MUCC - Karma

review - 16.10.2010 03:35

MUCC's new album is a must-hear, mixing the best of many worlds while keeping the sound their own.

MUCC is one of the more unpredictable groups in the Japanese music scene. Each album is surprising when it comes out, so we never know what's next, though they have been branching out more and more with recent releases, adding a mass of musical genres to their sound. Their album Karma continues this trend and will probably bring in a new audience for the group while keeping the usual customers happy.

The album opens with an intro of electronica-type music, announcing the direction that MUCC is going for with this album. Chemical Parade is perhaps the embodiment of their switch from cerebral, atmospheric rock to a more popular sound a broader audience can enjoy, though there are plenty of exceptions to the generalization. Falling Down, from their most recent single, continues this trend but mixes more rock in with the club sound, adorned with digital enhancements and electronic vocals at times. This should come as no surprise as Miya’s heavy rock influence is consistently felt in the band’s general style. Tatsuro will win over skeptics with the chorus, which is beautifully and earnestly sung. The pace picks up with the bridge and a scrambling guitar solo from Miya that’s excellent as always, and stands out all the more in a song that isn’t entirely rock-like throughout.

For track three, Zeroshiki, the pace quickens for a fun number seeping with attitude. Tatsuro’s vocals draw out a rebellious edge, even while the melodies - particularly in the chorus - ensure the mood doesn’t overtake the musicality. The band continues playing around with synths and digital effects here as well, which always keeps things interesting. The next song, Chemical Parade Blueday, really embraces the club sound but feels schizophrenic in a good way as it layers on YUKKE’s rumbling bass and Miya’s darkly grumbling guitar at times. The feel of the song may be most interesting when much of the background music drops out in the verses, leaving just the vocals and minimum synths.

Next up is A., a must-hear ballad with acoustic guitar. In comparison to the preceding songs and much of MUCC’s other work, the music feels simple and old-school. The chorus is dramatic, moving classic rock, and Tatsuro steals the show; his vocals are unadulterated and completely true to the Tatsuro we’ve been listening to for so many years. It’s definitely a song that will appeal to a larger audience than some of the band's more experimental numbers, but that doesn’t make it feel any less genuine or the music any less enjoyable.

We return to an electronic sound with the following I am computer. This is an interesting number because the emotionality of the music is muted, conveying a computer-like emptiness particularly in the verses. Don’t worry though - the melodies in the chorus and the emotions in the vocals are strong. The dualism between robot and human is there throughout, but it’s subtle and doesn’t take over the song.

Track seven is Gou, which means karma. Although it bears the name of the whole album - in kanji instead of katakana - don’t let your expectations get too high as it’s an instrumental and not particularly exciting. A tame electronica-style song, it could put you to sleep, though it’s pleasant enough to sit through. Conceptually, one can feel a sort of calm acceptance and repetitiveness throughout it, which makes sense considering the title. In Buddhism, karma is a natural result of one’s conduct, and it’s that naturalness that ironically shines through in this song of digital synths.

The following Daraku is a must-hear - unusual because it’s all in English, and also because it’s MUCC’s version of a smoky nightclub number. Making use of piano, YUKKE’s double bass and some smooth-jazz rhythms provided by SATOchi, the song starts out tamely and intensifies as it progresses. Not only does Tatsuro fall easily into the role of sultry nightclub singer, he also hits some very impressive falsetto segments at the end...and his English is great!

Track nine, Circus, takes us back to the seventies with a disco funk feel with plenty of brass and some unusual synths. This number is one of MUCC’s “imaginative” songs: it may not be your favorite but you have to admit it’s different. They took a risk, and it turned out quite well. The bridge has a nice interplay between trumpets and YUKKE’s bass, and Miya’s guitar layer on a distorted, psychedelic sound. The chorus turns out to be lovely and Tatsuro commits completely to the unusual world of the song. Following, Polaris is a beautiful number full of orchestra-scale strings and emotional violins. Unlike their earlier song Ame no orchestra, which is also a string-centric number, the emphasis here is less on the grandness and power of the sound and more on bringing out poignancy and sentimentality. Also enmeshed in the sound is a contemporary whimsicality and a hint of rock that keeps it sounding cutting-edge.

Next is Lion, and if you were looking for a full-out headbanging rock song, this is it. The moshing mood is offset by the chorus, but there are some good melodies and even some death vocals. Following is Feather, another ballad, and featuring both piano and acoustic guitar. It’s a pretty but plaintive song, with some nice moments like the lead into the chorus and Miya’s thoroughly dramatic electric guitar solo which ends in a scream.

The next two are previous releases. Track thirteen, Yakusoku, is catchy and emotional, bringing in a fast rhythm at the chorus you’ll want to jump along to, even while mixing in a feeling of longing reminiscent of their earlier work. Last is Freesia, which has a strong digital sound complemented by strings and rock elements. With its epic melodies and extraordinary guitar closing by Miya, it’s an emotionally draining and cathartic number to end on.

Now in their thirteenth year, MUCC continues to grow and expand without losing the original essence they started with. Longtime fans and the uninitiated alike can appreciate Karma for its crowd-pleasers as well as the more conceptual songs that remind us of how this band is always thinking.
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