Review | Soma Saito “my beautiful valentine”

Soma Saito
my beautiful valentine (February 2022)

Surrealism takes center stage for “my beautiful valentine”, EP that brings a hauntingly beautiful and dark set of songs putting on the spotlight the stellar singer-songwriter that is Soma Saito.

Soma Saito "my beautiful valentine"
Regular
Title: my beautiful valentine
Release date: 09/02/2022
Label: SACRA MUSIC
Genre: Jazz/Emo-rock/Pop-rock/R&B/Funk

Tracklist:

1 - ラプソディ・インフェルノ
2 - ないしょばなし
3 - (Liminal Space)Daydream
4 - 幻日
5 - 埋み火
6 - ざくろ

Track by track analysis:

1 – ラプソディ・インフェルノ

“Rhapsody Inferno” takes the listener to a busy bar and let me tell you, right off the bat the sound design for this song is mindblowing.

The soundscape is rich and the instruments are all easy to tell apart, all having a specific placement in the said soundscape.

Acoustic guitars, played in a mix of Spanish and French style are to your right, the brass section – trombone, saxophone, and trumpets – populate your left, with the drums to your far back on the right, electric guitars at center stage alongside a decadent piano and the clean, charismatic vocals of Soma Saito sucking you in.

There’s a decadent and mature vibe to this song that is mainly countered by the seemingly happy-go-lucky instrumental. As you dive a bit deeper into the lyrics, things aren’t as clear as they appear, still this is far from being a dark song (which is more worrying than if it was, that means the EP is going to take a massive turn midway through).

“Rhapsody Inferno” feels like a live recording of a song, not a studio recording.

The chorus calls for the listener to shout along, shuffle along to the song or just snap fingers to the beat. There’s a massive bounce in the chorus provided by the groovy contrabass – actually, the whole bass section that includes drums, trombone, and bass -, that makes this song oddly addictive.

Pizzicato strings enter the scene in the second verse, adding a layer of elegance and allure to this song.

On the vocal end, Soma Saito kicks off this EP with a whole lot of confidence that you can’t and won’t find in any other CD released so far. He’s one with the stage, he grabs your attention and all you can pay attention to is his ad-lib-filled mid-toned vocals.

There are a couple of interesting things on the vocal end besides what initially meets the eye/ear.

He’s naturally adding vibrato to his performance, he’s going for ad-libs – something he usually doesn’t go for -, his mid-toned vocals are as clean as ever and he’s actually mixing and going for long notes with riffing on top, adding a twist of vibrato to the endings of those. This is a rich, technical performance that sounds effortless.

Once again, it feels like he’s performing live while this is, obviously, a studio recording.

As far as creating a setting goes, this song opens the doors to what may end up being a stunner of an EP.

2 – ないしょばなし

Naisho banashi” changes things around and embraces a mix of citypop and funk in its core rock sound.

The intro guitar riff and punchy bassline will take you to a summer soundscape. It feels like it is endless, warm, and quite intimate. While this is not the first time that Saito goes for a “sexy” performance or a song that has “desire” at its core, this one feels more intense than previous takes on both concepts.

You can see the scene unfolding, the lyrics have double entendres that, quite honestly, are not hiding much this time around (I see you, Soma), thus the overall feel is mature and quite intimate, even without diving that deep into the lyrics.

The verses ride on top of the break-beat on the drums, with everything else settling itself well around it.

The vocals are close to you as the guitars charm their way through the instrumental with their mix of funk-style melodies and wah-wah riffs. In the background, the bassline adds a groove to this song that is reminiscent – especially alongside the lead synth – of 80s citypop.

As you want to dive deep into those intoxicating vibes, the chorus arrives, and yet again, Saito crafted a catchy chorus that will have you singing along in no time.

The vibes are good, the mood is surprisingly laidback and, dare I say… romantic, and Soma Saito’s performance is overflowing with emotion and confidence. There is something akin to love and desire in his performance as well as some nostalgia underneath.

As far as technique goes, Saito taps a bit more into his high tenor range for this song although, for the most part, his performance is comfortable in his mid-tones (with some vibrato in the mix to add some color and dynamic to his performance).

In the background, as pitch vocals are Saito’s high key vocals – 1 octave higher -, serving as a contrast as well almost like there are two people in this conversation. This, of course, may be a bit farfetched but it does sound like it to me.

Wherever this soundscape is, please do take me there because these are genuinely good vibes, and the performance is magnetic.

3 – (Liminal Space)Daydream

And the tone to this EP starts changing – were you expecting this EP to be jolly for the whole time? This is Soma Saito, after all – with the entrance of (Liminal Space)Daydream.

The song has a strong focus on its indie rock sound, with acoustic guitars, simple snare-driven drums, a reverberating bassline, and a tambourine giving life to the dreamy madness in this song.

On vocals, Soma Saito showcases complete control as he goes for powerful mid-tones, plenty of falsetto, and high notes in head voice. This is quite a comfortable performance for him, reminiscent of his performance on “sunday morning(catastrophe)” (from 2018’s “quantum stranger”).

As far as composition goes, (Liminal Space)Daydream is rather irregular, even by Soma Saito’s standards. The verses don’t have the same length between each other, there is a long intermission between the 1st chorus and 2nd verse, the chorus is insanely brief, and the outro is completely replaced by something unexpected.  

Starting from the 3:40 mark, the song flips and goes incredibly dark.

Absolutely glitchy.

It wraps up broken and with quite the eerie vibe to itself, signaling that we’re getting into the 2nd half of this EP.

4 – 幻日

Genjitsu” is overflowing with nostalgia in its acoustic pop-rock instrumental.

The verses are simple, with a minor key piano melody painting the soundscape with melancholy. Slowly, as you get closer to the chorus, other instruments join in.

Electric guitars are broken – the riffs being purposedly glitchy and off-key -, the bassline and drums pounding their way as an old-school synth melody emphasizes the dramatic, wistful tone of this song.

I hear a lot of The Cure (“Disintegration”), Duran Duran (their early 90s era stuff), and BUCK-TICK in “Genjitsu”. It feels like I just opened an old box and then all that nostalgia comes back.

It feels strange yet, you can’t help wanting to hear more and more.

Strings – cellos and violins – join in during the outro, taking this song to a whole new level of, quite possibly, a tearjerker.

On the vocal end, this is one of the most technical performances by Soma Saito.

The amount of falsetto, head voice, and vibrato going on in his performance, mixed with whisper-style and clean singing are mindblowing. He even brought riffing and powerful high notes to this performance.

If there is a song that shows really well how good of a singer Soma Saito is, it is this one. It sounds like he didn’t break a sweat performing this which is quite impressive given how much he’s doing, constantly changing the tide of his performance, making sure the dynamics in the song are always on the move.

Wrapping up this song with the beautiful main theme on the piano is a nice touch, neatly taking you to the next track.

5 – 埋み火

Uzumibi” is definitely a big turn into dark territory within this EP.

The tone is decadent and the soundscape is devoid of “life”. For a couple of seconds, you trail in a pitch-black soundscape until the overdriven guitars blast their way through there and you find a light in the middle of it all.

However, what you initially may think will change the tone in the song actually arrives to suffocate you and close even more the soundscape around you.

The delayed piano melody leading the way tells you that yes, this is going to be the journey of your life and quite possibly a song to scar you.

The hard-hitting snary drums make a big impression, marching their way through the instrumental as the bassline battles it out, both vying to take the lead.

As a result, the instrumental will genuinely overwhelm you.

This is a song that has to be played live, especially as a tie-up to “Palette” and “Isana”. This song has a mix of the vibe and tone of both.

Dark.

Debauched.

Smothering.

With no hope on the horizon.

As a result, the vocals are put in the background, blending in with the instrumental. You’ll have to make a bit of effort right at the start to make sense of those as they are intentionally covered with the instrumental.

It is almost as if you’re dreaming and those voices in your head refuse to obey your call. Right off the bat, this sounds haunting and while dark, you’ll want to listen to more and more. As the song progresses, the vocals get cleaner and cleaner, signaling that you’re close to the end.

What end?

Destruction.

Burning everything you know to the ground. Start again.

“Uzumibi” has destruction at its core while presenting itself as a powerful emo-rock tune.

When the chorus arrives, guitars scream, the piano notes seem almost like droplets of water, almost like someone crying. That delicate twist arrives out of nowhere. And the pure, raw emotions on Soma Saito’s performance further enhance the emotional soundscape you have in front of you.

Then, the outro arrives and there is… nothing. Absolutely nothing. It is scary. Cold. Dark yet again. As you look for a light, there comes Soma Saito’s high-pitched vocals saving you from that place, steering you to the exit.

This song hits as hard as “Palette” does. However, the way it presents itself is more intense and twice as darker as “Palette” sounds.

And what will throw you off is how Saito’s vocals are a mix of faux baritone and clean tenor (high), contrasting with the dark instrumental. The vocals are almost like a lullaby… until they aren’t. As soon as Saito goes for his natural tenor range, it’s almost as if you’re being pulled away from that scene and now, his tone is no longer of a lullaby. It is somber. Pensive. Melancholic.

“Uzumibi” is a descent to madness and a new start all on the same track. And what a ride it is.

6 – ざくろ

But did you really end up leaving that place in “Uzumibi”? Did you? Are you sure?

I ask you this because what awaits you in “Zakuro” is otherworldly, it can’t possibly be real. You’re, indeed, stuck in a dream.

Surprise, surprise. This is a downtempo R&B song with hip-hop at its core however the performance is cleanly pop. Everything about “Zakuro” is new and unknown and so is the vibe to this song.

It actually sounds like you’re at the point of no return. The soundscape around you is dreamy, disconnected, glitchy.

There’s allure in the air blending with darkness. The vibe is intoxicating and oddly tempting as Soma Saito comes closer to you with an enticing smirk on his face, setting the tone to what is quite the, let’s be honest, a dark sexy song.

Prepare yourself to be blown away by this performance because Soma Saito is determined to leave a mark.

He goes for a whispery performance in the verses, emphasizing the dreamy and alluring vibe in the song. And when the chorus comes, he performs it fully in head voice (with a bit of falsetto connecting parts). This is as tricky to pull off – a charismatic show of his control and technique – as it is mesmerizing.

But don’t let all that allure trick you into thinking this is a happy way out. There is no way out. And this song is actually quite dark in its lyrics.

If this is how this dream ends… I believe not many people want to be woken up.

7 – クドリャフカ [Bonus track]

As it has been a tradition with Soma Saito’s CDs, this EP comes with a bonus track titled クドリャフカ (Kudryavka). And as it has been a tradition, this is the epilogue to this CD.

The true ending to this wild, dark dream you were in for 30 minutes.

When it starts, it sounds like an atmospheric, ambient track, with drone synths in the background and some static.

Then, slowly emerging from the background around the 1-minute mark comes an off-key, muffled piano melody, setting a haunting, chilling tone to this track.

Hey, can you see it? (It’s) Too late”, those are the words Saito leaves hanging in the air as the empty, dark soundscape around you comes closer, enveloping you, slowly smothering you.

Was “Zakuro” but a wild dream and is this track the real ending to this story? Were you tripping on euphoria before… bidding goodbye?

Saito’s vocals are muffled, distant, almost like someone phoning in or like an old recording being played on a cassette player.

And then he goes “I know, it’s too late… I know, it’s too late.”. The piano melody counts your time left with each note.

The drones fade away as if the lights go out. And scene.

Saito throws you a curveball with this song, playing around with your expectations, completely flooring you with this eerie true ending to the EP.

“my beautiful valentine”, you’re too late. This was all but a wild dream and your chance is no more. It was never there, to begin with.

Wow, Soma Saito. WOW.


Final considerations

Surrealism. That’s the lens used to filter everything happening in the overall story going on in “my beautiful valentine”.

After the masterpiece that was “in bloom” it was a tall order for Soma Saito to further improve upon that and deliver something even more impressive. At least, it was what I thought, even though, deep down, I was sure Soma Saito would surprise everyone the darker he got.

He’s actually managed to match the quality in “in bloom” while cranking up the intensity and darkness about his music.

“my beautiful valentine” shows that Soma Saito is not afraid at all to take his chances and craft a story spawning several chapters, hiding his true intentions until the bonus track arrives and hits you like a truck.

The way the storytelling was crafted for this EP is insanely crafty.

You start with the happy-go-lucky live jazz sound in “Rhapsody Inferno”, getting cozy and comfortable as you jam and sing along to the song unbeknownst to the gears in motion in the background.

Saito then carries over those feelings to the laidback “Naisho Banashi”, creating a warm, intimate soundscape that you’d want to share with your valentine. It is fun, mature, and alluring, however giving you a false sense of security.

(Liminal Space)Daydream arrives and by this time you’re almost certain, this album can’t go dark. It has been pretty upbeat and fun so far, no way Saito will pull the rug from underneath you.

Well… let me tell you. That false sense of security you have as you go through the first tracks in a way is essential for the 2nd half of this EP to hit you like a truck, overwhelm you emotionally.

Leave you with the mouth ajar as you try to piece together what just happened.

(Liminal Space)Daydream” wraps up glitching its way into “Genjitsu”. And you start asking “What is reality and what is a dream?”.

Yup. Soma Saito has you in the palm of his hand by the time “Genjitsu” starts. Melancholy starts to sink in. Darkness starts to seep through. The lyrics start to get increasingly cryptic.

As those solemn piano notes wrap up the song, that’s when you are at the point of no return.

Uzumibi” snatches you from that laiback dream and then from that nostalgia and leaves you in the darkness. Cold. Alone. In a lifeless soundscape despite how busy the song is.

This is the heaviest song in the EP for a good reason later on unveiled to you. Anger, frustration, and a will to destroy everything arise but first, you need to find a way out.

Soma Saito’s vocals come from far. It’s almost as if those are intentionally keeping a distance from you. Are unreachable.

And as you try to reach those, you actually end up with some clarity. But that lullabyish tone in his voice is gone by the time his vocals are clear and he’s close to you. Then they are sharp as a knife, dealing blow after blow to your emotions, taking you from that place to somewhere else. Where?

Zakuro”. What you find here is more of that dream you first fell for. But now, it’s not even masking itself as a casual, normal happening.

Alluring from start to finish, tempting you to stay there and with Soma Saito making a good case for you to want more and more, diving into pure pleasure and madness.

The instrumental continues to give you cues, this time around glitching its way through as off-key melodies make it all seem wrong.

But you think, this is the end so it’s actually wrapping up on a good note. If it is to fall into madness and pleasure, so be it.

That’s when that reality check comes in. The bonus trackKudryavka” – only available to those that purchase the physical edition – arrives as the epilogue to this story.

And that’s when everything is, all of sudden, clear.

Those good vibes, that fun, happy-go-lucky sound that you wanted to dive into was nothing but a lie. A fever dream.

It was never true, to begin with.

The lyrics in the bonus track are fourth-wall-breaking, with Soma Saito directly addressing you “Hey, can you see it? (It’s) Too late”.

If up until this point you couldn’t piece together the story happening in this EP, those words will hit you. Why am I late? What I am late for? What is it that I have to see? Why has Saito stopped telling me the story and is, instead, addressing me, the listener, directly?

Because everything is but a dream.

I know, it’s too late… I know, it’s too late.

Wake up from that wild dream. Wake up from that darkness in which pain and pleasure go hand in hand.

Wake up. It’s too late after all.

As you come to this realization that the whole story was but a surrealistic take on romance and you were only living a dream, it will send chills down your spine.

This is haunting. Creepy, even (and honestly, I loved every minute of it).

And this is, just how crafty this whole EP is. I only truly realized what was happening when the bonus track hit me. It felt like an ice-cold shower.

I went on to listen to this EP again from the start. This time around without pauses between songs to review each song.

Soma Saito really does play around with the listener’s expectations, leaving the necessary holes in the story for you to fill in.

That’s usually what good writers do, not explain everything that is going on, leaving a margin for the reader – in this case, listener – to fill in the gaps. Make judgments and have expectations.

You fill those gaps as he planned and almost as if scripted, you are fooled into thinking this is an EP with several loose stories with some darkness in the mix and then he shakes you up to your core.

And the question arises: What is real and what is a dream? Were you in control when you were figuring out the story? Or was Saito entirely in control, guiding you through it the whole time?

This is hauntingly beautiful.

“my beautiful valentine” is a piece of genius storytelling in music from Soma Saito.

There’s no denying it, he’s a terrific storyteller – and even better singer-songwriter -, creating instrumentals that mask darkness and debauchery with groovy songs on top, subtly setting the stage for something bigger. The lyrics are crafty to the point that you don’t notice what is happening until you reach the end.

The climax arrives as the EP gets to “Uzumibi” and from that point on, everything that happens is set to make you stop and think.

It is still mindblowing how every song is pieced together only as the album wraps up because up until then, Soma Saito was hiding his trump card, the wake-up call directed to you, the listener.

Surrealism is, indeed, the inspiration behind the whole vibe in this EP, taking the form of a set of impressive songs on par with the quality in “in bloom” and easily blowing out of the park his first EP “my blue vacation”. In comparison with the latter, it’s like night and day in terms of quality, consistency, and storytelling.

When it comes to the vocals, there is plenty to say however I don’t want to repeat myself so I’ll keep it short.

Soma Saito has upped his game, carrying over from the good spell in “in bloom”. He brought his power and emotional range to the forefront, cranked those up to the maximum, and delivered a set of performances that will make goosebumps all over.

From the vibrato and ad-libs-filled “Rhapsody Inferno” to the outstanding falsetto-only choruses in “Zakuro”, riffing in “Genjitsu” and the raw, spine-chilling mix of low + high vocals in “Uzumibi”, he confidently showcased how much he continues to improve as a singer and that his ceiling is quite high.

Although, as of now, he’s pretty much flawless in terms of technique and control, I feel like he has yet to share with us all just how impressive as a singer he is. And this is as scary as it is exciting to look forward to.

He certainly has been making a case for himself and there is no doubt he’s a top 5 best singer among male seiyuu but he does have a bit left to tap into that I believe will impress everyone (for example, he has yet to fully explore his entire tenor range, he’s shown during live shows that he can go higher than what you can listen to in this EP).

I love how comfortable Saito has been playing around with his vocal range, adapting it to the music genres – various – he composes songs in, makes great use of his lower range (still within tenor) to charm you up, and then confidently flaunts that falsetto that has been a trademark of his in the last couple of years like it’s the simplest thing ever.

That, allied with the complete creative freedom he has as a singer-songwriter has enabled him to impress in “in bloom” and completely floor me in “my beautiful valentine”.

Soma Saito, you’re too good. Seriously an impressive singer-songwriter that I believe many follow with curiosity and excitement as you create art piece after art piece.

There is no other seiyuu artist creating music like this. There is nothing like this EP out there.

“my beautiful valentine” sweeps everyone off their feet with a hauntingly beautiful and dark set of songs that showcase the stellar singer-songwriter that is Soma Saito.

This is, hands down, his best EP to date, a release on par with the quality of “in bloom” and a strong candidate for album of the year.


my beautiful valentine” is available for purchase at CDJAPAN.


my beautiful valentine” is available for streaming on Spotify.


Do not support piracy. Remember to support Soma Saito by streaming via official outlets.

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Vanessa Silva
Vanessa Silvahttps://www.handthatfeedshq.com
The Hand That Feeds HQ founder, content creator, and music reviewer. Basically, the only person managing everything at The Hand That Feeds HQ. Stumbling upon Mamoru Miyano's "Orpheus" in 2011 was the start of this journey. If music is thought-provoking or deep, you may find her writing almost essays (not limited to, but it happens a lot with Soma Saito's music). She's the producer and host of the male seiyuu-centric podcast, SEIYUU LOUNGE (see Spotify link in this profile).

2 COMMENTS

  1. It truly is a great full work of art! Thank you for the review~ I would love to find the translated lyrics somewhere, but it seems harder than I thought!

    • Glad you enjoyed it! Indeed a full work of art!!!
      Given how nuanced the lyrics are, I believe only a translator with deep knowledge of linguistics could fully and deeply grasp the contents of the lyrics as Saito intended. Those are really intricate lyrics!

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REVIEW OVERVIEW

ラプソディ・インフェルノ
ないしょばなし
(Liminal Space)Daydream
幻日
埋み火
ざくろ
クドリャフカ

SUMMARY

“my beautiful valentine” sweeps everyone off their feet with a hauntingly beautiful and dark set of songs that showcase the stellar singer-songwriter that is Soma Saito. This is a descent into madness, pleasure, desire, darkness, all carefully crafted by the genius storyteller that is Soma Saito. Each song is a chapter in that alternative reality, in that fever dream. Pain and pleasure go hand in hand as you go through the songs in this EP, letting darkness seep through, embrace you, and lead the way to your demise. Fourth-wall-breaking happenings are present in this EP, a first for Soma Saito that stops telling you the story to ask you what you feel about it as you sit there alone. Was this all a dream? What is reality? "my beautiful valentine" is a twisted, surrealistic fever dream that explores the deepest and darkest sides of your psyche, dealing a blow so powerful that you weren't even expecting as the bonus track rolls in. 1 year and 1 month were well worth the wait because "my beautiful valentine" is a masterpiece, right there alongside the stunner that was - and still is - "in bloom".

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“my beautiful valentine” sweeps everyone off their feet with a hauntingly beautiful and dark set of songs that showcase the stellar singer-songwriter that is Soma Saito. This is a descent into madness, pleasure, desire, darkness, all carefully crafted by the genius storyteller that is Soma Saito. Each song is a chapter in that alternative reality, in that fever dream. Pain and pleasure go hand in hand as you go through the songs in this EP, letting darkness seep through, embrace you, and lead the way to your demise. Fourth-wall-breaking happenings are present in this EP, a first for Soma Saito that stops telling you the story to ask you what you feel about it as you sit there alone. Was this all a dream? What is reality? "my beautiful valentine" is a twisted, surrealistic fever dream that explores the deepest and darkest sides of your psyche, dealing a blow so powerful that you weren't even expecting as the bonus track rolls in. 1 year and 1 month were well worth the wait because "my beautiful valentine" is a masterpiece, right there alongside the stunner that was - and still is - "in bloom". Review | Soma Saito "my beautiful valentine"