Daisuke Ono “STARTRAIN” (Review)

STARTRAIN” is not just another album on Daisuke Ono‘s repertoire, it’s far beyond that. This is his best work to date. Be ready for an emotional roller-coaster ride filled with highlights and groovy performances.

Title: STARTRAIN
Label: Lantis
Release date: 18/04/2018
Genre: Post-disco/Rock/Ballad

Tracklist:

01.STARTRAIN
02.Magic World
03.Can't Go Back
04.supernova
05.ROSA ~Blue Ocean~
06.月夜の円舞曲(ワルツ)
07.オリオンの夜
08.Brighten Up
09.花火
10.ヒーロー
11.Dancin' Groovers
12.Endless happy world

Track by track analysis:

01. STARTRAIN

STARTRAIN opens this album in an interesting fashion. A dreamy piano melody and strings lead the way for what is, in essence, an uplifting pop-rock tune. The instrumental starts off mellow, resorting only to piano and strings to complement OnoD‘s soothing vocals, then slowly builds up for the first verse, giving way for other instruments to join in. The verses enlist the help of synthetic drums and a couple of isolated drum samples to enhance specific parts of the instrumental. Adding to this are blowing instruments, these ones remaining in the background for the whole duration of the song, however still playing an important role in bringing that uplifting tone to life. Finally, we have simple guitar riffs in the mix. Contrary to what we tend to find on OnoD‘s previous songs (“Hero” era up until now), guitars aren’t the main focus for this song, far from it. The focus on strings and piano gives OnoD the perfect platform to showcase his sweet vocals. Although we’ve listened to better performances of his before, Ono‘s performance in STARTRAIN is still thoroughly entertaining and personal – the lyrics were penned by himself. Listeners can’t help but to be captured by his trademark charismatic, energetic and engaging performance. And the doors to this album are officially open with this entertaining tune. 4.5/5

02. Magic World

We’re welcomed to OnoD‘s “Magic World“, one that will make you go “wow” at the very first notes. The intro is unexpected dark, with synths and percussion (sounded faintly like taiko drums but the sample is too short to be 100% sure) setting a tone we’re not used to. Believe me when I say that this intro is downright sexy. The song progresses into a slow paced alluring tune in which triplet and bass drums take the spotlight, with dirty synths and a mesmerizing bass line playing with the listener’s sensations. When we thought that this instrumental couldn’t get any better, we found brass on it. The brass was used in a way that enhance the whole sexy vibe going on this song – yet another thing we weren’t expecting at all. OnoD‘s songs tend to have brass but it’s usually used a playful element to make the song brighter and upbeat. For this song brass were tailored carefully to up the quality of this instrumental and enhance the overall mood. Funky guitar riffs are well in the background, seldom having the spotlight for themselves. If you pay attention to the instrumental, you’ll find guitar riffs enhancing the verses. This instrumental alone mixes the best of Ono‘s previous trips to dance music. On the vocal department, we need to point out that Ono‘s performance was one of the highlights on this song. He put on an entertaining performance that captured perfectly the sexy/fun duality on this song. Easily stands out on this album. A treat. 5/5

03. Can’t Go Back

[As previously reviewed] Despite its title, we actually do go back in time with this 90’s inspired pop tune. “Can’t Go Back” brings back the simple things we all loved about 90’s Japanese pop music. From the backing vocals to the instrumental, this song is a treat. The simple richness in this instrumental quickly puts this song on top of most songs on this release. Funky guitar riffs and a rich bass line make the song’s laid back vibe standout, after mixing them with soft synths and a deep piano melody, we get this well crafted throwback. Ono‘s smooth vocals managed to fit in perfectly in this song, even adding some unexpected ad-libs to his performance. “Can’t Go Back” is one amazing summer tune. 5/5

04. supernova

[As previously reviewed] “supernova” is by far Ono‘s best dance song to date. It’s modern and classic at the same time. It really has all the good elements some of his previous dance songs had but that, for one reason or another, weren’t fully explored. Strings, brass and sax, elements well present in the “Mission D” era, mix with some modern dance elements from the “Kiss Kiss Kiss” era – but these are basically in the background –, and funkiness (without all the cringe) from the “Netsuretsu Answer” era. All these elements really made this instrumental shine without being overwhelming or cheesy. We can vouch for this instrumental: it really has everything well laid out so don’t worry when we mention “Daisuke Ono” and “dance song” in the same sentence. This performance takes everything to a completely different level. The vocal performance is leaps and bounds better than any of his performances in dance songs. As if this wasn’t enough, he makes good use of his mid-to-low vocals, delivering each and every single one of the verses in a rather seductive way. Another great song included in this release. 5/5

05. ROSA ~Blue Ocean~

[As previously reviewed] If you remember and are fond of “Lunar Maria“, “熱烈ANSWER“, “Ride on Funky Night” and “Kiss Kiss Kiss“, then ROSA ~Blue Ocean~ will certain to spark some interest as it’s easily their love child. It’s not the first time that OnoD has attempted embracing a Latin pop style, but this time around he managed to make an entertaining song out of it with some interesting moments in the instrumental. The bridge shines with the amazing jazzy guitar work that was put on it. Comparing with previous attempts at the music genre, Daisuke Ono‘s vocals are more polished, delivering a really solid performance, even if the song was borderline sounding like a 90’s, early 00’s Ricky Martin song. 4.5/5

06. 月夜の円舞曲(ワルツ)

[As previously reviewed] We’re presented with a stunning mix between jazz and traditional oriental elements. So to sum this up: grab a measure of jazzy piano, mix it with a longing biwa melody that really sets the mood in this song, add another measure of acoustic guitars and splashy, slow tempo drums and you get what? This masterpiece of an instrumental. 月夜の円舞曲 (ワルツ) mixes waltz with jazz and enka in a final product that will leave you begging for more. Ono tackles this song carefully but adding the necessary emotion to it, that soulful but yearning vibe that the biwa was already hinting from the start. A unique experience that will make your jaw drop. 5/5

07. オリオンの夜

[As previously reviewed] Led by a delicate piano melody, オリオンの夜 is a sweet ballad with a really robust and warm instrumental. The first couple of acoustic guitar chorus and its slow pace are enough to know that we’re in for an emotional performance. Dramatic strings, melodic guitar riffs and a simple bass line add depth, enriching the instrumental. The guitar solo in the bridge and the choir add a melancholic touch to this performance, keeping the listeners’ emotions in check. Ono penned the lyrics to this song, which means that we’re in for an emotionally imbued performance that will touch the listener. The melancholy and gentleness in his vocals make this song an instant must listen. With such a delicate and well crafted instrumental, Ono‘s vocal performance was the cherry on top of the cake. You can’t help but to be swayed by this beautiful and powerful performance.  5/5

08.Brighten Up

After an emotional intermission we’re back to danceable bass goodness. “Brighten Up” is an upbeat, mid-tempo pop track that will raise your spirits. A funky bass line leads the way for this tune, making way for  playful, melodic guitar riffs, dreamy, summery piano melodies, old school synths and the cherry on top: the sax. The soundscape created by this instrumental takes you back to summery days or to the 80’s (maybe both at the same time). It’s catchy, classy, romantic and playful, all without sacrificing the instrumentals or vocal parts with over-the-top, ridiculous machinations. Simplicity goes a long way with this instrumental. Although “Brighten Up” goes in line with “Can’t Go Back” and “Supernova“, songs that explore a funky, disco pop sound, we feel like this song goes a beyond that a tries, instead, to embrace an 80’s pop-rock sound, known for being more guitar oriented than synth based. Daisuke Ono ups the ante with this performance, tackling crescendos with ease, adding vibrato (in the chorus) and smoothing everything, making this performance one of the highlights on this album. Whether it’s the instrumental or the vocals, you’ll fall in love with “Brighten Up in a heartbeat. 5/5

09.花火

[As previously reviewed] “Hanabi” brings back Ono‘s well known pop-rock sound, adding yet another bright touch to this album. This song embraces a sound characteristic from his 2015 endeavors with pop-rock. What seemed like it’d be an acoustic pop-rock song, with the acoustic guitar riffs leading the way in the intro, quickly evolved into something slightly different. Those acoustic guitars were replaced by inspiring guitar riffs, blending with the peppy, upbeat melodies courtesy of the piano and synths. The drums followed a simple formula throughout the song, setting a comfortable tempo in which Ono delivered a sweet, solid performance. We felt like something more should have been done with this instrumental. Regardless, “Hanabi” is still an entertaining tune. 4.5/5

10.ヒーロー

[As previously reviewed] Showing us a polished pop-rock sound that makes us reminisce about Ono‘s first releases – first one that comes to mind is “Amaoto” – “Hero” brings an uplifting instrumental resorting to melodic guitar riffs, acoustic guitars to enrich the sound, piano and a reverberating bass. Ono is sounding great with rock as his backdrop, for a voice as mid-toned as his, this is by far his best music genre match-up. As a result the build up to the chorus, the bridge, the lyrics, vocal performance (incredibly emotional), everything seems on point in this track. It’s an upbeat track with a beautiful message and delivery. Probably one of the best Daisuke Ono‘s songs released to date. 5/5

11.Dancin’ Groovers

Blues-y guitar riffs, bongos, a funky bass line and brass lead the way for “Dancin’ Groovers“, track that takes us once again through the memory lane. Jazzy piano layers, rhodes piano and synth riffs play in the background, enriching the slow paced instrumental. As with most of the danceable songs on this album, “Dancin’ Groovers” puts major emphasis on bass sound, creating a laid back, summery sound. If you close your eyes when listening to this song, you’ll be transported to this warm, loungy soundscape. On the vocal end, Ono has a solid, entertaining performance. The verses and chorus don’t demand anything fancy and are sang in a comfortable key, making good use of his stable mid-tones. The bridge however brings other elements to the table. When Ono lowers his tone during this section, the listener is graced with a mix of ASMR and narration that serves not only to contextualize this song, but also to melt the listener. The mix between the funky instrumental and his smooth, gentle vocals makes this song an enjoyable listen. 4.5/5

12.Endless happy world

[As previously reviewed] If there’s one thing “Endless happy world” focuses on, is on sounding sweet without sounding too overwhelming. The instrumental relies on acoustic guitars, mid-tempo, hi-hat-driven drums, delicate strings and piano melodies, all blended in order to create a sweet, engaging and warm vibe. The song is well paced and tasteful, having slower sections before building up the chorus; mid-tempo, quieter sections to let the vocals take the front wheel, and a short guitar solo section that fit well with the overall instrumental’s vibe. The vocal performance was a bit of a surprise. Ono has surely improved a bit his singing, of course, in the past we’ve mentioned that he has been upping his game, but for this song we were once again caught off guard. He has a sweet, vibrato imbued tone that is a perfect fit for a song like this, simple and vocals oriented. 4.5/5

Final rating:

STARTRAIN” is an incredibly consistent album. This album revisits some of OnoD‘s recent hits as well as new compositions, wrapping up perfectly the past three years worth of growth as a solo artist into this stellar 57 minute album.

The title track lacked a bit in the instrumental department, however it was still a great introduction for what awaits a first time listener. It basically sums up the whole album in just one track.

Magic World” created a fantasy world that is just as sexy as it is fun. The instrumental explored some new things we don’t usually find on Ono‘s songs. For example: triplets, one of the most common elements when it comes to percussion in dubstep and trap music, made their way into this song. Those elements blended with the whole dance/disco mix that was already going on, turned this tune into an hybrid dance song, and one of the most entertaining tunes on this album.

Can’t Go Back“, “Supernova” and “Dancin’ Groovers” put aside any sexy elements and embraced a playful, throwback post-disco sound. These three tracks are what we call the energizers on this album. If it wasn’t for these  this album wouldn’t have sounded even remotely groovy and entertaining. Even though “ROSA ~Blue Ocean~” has some elements from post-disco in its core, it tried to embrace a danceable, Latin imbued sound that we can find with ease in some of Ono‘s previous singles. It was a trip down memory lane but one that was executed far better than any of his previous attempts.

Midway through we were hit by “Orion no Yoru” and “Hero” and we couldn’t help but to be swayed emotionally by Ono‘s performances. After listening to this album, “Orion no Yoru” still stands as his best song to date. There’s not a single song on this album that can top the quality and performance on that song. It’s on a realm of its own, even on his repertoire (that surprisingly doesn’t count with many ballads). “Hero” was written for his fans and is the perfect song to inspire you to try new things and not being afraid of taking chances. As Ono puts it “You’ve got a protagonist in yourself“, so make the best out of it and never give up.

Endless Happy World” winks at “STARTRAIN” and wraps up this album with an uplifting tune that is as serious as it is playful. When this album came to a close we couldn’t help but to be proud of what we’d just listened to. If you look into Ono‘s career without bias, you’ll know that trial and error played a big role into getting to this album. Since the start of his solo career, Ono had to make experiments, embrace new music genres, take chances with some unique songs, approached different singing techniques, some of these things were met with success but there was a lot of failure in the mix.

STARTRAIN” is the very first album on his repertoire that is as emotionally draining as it is satisfying. Sure, others were entertaining but this album is special on its own. You can tell how much he’s improved since the beginning and notice that there’s room for even more improvement. His vocals were, throughout the whole album, incredibly consistent. This is a clear improvement from previous releases. You notice the effort he’s made in order to sing better – any song on this album is a great example.

In our opinion, this is the kind of album that will stay in your (and our) head for a long time. It has a little bit of everything: upbeat tunes, heartbreaking ballads, acoustic tunes, energetic pop-rock songs, and lyrics that range from uplifting to empowering and romantic. It’s a complete release on all ends – instrumentals, vocals and lyrics – that has very few flaws.

We need to point out something about Ono‘s lyrics vs instrumentals. Few notice this but whenever Ono pens a song, the instrumental for that specific track always sounds a hundred times better than all other songs in which he has little control in the composition. We feel that, if OnoD wanted to write lyrics for a full-length album, we’d all be blown away.  His lyrics might be simple at times but he knows how to pass a message and connect with the listener, and opting for quieter, simpler instrumentals makes it even easier to focus on him, on those lyrics and let those sink in. “STARTRAIN“, “HERO” and “Orion no Yoru“, all these songs show us that he has grown into a solid lyricist with good music sensibility. If you notice the instrumentals to all these songs, he prefers to write lyrics around ballads and pop instrumentals, instead of peppy pop or dance tracks, the later a common occurrence in his repertoire. This already says a bit about Daisuke Ono as a solo artist. For all the songs mentioned previously, he easily bares his emotions, making all of those memorable experiences for the listener.

STARTRAIN” is an emotional roller-coaster ride filled with highlights. With this album we found a matured performer/entertainer far exceeding everyone’s expectations, and determined to further improve. The lyrics penned by him, the themes around most songs – romance/heartbreak -, the way he performed all songs, all pointed out that this is a personal album. All songs tied up perfectly with each other, and Ono delivered some of the best performances in his career as a solo artist on the wide majority of the songs included on this album. Few full-length albums have the consistency that this one has It’ll be hard for OnoD to beat this quality in further releases.

STARTRAIN” is, hands down, Daisuke Ono‘s best full-length album release to date.

STARTRAIN” is available for purchase on CDJAPAN.

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2 responses to “Daisuke Ono “STARTRAIN” (Review)

  1. Pingback: [Oricon Monthly] Ra*bits, Daisuke Ono and Trignal top April’s chart | The Hand That Feeds HQ·

  2. Pingback: [Oricon Weekly] Daisuke Ono and Dear Vocalist’s Joshua top this week’s chart | The Hand That Feeds HQ·

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