Soma Saito “quantum stranger” (Review)

quantum stranger is an album that demands being listened from start to finish with no interruptions. Crafty instrumentals, clever lyrics and stunning vocal performances are just a fraction of the quality content found in this album. The bar has been, yet again, raised.

Regular edition

Title: quantum stranger
Label: SACRA/Sony Music Japan
Release date: 19/12/2018
Genre: Alternative Rock

Tracklist:

01 - フィッシュストーリー
02 - デラシネ 
03 - sunday morning(catastrophe) 
04 - レミング、愛、オベリスク  
05 - るつぼ  
06 - ヒカリ断ツ雨  
07 - レミニセンス –unplugged- 
08 - デート  
09 - 光は水のよう  
10 - 夜明けはまだ
11 - Incense 
12 - 結晶世界  [TITLE TRACK]

Track by track analysis:

01 – フィッシュストーリー

[Previously ReviewedFish Story starts off with pompous strings. The instrumental is rich, featuring several fancy elements. One could bet from the song’s intro that this track would go towards an over-the-top ridiculous feat, however that grandiosity lent by the strings is toned down enough to blend well with the melodic guitar riffs and dramatic drums that quickly upped the song’s pace. In some instances the listener can find timpani as well as piano in the instrumental, casually enriching the instrumental. For those that love the little details: the song comes to a close to the sound of a music box and has a some cowbell. The layers of instruments and little details are just so many that, in order to notice everything, either the listener has a keen ear to notice those things all on a first listen or it’ll take more than just one listen to spot everything. And that is a good thing. It shows just how much depth the instrumental has – without being annoying and repetitive.

Saito‘s vocal approach fit the mood as he tried to elevate the instrumental with good vocalization and a musical touch to it. Fish Story opens the way to this crafty album. 4.5/5

02 – デラシネ

For those born in the early 90’s and knowledgeable of popular Brit Rock acts in the 90’s and 00’s such as OASIS, Verve and KEANE, Déraciné will have an instantaneous nostalgic tone. Brit rock influences are all over this song, starting from the driving piano melody to the way the song opens up, its progression and instrumentalization. A thunderous bass line makes its stance in the verses, adding groove to this song. Dirty, splashy drums make the chorus explode with emotion and electric guitar licks in the verses add a melancholic and raw touch to this song. When listening to this song note that verses 1 and 2 sound completely different. The first verse is rather quiet, with bass being the main element whereas the second verse opens up and with the song’s dynamics getting louder and progressively more emotional, leading to the haunting, pleading “I miss you” bridge.

If the instrumental and lyrics weren’t obvious enough, Saito gave everything on the vocal end, delivering an emotional and raw performance. Déraciné might be one of the overlooked gems in this release, especially after listening to this album in full, however it’s a fantastic song. It has a great atmosphere, its chorus will certainly get stuck in your head and his performance has vastly upgraded since the last time fans heard him. 5/5

03 – sunday morning(catastrophe)

The pacing quickens up for sunday morning(catastrophe), song that introduces the listener to an exciting band sound. This is the rawest song on this album, a song sounds perfect for a live setting. Don’t expect pianos, synths or anything like that in this song. This instrumental is all about its raw sound. Although acoustic guitar melodies and fancy guitar riffs take a big chunk of the spotlight for this song, it’s the bass line that drives everything forward. It is also the much needed groovy touch to a song that otherwise would be too raw for people to enjoy – even for rock fans it might take a while to get used to. The chorus is uptempo, raising the level of excitement for this song. Acoustic rock meets skate-punk would be a good way to describe this song. For those of you that pay attention to the lyrics and its meanings, this song is based of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu”, so it’ll be a nice place to start to better understand the lyrics.

On the vocal end there are a couple of new things in Saito’s performance. The most noticeable being the lack of polish in his vocals – consistent with the song’s “raw” theme – but there’s also a whole lot of high notes and chants throughout the song that stand out. Chants certainly are a first. The above mention about this song being perfect for a live setting wasn’t just pretty wording, those chants really beg for the listener’s participation, so does the exciting chorus. The rawness in his vocals could have gone the wrong way if he didn’t have as much control over his tone as he actually does. There’s some grit in his performance and that is refreshing, showcasing yet a different side to his vocals and skillset. Solid performance. 4.5/5

04 – レミング、愛、オベリスク 

Odd title comes with a unique performance. “Lemming, Ai, Obelisk” could have been a song by Maroon 5 (in their early days), and it actually sounds a bit similar to “This Love” in the chorus. So, what can you expect of this song besides this comparison? An acoustic guitar intro, a piano-led strut, vintage R&B beat, groovy bass line and funky guitar riffs, and that says a lot about this funky pop-rock song.

Now where things get incredibly interesting is in the chorus. For those that have read our review of “Date“, you might have noticed that, at that time, we made a comparison between Saito’s and Adam Levine’s (Maroon 5) vocals. It might have sounded a bit far-fetched but, if there’s one thing Saito proves with this performance is that it actually wasn’t far-fetched at all. He is well able to tackle falsetto at that scale and quality as Levine’s. That says a lot about his tenor range as well as his control and skill. His falsetto, alongside the funky and groovy rhythms, make this song a must listen. 5/5

05 – るつぼ 

Rutsubo completely steals the show. So far in this album songs have either added new elements or have fresh things on the vocal end, but none have Rutsubo‘s quality or its surprise element. When mentioning Soma Saito and his solo music the words “alluring”, “double entendre” and “suggestive” are far from being the first to come to mind – instead “rock” and “twisted lyrics” are the first ones. He certainly likes to play around with double entendres in his lyrics but nothing on this level. Rutsubo means melting pot or… We leave that for you to fill in. Well, this song has a stunning instrumental, nothing alike what he has in his repertoire. A 6/8 jazz beat and a cello make those unusual words above immediately come to mind. The instrumental doesn’t shy away from sounding alluring and it will trap the listener in its sweet, classy melodies. “C” might not be featured on this album but it lives through this song.

If the instrumental wasn’t suggestive enough, Saito‘s performance is on an unprecedented teasing level. His singing his breathy, smooth and slow. His falsetto, high and mid-tones are on a completely other level. There’s a lot of whispering in the bridge however, it goes so fast and there are so many layers of things being said in the background that it’s hard to make anything out of it. This is one of those performances that won’t be easily forgotten. Too hot to handle yet too classy of a listen. Crafty songwriting led to this being the album’s highlight. 5/5

06 – ヒカリ断ツ雨 

[Previously Reviewed] This orchestral pop-rock song has stood out as one of the most exciting opening songs for anime during in the 2017 summer anime season. The version that is being aired in Touken Ranbu has its problems with the voice mix that has its volume lower than the instrumental track’s, leading to a confusing song that completely put Saito in the background. And the single version that was available on online music stores in July suffered from the same issue. Thankfully the volume was sort of adjusted for the final version of the single, still we find some problems on it. Let’s start talking about the instrumental.

The instrumental takes to heart its dramatic tone courtesy of powerful orchestral elements, mainly strings and blowing instruments. But even if the instrumental is all about drama, it doesn’t forget to add a fiery build up and deliver a powerful chorus. More exciting was impossible, especially the chorus that put us on the edge of our seat.

Now onto the vocal performance. His vocals sounded weak in the very first mix attempts, it was like he didn’t have the power nor vocal talent to tackle this song. There was no place for him to shine and he was supposed to be on the spotlight. For those that have been following his career, you clearly know that this is a lie. It seems that after two failed tries, the third one made a little bit justice to Saito‘s powerful performance. Some issues were solved, although we still think he’s a bit overwhelmed by the instrumental during some parts of the verses and chorus. With this new mix we can finally enjoy his heavenly performance. It is powerful, energetic and emotional, a top performance in our books. Hikari Tatsu Ame could have had a better mix but that doesn’t take the merit away from Saito‘s memorable performance and the instrumental’s impressive orchestral power. In this album this song serves as a fancy intermission between the first and second parts of the album. 5/5

07 – レミニセンス –unplugged-

[Original version previously Reviewed] Remember “Reminiscence”? The Brit rock tune that impressed with its whole band sound and Saito’s falsetto? Well that song got an unplugged arrangement in this album and it took an interesting turn. Taking an acoustic approach, the melancholic song morphed into a raw, emotional song that will give you goosebumps. The dramatic piano, the longing strings, the marching band drums that increase tension, Saito’s sentimental falsetto-ed performance, “Reminiscence” has a new life of its own and will stun everyone that has previously listened to the original. I dare say that this version is better than the original. Second highlight in this album. Goosebumps all over. 5/5

08 – デート 

[Previously Reviewed] 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

09 – 光は水のよう 

And following the same neon lights imagery comes the groovy Hikari wa mizu no you. Saito takes the listener to the glorious 70’s Citypop era with this tune. With playful lyrics inspired by Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Light is like water”, this throwback song brings to the spotlight fancy synths, a groovy bass line, funky guitar riffs and an addictive disco/R&B beat that makes this song an instant hit.

Saito delivers a complete performance with two things that, up until now, hadn’t been found in this album nor in his repertoire: rap and R&B riffing. The song has rap in the first verse and singing in the chorus and remainder of the song. His performance is the grooviest and most fun in the whole album, a contrast from the heavy themes explored in the rest of the album. Third highlight in this album. 5/5

10 – 夜明けはまだ

[Previously Reviewed夜明けはまだ brings city pop to the front lines. Dreamy piano melodies mix with melodic guitar riffs a funky bass line, classy strings and brass. This song lends a bit of it’s class to “STAND ALONE“, song released on his debut single. It’s fun, danceable, addictive and relaxing, all at the same time. This song feels and sounds like a great summer tune. If the laidback instrumental wasn’t enough to put us in a good mood, Saito‘s performance is sweet and easy to the ears, a real treat even for those that don’t put that much attention to technical stuff like his gentle vibratoSaito and jazzy music is such a great combo. 5/5

11 – Incense (feat. Youmentbay)

Incense is an indie rock tune with lyrics, composition and arrangement by the talented indie duo Youmentbay. Laidback guitars, splashy, slow paced drums and a noticeable bass line are everything there is to this instrumental. And it’s more than enough to impress. The vibe is completely different from everything else in this album. Its beat is jazz inspired, the guitar solo lends a lot from blues and the vocals are soothing. Youmentbay feature in this song lead to a rather unique performance. Saito covered the mid-tones and some of the falsetto whereas the Youmentbay duo cover the high and low tones, leading to one of the most unique sounding performances in this release. Certainly an interesting collaboration that pays homage to Saito’s love for indie music. 4.5/5

12 – 結晶世界 

Saving the title track for the end of the album sure seems like an odd feat but, after listening to this album from start to finish, it makes perfect sense. Death, birth. Chaos, peace. Even without paying close attention to the lyrics, Kesho Sekai is clear as day making those contrasting concepts come to life. It’s an end. It’s a beginning. On one hand the instrumental has a delicate, soothing atmosphere given by the synth pads in the verses, on the other the ethereal feel is completely taken over by chaos, drama and aggression found in the powerful chorus. The process repeats over the course of the song – peace, chaos, peace, chaos – and culminates in a crafty bridge that mixes the best of both worlds. This is shock rock at its finest, theatrical and stimulating, at times even philosophical. The perfect summary of what the album quantum stranger really is.

On the vocal end, Saito’s performance is polarizing. In the verses his singing is soothing, smooth but when the chorus kicks in, he wrecks havoc with his powerful vocals. The song progresses and his vocals get increasingly more powerful and rawer, taking the listener on a wild emotional ride. Whether it’s the instrumental or the vocals, Kesho Sekai is a thrilling song with a crafty concept behind that will leave you in awe. 5/5

13 – Penguin Sanatorium [Bonus Track]

Ever wondered what a demo song sounds like? Well, Soma Saito is no stranger to having bonus content available to his fans. The album comes with the unlisted bonus track Penguin Sanatorium, an emotional song with a raw performance on top. This song is untouched from its demo state. According to Saito himself, during the live tweeting party “tweet stranger”, this song has ambient sounds such as rain, doors and cars. It is also a more intimate look into his composition skills. It’s just him, a mic and an acoustic guitar. This song has an interesting story that ties up with Fish Story‘s storyline. His vocals are raw but are of a great quality, even adding some fancy falsetto into the mix. A nice gift to this fans. 5/5

Final rating:

Soma Saito has found his stride, his voice and his color as a solo artist. His vocals have vastly improved and he keeps trying new vocal approaches that will add something new or surprising to the table. sunday morning(catastrophe) is a good example of him showcasing his range. He also brought rap and R&B riffing with Hikari wa mizu no you, crystal clear falsetto in Lemming, Ai, Obelisk and delivered a breathy, alluring performance in Rutsubo.

On the other hand, Saito the songwriter took it upon himself to write lyrics and compose 8 out of the 12 songs on this album – Déracinésunday morning(catastrophe)レミング、愛、オベリスク, Rutsubo, Reminiscence, Date, Hikari wa mizu no you and Kesho Sekai – and playing guitar and piano for most of those. Of course some aren’t new, having been already featured on previous singles, but it’s still a feat that you’ll seldom find among solo seiyuu artists. His passion for music is real and it’s noticeable by how much he wants to be involved in his music and the creative process behind it. After listening to quantum stranger, it’s safe to say that a talent like his is rare among seiyuu. When both his arrangers and producers are all praising the high quality of his demos, you know that you’ve got something happening special in front of you.

It seems that he’s only scratching the surface of his songwriting skills but it’s with songs like RutsuboHikari wa mizu no you and Kesho Sekai, that easily showcase his skills, that it’s noticeable there’s much more to his music than what he’s released so far.

Rutsubo brought jazz with a suggestive vibe and lyrics, Hikari wa mizu no you showed that he knows how to write fun lyrics, contrasting his usual deep or, at least, more complex lyrics. Kesho Sekai took on a philosophical turn and made us question a whole lot of things.

Each song in this album doesn’t sound anything like the next one. The fact that each song is unique makes the whole release sound fresh yet more complex, especially when the emotions and tempo vary between songs. Out of everything included in this album only Fish Story and Hikari Tatsu Ame seemed out of place. Both songs are solid however, when listening to this album – especially when you get mid-way and find Hikari Tatsu Ame – it will sound out of place or excessively dramatic taking into account what has happened before, and what will happen after that song. I considered it to be like an intermission, a song linking both halves of the album, yet it still sounds a bit too excessive even as an intermission. Fish Story might have lyrics that fit with this album but taking into account how the album sounds as a whole, “C” would have been a better choice to include in this album. Regardless, the album flows incredibly well and time will fly by when listening to it.

The collaboration with Youmentbay in Incense ended up impressing us. There was some skepticism whether this song would fit the album, but it seems like there was no need for that. Although not perfect, Incense has charming lyrics and a sweet instrumental that serve as a comfort ahead of the album’s dramatic yet perfect ending with Kesho Sekai.

Reminiscence -unplugged- showed us that a simple arrangement can completely change a song and its vibe. The song upgraded to a full-fledged emotional tune that will give you goosebumps.

Déraciné is a nostalgic Brit rock tune that will resonate with the listener within its piano intro. The instrumental is haunting and melancholic and the lyrics are emotional. I feel like this song will fall under the radar for most listeners, especially when there are “flashier” songs in this release yet of equal quality stealing the spotlight. But it is a gemstone well worth your time.

Then, to wrap up, we have the raw duo, sunday morning(catastrophe) and Penguin Sanatorium. While sunday morning(catastrophe) is all about its band sound with no addition of synths or other programming, Penguin Sanatorium is the simplest and rawest of all songs, after all, it’s a demo, a bonus track. These two completely different raw songs added a unique touch to this album.

All in all, quantum stranger is an album that demands being listened from start to finish with no interruptions. Crafty instrumentals, clever lyrics and stunning vocal performances are just a fraction of quality content found in this album.

The best was, indeed saved for last, quantum stranger is album of the year as well as one of the best albums ever released by male seiyuu. Truly outstanding release.

quantum stranger is available for purchase at CDJAPAN.

 

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10 responses to “Soma Saito “quantum stranger” (Review)

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