The Gazette

Traces, Vol. 2

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Taking a brief hiatus from writing after a slew of new studio albums, the world's biggest visual kei band returned to the studio for that most Japanese of offerings, the re-recordings album. While these are typically quickly tossed-off contractual obligations, this is actually a wonderfully well-thought-out, excellently sequenced selection that, despite being "just" a compilation, might be (whisper it) one of the best albums the band has ever released. Of course, there's a twist: all the songs included here are ballads. But this gimmick actually works to the album's advantage, because the Gazette's ballads have always been one of their major strengths; the dark, bittersweet, melancholy songwriting is just beautiful, and Ruki is a fantastic lyricist with a distinctly Japanese sensibility. What's really nice to see is that they've taken the effort to make at least some of the revisions markedly different from the originals, using an acoustic-based (albeit not entirely unplugged) approach. Their major-label budget also allows for the use of real piano and strings, which makes for a huge difference. And the decision to proceed largely in chronological order through the band's discography gives a nice sense of progression -- though the absence of "Chizuru," arguably their greatest-ever song, is baffling. The remake of fan favorite "Cassis" is particularly beautiful: its simple, optimistic melody, building gradually to an epic climax, reminds listeners of just how fully formed the band's sound was, even on their early albums. The heartbreaking "D.L.N." is arguably even prettier, while the piano and nifty Spanish guitar on "Reila" really lift this gorgeous, bittersweet song to another level, as does the lovely string arrangement on "Shiroki Yuuutsu."

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