Nobuhiko Okamoto‘s first album is finally out. After the album’s alleged plagiarism issue that ultimately led to its delayed release and tracklist + title change, fans will be a bit disappointed with the lackluster that “8piece” ultimately is.
Title: 8piece Label: Kiramune Release date: 21/01/2017 Genre: J-Pop
1. 君の笑顔 僕の笑顔
2. Over the Horizon
7. Good Good Time
10. Happy memories
Track by track analysis:
1. 君の笑顔 僕の笑顔
[Previously reviewed] This song goes back to Okamoto‘s bright bubblegum pop and mixes it with danceable, slower synths – bringing out a more easy listening sound for his listeners. This playful instrumental lends a bit of what has been done in the past in Trignal and Hiroshi Kamiya‘s releases – shifting from the tacky pop that relies too much into sounding cute, into a complete 360º with powerful synths and bass driven melodies that are pleasant to the ears. It’s a mature sound, there’s no doubt about it.”Kimi no egao boku no egao” turns out to be an addictive track in which Okamoto is sounding way too good. It’s impressive how fast he’s improving. This vocal performance was incredibly stable and energetic without a single key issue. Solid, solid performance in what is a fun track. 4.5/5
2. Over the Horizon
“Over the Horizon” brings back the vibe from “QUESTORY” back. Going towards a grandiose instrumental resorting to timpani, orchestral elements, strings and delicate blowing instruments, this instrumental has the makings of an epic soundtrack, one that could be easily featured in an RPG game. Slow paced, this song build its tension thanks to piano, the high pitched strings and ultimately the marching drums. The cello bridge will impress everyone with its freshness. Although this song had everything to be fantastic, the vocal performance was a bit lackluster, or should we say that the chorus lacks that “epic” touch that the rest of the song has. This is an odd ball in this album but we can’t really dislike it. 4/5
Rock + pop + classic music + indian elements. You read well, this is yet another odd ball in the middle of this album. This mix, although a bit strange to read about, actually fits well in the song giving it an exotic touch that you don’t find that easily in the pop scene in Japan. The splashy drums set this comfortable mid-tempo in which we have shredding guitars mixed with timpani and sitar and a whole lot of elements that would take us more than a couple of lines to describe. The instrumental is certainly rich, no one can deny that. The vocal performance wasn’t bad but those “OH.. AH!” parts in the backing vocals were distracting at first and by the end of the song, throughly annoying. 4/5
Calypso inspired percussion make “OASIS” the bright summer song that it is. For those that have been following Okamoto since his debut, this song will certainly wink at you. It’s that bright pop that marked his debut. Sadly he brought it back. If there’s something Kiramune/Lantis don’t fare well in is creating pop songs. Most of the times those go over the top ridiculous, at times making the listener cringe or simply press forward to avoid listening to the rest of the song. Well, despite the fact the verses are not bad – they are bearable and sound rather pleasing -, the chorus is awful. Starting from the instrumentalization on that part and the vocal performance we can’t really praise this song more than we did. “OASIS” is a skippable song. Too much going on but nothing concretely well executed. 3/5
A piano and shakuhachi lead the way into this pop-rock song with a touch from the past. Written by Okamoto, 朧月 is the first song on this album that really strikes us a being one of the best in his repertoire. The song has the “QUESTORY” vibes, that rock song that will grab your attention from the get-go. Once again mixing rock elements (shredding guitars, powerful bassline and classic 80’s pop-rock drums) with traditional elements (shamisen and shakuhachi) was a great choice. Despite it being overused in the pop-rock scene in Japan, it still sounds great in the end. The vocal performance on this song is way better than any of the previous songs. Okamoto goes high a couple of times, trying to belt those notes and doesn’t falter. When he’s delivering the verses with his mid-tones everything runs smoothly. In the end, this was the first song in this album that got us excited. 5/5
Embracing once again those pituresque elements that are part of the lore of RPG soundtracks, 風の詩 sets a slow tempo right from the start with the choir singing in Irish! You read well again. The choir part goes “Leanann an saol, deo / Nil an Bas an deireadh / Saol nua tri athru ar an foirm / Eigin sa Broinn na Mathar” which is the oddest and the awesomest thing we’ve ever encountered on a song. Blowing instruments, acoustic guitars and a piano make for much of the instrumental piece, a piece that is rather quiet an uneventful. Okamoto went really for the traditional Irish sound with this song and even incorporated Irish lyrics to go with it. But as interesting as the instrumental or even this small detail regarding the lyrics were, the vocal performance is a bit of a lackluster. 3.5/5
7. Good Good Time
Were you waiting for another bubbly pop song? If you were this is the song for you. “Good Good Time” kicks off as bright as you could ever imagine. This song is another of the various written by Okamoto included on this release. Unfortunately this song doesn’t fare that well and we start explaining why: of course a song can be bright (there’s a lot of artists that enjoy have some lighthearted moments in their albums) but having the vocal performance matching the overall vibe and suddenly a 30 year old sounds like a 3 year old… That’s not only odd, but sounds awful. We’re all supportive of versatility but versatility doesn’t mean sounding like a 3 year old, this is not voice acting, this is singing, there are things that work and those that don’t. Singing with a “cute” tone almost never sounds good. Okamoto has showed us before that he can impress with his vocals if he stays in his comfort zone instead of going all out “cute”. And if the vocal performance wasn’t enough to complicate things, the instrumental piece is not that great either. Too much synths going on in the background, one of them annoying you right from the start. The only salvageable part in this song is the quiet bridge with a touch of electronica, if the song had followed that mood and instrumentalization, maybe this song would have fared better. Sadly, it didn’t. 2.5/5
Bang!バンザイ!! is bright tune with a mid-to-fast paced instrumental. Written by Okamoto, the lyrics are rather uplifting but the instrumental… Sounds like an early 00’s pop song. It’s dated, tries to be exciting but it’s draining in return. The brass is overused on this track making it a bit overwhelming to the listener – especially if they are not fond of brass at all. The vocal performance follows once again the “cute” tone, we gave our 2 cents about this in the previous song. The idea was good, the execution… not so much. 2.5/5
The title track is written by Okamoto as well. This song starts with strings and a emotional piano. It’s a nice change when we look back into this release and realize that we’ve had nothing more than odd balls and overly bright songs. “8piece” is a slow paced ballad with bright and hopefully lyrics (this works well) but this time around with a comfortable vocal performance that made the song sound way better in return. With both the vocal performance and instrumental being solid we have a small easter egg on this song. What is it? Well, Ryohei Kimura, Daisuke Namikawa and Tetsuya Kakihara are featured on it – even if just for a little bit. It was a nice surprise to find them on this song, at first we had to stop the song and repeat the part in which we found different but familiar vocals. “I might have heard this wrong” that’s the first thought that come to mind. Turns out that Kiramune‘s top singers (minus Miyu Irino) joined this song to add a little twist. This song not only sounds good but it has good lyrics and special collabs, a treat for his fans. 5/5
10. Happy memories
Completing this release we find “Happy memories“, another track penned by Okamoto that managed to tank this album in the worst way possible. You know those carousel songs that are playing time after time in theme parks? This song is just like that. An awful choice as a finishing song, we could have thought about a different configuration in this tracklist that would at least make the album redeem itself by the end of it. Instead this overly bright song ruins it all. Once again only the bridge of the song is listenable without cringing or feeling tempted to press the skip button. And we won’t talk about the music video. We won’t. 2.5/5
This album is filled with odd balls, more than one could have expected.
Over the Horizon is not your typical pop song, well, it’s not even a pop song. The lyrics are pop-oriented but the whole instrumental screams “RPG soundtrack” no matter how much you try to draw a line between that genre and this song, the same can be said about the Irish inspired “風の詩“. But despite both songs’ having engaging and original instrumentals, the vocal performances lacked emotion in both occasions.
“朧月” and “8piece” are the highlights in this uninspired release. In these two cases he was able to showcase a bit of his skills and was given good instrumentals to execute his ideas to perfection. That’s what lacked in the rest of the release. He actually wrote good lyrics but those were ultimately ruined by ridiculous instrumentals.
We keep wondering where the powerful Okamoto we found in “QUESTORY” is. This release is way too bright, straying well far from his best release and nodding a lot to his debut days. Instead of evolving like most Kiramune artists have been in the last couple of years, Okamoto is instead going back to his debut days completely disappointing us with this release.
We don’t know what to expect from his following releases but if this trend continues he’ll easily stand as the weakest singer in the Kiramune roster.
8piece is available for purchase on CDJAPAN for all overseas fans.