Koutaro Nishiyama makes a smooth debut with the stylish and loungy mini-album, CITY.
Title: CITY Release date: 07/10/2020 Label: Lantis Genre: Citypop / Jazz
1 - 外では光が踊っている 2 - 真昼どきのステラ 3 - チキプーアワー 4 - よこはまスウィング 5 - とびきりの夜はここにある 6 - タイムマシン
Track by track analysis:
1 – 外では光が踊っている
Opening up this mini-album is “Soto de wa hikari ga odotte iru”, song that is filled with good vibes. Acoustic guitars paint a loungy soundscape, resting comfortably close to the listener as a punchy bass joins Koutaro Nishiyama at center stage.
Delicate strings and brass join atmospheric synths and a rhodes piano melody, creating a gentle melody to this song.
Aside from the tasteful loungy sound of this song, I am particularly fond of the mixing.
Instruments are split across various places in the soundscape, with guitars being pretty close to the listener and other, more intense instruments getting closer to center stage. It gives vibes of a terrace bar in which you have a certain closeness to the performer while maintaining a comfortable distance.
It is enjoyable and relaxing. The vocals mixing was really cool as well. You have those, at times, helicoptering your ears, going around you and then back to center stage, something that creates a certain intimacy in Koutaro Nishiyama’s performance.
As far as Nishiyama’s performance goes, he is absolutely in his element. Gentle, soft, and full of elegance, his performance is as much a highlight as the instrumental is.
2 – 真昼どきのステラ
Well known by Nishiyama’s fans even before the release of “CITY”, “Mahiru doki no Stella” brings citypop to the spotlight.
The bass line is punchy, leading the way for this track as delicate strings paint a sweet soundscape for the listener.
Wah-wah and funky guitars blend with an old-school, bass-driven beat and Rhodes piano spread the magic, slowly and gently guiding the listener through this song.
The song counts with a tasteful piano solo on top of beautiful strings melodies that will make you beg for more.
By the time this song wrapped up, I had a massive smile plastered on my face. Good vibes, relaxing music, and a fantastic performance by Koutaro Nishiyama make “Mahiru doki no Stella” one of the best leading tracks in a debut release by seiyuu.
I want more of this, much more of this.
3 – チキプーアワー
Don’t let yourself be fooled by its quirky title. “Chikipu Hour” is quite the fun track that mixes funk with retro 8bit-style synths hits.
The verses are simple, carrying a bit of energy and a lot of good vibes into the extremely catchy chorus. Everything about this song exudes such a positive, upbeat vibe that it is impossible not to be moved and start jamming along to it.
Koutaro Nishiyama’s performance is packed with playfulness as he tackles each of those “Chikichikipu” parts in the chorus. I have a feeling that this song will work so well in a live setting.
Fun and catchy.
4 – よこはまスウィング
“Yokohama swing” brings jazz to the mix, with the contrabass leading the way.
Jazz drums, elegant piano melodies, and playful guitar riffs create, alongside brass, a bar/lounge-worthy tune.
I love the little touches with the drums fills, brass showing off, and the little guitar solos here and there in this song.
It embraces the unpredictability of jazz music, something that, in return, makes this song shine with its fun sound and syncopated tempo.
Although a small detail, I love the minimalistic bridge, with Koutaro Nishiyama’s vocals being accompanied by a bass-drum-only beat. I love that bassy goodness that makes Nishiyama’s gentle, higher-toned vocals shine.
As a nice treat, Yusuke Shirai is featured as a barman in the background, so pay extra attention to that meta part of the song. Additionally, the struggling Nishiyama attending to the needs of his fans throughout the song is quite the nice, quirky touch to this song.
Nice attempt at jazz music by Nishiyama, delivering a solid performance, shining throughout.
5 – とびきりの夜はここにある
“Tobikiri no yoru wa koko ni aru” kicks off with muffled vocals by Nishiyama, slowly getting closer to the listener.
As Nishiyama’s vocals get clearer, the dynamics change and we’re introduced to quite the funky tune.
Funky guitar riffs and loungy synths create the beautiful soundscape for this song in the verses. You don’t even need to be in the summer to feel those summer vibes in “Tobikiri no yoru wa koko ni aru”.
There are some citypop and disco influences in this song with the synths showcasing a bit of that class from the 70s and 80s.
As far as vocal performances go, Koutaro Nishiyama threw it out of the park for this song. With lyrics written by himself, his confidence overflowed, his falsetto was shining, his high notes crystal clear, his mid-tones rock solid. This is quite a charismatic performance.
6 – タイムマシン
“Time Machine” wraps up this mini-album in a sweet and gentle acoustic, lo-fi fashion.
With lyrics by Nishiyama, this song exudes a comfortable warmth while being pretty clever at its core.
There’s a feel-good vibe intrinsic to this song. As soon as it kicks off, you’re transported to a place in which all your worries are no more. Sit back and relax because Nishiyama is ready to deliver a memorable performance for you.
I love the whole vibe about this song. The acoustic sound mixed with lo-fi hits from the turntables, brass samples, and then those fat, bouncy drums.
Koutaro Nishiyama goes for a whispery performance, something that perfectly suits his vocals.
There’s once again a cheeky little detail going on with Nishiyama’s performance. If you’re wearing headphones, pay twice as much attention to catch him circling you around again. On monitors, it sounds a bit weird but for headphones, it is quite the awesome touch to his performance.
Top marks in what is the highlight of this album.
I review a lot of music yearly. And I seldom review music that is 100% my taste. Well, surprising me, Koutaro Nishiyama’s music caters exactly to my tastes.
Loungy jazz, relaxing, positive vibes throughout, dreamy performances and a lot of flair on the production side make Koutaro Nishiyama’s “CITY” shine beyond anything I could imagine.
Anyway, off to the final considerations.
Koutaro Nishiyama finally got to show his own colors in a music context.
“CITY” counts with a beautiful, loungy set of tunes that are made to bring a smile to your face. This mini-album channels the summer regardless of the season you are in. You can feel that late afternoon warmth, staring at the sea/beach while enjoying tasteful lounge music.
Nishiyama’s “CITY” is exactly that type of lounge music, however, with more substance. I love the lyrics in this mini-album. Although there’s no real connecting thread between them, individually, those are simple, enjoyable and, most of all, catchy in a good way.
If there is one thing that I have been doing for a long time is listening to Koutaro Nishiyama’s improvements as a singer. A couple of years back, if you told me Nishiyama should make a solo debut I would advise against it. He wasn’t prepared, his vocals were fragile, he lacked consistency, his singing tone was too weird.
Years of practice and, of course, a natural talent he’s long tapped into, and Koutaro Nishiyama’s news about a solo debut made me excited for him.
He’s turned into a really enjoyable singer, having a full grasp of his voice tone, having honed his skillset (namely, his falsetto) and his singing has matured.
“CITY” is a testament to all that hard work, continuous performances in 2D groups, and a want to improve. You can tell that Nishiyama did his best to impress his fans, gifting them – us all – with a stellar debut mini-album.
I’ve got too many favorites in this mini-album – remember, this is exactly the style of music I love -, so I won’t dive again into all of those.
Just know that every song in “CITY” is a marvel. The tone and vibes are consistent throughout all songs, Nishiyama’s performances are memorable and gentle, at times, even lullabyish.
“CITY” is one of the best mini-albums released in 2020 and the best debut release by a solo artist to date.
CITY is available for purchase at CDJAPAN.