Album Review:  Gesu no Kiwami Otome. – Miryoku ga Sugoi yo

Hello AramaJapan readers!  I did promise that I would have more reviews coming, and though my schedule has made this particular one get delayed more than I’d have liked, we’ll still be starting our journey with Gesu no Kiwami Otome.’s latest release “Miryoku ga Sugoi yo”.  If you’re at all interested in an album that mixes jazz, rock, and some unusual electronic touches then I suggest that you read on and see what Gesu has to offer.


Alright, before we dive into the review proper let’s just take a few seconds to answer a rather important question:  who are Gesu no Kiwami Otome.?  To be brief, they’re four-person band formed by Indigo la End front-man Enon Kawatani.  Enon was joined by Masao Wada (ex-Indigo la End) on bass, Mari Fukushige (Crimson) on keyboard and piano, and Honami Sato (Microcosm) on drums, with both Fukushige and Sato often providing backing vocals for many of the band’s songs.  They describe their own music as “progressive”, though there are certainly many traditional hallmarks to be found in their work as well, particularly among their keyboard instrumentals.

Gesu started out as an independent band signed to the Space Shower Records label and earlier this year signed with the Warner Music sub-label Unborde, making their first foray into the major world with their release of the “Minna Normal” EP in early April.  “Miryoku ga Sugoi yo” is the band’s first full studio album, which consists of 11 tracks and reached #4 on the weekly Oricon chart dated for November 3rd.

All of this said, let’s dig into the album and see whether or not it stands as a body of work and, just as importantly, if it’s worth your time.

Track-by-Track Review:  Miryoku ga Sugoi yo

1. Lusca (ラスカ)

“Lusca” opens with a series of beautiful and jazzy piano runs punctuated by some sharp drum work and blares from the guitar, the latter instrument and the bass blending into the background hereafter, though they’re still quite clearly present.  The instrumental work on this song is superb, though the clear star is definitely Fukushige’s work on the keyboard; however, this isn’t to say that everyone doesn’t get their own time to shine.  The bassline in particular takes on a life of its own during the song’s second verse, managing to drive the track forward while blending perfectly with the other instruments, the guitar performing a similar feat during the bridge.

Of course, it’s impossible to talk about Gesu no Kiwami Otome. without mentioning the singsong quality possessed by Kawatani’s voice, his surprisingly expressive tone and unusual application of Sprechgesang (effectively a mixture of singing and talking) making every moment he opens his mouth a unique experience.  “Lusca” is actually one of my favorite tracks on the album because of just how well everything comes together:  it’s both technically and musically sound and is just somehow uplifting in a way that makes you want to repeat the song again and again.

2. Digital Mogura (デジタルモグラ)

Our introduction to “Digital Mogura” is something of a different experience, as while the keyboard is still present, it’s clear that the stars of this song are the guitar and the drums, with the bass providing some admirable back-up.  This track is more forceful and quite frankly heavier than its predecessor, Sato’s drum work often at the forefront of the instrumental and appearing to almost harmonize with Kawatani’s vocals at times.  The haunting, industrial nature of the guitar melody fits well with the music video they chose to provide this song with and really makes you feel as though a kind of pall has been cast over the situation described by “Lusca”.  My only real criticism of “Digital Mogura” is that the chorus does feel ever so slightly repetitive, but in all honesty, that’s kind of a minor gripe considering the overall strength of the composition.

3. crying march

If you were wondering where the more electronic sounds I was talking about earlier were, you need look no further than the opening to this song.  “crying march” is probably the most overtly upbeat song that we’ve heard on the record thus far, and features a far faster pace from pretty much every instrument involved, from the guitar to the newly introduced synths.  Not only that, but the whole track seems a lot messier than the previous two efforts, yet I almost want to say that that’s intentional since there’s never a moment where the “mess” really detracts from my enjoyment of the song.  That might just be me though.  Much of Kawatani’s vocal work here is rather rapid-fire and for the first time, we hear him under some vocal effects accompanied by an almost classical piano part; the juxtaposition works surprisingly well and is honestly the height of the song for me.

4. Hoshi Furu Yoru ni Hanataba wo (星降る夜に花束を)

A rather confrontational keyboard intro leads us into a more conventional rollicking piano line, only for that to be interrupted by some of Kawatani’s more “hip-hop – esque” vocals, the two appearing to enter a kind of call and response that makes up the majority of the track.  “Hoshi Furu Yoru ni Hanataba wo” appears to be less focused on creating some kind of interesting mixture and instead on making sure that each member of the band has their moment to show what they can do.  I definitely do appreciate the somewhat more relaxed tempo following a song as wild as “crying march” and more here than anywhere else (thus far) I can definitely see the progressive influences in their music.  Still, I think there are two things that I’m going to remember about this song more than anything else:  that great final vocal line, and the fact that I really wish the track was longer than three minutes.

5. Ressha Classic-san (列車クラシックさん)

I’ll admit, I’m honestly not all that in love with the opening to this track, the first of the album’s two interludes.  The chanting comes off as somewhat oppressive and doesn’t really fit with the song that comes before “Ressha Classic-san” or the one that follows; oddly enough, it doesn’t break the flow either though.  I’d have to imagine that that might have something to do with the fact that while the styles themselves are very different, there’s still somewhat of a consistent rhythm to the chanting that DOES serve as a connector.  That said, I do rather adore the majority of the interlude, as I’m a sucker for classical piano and this was certainly some adroit work.  I’ve been convinced for a while that Fukushige had to be classically trained, and this is certainly adding to those suspicions.

6. Ryoukiteki na Kiss wo Watashi ni Shite (猟奇的なキスを私にして)

When I first heard this track back when it was released as a single in August, I was somewhat underwhelmed (though it did grow on me).  In its proper place on the album though, “Ryoukiteki na Kiss wo Watashi ni Shite” fits like a glove, the almost ethereal quality of the background instrumental transitioning perfectly out of “Ressha Classic-san”.  This is by and far the most guitar-driven song that we’ve heard thus far, its plaintive wailing emphasized by a series of sharp cymbal hits.  I say “plaintive” because, for all this song’s upbeat trappings, there’s a mournful quality to it that almost seems to be expressing regret, the two contrasting textures providing for an intriguing auditory experience.  Definitely not the most inspired song on “Miryoku ga Sugoi yo”, but certainly not a weak entry either.

7. Sally Mary (サリーマリー)

A few unassuming guitar riffs and we’re thrown into some sharp synths, which will be making several appearances over the course of this song.  “Sally Mary” has its highs and lows, though there are far more of the former than the latter.  This is a song that makes surprisingly good use of its length, exposing your ears to an impressively varied set of sounds, from some bass-led jamming to a pair of surprisingly well-implemented classical piano segments (this is quickly becoming a theme on this album, isn’t it?).  We see Kawatani go from almost rapping to singing his heart out several times over the tracks length, though I think he does reach the upper end of his range once or twice.  The lows?  Well, honestly, I found the synth passages I mentioned earlier to be superfluous to the point of not really adding anything to the overall product of this song; they just felt kind of tacked on and didn’t mesh all that well with the rest of the instrumental.  Still, very enjoyable track.

8. ruins

The second interlude on “Miryoku ga Sugoi yo” is far shorter than the first and was primarily placed to bridge “Sally Mary” with the next track, “Asobi”.  Still, for all forty-nine seconds that it lasts, I suppose that I’d call it an enjoyable experience; “ruins” is mostly a mesh of very airy, filtered vocals from Kawatani and Sato set over a cyclical instrumental mix which everyone in the band contributes to.  Definitely the least memorable track on the album, but it does what it needs to do perfectly.

9. Asobi (アソビ)

If I were to call any track on “Miryoku ga Sugoi yo” progressive, it would definitely be this one.  “Asobi” manages to push the envelope more in its short length (which fits the track perfectly) than most of the rest of the songs on this album do, mixing some sparkling synths with some aggressive guitar-work and what I’d consider the most contemporary keyboard-planning we’ve heard here.  It’s the drums and the bass that tie this song together though, making sure that everything keeps moving as it should.  Also of note is that this is the only song where Kawatani doesn’t sing in the chorus, instead ceding that right to Sato, whose deep voice I’d like to hear at the forefront in more of Gesu no Kiwami Otome’s future work.  Oh, and more songs like “Asobi” as well, since as much as I do love jazz, I think that there’s a lot of good to be found in this style as well.

10. Hikari wo Wasureta (光を忘れた)

Our penultimate song starts once again with a piano-driven intro, though Fukushige is joined by the rest of the band in short order.   “Hikari wo Wasureta” comes off as something of a mix of “Lusca” and “crying march”, albeit with a much more laid-back tempo than either of those two.  I would call this song a little safe, not in that the instrumental isn’t solid, but in that I really shouldn’t be able to say “this song is a combination of x and y songs” from the same album.  It’s not even that I dislike the track or that it doesn’t fit the flow well, but in some ways I just wish that this space had been used differently.  Still, that digression aside, the song is a fun romp led by the keyboard and Kawatani’s voice, with just a bit of sadness poking through the otherwise contented and full instrumental.

11. Bye-bye 999

It’s that sadness that appears to lead us into the final track on the album, and if I’m being honest, my personal favorite from the release.  Those slow, rhythmic acoustic guitar lines that almost seem to call to mind another time and place, particularly if you consider the album’s cover, which are soon joined by a cadre of violins and soon after, the remainder of Gesu no Kiwami Otome.  I can’t completely describe what it is that gets me about “Bye-bye 999” – perhaps it’s how different this sounds from the rest of “Miryoku ga Sugoi yo”, particularly following a track like “Hikari wo Wasureta”, or maybe it’s the way Kawatani ever so slightly stretches out some of the lyrics for emotional effect.  It could be the exceptional playing from pretty much every member of the band on this track, or hell, it might even be the violins tugging at my heartstrings and revealing that I’m kind of a sap.  In reality, it’s some combination of those things, but regardless of how or why I think that this is a great closer for the album, with every musician involved able to be the star for a time.  The vocal effects used towards the end of the track, which make the song almost seem to broaden out to cathedral-size, put a wonderful coda on the whole experience and are honestly kind of the icing on the cake.

Final Thoughts:

My feelings about “Miryoku ga Sugoi yo” are honestly kind of complicated, though it might not seem that way given the generally positive opinion I’ve had of most of its tracks.  While I do love the majority of the songs on the release and do feel that there is an excellent flow between them, I have to ask myself if that’s not because parts of this release are safe.  Gesu no Kiwami Otome. are a very talented band, and one whom I’ve been following since late last year; watching them progress and grow as a group has been a very worthwhile experience.  However, I also do have to say that between the end of 2013 and now they’ve definitely lost a bit of the aggression that could be found on some of their earlier tracks, like “Killer Ball” and “Monie Wa Kanashimu”.

Now, this isn’t a bad thing, nor is it entirely true given that “Asobi” still made the album cut; I’m actually one of the people that holds the somewhat unpopular opinion that it’s all right if a group softens their sound, since I don’t really think that it leads to any direct loss of quality.  My worry, and the reason I’m discussing this issue here, is that it could be said by some that this release might be too samey on the whole.  In my opinion it isn’t, as I believe that there’s enough variety within the style of music that Gesu have gravitated towards to produce a surprising sundry of songs, and excluding one track, I believe that they managed to do so admirably, even if only just.

“But Ryu, why are your feelings complicated then?”  Well, that boils down more to the future than right now honestly; put simply, I don’t want Gesu no Kiwami Otome. to make “Miryoku ga Sugoi yo” again.  I think this was one of the best albums released last month and that it deserves all of the praise that it gets, and that’s all well and good, but I want the band to keep progressing and there were one or two worrying signs throughout this release.  That said, there were also a lot of promising parts to this album, and I hope to see Gesu capitalize on those going forward, rather than the bits that make me cringe.

So!  Final final thoughts – “Miryoku ga Sugoi yo” is a mostly well-rounded jazz-rock album that at times veers off into interesting progressive and electronic territory, with some surprisingly classical undertones hidden beneath the surface if you pay enough attention to the instrumentals.  Highlights are “Lusca”, “Hoshi Furu Yoru ni Hanataba wo”, “Bye-bye 999”, “Asobi”, Kawatani’s unusual vocals, and the overall strength and execution of the band’s compositions (oh, and the bassist is the unsung hero of this release – really).  Recommended?  Absolutely.