Ikimono Gakari

My Song Your Song

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Japanese bands are generally not fond of stylistic change, and so there wasn't much reason to expect that Ikimono Gakari, the blueprint of commercial J-rock, would offer anything other than their trademark sugary guitar pop on My Song Your Song, the third album in their Top Five streak. The record does really provide more of the same, but the band manages to throw in some idiosyncrasies that help it avoid accusations of being an example of cloning technology -- only minor stuff, of course, as the base foundation of their music is intact: it's the same shimmering guitar melodies and heartfelt female vocals propped by simple rhythms and drenched in strings and synths. The tunes are uniformly romantic and strictly major key; it's actually pretty amazing how a bunch of guys who don't grow younger are able to compose like they're still 17 and the summer is never-ending. But then again, they've had so much practice, they probably can write this kind of music in their sleep. Still, two things stand out about My Song Your Song, the first being the arrangements, which are lush even by Ikimono Gakari's generous standards: they qualify to be called a "string rock," not just a guitar pop band. The second is that the band's quest to be better, bigger, sweeter brings it, obviously unwittingly, to the retro pop sound of the '60s and '70s -- not for the first time, but more than ever. "Message," for example, is a very poppy rock & roll number with mouth harp, a brass section, and a real fiddle, and "Happy Smile Again" boasts some old-time synths and is reminiscent of Shocking Blue. The retro vibe is not omnipresent, but it helps to lessen the album's biggest flaw -- its extreme monotony: the music is constantly pleasant, but the single sunny mood and the unchanging tempo of the record run a huge risk of becoming boring.

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