Review | Soma Saito “Palette”

Soma Saito Petrichor

Soma Saito does not shy away from going loud and heavy in the emotional rock single, Palette.

Title: パレット (Palette)
Label: SACRA MUSIC / Sony Music Japan 
Release date: 19/09/2020
Genre: Rock

Tracklist:

1 – パレット

Soma Saito wraps up the in bloom series with Palette, a song that explores a darker rock sound and brings a lot of melancholy and drama into the mix.

Palette is the heaviest song Saito has released so far in his career as a solo artist. And it’s the closest you have from Saito delving into pure rock territory therefore, because of that, this is a pretty unique song that is worth checking out.

First thing that stood out for me was how loud – in a good way -, big, nostalgic and haunting, Palette is.

Nostalgia is big on this one, not only by analyzing the lyrics, but because the instrumental takes me back to those days as a kid listening to Oasis, Blur, Radiohead and The Verve on the radio in the late 90s, early 00s. Britpop has always been a synonym of Autumn music for me, being big on its emo vibes, symbolizing the end of something yet with the hope that something new, and better, is starting.

It is the kind of music that carries emotions pretty well as it is as raw as you can get on both the vocals and instrumentals.

The fact that Palette is exactly all of that brings me back those childhood memories and, at the same time, is a fitting way to channel that nostalgia you get when seasons change and you’re reminiscing about the good times. Of course, this is not Britpop but a really faithful reimagination of the sound crafted for a Japanese audience.

Palette‘s loudness conveys those emotions in a raw way, which instantly connected with me.

Bass is the star in this song, with the bass line being particularly noticeable with its slow, melancholic groove leading the way. At the same time, drums are also big on their bass sound, being tight and robust, perfectly supporting and enhancing the driving bass line.

The way those drums enter the song in the intro was as textbook Britpop as you could get. That pounding, clear snare that takes the veil off this song, those tight hi-hats and massive bass drum are there to make a big impression and, once again, to create the nostalgic soundscape you’re now enveloped in.

And that’s all you have on the instrumental side: a classic rock band (drums, bass and guitar). As simple as it can get. Yet, extremely effective.

Add Saito’s vocals to the mix and yes, you have a classic 4-piece rock band that does not need any other instruments to convey the emotions that are present in this piece.

The muffled sections and muted guitar parts are also nice touches to this track, putting emphasis on the already strong emotions flowing in Palette.

And that guitar solo and outro? That’s the stuff for me. Usually in seiyuu music, those parts end up being really brief and not well executed when those are, in fact, the climax of that track and must be well executed and have a proper length to deal a blow in the listener’s emotions. Saito and his band accomplished that and truth is, this is not the kind of song you’d attribute to a seiyuu.

The instrumental alone is an accomplished cross between Britpop and emo-rock, having all the great bits of both and leaving out all the bad ones. There are some ballad undertones to this track but those never materialize.

And the vocals… Where to start talking about Soma Saito’s vocals in this song?

First off, Saito covers most of his vocal register for this song. Low – noticeable in the quiet parts in the verses – and mid-tones – the brighter parts in the verses, and higher tones in the chorus – belting and going for that falsetto – to add more emotion to this track. That rollercoaster of voice tones fits well with those fluctuating emotions in the song.

Saito’s performance is rather “contained” in the verses, bottling up emotions and doing so in a pretty characteristical way that, once again, I attribute to how much he was aiming for a melancholic sound, characteristical of Britpop and Emo-Rock.

His performance is clean and polished in the verses. His vocals are at center stage but much closer to you than those in Summerholic! (pretty far, as if on a stage).

Now, when he reaches the chorus, his vocals go the rawer route. He doesn’t shy away from having a subtle raspier take on some parts or a less clean take on some notes.

This is yet a different and interesting approach to his performances. Going rawer – without compromising his voice – and overflowing with emotion while keeping a high level of clarity in his performance.

Soma Saito’s songs – especially those from his first 2 years as a solo act – were pretty solid and entertaining but weren’t particularly emotional.

At least not this raw and blunt. This is Soma Saito giving life to the story in the lyrics and pouring his soul into the performance side in a way that he’s never done before.

This straightforwardness fits him well and seems like something that could be more explored in the future, regardless of how fluid he ends up being about the music genres he picks for his songs.


The in bloom series was everything I expected and more.

Changing seasons was the theme but melancholy ended up being key to flesh those out – however in completely different ways.

In Petrichor, Soma Saito tapped into a lower voice register and explored jazz with some hints of citypop in the mix. The song captured the rainy season in a way that was unexpectedly awesome. The pouring rain, those rounded lyrics that were performed in a satisfying way that made them sound like droplets of rain falling, that contrasting cozy vibe that you, as the listener, get watching the protagonist in the lyrics is pretty unique.

Summerholic! is the song in this series that I enjoyed the least. But it is undeniable that it perfectly captured those playful, summer vibes that you’d expect from a summer themed song. A fun and youthful soundscape was painted in the most laidback way. Bringing surf rock to the spotlight was an interesting touch as well. Vocally, Saito mixed raw singing with fast-paced rapping which came off as unexpected.

And in Palette, Saito goes darker, more emotional and louder than ever before, all while changing around the approach to his performances. He poured his emotions out for this song and crafted a nostalgic Britpop sound that you don’t find that commonly – if ever – among male seiyuu music releases. Vocally, he mixed clean with raw singing and tapped into his vocal register, giving you a little tour to how low and high he can go in a song – still, he has shown before that he can, indeed, go even higher and lower in his vocal register. He covered most of his range and added a twist or 2 to it, dirtying a bit of his performance to further enhance the emotional tone of this song.

While stories in Soma Saito’s songs tend to be one-offs – with 1 song having a protagonist that does not carry over to other tracks -, in the “in bloom” series, it felt as if I was following the story of 1 protagonist, the same across all 3 songs.

If you listen to Petrichor, Summerholic! and Palette in succession, you will notice this and find yourself invested in the story unfolding before your eyes – if you are the type to imagine what the soundscape gives you – or ears – if you’re more of a “feeling” person. I know I was invested and, although Palette leaves a sour aftertaste – ending on a sad note – I couldn’t help but to want more of this common thread/story in the series.

At the same time, it is worth mentioning – in case you haven’t read any interviews by Soma Saito about this single – that he was, up until now, holding back from exploring different music genres or using some of his “darker” music compositions because he was afraid his fans would not like it and that people would consider that it is not “proper for his image as a voice actor”.

Turns out that he actually received a lot of fan letters encouraging him to be himself as a singer-songwriter and go darker and darker in his music. According to himself, seeing how his music – and ultimately himself – is being accepted by his fans, he decided to stop holding himself back and, from now on, he will do what he really wants.

The in bloom series is, in a way, a reaction to that encouragement. It is varied, it is darker, it is bolder. Saito played around with his range and how he approaches his performances. As a result, his music as a whole sounds more authentic and connects even easier with the listener.

Safe to say that his fans have let loose a monster of a singer-songwriter. And I couldn’t be happier for the fact.

Best thing that a seiyuu can have as an artist is creative freedom. If they are doing what they love that’s when you get the best quality, the most unexpected music and end up getting to know a bit closer who that seiyuu is as a singer-songwriter. Better yet when seiyuu have creative freedom plus their fans actually want them to do what they want to.

Well, if these 3 songs were, in a way, Soma Saito still holding back, having creative freedom – but not true creative freedom – as a singer-songwriter, it is safe to say that, next time he meets everyone with new music, he will make sure to blow your mind. All the work, effort and creativity he showed in this series is enough to understand that he is going that way as a solo artist.

All in all, Palette is a masterful release, one worth of this praise and more, after all, this is Soma Saito‘s best song to date.


REVIEW OVERVIEW
Palette
The Hand That Feeds HQ founder and music reviewer writing about Japanese music since 2010. A year later, I stumbled upon Mamoru Miyano's "Orpheus". Since then I have been writing about male seiyuu music. You may find me writing almost essays whenever music is really good (not limited to, but it happens a lot with Soma Saito's music). I also host the male seiyuu-centric podcast, SEIYUU LOUNGE (see Spotify link in this profile).

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