Ensemble Stars!‘s dark horse arrives to steal the show. A wide array of music genres, fancy melodies and solid vocal performances are just some of the greeting cards for MaM‘s fantastic entry in Ensemble Stars!’s album series.
MaM is the only solo act in Ensemble Stars!. It consists of Kousuke Toriumi.
Title: Ensemble Stars! Album Series MaM Label: Pony Canyon Release date: 24/10/18 Genres: J-Pop/New wave/Rock
01.Blooming World 02.Festive! 03.君印 Be Ambitious!! 04.辻風に吹かれて (MaM with team Ushiwakamaru - Mikejima, Shinkai, Soma, Mitsuru) 05.RevolTrad～維新伝心～ (MaM with Akatsuki) 06.See You Again
Track by track analysis:
[As previously reviewed] “Blooming World” kicks off with a bright, funky instrumental in which synths and piano melodies are kings. This song quickly grabbed our attention due to its old-school 80’s pop/new wave vibe, mixing synths with strings and creating a sweet, laidback tune that everyone will easily enjoy. The verses are simple, putting aside synths and favoring piano melodies and guitar riffs instead. On the other side we find the chorus embracing saw synths and strings adding a summery vibe. The guitar solo on the bridge will have you on your toes, it was such a great addition to this instrumental, really adding those finishing touches to an instrumental that was already remarkable. On the vocal end Kousuke Toriumi impressed. Not only did he fit completely with the instrumental, but he also delivered one of the smoothest performances we’ve ever heard from him. You’ll want to have this song on repeat. 5/5
[As previously reviewed] This tune will catch you off guard. Country/folk rock is certainly something uncommon, special in Japan. “Festive!” dons an easy-to-listen mix of country/folk and pop sound rooted on acoustic guitars and washy, hi-hat driven drums. But if the whole country throws you off or you are usually not a fan of the genre, rest assured. There are entertaining piano melodies, blues-y guitar licks and a bassline that, although not as noticeable as in the previous song, adds a depth to the instrumental, making it an amusing listen. The chorus and pre-chorus sections are the highlights on this instrumental – a quick listen is enough to notice how good those sound. In the vocal department we can only say that Toriumi has delivered yet another great performance. On this one we’re fonder of his performance during the chorus than on the rest of the song, regardless of what strikes our fancy, his performance was both consistent and smooth, something we weren’t expecting in a song such as this one. 5/5
03.君印 Be Ambitious!!
A simple 4/4 snare-driven beat leads the way for Kimi Shirushi Be Ambitious!!, pop tune with an 80’s rock touch. Brass takes the front seat, serving as the main element responsible for giving off a joyful vibe. The rest of the instrumental shares the same upbeat vibe courtesy of a groovy bass line, bright piano melodies and exciting guitar riffs. When paying close attention to this instrumental those 80’s rock influences are noticeable – the chord progressions, the simplicity in the drums and the heavy usage of brass in mix with rock -, and make this instrumental all the more entertaining.
On the vocal end, Toriumi has a shy performance. In comparison with the previous two tracks, his performance for this song is strangely reserved when the instrumental is all about exuding fun. He’s still performing well – the vocals are easy to the ears and he hit every single note in some of the trickiest vocal sections – but the contrast between the instrumental’s energy and his quiet performance don’t go as well together as we’d expect. 4/5
We change gears and lineups for Senpuu ni Fukarete. The instrumental alone has infectious high levels of energy. Whether it’s because of its fast paced drums, the exciting guitar riffs, the noticeable, groovy bass line or the airy touch that the piano and strings added to this song, this song couldn’t stop impressing. The song structure was made in a way that the listener can’t help but to feel the excitement and, at the same time, feel good vibe it exudes.
Team Ushiwakamaru – Shinkai, Soma and Mitsuru – join MaM on vocals. While some of the members of Team Ushiwakamaru are usually inconsistent on the vocal end within their own groups, it seems that, for this performance, everyone upped their game. Junya Ikeda and Keisuke Kaminaga brought vibrato to this performance whereas Koutaro Nishiyama showed an overall consistency – in both his tone and control – that he usually lacks in Ryuseitai. To match Kousuke Toriumi‘s sweet mid-toned vocals everyone showed their improved selves, with synced harmonies and strong performances in their individual parts. The instrumental’s vibe and energy alongside these vocals make this song one of the best in this album. 5/5
MaM and Akatsuki‘s trademark sounds blend for RevolTrad～維新伝心. In a sense, both groups have share similar elements in their music. Akatsuki are keen on incorporating electric guitars in their dramatic, traditional Japanese songs and, at the same time. MaM is known for using rock music at the core of his songs. Sharing this simple element in common makes the mix between both groups’ styles feel natural. On one hand, we have the drama and refinement from the fast paced shamisen and shakuhachi’s emotional melodies and, on the other, this song was fancy with its guitar work, bringing melodic guitar licks and a stunning guitar solo into the mix. This results in an exciting mix of rock and traditional Japanese music that doesn’t necessarily sound like anything any of the groups has released before, yet it sounds so familiar.
For this song MaM was joined on vocals by Akatsuki. However, while MaM should have been the focus for this song, it was Akatsuki that stole the show, more specifically Yuichiro Umehara. Regardless if it was the chorus or the individual parts, he was everywhere stealing the spotlight to himself. Of course, this doesn’t discard the great work done on the vocal end by Kousuke Toriumi, Shinnichiro Kamio and Keisuke Kaminaga. When it came to harmonies and solo parts, everyone showed up and showcased their best. 5/5
06.See You Again
The album wraps up neatly with See You Again. After a set of upbeat and fast paced songs, the listener is graced with a slow paced, acoustic ballad. Rhodes piano, delicate strings, acoustic guitars and splashy drums create this simple yet emotional instrumental. This song features a two-parted acoustic-electric guitar solo. Although the solo was too brief, it still stands out within the song and, in a way, with its unexpected transition between acoustic and electric, ends up adding a fancy touch to this song.
This ballad wasn’t begging for an heart-wrenching performance or something fancy. Toriumi relied solely on his mid-tones and vocal control and the rest is history. This is one of the most consistent and emotion-filled performances on this release. 5/5
MaM might be eclipsed by other, more popular units within Ensemble Stars! but truth is, even without the spotlight on him, he’s one of the most consistent and exciting acts in the franchise.
Ensemble Stars! Album Series MaM features a wide range of music genres, making this release pretty unique and ear-catching. With rock at the core of each song, it’s interesting how there are no two songs that sound the same on this album. This alone makes the album’s replay value go up, as there is a song for each mood, vibe or day. Listeners got country, new wave, pop-rock, traditional Japanese music, ballad and even a throwback 80’s rock song with this release.
Quality instrumentals, fancy details, crafty melodies and catchy hooks are just some of the things that stand out while listening to this album. With songs like Blooming World, Senpuu ni Fukarete and RevolTrad～維新伝心 in the mix – songs that are ranked among MaM‘s best – it’s hard not to find this album attractive.
Then there’s the vocals. Toriumi has been part of several units in his career but, oddly enough, he’s always been a better solo performer than he is a group/team performer. There were some hiccups in Kimi Shirushi Be Ambitious!! but overall, as MaM his vocals shine. Toriumi‘s natural singing tone has a unique sweetness and flows so well, hence it’s odd that within groups he’s usually stuck performing in tones that are far from his natural tone. In this solo environment he can put his sweet mid-toned vocals to use and adapt them to different songs without having to match his peers’ tones or forfeit the spotlight for another seiyuu that is performing with him – and happens to voice the most popular character out of the two. Still, the songs Senpuu ni Fukarete and RevolTrad～維新伝心 had him sharing vocal duties with Team Ushiwakamaru and Akatsuki (respectively) and he was able to be himself while delivering quality performances in both songs.
All in all, MaM‘s first album is one of the best released so far. There’s no shortage of quality songs and strong performances. The dark horse of Ensemble Stars!‘s album series is definitely worth checking out.
“Ensemble Stars! Album Series MaM” is available for purchase at CDJAPAN.