An Cafe: Gokutama Rock Cafe
by Rachael Carothers,
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An Café, also known as Antic Cafe, released their first full-length album, titled Shikisai Moment, in 2005. Since then, the band has performed in the United States at A-Kon in Dallas, TX and changed their line-up. On March 14, 2008 in Europe and April 9, 2008 in Japan, they released their latest album, Gokutama Rock Cafe. May 2008 saw them finishing their first overseas tour in Europe and coming back to the United States as guests at Fanime in San Jose, CA. Despite a mostly silent 2007, An Café seems to be just as popular as ever.
The new album starts off with a Para Para-sounding song, “Ryuusei Rocket” (“Meteor Rocket”). Despite being released in November, this extremely danceable tune was only their second single of 2007. It was also featured in the live action drama version of the manga Fuuma no Kojirou. While the song didn't top any charts, using it as the first track to the long-awaited album was a great idea. Now we're all ready to get our dance on!
Drums really drive the next catchy song, “S*B*Y,” which stands for Stand By You. Mixed with Miku's infectious vocals and Takuya's accompanying guitar, the song is a little less “danceable” and a little more “jump around your room like a crazy fool.” This is the type of song that you listen to in order to get yourself pumped up for something exciting.
Released in February 2008, “Cherry Saku Yuuki!!” (“Cherry Blooming Courage!!”) is their latest single. Using a slightly darker rock sound, “Cherry” is different yet not. Most of the vocals sound like they are trying to push for the pop sound while the instruments are working towards being an edgy rock/hip-hop hybrid. Surprisingly, this combination works well. The dark sounds in the bridges offset the happier pop sound to make it an excellent change from the previous tracks.
The band's recent European tour was named Live Cafe Tour '08 - Nyappy go around the world after the song “NYAPPY in the world 3.” After writing the title off as my complete inability to understand Miku's personality (supposedly ‘nyappy’ is his word for ‘happy’), the song turned out to be a rather appropriate theme song for a tour. With just one listen, you can envision the throngs of fans singing along with the chorus and waving their hands enthusiastically. The song even starts out with the typical ‘1, 2, 3, 4’ shout from the drummer and ends with some applause from the crowd. Granted, none of this automatically makes it a great song but it is likely to be a great song when performed live.
An extremely fast paced “Baby King” rushes in next. Desperately wanting to be a rap song, the lyrics aren't quite paced correctly to file it into the rap category. Instead of giving them a timed beat of their own, the words just flow out of Miku's mouth as fast as possible. Meanwhile, the song can't be filed under the umbrella hip-hop category either. The harsh instrumentals are solidly rock but the vocals don't quite fit there. This is one of those songs that cries “Don't categorize me! Just love me!” That is what we shall do here - simply enjoying the song for being so different from the rest of the album and admiring the band for being so versatile with their sound.
“Daybreak” steers us back into the world of pop. Even though this is definitely pop, the song still manages to be a little on the funky side. The guitar takes the lead and gives us just a hint of an R&B type of sound. It almost goes back to the glory days of Motown but instead of being ‘retro,’ the song keeps the pop vibe and just sprinkles the Motown sound on top, giving us a pretty awesome funky pop sundae.
Sadly, a rather unremarkable song follows the deliciousness that was “Daybreak.” “Pierce” lets Yuuki, the keyboardist, shine a little but the rest of the tune sounds fairly formulaic. The instruments sound like something a brand new band trying to find their sound might play and the vocals are uninspired. As a whole, the song is not bad. However, some of the previous songs have shown that An Café can do better than this.
The tempo gets knocked back up with “Koritsu Hospital” (“Isolation Hospital”). As the drums and guitar fight to control the song, Miku's vocals smoothly bring it all together. You can almost hear his voice trying to keep some semblance of peace between all the raging instruments. He gets a tiny respite from the feeling with the softer keyboard solo but then everyone jumps back into the fray again. Of course, at the end of the song, it is the guitar that gets the last ‘word.’
Replacing abingdon boys school's “HOWLING” as the opening theme song for Darker than Black, “Kakusei Heroism~The Hero Without a “Name”~” (“Awakening Heroism~The Hero Without a Name~”) arrives next. While this song isn't quite as dark or gothic as “HOWLING” was, it's still a good song on its own. The drums mostly take over with the guitar giving a little bit of support in the verses. However, the song really shines in the chorus when all of instruments join together. Even the tinkling sounds from the keyboard mix well with the rock vibe from everyone else.
Sounding almost like a bicycle ride itself, “Aijou Cycling” (“Love Cycling”) goes back to the pop sound. Slowly, all of the sounds build up to form a repetitious feeling that revolves like a bicycle wheel. Somehow, the song manages to make this repeating sound work without becoming boring. Perhaps it is because the chorus picks up a little to give us the feeling of riding on a fast bicycle with the wind whipping in your hair before it drops back down again. This song is definitely fighting “S*B*Y” to be my favorite.
Finally, the album ends with “Orange Dream.” A sweet song about saying goodbye to a dear friend. The keyboards lead the emotion in the song, giving us a nostalgic and somewhat sad feeling. Some fans think this song is about former An Café member Bou, who left the group in 2007. That is possible but the lyrics are a fairly generic “Thank you and good luck” sentiment so they could be aimed at just about anyone.
In the past couple of columns, I've complained that all of the songs on albums sound exactly the same. An Café has finally given us an album that isn't full of the same song over and over again. Each of these songs sounds different. This makes the album much easier to listen to as a whole. No longer do we have to pick out our favorite songs and dump the rest. An Café has come to save us from complete boredom!
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