by Rachael Carothers,
Click below for a clip of the song "Chiisana Mado"
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In 2006, Japanese rock band MUCC performed in Baltimore, Maryland at Otakon. The next year, they performed at the JRock Revolution concert in California. This year they have not only played on the Taste of Chaos tour, they are also slated to perform at The Fillmore New York on December 7. On March 26, 2008, the popular band released their eighth studio album titled Shion.
The album starts off with an instrumental track, “Suion” or “Mizuon,” depending on how you read the kanji. Matching the title's meaning, “Water Favor,” the song is filled with sounds of dripping water on top of some heavy percussion. Throwing in a tiny bit of strings gives the tune an interesting feeling. It makes one wonder where they got the idea to compose an entire song around a dripping faucet.
Barely pausing between songs, “Fukurou no yurikago” (“Owl's Cradle”) comes blasting in. Where MUCC is generally regarded as a rock band, this track is filled with electronica pieces. Both the guitar and vocal lines are run through filters, which gives the song an ethereal yet harsh sound. Since the liner notes come with an English translation for all of the songs, we can see that this ethereal feeling was intended in the lyrical story of a fish that has fallen in love with an owl. It is a strange song but it does have a bit of beauty in it.
With a harder instrumental, “Nuritsubusunara enji” (very roughly translated to “If it smears away dark red”) appears as the third track. The song is a lot faster than the previous two. A heavy drum line dominates the song, almost completely washing out the guitar until the guitar solo section. Vocally, the song switches between actual singing and gruff yelling. While this juxtaposition should make the song interesting, it only vaguely succeeds. Just as you start getting into the rock section, it drops into the metal section, ruining the overall feeling of the song.
“Fuzz,” which also appears on the Cloverfield movie soundtrack, ends the first quarter of the album with a slightly pop/slightly rock mixture. If everything was just slightly softer, this could have easily been mistaken for a pop song. Instead, that little extra edginess makes the song turn the corner. Overall, the song isn't terrible but it does feel slightly bland. It's almost like the band isn't trying hard enough to own the song. Maybe that is why the song ends up sounding poppish.
Next up is “Game,” yet another song with filtering problems. In this case, the vocal filtering is so awful that the vocals are drowned out by the instruments. While this would normally be a mixing problem, you can tell that the volumes are not the cause. When the filter turns off for the chorus, the mixing is fine. In fact, the chorus is the best part of the song. If it wasn't for the filtered vocals, this would have been a very awesome hard rock love song.
In September, I talked about the Detroit Metal City tribute album, which featured the MUCC song “Flight.” The album version of the song is smack dab in the middle of Shion. As I stated back then, the D.M.C. version was just turned up a notch. Here we can see that it is an amazing rock song on its own. There are no filters messing up the vocals or the instruments. The band even sounds like they are having fun playing it. This is the type of music the band should stick to – fast paced songs that are a blast to listen to.
Making a change to a pseudo-dance beat, “Anjelier” (which is Frisian for “carnation” or “pink flower”) starts off the second half of the disc. While this isn't really a true rock song (it's more of a dance-rock hybrid), it has some interesting sounds to keep your attention. It is another song that is completely devoid of instrumental filters, proving that the band is their best when they can be themselves. There is one small bit that features a vocal filter but it doesn't dominate the vocal nor does it allow the instruments to take over. Considering it's a song about flowers and love, it is very impressive.
Every good rock band should have a power ballad somewhere in their repertoire “Chiisana mado,” or “Little Window,” is MUCC's. Featuring subdued instruments with a strong vocal line, the song really shines in the middle when the stringed instruments and the vocals both belt out a few lines before coiling back in their shells. A good power ballad will give you both the softness of a ballad and the hardness of rock, which is extremely difficult to pull off. Once again, the band members prove that they are capable of much more than just rock.
Picking up the pace slightly, “Semishigure” (“A Cricket Chirp”) slides into the ninth place on the album. A little faster than a ballad, this track blends everything together well. Each instrument gets some time to shine yet none of them push the other pieces to the side. However, that doesn't necessarily make it an amazing song. Instead of being good or bad, it just hangs somewhere in the middle of mediocrity. It is a good listen but nothing that you'll remember later in the day.
Following “Semishigure” is the album's title track, “Shion” (“Will Favor”). Once again, the filters show up in force. Despite beginning with gentle rolling sounds, the song quickly turns to gruff yelling before switching back to the gentle sounds. This tossing back and forth begins to get annoying after awhile. It is only the steady, strumming bass that manages to keep the song from falling apart completely. For a title track, it is rather disappointing.
“Sorawasure” (“Forgotten Sky”) incorporates some stringed instruments as a tool to help lift the rest of the instruments to another level. The strings aren't always clearly audible but you can hear them supporting the rest of the song. It actually comes together to form a cohesive sound that is interesting and full. Although the vocals start off a little bland, they do pick up as the song heads toward the chorus. This is probably one of the better tracks on the album.
Creating a sound that is weird and slightly annoying, “Shiva” comes in with just two songs left. The guitar and drums combine to make this headache-inducing vibration that makes it sound as if you are listening to two different songs with two completely different beats at once. Luckily, it doesn't keep up through the entire song. It is enough to turn One Off to the song though. Separately, the instruments and vocals are solid. When you put them together, you end up with a variety of sounds that just shouldn't be put together.
The final song is the album version of “Libra.” A slightly dark, subdued song, “Libra” is rather repetitive. The verses all have the same exact soft sound then it opens up to the chorus where the song just gets louder. Nothing else seems to change beyond the volume. Granted, it's still not the worst song on the album. It's just not terribly interesting to listen to.
It seems like MUCC wanted to experiment with some different sounds, which took up the first half of the album. Then they went to a more traditional sound in the second half. While it is obvious that all of the band members are talented musicians, they seem to be looking in the wrong directions for change. They shouldn't be heading down the road to electronica, they should be heading toward either some softer rock songs or into a heavier metal sound. I know that most people tend to think that “pop” is a dirty word. In reality, good pop songs have an amazing sound that could be easily incorporated into a rock song. Keep the filters away from the music please!
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