Shugo Nakamura is gearing up to release his 1st full-length album this summer. Details on “NATURAL” are already out.
Title: NATURAL Label: Lantis Release date: 28/07/2021 Genre: Rock / Acoustic / Pop-rock / Jazz-Rock
1 - feeling 2 - 僕なりのラブソング 3 - カラフル 4 - あなたのこと 5 - Oh No!! 6 - チョコレート 7 - わかってちょうだいね 8 - Here comes The SUN 9 - JUMP 10 - ナチュラル 11 - 素敵な世界で
Track by track analysis (instrumental tracks are not rated):
1 – feeling
The album kicks off with a simple intro. The wind blows in the distance, birds chirp in the background, and in front of you, you hear an acoustic guitar.
The sound design in this song takes you towards the source, as you slowly walk through pebbles to find the source of all that sound. When you do, you are met with an adventurous instrumental with a hopeful twist brought by the strings. Take a seat because this is going to be a good ride.
2 – 僕なりのラブソング
“Boku nari no Love song” carries over from the intro, with a comfortable semi-acoustic sound that mixes acoustic guitars, simple drums, a warm bassline, and delicate strings.
The verses have a beautiful tonality to them, with the piano leading the way. One thing I’m particularly pleased about is that this is quite the cinematic soundscape, with the instruments surrounding you, putting you in the middle of the action.
You got the drums on the front left side, the bass to your left, guitars to your right, and Shugo Nakamura right in front of you gently singing his heart out saying that not only this is “his own love song” but it’s also yours.
The guitar solo in this song had me on the edge of my seat, really going for that strong pouring of emotions that solidifies this track as one of the best in the album.
3 – カラフル
Overdriven guitar riffs, snary drums, and a sweet piano melody lead the way for Colorful. The song counts with semi-acoustic verses, with electric and acoustic guitars playing side by side, creating a heartwarming soundscape.
The chorus rises in tension, with guitars going slower and the bass taking over with awesome melodies. The pacing is comfortable, making this song an enjoyable listen.
The biggest highlight in the instrumental comes with the powerful – albeit brief – guitar solo in the bridge. Awesome stuff right there.
On the vocal end, Shugo Nakamura delivers a solid performance rooted in his mid-toned vocals but fret not, he also delivers some sweet stuff, with his falsetto adding gentle touches to the overall performance.
“Colorful” really paints a laidback and sweet soundscape, it is that kind of song that you will want to listen to when you want something uplifting and easy-listening.
4 – あなたのこと
“Anata no koto” arrives with a 50s inspired surfer-rock sound. The intro is fun yet simple, instantly giving off that old-school vibe from 50s rock. The verses are slow-paced and focused on a carefree mix of acoustic guitars, jazzy piano melodies, and groovy drums and bassline.
You can sit back and relax in the verses, letting yourself enjoy the warm sound and fancy performance by Shugo Nakamura.
Expect a fantastic double solo, with the guitars and piano going bonkers yet never stealing the spotlight from each other. How was that achieved? Piano to your right and guitars to your left in that specific part of the song. Awesome mixing once more.
On the vocal end, Shugo Nakamura didn’t spare anyone, delivering a performance that will make you gasp in very specific sections. His mid-tones are as steady as you can get, his falsetto and head voice notes are perfect, he is one with the rhythm, and you can tell he was having fun with this performance.
5 – Oh No!!
Oh No!! is a funk-rock song that brings in feel-good, loungy vibes to the table, that counts with lyrics and composition by Nakamura himself.
Everything about Oh No!! is funky, and this is, in my books, a good thing because it was done tastefully.
The 1st verse counts with organ melodies in the background, summery guitar riffs, and an intense bass line. Slowly, the song builds up to the chorus and the drums start to take the spotlight, leading to a powerful display in the chorus.
The break between the first chorus and the 2nd verse slows the track down in quite an interesting way, with all instruments following the slower tempo, channeling some ska vibes in there.
The bridge features an entertaining section in which the drums go wild alongside the fun brass and the classy Rhodes piano – well in the background but still giving a nice accent to this funky track –, while the bass steals the show.
The bass line was the driving force in this song, leading the way with a lot of groove and charisma to it.
On the vocal end, Shugo Nakamura goes for a playful performance filled with flair.
The verses aren’t that intense on the vocals – in which he’s gliding through the notes – however, the chorus demands a powerful performance that Nakamura more than delivers.
He goes for a fancy, vibrato accented performance while smoothly traversing through the verses in a legato fashion.
6 – チョコレート
“Chocolate” has a loungy tone with wah-wah guitars leading the way.
You’ll soon find yourself surrounded by a punchy bassline, a beautiful rhodes piano melody, brass hits, and bassy drums, all creating a unique sound.
The verses have a mature twist to them, with a slow pacing and big care on a deep bass sound as Shugo Nakamura goes for beautiful falsetto and fancy mid-tones.
The chorus is intense, addictive, in a way, intoxicating. It is split into two sections, the intro part of the chorus, a bit quiet, and the 2nd part that goes bonkers on all instruments. This duality, allied with the elegant instrumental, had me wishing the song was longer than it is.
The outro to this song brought back those times listening to the Latin Jazz and blues of Carlos Santana – if you don’t know who this genius artist is, I welcome you to check him out -, with the guitar going all emotional and deliberately slow, adding a unique flair to this track.
The best song on this album, hands down.
7 – わかってちょうだいね
“Wakatte choudai ne” brings back rock to the spotlight, going loud and aggressive for one in this album. The verses are fast-paced, with riveting drums, intense bassline, and shredding guitar riffs.
The sound is as raw as you can get. And the fun in this song comes exactly because of how straightforward this song is. And this is just an intermission as we get closer to the end of the album.
8 – Here comes The SUN
Nakamura takes on a summery trip with Here comes The SUN. The melodies are simple, with the focus on the funky bassline and melodic guitar riffs, elements responsible for creating a laidback soundscape.
The song oozes a feel-good vibe, with its verses flowing into choruses and choruses flowing into verses seamlessly.
Vocally, Nakamura delivers a solid performance that is not showing in any way.
He tackles each line with emotion and adds a bit of his falsetto to enhance the quality, proving that simplicity sometimes is key for a great song.
9 – JUMP
A bright piano melody paints the soundscape with warmth and excitement. “JUMP” brings a comfortable, mid-tempo pop-rock sound to the table.
Its verses are fun, with washy drums, a punchy bassline, and laidback guitar riffs helping give life to this inspiring soundscape that Nakamura created for you.
The guitar solo in the bridge flows pretty well in the song, my only quip with it is that it is rather brief. Other than that, awesome way to discharge all the tension from the verses and chorus.
On the vocal end, Shugo Nakamura delivered an uplifting and inspiring performance that stands out.
10 – ナチュラル
“NATURAL” continues Nakamura’s bid to spread good vibes and put a smile on your face.
The song has simple verses with bass being the prominent instrument, creating a rich, full sound that will have you grooving along to it. The guitars are funky, grooving alongside the bassline and the bassy drums.
It all transitions seamlessly to the chorus that is a pure bundle of fun. The intensity certainly increases there but the tempo is as comfortable as ever and the instrumental is enjoyable.
A quirky detail in this song is the long fade-out of this song, something that used to be done in the 90s – not anymore -, leaving the song to wrap up itself.
The chorus has a dual vocal performance with one of the tracks being a performance in head voice by Nakamura and, contrasting, the same part performed with warm mid-tones.
With both parts working together – instead of one being used as pitch vocals only – you get a richer and much dynamic performance than you’d get with just one or the other.
11 – 素敵な世界で
Wrapping up this album is the slow-paced, semi-acoustic rock tune “Suteki na Sekai de”. After making a big entrance with emotional strings, the song quiets down a bit and goes simpler for its verses.
The verses fully embrace the warm acoustic guitar melodies, careful deep bassline, and simple snary drums. The build-up to the chorus brings strings back to the spotlight, heightening the tension. You won’t even notice the transition to the chorus given how crafty its trigger is.
On the vocal end, Shugo Nakamura shows you how beautiful the world is with a hopeful performance of those inspiring lyrics.
The album comes full circle, wrapping up neatly.
Shugo Nakamura’s “NATURAL” is a collection of beautiful songs with a hopeful, bright outlook on life, plenty of good vibes, and some love in the mix.
In a way, this album perfectly encompasses who Nakamura is as a solo artist and, in another, it serves almost as a letter to his fans or even just those who appreciate his natural, semi-acoustic brand of rock.
Out of the “oldies” in this album, “Oh No!!” and “Here Comes The Sun” continue to be among my favorites. Two incredibly interesting songs, one exploring ska and the other acoustic rock, and both giving off good vibes and plenty of smooth performances.
Out of the new songs, “Boku nari no Love song” and “Chocolate” impressed me the most.
The first one because of how it perfectly carries over from the instrumental intro to the album as well as for how beautiful the whole song is, plus its perfectly layed out soundscape.
The latter because of how I was not expecting such a mature sound coming from Shugo Nakamura’s music. I do love this song to bits due to its astonishing blend of jazz with blues and funk, essentially, acid-jazz or fusion-jazz sound -, something with which Nakamura had already played around within “Oh No!!”. This time around we got the fleshed out, mature take on what you find in that song.
So yes, “Chocolate” is my favorite song in this album. I believe I can have it looping all day and I won’t get sick of it. This is that type of song.
I do love a good throwback song from time to time, especially when it comes to revisiting classic rock and 50s surfer-rock. When done right, not only does it feel like you’re taken back to that era, but also it makes the song enjoyable right off the bat. “Anata no koto” is like that for me.
This is, most likely, a song that not many people will enjoy – given its “old” sound – but it is so, so good both as a standalone as well as in the context of cohesion within the album.
There are plenty of things I love about this album starting with its cohesion in theme/sound, passing through the perfect mixing, and the performances.
In terms of sound, you may have noticed that this album is all about its semi-acoustic rock sound. Some songs have some sprinkles of pop, others of jazz, funk, or even when you stop with all the unplugged music and go all out electric for fast-paced rocking tunes.
As you listen to this album, the sound carries over. There’s always an element from the song that precedeed it that is present in the song immediately after. This is a result of not only of good composition – thinking about how the songs would connect – but also of crafty mastering, with the songs being sorted in a way that you don’t have any drastic changes in tone.
The addition of a cinematic intro was perfect to set the tone for this album, playing around with your senses, taking you into that soundscape. The intermission was intense but still had a seamless transition, signally the end of the album, and a slight change in the tone of the last couple of songs.
Then you have the performances.
Shugo Nakamura makes things sound easy. He does plenty of flourishes, goes up and down the scale within brief, tricky parts. He has a lot of emotion in himself that carries over to his performances but he also can go extremely simple and raw as well as technical and fancy.
His versatility gave life to all the songs in “NATURAL” and, without notice, when this album wraps up, you’ll feel energized and with a smile plastered on your face.
I love this about Nakamura’s music and I’m actually glad he has stuck with this approach to his music. It also helps he does write lyrics to his songs, which gives him much more control over how he wants to sound and come across to the listener.
All in all, “NATURAL” is one of the best albums released in 2021, a beautiful compilation of feel-good songs and crafty performances by the talented singer-songwriter.
“NATURAL” is available for purchase at CDJAPAN.
NATURAL is available for streaming on Spotify.
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