Unicorn Jr. “Unimate” (Review)


unicorn cover

Releasing their first Best Of album, Unicorn Jr. make their comeback to the music scene. “Unimate” brings back all of Unicorn Jr.‘s singles as well as two new tracks into the mix. Rejet‘s rookies showcase their upbeat sound and energetic performances throughout these 14 tracks.

Let’s kick off this review.

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Unicorn Jr. edition

Album: Unimate
Label: Rejet 
Release date: 27/04/16 
Genre: J-Pop

Tracklist:

1.LONELY SILENCE MONSTER
2.PANDORA BOX
3.ワガハイはネコである!!!
4.MIS(S)LEAD
5.Q
6.アフターバーナー
7.Mr.8
8.Uncrowned
9.ストレンジャー
10.F.A
11.Unlimited Saga
12.in my youth
13.ヒトカケラ
14.愛が愛のままでありますように

Track by track analysis:

1.LONELY SILENCE MONSTER

With a sweet piano melody, “LONELY SILENCE MONSTER” puts aside the heavy dance driven sound that has been their trademark. Dressed up in a melodic and passionate fashion, Unicorn Jr. show us their matured sound with a slow beat, gentle strings and minimal synths mixed with ethereal pads. While the verses are rendered in a way that it almost sounds like we’re in for an acapella, the chorus explodes in emotion. This time the bridge doesn’t have any kind of dialogue, making this music piece, the most beautiful in Unicorn Jr.‘s repertoire. While some people might complain that this song doesn’t fit with the unit’s sound, we believe that that’s exactly because of that that this track shines the best. Vocally it’s impressive how everyone is spotless. Their vocal talents were made for this kind of slow paced, mid-tempo tracks that require a show of skill that obviously every single one of them has. Aoi‘s vibrato and high notes, Sawashiro‘s low, husky notes and Sumeya‘s mid tones are all on point. The result: an ethereally beautiful mid-tempo ballad with a twist.  5/5

2.PANDORA BOX

[As previously reviewedPandora Box impresses with it’s heavy amount of synths right from the very beginning. Resorting to pads, strong sequences and see saw synths the track doesn’t have the slightest hint of guitars and live drums. Well if this isn’t a track fit for the dancefloor for what is it? It’s an upbeat mid-tempo dance pop track that might sound a bit overwhelming and cheesy in its first seconds into the track but quickly the track redeems itself. The vocals are something incredibly new for everyone as only Shouta Aoi has an active singing career and the others might be a little bit difficult to identify in the track. If you to know who is who, here is a small hint: 1st into the verses – Shouta Aoi / 2nd into the verses – Chiharu Sawashiro / 3rd into the verses – Toshiyuki Sumeya. With this in mind we need to point out that both Sawashiro andSumeya impress in their own aways in this track. Chiharu Sawashiro shows that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. He follows the footsteps of his older sister Miyuki Sawashiro when it comes to be an impressive singer. With his mid-toned, slightly rough vocals he impresses with his “suave” approach to the song. On the other side we find Toshiyuki Sumeya that impresses with the differences between his “casual” voice – incredibly rough – and his singing voice – that turns out to be slightly higher pitched than expected. Still the mix between these three voices sounds entertaining and fresh.  4/5

3.ワガハイはネコである!!!

[As previously reviewed] The funky bass and brass lead the way as guitars make their first appearance, a brief one to boot. The instrumental leaves a bit of the overwhelming electronica elements and brings some interesting instruments to the table: the bass and brass come alongside the shakuhachi in the outro. Well conceived instrumental that only lacks because of the whole “cat” theme. The vocal performances are just ok, nothing amazing but certainly out of our confort zones – I’m not gonna spoil that part for you, you’ll notice those parts as you listen to the song. Lacks substance in the lyrics and the instrumental fails to truly amuse us. 3/5

4.MIS(S)LEAD

[As previously reviewed] Oh the good old times when we got a cinematical intro provided byRejet…. MIS(S)LEAD brought those back, if only for a few seconds. Synths alongside heavy drums and strong guitar riffs? Yes, please. The chorus might be one of the best the golden duo Iwasaki/Mikoto has produced so far both lyrics and music wise. Its build up from the pre to the chorus (including it) is well executed and the vocal execution of that part is really stellar. The way all the voices blend in unison and deliver those lyrics in a powerfully emotional way, actually had the ability to put me in awe. Well done Unicorn Jr.MIS(S)LEAD is the gem of the single. Not only has a strong instrumental but it also has a solid vocal performance by the trio. Full marks. 5/5

5.Q

[As previously reviewedUnicorn Jr. present us “Q” (Question), a mid-tempo track deviating a bit from the highly danceable pop from Pandora Box and the powerful rock performance in MIS(S)LEAD. This is a sweet, mid-tempo track resorting to funky guitars, sweeping synth pads, those “snary” drums and the downside – the occasional vocal manipulation. Instrumental wise this is quite a simple track that had all the elements to be a close one with the previous track but tat vocal manipulation really puts you off. It’s excessive, the vocal track was good enough not to need it but oh well… What can we say? Besides that part the track not only is entertaining besides its mid to slow tempo in the verses and the vocal performances follow its entertainment with not only gentleness but also energy. A shame that the vocal work was almost ruined with auto-tune. 4/5

6.アフターバーナー

[As previously reviewed] With their trademark strong electronica driven instrumentals, the title track is clearly hinting for us to go to the dancefloor. Dirty synths lead the way in a track that makes a lot of space for each and every member to shine on his way, in the bridge and outro the song is graced with powerful guitar riffs to up the energy. While the intro to the track might sound a bit overwhelming the verses quickly make up for it. Depending on your preferences Shouta and Chiharu might have made an incredibly strong impression with their vocal performance. Shouta‘s smooth and sexy approach to the lyrics as well as Chiharu‘s deep and sweet vocals lead the way vocally for Someya to blend in just fine. As the most “exotic” singer, Someya has a bit of a handicap in comparison with melodic singers like Shouta and Chiharu. Even though he might sound sometimes a bit out of place, it’s him in the chorus putting everything together. As a whole the track is fun. addictive although a bit repetitive towards the end. 4/5

7.Mr.8

[As previously reviewed] Going towards a “cute” concept, “Mr.8” brings a more ska inspired instrumental to bring out the “cuteness” in this unit. This is one of those tracks where you need to have an extra “open mind” to completely enjoy it. On our side the best thing to do about this track is, besides the fact that the unit is singing it incredibly well, forget about it altogether. The instrumental is the put off element for this track with the annoying synths. Not that great of a track and certainly not the best one in this release. 3/5

8.Uncrowned

[As previously reviewed] Bringing back the rock elements from their past release “Uncrowned” sounds fierce right from the start. With powerful drums, aggressive guitar riffs with a strong bassline, this instrumental really sets aside all electronica elements from the previous tracks, delivering a highly energetic and addictive tune. Vocally everything seemed to be in place – the unit sounded as a whole and managed to give an extra flavor to the track. 4.5/5

9.ストレンジャー

[As previously reviewed] “Stranger” gives off a “Desperados” vibe with its acoustic guitars right in the intro. Latin percussion, melodic guitars and acoustic guitars lead the way in what sounds like a mix between salsa and pop-rock. Just from the instrumental track we’re entranced, being impossible not to dance along it. To sum it all up – it’s an upgrade version of “Masquerade” by Marginal #4 but with a better chorus and guitar solo. The vocal performance was of top tier by Shouta sounding as sexy as the instrumental track. Regarding Chiharu and Someya we also have heaps of good things to say but we’d never stop so to sum it all up: they sounded right on spot with great control and fitting in with both the genre and the beat in an impressive way. Impressive track. 5/5

10.F.A

[As previously reviewed] Bringing back their dance pop polished, Unicorn Jr. present us the loungyF.A” (orFallen Angel), a track that has a nice build up with minimal dance elements. Dirty synths and synthetic drums lead the way in the verses, leaving more than enough space for each of the member’s vocals to shine. Nothing is overcrowed or annoying in the instrumental piece, the transitions make it impossible to stay irrelevant to this track. The instrumental alone ranks among the best ones this unit has on their repertoire. It has everything you need to be entertained without overcrowding you with loads of elements that you won’t notice without a few extra listens. Simple with things put to a minimum, F.A manages to shine and be a solid greating card for this single. The only put off lies with the auto tuned vocals in between the verses, that are excessive making the lyrics barely clear to the listener. It might sound cool for some but it really threw us off. Other than that, the track is entertaining and catchy right from the very first note. 4.5/5

11.Unlimited Saga

[As previously reviewed] If you thought that Unicorn Jr. wouldn’t repeat the feat they made with “Stranger” from their previous single “After Burner“, you’ll be surprised. This track takes a bit of inspiration from the later, toning down the synths to a minimum and bringing a band sound along. The core of the instrumental is lead by the contrabass as well as the jazzy piano. The track has a decent build up to the chorus, staying true to a simple approach – there are no hyped, overly ridiculous parts throughout the whole track making it quite enjoyable to listen. Still it lowers a little bit the momentum “F.A” had brought to the single. Vocally everyone is on point, Aoi and Sawashiro shine everywhere with their contrastant voice colors, Someya has some issues here and there that are quite possibly due to lack of control but nothing that will stand out much. 4/5

12.in my youth

[As previously reviewed] The brightest track on this single is “in my youth“, a track that kicks off with a kind of ethereal feel, resorting to minimal synth pads, but as soon as we enter the first verse, it turns out to be a fresh, youthful upbeat track fitting with the group’s main concept. Technically this instrumental, besides a few synths in the background, is consistent, in the end delivering an entertaining experience to the listener but failing a bit to shine for us. Vocally this isn’t a hard track to tackle and every single one of the members performed to their best. Knowing Unicorn Jr., we know that they can do better than this easily. 4/5

13.ヒトカケラ

[As previously reviewed] A delicate piano, strings and minimal synths build this dramatic intro to “Hito Kakera“, the top song on this release. In a soft pop fashion the track resorts also to a melodic guitar, bells, splashy drums and a smooth bassline. Besides the fact that it might sound like a track ready to explode in the chorus, the song has a structure built around a stable progression and build up, with the chorus only rising in tension, not exploding as usual. It’s a nice change of pace although it gives more of a old school Marginal #4 vibe than Unicorn Jr.‘s trademark sound. In terms of the vocal performances: everyone seems to be on point and without any kind of flagrant errors, executing the song solidly on both ends of the scale. As a whole, “Hito Kakera” is the strongest song in this single, giving us glimpses of what we can expect for next releases. Easily ranking high as one of Unicorn Jr.‘s best tracks. 5/5

14.愛が愛のままでありますように

To complete this best of Unicorn Jr. have their take on a pop-rock track and what we get is an addictive song. With splashy drums, guitar licks, powerful bassline and some synths in the background mixed with strings, 愛が愛のままでありますように really is unexpected for this group. With such a rich fast paced instrumental, each member managed to fit within the rhythm and deliver every single one of their lines full of energy and excitement. As a whole this track fills in all energy levels, ending on an explosive note, not failing to impress us. 5/5

Final rating:4.5 stars

Unicorn Jr. are the energetic kids in town when we talk about Rejet‘s units. With a highly electronica driven sound, the unit has released time after time, exciting and youthful tracks. But don’t get them wrong, when it’s requested, Unicorn Jr. can deliver mesmerizing performances even in completely different music genres. What’s has been said about the already know tracks remains, so we won’t touch upon the subject again.

Regarding the new tracks: it’s interesting to listen to Unicorn Jr.‘s improvements. “LONELY SILENCE MONSTER” is a massive track. Showcasing their vocal talents in a track where there’s not much going on in the background that could hinder or focus on their vocal parts, each of the members delivered each of their lines with rich emotions, elevating this track to the status of their best track to date. Once again a simple track takes over as a best track.

愛が愛のままでありますように on the other side is a fast paced pop-rock track – a total surprise for us. Yes, we remember their endevor with the stunning “MI(S)LEAD” in the past – and it rocked our HQ. It was unexpected that Unicorn Jr. would take in the challenge of singing a rock track so soon. In a track that is more demanding vocally, everyone was up to the challenge, resulting a solid, energetic performance.

These two different tracks with genres the hadn’t tackled up until now, or had but sounded like they’d only be one shots, really impressed us. Unicorn Jr.‘s range is no joke and their talent showed that that they fit easily into any genre. In the end, joining these two tracks with the already released ones make this Best of, a solid release.

Unimate” is available for purchase on CDJAPAN for all overseas fans.

 

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