Few seiyuu would have the guts to embrace something that isn’t “popular” or “trendy”, especially when competition among seiyuu debuted as solo artists is as tough as it is nowadays.
Fewer seiyuu would dare to completely change their sound after a streak of chart topping, successful releases (and, in this case, a monster rookie year for that matter). Soma Saito, however, is that type of artist, one that embraces challenges, turning them into opportunities to showcase his range and songwriting skills. “Date” is unlike anything he’s released so far, yet it sounds incredibly familiar and unique.
Title: デート (Date) Label: Sacra/Sony Music Japan Release date: 20/06/2018 Genre: Indie/Funk-Rock/Acoustic
1 - デート (Date) 2 - レミニセンス (Reminiscence) 3 - C 4 - デート (Instrumental)
Track by track analysis:
1 – Date
Funky guitar riffs introduce us to a throwback 80’s pop-rock/funk tune that is plenty more than what it sounds like. “Date” has an interesting imagery, that of watching neon signs and city lights while on late night drive. It’s classy and entertaining while, at the same time, being as by-the-book as it can about its funk-rock roots. A groovy bass line – to say it’s tasteful would be an understatement -, an old school synth lead, acoustic guitar and simple drums complete this instrumental. To further impress the listener, he graces us with a stunning guitar solo in the bridge, something that I feel that added the final touches to this throwback song. From the melodies to the pacing and its vibe, this instrumental covered all the right bases. I’m as pleasantly surprised with the vocals as I am with the instrumental. You can tell that Saito was in his element for this song. A music genre and vibe he’s familiar with. This enabled him to deliver a complete performance, relying mainly on his mid-tones but already touching a bit on his high register. His sweet ad-libs in the outro added some groove to the already groovy song. If there ever was a perfect way to kick off a single, this would be it. 5/5
2 – Reminiscence
“Reminiscence” exudes a 90’s Brit-rock vibe, known for gritty guitar riffs and an overall simpler and rawer sound. Melancholy plays a big role in this instrumental. Within its first chords it’s easy to notice what we’re getting into. The instrumental is well paced, making full use of bass, drums and guitars, what I like to call the “whole band sound”. The transition between verses and chorus was seamless and played with the tension in the lyrics. On the vocal end prepare yourself to be impressed. Saito brought the big guns for this performance. His high register gets to finally take over and this is something way better than what I was initially expecting if he ever decided to tap into his tenor range. The song kicks off practically to the sound of his longing high notes. Not only this is the first time he kicks of a song like this, but it’s also the first time that his vocals pack such a powerful and emotional punch. Out of all songs on this single, “Reminiscence” features the best vocal performance of them all. 5/5
3 – C
“C” is an acoustic rock song that finds Soma Saito on an acoustic guitar, lullabying the listener with his whispery voice and sweet high notes. The instrumentalization is quiet for the most part, making it easy for his vocals to that the spotlight and make it his. Now, I don’t know if it was intentional or not (although it does seem like it) but his singing is rather odd in the verses. There’s something about his technique in the verses that will sound off on a first listen but will get increasingly natural with further listens. That, of course, was something that immediately stood out but with a second of third play of the song sounded natural. A nice touch in his performance were those small, yet tasteful tempo changes in the verses. This is a song meant to be enjoyed with your eyes closed, taking in every single note and chord while following the story that is being told. Its simple composition is contrasting with the previous songs, and a nice way to wrap up this release. 5/5
Forget calling Saito as just another “seiyuu-turned-singer”. “Date” is the very example as to why Saito is the real deal.
The passion in his craftsmanship, both in the instrumentals (all composed by himself), as well as with the clever way he tells stories through his lyrics, shines with this release. You can tell with each song that there was a whole lot of attention put on how the music had to sound to fit the lyrics, his singing tone or specific vibes he wanted to enhance. It’s also noticeable that he’s got a vast knowledge on music, especially indie-rock music – western or eastern -, channeling vibes close to the likes of Base Ball Bear, Awesome City Club, Phoenix, Adam Levine, OASIS and The Verve throughout this single. It doesn’t lack in variety. The core is rock, then he explored indie-rock, Brit-rock, funk-rock a bit of pop and acoustic, to deliver the most complete single he could.
His singing technique has changed and improved quite a bit. In past releases, Saito didn’t challenge himself as much as he did for this one. One thing that was mostly noticeable in both past releases was the lack of exploration of his singing range. While that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, it failed to showcase his technique, basically what would set him apart from other seiyuu already debuted as solo artists. That is a thing of the past right now, as we got to listen to a wide variety of singing approaches and techniques from him.
For “Date”, Saito used his mid tones but those ended up sounding slightly different from what he’d shown so far. He ventured, even if just a bit, to high notes territory and even added some flourishes in an R&B-ish fashion. The song was already funky, but his performance made it even more entertaining. But that was only the warm-up, the best awaited us with the second track.
As a tenor, Saito got to really play around with his high register in “Reminiscence”, something that caught me off guard as soon as the song kicked in. He seldom gets the chance to use his higher register when working on character songs (whether for isolated characters or 2.5D units), hence I wasn’t expecting him to delve into it, at least this soon. Up until now, he hadn’t challenged himself as a solo artist to incorporate high notes in his songs. His high register, although not on the same level, channels a bit of Adam Levine, tenor known for his powerful high register. And if you’re reading this and feel like this last sentence doesn’t sit well with your preferences (it might happen if you’re a fan of Levine and don’t like the parallel I just made), I’ll add something: Saito and Levine do share a similar vocal range. They might sound completely different but when Saito goes for those high notes you notice that both have a similar vocal range. Hence the comparison.
For more than a couple of times I’ve mentioned in reviews (especially from his work as part of 2.5D units) that Saito has an interesting breathy way of singing. That plays incredibly well whether he’s trying to make you swoon or carefully tuck you in your bed. This time around his whispery vocals shone in the acoustic “C”, song that basically has him lullabying the listener from start to finish. After two contrasting songs – “Date” and “Reminiscence” – I wasn’t sure how he’d wrap up this single. Add another funk-rock song and come full circle? A ballad? A bright pop tune to go in line with the trends? Well, he took a different approach. This is the closest fans will get – as of now – of him performing an acapella. The quiet instrumentalization, with the slow paced acoustic guitar leading the way, made it easier for the listener to focus solely on his vocals. And those didn’t disappoint.
Date” is a personal single in which Soma Saito took on the challenge of performing and writing his own music. Yet, after listening to this release, it seems that he is only now scratching the surface of his talent.
At the same time, this is an unconventional release. While most seiyuu would continue to embrace the sound with which their popularity rose or embrace trends (i.e. tropical house that is in vogue), he went the opposite way, risking losing fans, lowering sales numbers and making his exposure to the mainstream fans completely fade away. Yet, this interesting turn of events made his music sound more confident and personal, and his performances more comfortable than ever. The freedom he was given by Sacra Music made him question what he really wanted to do with his solo career: be another seiyuu-turned-singer, be an anisong performer or turn into a full-fledged, respected artist/musician. With this single it’s easy to notice that he chose the latter. He also tried his best to explore his vocal range, and you can tell that he’s trying his best to find his “voice” as a solo singer.
After the success he’s had, it’s easy to start weighting in what does exactly set him apart from other seiyuu that made their solo debuts in the past few years. I believe that due to him being incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about music, with the bonus of having a long history of being a singer/songwriter, dating back to his middle school days, plays a major role into setting him apart. His music has heart and you can tell what he likes from the way he performed and carefully crafted his music. “Date” isn’t catering to his “Fish Story” or “Yoake wa mada/Hikari Tatsu Ame” fans. Those two releases although impressive, were in line with what is considered “popular”. This is a completely different release. The sound is different, the vibe is different, the lyrics have more depth and the storytelling is on point, and Saito is even singing in a different way. He walked towards an indie-rock route, embracing the best points of his favorite songs and artists, made those his and tailored them into this exciting rock release I just reviewed. It might not interest most fans of both releases mentioned above, but it is a massive step forward in his career that is certain to attract music fans in general.
With that being said, regardless if you’re a fan of Saito or not, don’t disregard this release. Listen to this single with a clean slate. “Date” is a well needed breath of fresh air in a seiyuu industry that is slowly surrendering to the generic tropical house trend. Rock like this isn’t being made by any seiyuu right now, you will only find this among indie artists. This also means that this release won’t be getting the same exposure as the “mainstream” releases that happen to have collided with this single release.
The last time I listened to such artistry and music sensibility was with Miyu Irino’s “DARE TO DREAM” and Toshiyuki Toyonaga’s “MUSIC OF THE ENTERTAINMENT”, two of the best albums ever released by male seiyuu. Saito raised the bar and delivered an equally unique and memorable release.
Forget about character songs, 2.5D units and the sort he’s a part of. This isn’t “Soma Saito, the seiyuu-turned-singer”, this is the “multi-talented singer/songwriter Soma Saito” bringing everything to the table to justify his past successes and prove that he’s much more than what the media, critics, fans and anti-fans paint him to be. He embraced his passions and inspirations, made the best use out of all he’s learned as a seiyuu, and ended up taking a big risk into making such a unconventional release that would be exactly how he wanted people to perceive his career as a solo artist. This is Soma Saito at his finest, up close and personal.
The short music video for “Date” can be found on Soma Saito’s official youtube channel, however Sony Music has blocked viewing to overseas fans (i.e not working in European territory at all). For those that are blocked from viewing the music video there’s a work around by using a VPN (however use it at your own risk).
“デート” (Date) is available for purchase at CDJAPAN.