Switch “Ensemble Stars! Album Series Switch” (Review)

Switch bring back the funky and dance mood to their new album “Ensemble Stars! Album Series Switch“.

Title: Ensemble Stars! Album Series Switch
Label: Pony Canyon
Release date: 24/10/18
Genre: J-Pop

Tracklist:

01.エメラルドプラネット
02.Temptation Magic
03.Knockin' Fantasy
04.イースター・カーニバル
05.Galaxy Destiny
06.I "Witch” You A Happy Halloween!
07.Eccentric Party Night!! 
08.Secret Gravity 
09.ブルーバード・ハミング♪ 
10.VIVID ROLE-PLAYING

Track by track analysis:

01.エメラルドプラネット

Emerald Planet kicks off with a disco and funky vibe transporting us to the dance floor back in 80s. This track retains all the elements that make the instrumental piece sound funky, courtesy of the noticeable bass and funky guitar riffs that accompany us throughout the majority of the track’s instrumental piece. The drums are a simple mix of percussion and some light clapping, nothing too over the top. Maybe because the instrumental piece is so straightforward that it becomes extremely pleasant to listen to Emerald Planet more than once. On pair with the instrumental are the vocals, with Nojima and Ishikawa having the spotlight, whereas Yamamoto‘s is slightly lacking. Nojima has made use of his flawless vibrato and Ishikawa has some moments to shine and in which he showed some improvement regarding his singing skills. Emerald Planet is a great choice to kick off this album. 4.5/5

02.Temptation Magic

Pending more towards the dubstep and heavy synths driving the instrumental piece, Temptation Magic has a totally different energy than the previous tracks. Glitchy, scratchy and dragging synths and synth pads make up the main focus of this track’s instrumental piece. These elements are behind this track’s transporting us, the listener, to the dance floor. In fact, this track has some layers to its instrumental piece that not all might notice. The usage of a bell and some synth pads that give an arcade like touch are just some of the things to look forward to in Temptation Magic. In terms of percussion, the formula is very simple and it works well in this context as there is more happening. Two dubstep breaks serve a statement that this track is for the dance floor. When it comes to the vocal performance we have to start by mentioning the fact that in this track, more than the previous one, the moments in which the members singing at the same time are lengthier, so in other words there is only so much time each one had the opportunity to shine. In this track, however, the three members were singing in a manner that fitted the track. 4.5/5

03.Knockin’ Fantasy

Glitchy and bright synths are back as well as the funky bass and guitar. Knockin’ Fantasy seems like the mix of the best elements in the previous two tracks, the disco and danceable instrumental piece with the funky guitar and bass. Once again, the track’s instrumental piece requires attention to the detail as it has more layers than it may give off at first. Wah wah guitar, synth pads and some arcade like synths are certainly present in the track, although they are not the main focus, it is interesting to note that they are actually there. Knockin’ Fantasy gives off a more playful and laidback mood. Vocal performance on pair with the instrumental piece. 4/5

04.イースター・カーニバル

[As previously reviewedSwitch welcome the listener with a fast-paced classy jazz imbued sound. Uptempo bass driven drums, brass, melodic guitar licks and a playful piano melody create this energetic instrumental, one that is certain to brighten up your day. The instrumental’s fast pace is infectious as it is the vocal performances that go along with it. In the vocal department, if we’re talking about a melodic song that requires some technique, Nojima is the man to ask for. His smooth touch to every single part and note he sings continuously impresses us. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the performances by Ishikawa and Yamamoto. A great instrumental that lacked vocals on par. 3.5/5

05.Galaxy Destiny

[As previously reviewed] This song will instantly envelop you in a sweet vibe. “Galaxy Destiny” is a slow paced, synth pop song with a plethora of synths: washy, dreamy, bassy and even some hits here and there. However, don’t be started by this description. The synths are incorporated in a way in which they sound cohesive and not at all out-of-place or overwhelming to the listener. Adding to this instrumental are delicate strings, a peppy piano melody and a simple kick and snare beat. Aside from this sweet instrumental, what do we find? The vocal performances for this song are far more superior than the ones on the previous track. Ishikawa holds himself surprisingly well for this performance. Although he still struggles with some notes and clearly lacks technique, we can tell that he put in the effort. Kazutomi’s singing tone although off putting at times, fit this song well. Nojima adds his smooth mid-tones, making this song more enjoyable to listen to. If you’re looking for a song that will have you singing along to it in no time and exudes a sweet vibe, this is the one for you. 4.5/5

06.I “Witch” You A Happy Halloween!

With its energy at maximum capacity since the beginning this track has a bright instrumental piece. The funky mood in this I “Witch” You A Happy Halloween! is powered up as there is a wah wah guitar, noticeable bass and castanets that add a more funky vibe to the instrumental piece. The harpsichord played alongside the piano added a more dreamy mood, especially since the members where singing at that moment, which made that moment all the more interesting. Violins playing in pizzicato, synth pads and wind instruments are the additions to this track’s instrumental piece that make it all the more worth listening too. In terms of vocal performance, the members were singing well together and did so perfectly. When it comes to their individual performances, it is safe to say that although Ishikawa and Yamamoto were a little bellow the quality of the track, performance wise, they did good. Nojima on the other hand had to sing some notes in a tone that is clearly hard to pull off but did so with no major issues. 4/5 

07.Eccentric Party Night!! 

Eccentric Party Night!! brings forth a different energy from the other tracks in this release. Upbeat, trendy and catchy, this track’s instrumental piece screams of a full fledged dance song, with dragging and reverbing synths and synth pads, triplets, and synth drums in the chorus. It is precisely that moment in this track that’ll make you want to jump to the sound of Eccentric Party Night!!. Other than the chorus, the instrumental piece is slightly different putting the focus on the guitar and less on the synths and synth pads. About the vocal performance, we cannot be more surprised by the outcome. Masuda and Nojima flashing their vibrato, Takahashi is showcasing his smooth vocal, Eguchi giving a stable performance and Nishiyama singing with a tone that in other circumstance would be off putting, but that in this case fit in alright. It is also interesting to note that it was an interesting choice to make the members harmonize with each other in a shuffle fashion, so we got to listen to some interesting combos, such as Masuda and Nojima or Takahashi and Eguchi. Positively surprised. 5/5

08.Secret Gravity 

With a dreamy piano and strings laying down the curtain on this track, Secret Gravity sounds like it will be a track that brings out Nojima‘s talent. A noticeable bass and no guitars make this track’s instrumental piece more on the melodic and toned down side. Synth pads occasionally make a quick appearance to add more of the laidback mood. Essentially the main focus of this track is on the piano and strings, yet there is so much more to pay attention to, take the example of the fact that we have conga drums incorporated in the instrumental piece and although a complete surprise its addition actually brought something interesting to Secret Gravity. Nojima‘s vocals are nothing to belittle, however, and unlike what we originally thought at the beginning of the track, the opportunities for Nojima to shine were few and the overall mood of the track did not give the chance to do so, so Nojima‘s performance was just pleasant to listen to, and nothing that we haven’t listen to before in this release. 4.5/5

09.ブルーバード・ハミング♪ 

Bluebird Humming♪ shows signs of being a bright track and our guess is right. Unlike the previous tracks, this one incorporates guitars in the bright pop instrumental with a piano and noticeable bass as its core. Bells and strings make one remember Christmas songs, the one’s more on the upbeat and bright side. The overall mood that exudes from this track’s instrumental piece is slightly funky but above all else it will make you feel happy. Ishikawa is certainly working hard to improve his singing skills and that effort has shown. His performance is more balanced, although it is still difficult to say that Ishikawa‘s higher notes to be pleasant to listen to, but as he has been working hard, it will be no time until he can be more confident while singing. 4/5

10.VIVID ROLE-PLAYING 

Arcade like synth and synth pads create this idea that the intro for this track is as if we are entering an old-school game. VIVID ROLE-PLAYING has an instrumental piece heavily synth driven, and the synths in question are not just any type, they’re glitchy and bright something that does go well the what seems to be the theme of this track, arcade games. However, it is not that listener friendly when they are the main focus of the track’s instrumental piece, especially since their pitch is quite high, which by the end of the track has become unpleasant to the ears. Yamamoto’s vocal performance was okay, nothing really differed from his usual performance, perhaps, the only thing to mention would be that his voice was not as off putting as it sometimes is. 3.5/5

Final rating:

Switch have come back with funky and synth driven tracks in “Ensemble Stars! Album Series Switch“. In the album there were several surprises present, both in the instrumental piece or vocal performances.

The unit kicked off the album in the best fashion possible with Emerald Planet making a call to the past and bringing back the 80s disco genre and incorporating it with a modern twist adding funky elements to the instrumental piece. Switch like to bring that funky vibe to their tracks and in this album they went the extra mille and incorporated other elements giving birth to tracks such as Knockin’ Fantasy with its arcade like synths or Temptation Magic which brought to the table the dubstep genre and gave to the track’s instrumental piece a modern and also more danceable twist. Glitchy and bright synths were all the jam in this release and for some reason it did not always work out the best way in all tracks, but it was an overall interesting addition.

When it comes to talk about surprises, one cannot forget the biggest one of the release Eccentric Party Night!! performed by the Eccentric Five.This was the first track sung by the members and there is nothing more than praise to give to them. A catchy and energetic instrumental piece, but not overwhelming, Eccentric Party Night!! enabled the members to showcase their talent singing. Needless to say that this is the best track of the album.

The solo tracks’s in this release left us with mixed feelings, for several reasons. On one hand we have Nojima’s track Secret Gravity with the potential to be a better track, and possibly one that enabled Nojima to shine more than he did in other tracks, yet the outcome was the total opposite. Nojima sang just like always with Switch and there was nothing really new to the performance. On the other hand, Ishikawa surprised us quite a bit in his solo track Bluebird Humming♪ in which he showed a solid or at least more confident performance when singing, although, as aforementioned, he still needs a little more skill, something he’ll surely acquire in the future. Yamamoto was the member who less impressed us. VIVID ROLE-PLAYING has glitchy and high pitched synths that are the main focus of the instrumental piece. That mixed with Yamamoto‘s voice was just not a good choice. The track is not pleasant in the ears, courtesy of the synths.

In future releases, hopefully Switch will keep up going the funky route and Ishikawa and Yamamoto will improve their singing skills.

Ensemble Stars! Album Series Switch” is available for purchase at CDJAPAN.

Author: Nadine Silva

Reviewer and News editor at The Hand That Feeds HQ since 2012. Based in Portugal. Translation graduate. Hobbyist piano player.