Soma Saito “my blue vacation” (Review)

my blue vacation is a highly experimental EP than nods at previous releases while, at the same time, tries to explore new techniques and sonorities.

Title: my blue vacation
Label: SACRA/Sony Music Japan 
Release date: 18/12/2019
Genre: Alternative Rock

Tracklist:

1. memento
2. Paper Tigers 
3. ワルツ   
4. 林檎
5. Tonight

Track by track analysis:

1 – memento

memento picks up where Kesho Sekai left off. This is a song that could easily made it to quantum stranger as a follow up track, instead we have it opening this EP, something that helps making the change from the powerful alt-rock album into this release. The song is incredibly layered even if those layers are but bits of looping hits or guitar riffs. Guitar riffs are muffled and the melodies sound too Brit-rock inspired, strings add a grandiose and nostalgic element to this song whereas the piano, drums and groovy bass line take this song towards a brighter sonority reminiscing of going on a journey. The strings break into the second verse, leading to drowned/muffled vocals by Saito, the later being an odd addition to this track.

The intro with the whole “la la la” part could have killed this song as, more often than not, it sounds like lazy work by the lyricist. Thankfully, it did not drag for more than a couple of seconds so it ends up being a little bit off-putting at first, nothing more. That part can work well on a live setting though. The work on the vocal end is rather interesting. Saito tackles this song resorting to his mid-tones but there is a lot of delicate falsetto and flourishes going on in his performance. Solid track to kick off this EP with. 4/5

2 –  Paper Tigers 

Paper Tigers is such a nostalgic track for those born in the 90s. The track explores pop-punk much in the style of Blink-182 (the main guitar riff is unmistakable), bringing forth simple guitar riffs, thunderous bass lines that echo throughout the track and loud, snare-driven drums that give an edgy layer to the song. With short verses and even shorter choruses, this song flies by in an instant. Vocal-wise this song features a consistent, mid-toned focused performance with lack of flourishes of any kind. It leans towards a fun, rawer and more natural rock band performance than most of Saito’s songs in his repertoire. 5/5

3 – ワルツ

Waltz has a picturesque, indie touch to it, with acoustic guitars driving this song forward. The pacing is comfortable and the instrumentalization easily gives off the fact that it is incredibly layered, with a whole lot of hits and bits of drum fills, guitar riffs, piano melodies, whistles packing and, at times, overcrowding the song. Although the concept is interesting and we can notice what Soma was trying to achieve with this song – complex over-layering -, he sort of failed to meet his objective. Waltz is going to be a hard song to digest, especially for the newcomers. Vocal wise, Saito put his cards on the table to deliver an impressive falsetto-ed chorus performance. However, as good as the vocals go, the instrumental did not work. 3/5

4 – 林檎 

Ringo stands out for how unique it sounds even by Soma Saito’s standards. The song kicks in with dark, backwards spinning synths and loungy piano melody. The darkness and mystery take over this track. Dynamics evolve as we get to the first verse and it continues to be strangely dark yet alluring at the same time. It picks up from there and jazzy brass and dramatic piano melodies join and… we have no chorus, just a brief instrumental intermission and then part B of the song. This is an interesting song structure, unusual, adding another unique touch to this song. The broken/glitched instrumentalization, the muffled vocals – singing and rapping parts included – complement the clean vocals that bring falsetto and a whole lot of sweet mid-toned melodies into the mix.  Alluring and unique, Ringo is a highlight in this EP. 5/5

5 – Tonight

Tonight is one of those songs that you will instantly want to add to your driving playlist. The lo-fi intro gives off those vibes of strolling around while listening to music and it escaping through our headphones or just how the music would sound if you were lazily spending time at a coffee shop. This nice introductory touch sets us to a late night journey that can end in an interesting way. The instrumental is incredibly funky, with funk/blues guitar riffs adding a slightly romantic touch to this track, A sitar melody and organ melodies add unique accents to this song, making the whole real yet dreamy soundscape come to life. Add to this a reverbing, groovy bass line and jazz/ska inspired drums and you see the imaging painting itself even better in front of your eyes. The story is being told in such a way that it makes that “dream” sound even more “real”, a strike of genius courtesy of Soma Saito’s double-entendre lyrics.

On the vocal end, this is the slowest and most gentle (and strangely appealing, almost like an invitation) performance Soma Saito has given. It is simple in its essence and it is more than enough to make us hit the replay button again and again. Takes the crown as best song in this EP. 5/5

6 – Hidden track

Saito’s fans continue to be spoiled with hidden tracks and this release is no exception. The alt-rocker left an epilogue track – of name unknown – to his fans, a track with a lo-fi sound in which the piano echoes in emptiness and Soma Saito‘s delicate vocals paint a beautiful yet tragic image. This is the end of the journey that started with memento (remember that initial road trip vibe?), ingenious way to wrap up this album and give it a satisfying final chapter. 5/5

Final rating:

my blue vacation is a highly experimental EP. You can tell it by the difference in tones between the first and second half of the release – reality and dreams – as well as how most of the songs sound nothing alike to what was previously released.

memento is a spiritual successor to Kesho Sekai although much brighter than the previous track. Piano, strings and a rather loud 4-piece rock band sound presented us with new dynamics, up until now not explored in his repertoire. The brightness about this track is countered by the rather cryptic lyrics and an unusual underlying dark tone to the instrumental. Nice way to make a bridge between last year’s full-length album – quantum stranger – and this year’s EP. It is as if there is no time lapse between both releases.

Paper Tigers is nostalgic and playful without straying away from Saito’s trademark rock sound. It added a fun layer to this release.

Our issue with Waltz lies in the fact that the song does not have his touch despite having been composed by himself. It sounds as if he is trying to emulate someone rather than add his own spin or taking inspiration from something. It resulted in an overcrowded instrumental that is a pain to navigate, and does not get easy after a couple of listens. This song could have been much more if only he’d accomplished what was in mind. I highly doubt that overcrowding an instrumental was intentional because over-layering, quite possibly what he intended with this song, does not necessarily sound overcrowded if the tempo and or instrumentals in question to be layered are rather similar. Then again, it is not something easy to pull off. We’ll look at this song as an experiment however, one that missed the mark.

The EP finishes strong with Ringo, Tonight and the hidden track. Ringo and Tonight are songs that explore ethereal concepts, embodying the “dream” concept of the 2nd part of the release. Both unique tracks and tracks that worked incredibly well on the composition, lyrics and performance fronts.

The hidden track reminded us of The Killers’ Sam’s Town and how that album featured intermission in quite a similar way. We highly doubt that inspiration was drawn from here but, we brought that up to say that the EP is well structured, it knows its pacing, it knows the themes it explores and keeps it rather consistent throughout, and feels complete with a start and a finish that tie up perfectly.

All in all, Soma Saito‘s my blue vacation might be far from his best but it put a lot of new elements on the table that will, most likely, be explored in upcoming releases. Expectations were too high for this EP but, in a way, those were met even if with some hiccups along the way. Still, it is commendable that Saito indeed wrote and composed all tracks for this release. Some worked, others didn’t, but of those that didn’t, we’re sure that by the next release, those will no longer be issues.

Interesting release with several highlights worthy of mention. This was another stepping stone that puts Saito on a journey to hone his skills and continue to further experiment with his sound.

my blue vacation is available for purchase at CDJAPAN.

Author: Vanessa Silva (midorin)

The Hand That Feeds HQ founder and music reviewer writing about Japanese music since 2010. Metalhead. Gamer. Based in Cascais, Portugal. Mamoru Miyano's "Orpheus" was the catalyst to start writing about male seiyuu music.

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