Secret Code

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For their fourth studio release, the massively popular boy band Tohoshinki embraced the same type of progression seen by other Japanese boy bands in recent albums. Where they originally sang straightforward bits of mainstream pop with a basic, underlying hip-hop influence, their latest CD, Secret Code, shows the group starting to explore more retro influences within the genre as well as inklings of others. The album opens with a jazz-heavy bit of spy movie music, like something Yoko Kanno might have penned for Cowboy Bebop. It transitions over the course of "Force" from that jazz into more standardized R&B, which it holds on to for a few well-performed, if relatively unmemorable, songs. There's a bit of a jump in energy with the largely instrumental "9095," followed by a bit of Korean in "Mirotic." There's just a touch of funk in "Stand Up!," and more than a touch of dance-electronica in "Survivor." Though there are additional bits of standard pop balladry closing out the rest of the album, there's a secret closing track waiting for listeners. An a cappella version of an earlier track gives the listener a chance to hear what the boys can actually do without all of the backing tracks. The result is a nice one, though it seems more a standard ploy than a true musical development. The album is nice all the way through -- it's rarely more than "nice," but it never falls below the bar, either.