ALI PROJECT: Keikan Shijin Single Collection Plus
by Rachael Carothers,
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Some people love them; some people hate them. Yet it can't be argued that ALI PROJECT has a rather distinct sound. The duo has performed themes for a variety of shows, including Noir, Rozen Maiden and Code Geass. On December 10, 2008, they released Keikan Shijin Single Collection Plus. The 14 song album contains a number of theme songs, as well as non-theme pieces.
“Waga Routashi Aku no Hana” (“My Elegant Flower of Evil”), the second ending theme for Code Geass R2, starts off the album. Like a lot of ALI PROJECT songs, this one is fast-paced with an ethereal sound to it. It is the vocals that take the lead here, though the background music tries to overpower them. While it is a little confusing to the ears, somehow, the duo manages to pull it off to create a beautiful sound in the midst of insanity.
The B side of the “Waga” single is also the second track on the album, “Aragawa” (“Rough Leather”). Dark violin tones dominate as a steady beat from a drum keeps the vocals from flying away. There is the same complex sound that existed in the previous song. Of course, this is somewhat of a signature sound for the group. “Aragawa” has a much darker sound compared to “Waga” but it has a beauty of its own.
Another Code Geass ending theme, “Yuukyou Seishunka” (“The Brave Chivalry of Youth”), follows. Even though the song clocks in at almost four and a half minutes, the manic pace makes it feel much shorter. This manic pace, along with the epic feeling of the music, makes it a good match for the beginning episodes of the first season of Geass. It may seem like a strange combination to some. However, it definitely grows on you after a few listens.
Slowing us down just a little, “Chinkonshou” (“Eulogy for the Repose of Souls”), the B side of the “Yuukyou” single, glides into the fourth spot. A piano mixes with a violin to give the song a melancholy atmosphere. Meanwhile, the deep tones of the bass lift the other instruments to a new level of sadness. The vocals don't always seem willing to follow in the depressing footsteps of the instrumental. As a whole, it doesn't sound like a funeral song, where a eulogy would be appropriate, yet it does belong alongside an event that isn't quite as tragic.
The first ending theme for .hack//Roots, “Boukoku Kakusei Catharsis” (“National Awakening Catharsis”), comes next. Starting out slightly fast-paced, it slows down slightly around the 45 second mark. From there, the vocals slide softly around the song while the background instruments do nothing to attempt to stand out on their own. In the end, we end up with a song that sounds very ALI PROJECT yet still comes off as boring.
Of course, the B side to that single, “Suigetsu Kyouka” (it translates to “Mirror Flower Water Moon” which is short for ‘The moon reflected on the water's surface and flowers reflected on a mirror,’ a metaphor for something like an illusion) immediately follows. A soft, flowing romantic song, it is gorgeous and dull at the same time. It is dull because it simply repeats the same sounds over and over. There is little to make it stand out from other romantic ballads. At the same time, Takarano Arika's vocals are still beautiful. Perhaps it would be a little more interesting if there were just a few more instruments in the background music.
“KING KNIGHT,” the final ending theme for .hack//Roots appears as the first track that was not released as a single previously. The fast pacing of the song keeps it enjoyable to listen to though a lot of the songs are starting to sound very similar. For example, “KNIGHT” sounds an awful lot like “Waga” once you get past the first minute of the song. It's depressing because I'm sure these sounds could easily be mixed in a variety of ways so they don't all sound alike.
The eighth song on the album, “Hakua Byoutou” (“Chalk Ward”), is another song from .hack//Roots, though it's not a theme song. Another slow song led by a piano and violin, this one has the feeling of the sadness of death and reaching out to a lost love. For once, we are given a soft ballad that is both beautiful and interesting. There aren't any sounds intended to make the song different or extraordinary. Instead, the song is able to pull it off by being so amazingly simple.
When “GOD DIVA,” the ending theme song for .hack//G.U. Returner, began playing on my CD player, I thought there was a problem with the track. Why was the Queen of the Night's (from the opera The Magic Flute) aria playing? Much to my surprise, “Diva” is based entirely around the most famous part of the song. Also surprisingly, the song dips its toes into an electronic sound. Where all of their previous songs have used orchestral instruments, for the first time on this album, the song features synthesizers and almost-techno beats. Hands down, this is the most different song on the album.
From the second original soundtrack for .hack//Roots, we have “Kegare Naki Akui” (“Non-dirty Malice”). Slow, drawn-out vocals lead the instruments into a new sort of slowness. Instead of the pacing being slow, many of the notes linger longer than normal. As a result, the song seems slower than it really is. Luckily, the chorus picks up just enough to keep us from falling asleep.
Finally reaching a song that is not associated in any way with .hack, “Shoujo Junketsu” (“Girl Martyr”) is, instead, featured on the Avenger soundtrack. More new sounds appear for ALI PROJECT. This time there are filtered vocals, the drum box with a looping sound is used a lot more and there are many fewer orchestral instruments. Compared to the previous songs, this one is definitely less ‘epic.’ However, it is really nice to hear the group doing something different.
Also from the Avenger soundtrack, “MOTHER” slows the album down in preparation for the end. This soft ballad, showing off the piano, violin and flute sounds, is filled to the brim with love. Yet another song that doesn't feature anything new or different, “MOTHER” is a gently, lovely tune that flows well from one instrument to the next. Throughout the entire song, all of the instruments, as well as the vocals, compliment each other as they should.
As the album reaches its ending, we come upon the title track, “Keikan Shijin” (“Poet Laureate”). While this song is also slower-paced, this time the feeling is less defined. At times it feels like the singer is trying to express too much at one time, giving off a sort of panicked feeling. Then it calms down for a short period before throwing us back into insanity. Maybe the song is aiming for a ‘crazy genius’ vibe. If that is the case, they pulled it off well.
The final song on the album is an orchestral arrangement version of “Kitei no Tsurugi” (“Sword of the Demon King”), the opening theme for Linebarrels of Iron. Where the original version of the song was harder, this version is much more epic. The orchestral background gives the song an entirely new depth. This almost sounds like two completely different songs. It just goes to show the amount of talent that exists between these two artists.
It's easy to see why opinions on the group vary so much. Many of their songs sound extremely similar and, on top of that, they use many more orchestral arrangements instead of pop or rock. While I feel that both Takarano and Katakura are extremely talented individuals, it would be nice to have a little more variety in the sound of ALI PROJECT. Even if they stick with the epic orchestral arrangements, there has to be more to make the songs sound different. Otherwise, they will quickly chase any new fans away with boredom.
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