack vibe is the species character of J-pop bands, but still, Ikimono Gakari probably outdo everyone except maybe Angela Aki in this regard, and in a classy way at that. No trio this side of Therapy? can make so much noise, and definitely no pop noise: beside the backdrop of a rhythm section and clean guitar -- which would be enough by itself to make it worth a listen -- there's a mountain of synths and strings (probably synthesized, too), all topped out by a sweet voice of Kiyoe Yoshioka. Anyone at least slightly familiar with modern pop or any Hollywood production (barring horror flicks) is bound to get a déjà vu, but it's also hard not to enjoy this record. The band really knows its way with melodies and arrangements, and they also try to vary the songwriting approach, interspersing the dynamic, sunny songs with a couple of mellow numbers, like "Soprano" and "Tsuki To Atashi To Reizouko." Granted, those just follow another standard -- for ballads, not pop/rockers -- but still, it's no small feat, considering how many Japanese genre counterparts of Ikimono Gakari are content to record the same song 10 to 15 times over. What's more, "Tokyo Saru Monogatari" has a retro British flavor, and on a couple of other tracks Hotaka Yamashita even breaks out the harmonica, although he seems to be shy about it, which is a shame. At the end of the day, Ikimono Gakari definitely elevate predictability to an art form and dwell firmly inside a J-pop paradigm, but there's no sense in holding that against them, because they obviously don't care for the avant-garde or paradigm shifts -- they're here to have a good, sentimental, rockin', sometimes mellow time, and that's precisely what they do. Resisting the charm with which Kiyoe sings out "Sayonara!" in "Good Morning" would be hard and definitely unnecessary, and the rest of the album is no worse, after all.

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