Album Review: SPYAIR “4”

SPYAIR remains my favorite band, recent postings here notwithstanding. SPYAIR is one of those very rare bands where I like everything they’ve released commercially. “4” continues in this tradition.

Okay, while the band was still “growing up”, some of 2007’s “Can You Listen?” was a little rough for my tastes, but since signing with Sony in 2010, they’ve scored a perfect 100% with me.

Likable as their singles are, it’s their album deep tracks that get two or three times the play around here. I’ve been waiting two years now for a fresh batch of deep tracks. The wait is over.

“4” collects three previously released singles, Imagination イマジネーション, ROCKINOUT, and Firestarter ファイアスターター, along with the current single, I’m A Believer アイム・ア・ビリーバー. Then there are eight new deep tracks for fans like me.

What I like about SPYAIR’s deep tracks is that they experiment with different styles and sounds. They always manage to sound like SPYAIR, but they don’t always sound like their singles.

I remain functionally illiterate in Japanese, so my knowledge of their intent is limited to a single subtitled interview on MTV81 from over two years ago promoting the release of the third album, “Million”.

In that interview, UZ says he wants to be like bands that are musically flexible. Overall, SPYAIR wants to remain a mainstream band, but without being pigeonholed into any one style. They want to push out from the middle in all directions, while still remaining uniquely SPYAIR.

“4” accomplishes this goal.

Each of the eight deep tracks is markedly different from the singles and from each other. Each retains that signature SPYAIR sound, yet is completely distinctive.

COME IN SUMMER is flavored with that islands/calypso beat they first experimented with on “Million” with Blowing. It happily be-bops along.

Far Away is ballad that follows along in the vein of あの頃、僕らは同じ未来を (Anogoro, bokura wa onaji mirai o, [That Time, Our Same Future]) from the “Best” album. It’s all piano and strings that builds from simple accompaniment to a big sweeping production.

NO-ID is a duet with female singer JASMINE. It’s a pure pop song with a driving beat. It has “single” written all over it, so don’t be surprised if it comes out as one. I’m unfamiliar with JASMINE, so all I can say is that her voice harmonizes really well with Ike’s. (Even if she has to crank up the Auto-Tune to do so.)

I liked the way Rock This Way with SEAMO showed the band’s—and especially Ike’s—flexibility and ability to work with other artists. NO-ID does the same, although it’s style is far-removed from Rock This Way.

Darekanosei ダレカノセイ is filled with UZ’s guitar and Ike’s wailing, sailing vocals on the chorus. Meanwhile, UZ raps the verses, like he did in Supersonic and Trust Your Anthem. In all, the song packs a satisfying punch.

EZ Going is a light catchy thing that bounces along. I’m not a big fan of background sound effects or Kawaii girls chatting along, but I got over it in time on Are You Champion?? Yes I’m Champion, so I expect in time I’ll get over it on EZ Going too. After all the song is easy going, just as the title implies. And it includes a real brass section, not synth brass.

Someday, Somewhere is the biggest stretch on the whole album. Think of SPYAIR as an EDM band. It’s mainly synth riffs over a dance beat with Ike experimenting with vocal effects. I like it, but then again I’ve been a fan of EDM since decades before the term existed. I’m a fan of SPYAIR too, so it works for me.

4 LIFE stretches a lot too. In it, Ike takes a break while UZ handles lead vocals. If you were to hear it out of context, going by the vocal you wouldn’t recognize it as SPYAIR at first. Subtract the vocal, and the sound is 100% SPYAIR. Sort of like, “Gee, that sounds like SPYAIR, but who is that singing?” It’s UZ.

Stand By Me is the least experimental of the deep tracks. Instantly recognizable as “classic” SPYAIR, it’s a mid-tempo piece that gives Ike plenty of room to stretch his vocals.

Limited Edition “B” (AICL 2991-2)

Nice as the studio stuff is, SPYAIR has always been about the live performance. They’re happiest playing live, and happier still playing outdoors.

Limited Edition “B” has a second audio disc recorded at the Fujikyu Highland Conifer Forest live this past August. It contains the first live recordings of ROCKINOUT, Firestarter, and Blowing along with 10 other favorites.

My longtime faves OVER and LINK IT ALL are present in freshened arrangements. I like these older songs a lot and am glad that they remain on SPYAIR’s live set lists.

No SPYAIR live is complete without Rock ‘n Roll. And you’ve never heard 0 GAME like this before.

Standouts include a new arrangement of the long underrated To. It gets a beefed-up drum and bass line while UZ switches to acoustic guitar. As usual, Ike’s soaring vocals are spine tingling.

Beautiful Days gets a full acoustic treatment. It’s also slowed down a bit becoming almost mournful. Last Moment starts out slowly with Ike singing only over a light guitar line, then it kicks in with full force. Nice.

Genjou Destruction, Supersonic and I Want a Place round out the set, all strongly played.

What I like best about SPYAIR live, is that they turn up Momiken’s bass and bring Kenta’s drums forward as well. While at the same time, their live recordings leave the “air” and dynamic range in the mix by not compressing the hell out of it. This adds power, while still being easy on the ears when played at high volume. If only their studio versions did this.

While I’ve been putting the studio disc through its paces, the one I’ve been listening to most is the live disc. It just sounds so much better.

Limited Edition “A” (AICL 2989-90)

Six videos come on the DVD in Limited Edition “A”. It includes the promotional videos for the singles, Imagination, ROCKINOUT, Firestarter and I’m a Believer.

There’s also the eleven and a half-minute Making of I’m a Believer. Working in a public library, I was hoping to get some tips on how to herd teens. It’s like herding cats. Still not sure how they did it. Of course the opportunity to scream “So what!” dozens of times could have something to do with it.

The disc closes out with a video montage over the live recording of Just Like This 2015, the theme of the live this past August at Fujikyu Highland Conifer Forest. Along the same lines as the video for Glory, it features quick cuts of scenes from the live and serves mainly as an advertisement for the forthcoming DVD, set for release on January 13, which is already waiting patiently in my cart at amazon.co.jp.

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