Soma Saito’s “Yin/Yang is a complex EP that explores the human condition, masterfully mocking the listener through its collection of thought-provoking songs.
Title: 陰／陽 Release date: 07/12/2022 Label: SACRA MUSIC Genre: Alternative rock/Hard rock/Emo-rock
1 - 楽園 2 - SPACE TRIP 3 - エニグマ・ゲーム 4 - 風花 5 - 蝿の王 6 - mirrors
Track by track analysis:
1 – 楽園 (Rakuen)
[As previously reviewed, adapted] “Yin/Yang” opens up to the funeral-like tune “Rakuen”, song released to celebrate his 5th anniversary as a solo artist by singer-songwriter extraordinaire Soma Saito.
Embracing the theme of “paradise” is something that sounds contradictory by Saito’s standards, at least on a quick approach. Certainly, this paradise is a guise for hell or you’ll be in for a ride that will sink your heart by the end of it.
A dramatic cello leads the way as a melancholic piano melody embellishes the background, looping in the background, painting it with nostalgia.
If you dive deeper, everything starts making sense, and the sound gets darker and feels final.
This is actually the end of a chapter and the beginning of a new one.
This is a march to the end.
It feels final although the tone should be celebratory.
In a way, this song reminds me of Radiohead’s “Creep”, especially in the way that Saito is performing the first part of the 1st verse (and a tiny bit of the intro melody on the cello is eerily similar). Instrumental-wise it has shades of The Killers’ “exitlude”. There is drama, nostalgia, and melancholy all in the same quantity in this song from the instrumental to the performance.
A guitar and mandolin slowly add depth to this song, being joined by a viola and cello as the song gets closer to the chorus. The chorus brings a dramatic trombone and violins to form an emotional strings quartet with the viola and cello.
The drums march their way through the song as the bassline punches its way to freedom in quite an intense way. On top of it all, the piano and accordion both greet and send you off to the next journey.
It feels weird and it shouldn’t but then again, it’s Soma Saito I’m talking about… if it feels weird, that’s because it is meant to feel weird.
The performance in the verses is deliberately gentle and measured in a way that it feels like a lullaby; however, what awaits you in the chorus will make you drop to your knees.
The lullabyish tone in which Saito is performing in the verses is no more. Tension rises, and he powers his way through his gentle mid-tones until… the chorus kicks in and Saito goes all out with showcasing his vocal range and technique in the chorus completely performing it in head voice.
As a result, he brought clarity and beauty to this performance that comes as unexpected. It’s almost as if “Genjitsu” married “Waltz” but the end sound is all about capturing the vibe that “Epilogue” has.
It is hauntingly beautiful and genius of Saito with the nods to past songs as well as bringing things he’s mentioned many times he wanted to incorporate in his music – the banjo/mandolin and the accordion – while hinting at the future (or being really obvious about this being the end of a fantastic chapter in his career that includes the critically acclaimed CDs “in bloom” and “my beautiful valentine”).
When “Rakuen” wraps up, you’re left wondering what is that paradise he is talking about.
Is this “paradise” just a guise for a “dream”, a prominent concept in the past two CDs?
Or what awaits us in “Yin/Yang”?
There is still a tiny bit of surrealism left in the instrumental, remnants of “my beautiful valentine” but the nods to the past are something that throws me off in terms of interpreting this song beyond what is expressed in its lyrics.
The voice tone is far off alluding to “paradise”, and the music is not even there. But at the same time, it feels like a new beginning, the creation of a “paradise” by the ultimate protagonist in this EP (that you will find in the hidden track).
There is a deeper meaning to this song, one that is uncovered in this CD, creating the perfect bridge between the pure darkness of “my beautiful valentine” and the duality of the human condition in “Yin/Yang”.
2 – SPACE TRIP
“SPACE TRIP” kicks off with a relaxing sound that is freeing and happy. The guitar riffs are fun and unrestrained, something that is rare in Saito’s music.
This is the kind of song that makes me want to spread my arms on top of a convertible during summer and enjoy the freeing, adventurous vibe that comes with it.
The pre-chorus brings to the spotlight synths, with the dreamy lead being quite prominent in this song from this point on. The last time we got synths as intense as these ones was in “Sputnik” however, in “SPACE TRIP” I feel like those better fit the mood and were used in a way that they never take the spotlight away from the important things in this song.
The chorus is an explosion of color. It is happy, bright, and dreamy yet with some nostalgia lingering underneath but do pay closer attention to the lyrics as Saito is going all out with irony and mocking the protagonist of the story for their ingenuity.
There are little details going on in the instrumental that got me quite curious. The intermission – between the first chorus and 2nd verse – has this detail quite noticeable. There are incredibly delicate keys playing in the background that sound almost like stars twinkling.
It is a detail that ends up adding a dreamy vibe to the song and gives it a pure tone that, following up to the creation of that paradise in “Rakuen”, seems like the early stages of enjoying the pure freedom and fun of that unique placed created at the start of this EP.
The guitar solo in this song is so good yet what shines the most to me it’s the aftermath. The way those open chords play in the soundscape feels like the waves crashing slowly on the beach as you take in the view in front of you.
The drums go slightly crazy in the outro, bringing a lot of the snare forth while continuously changing the rhythm and the fills added to the instrumental. While this may go unnoticed by many, I feel like it is a nice touch that further fleshes out this idyllic soundscape. It feels like paradise. It feels like a place in which I’d love to lose myself.
On the vocal end, Soma Saito is performing in his trademark whisper style however bringing a bit of vibrato and falsetto to the mix. For the most part, Saito is performing comfortably in his mid-toned tenor vocals however, when he goes to his whisper style, he tends to lower his tone a bit, diving into faux baritone territory, even if just briefly.
With those feelings of happiness, experiencing pure glee and taking in everything from the paradise in front of you, you move on to “enigma game”.
3 – エニグマ・ゲーム (Enigma game)
A muffled bassline stylishly opens the curtains to “enigma game”, song that relishes its big groovy sound, while starting to signal that something may be changing in this EP. That paradise is slowly fading away, although it is only noticeable if you pay closer attention to the tone of the song.
Strings – 70s disco style – join in the instrumental alongside a jazzy organ that adds a slightly murky layer to the song. The guitars are played with a lot of energy, bringing playful, jazzy melodies to the spotlight in the verses.
The chorus feels like going around and around in circles at a fast speed, it arrives with a crazy bassline, intense strings, fast-as-lightning guitar riffs, and a lot of splashing going on in the drums. And to counter that lively sound comes Soma Saito, delivering a mix of head voice and clean whisper-style high notes.
The guitars go loud in the intro to the bridge before leaving the stage open for Saito’s, now, lower-toned vocals and background organ melodies. Slowly the song picks up the pace and takes the listener to a final chorus and outro.
Vocally, this is a tricky song to perform. Truly. On one hand, Saito is performing the verses in his comfortable mid-toned tenor vocals. In another, the backing vocals have him performing in a whisper voice slightly higher in key than usual. Then, for the pre-chorus and chorus, Saito brings head voice to add some spice to this fancy performance.
For the bridge, he does change things around and goes low in his range, introducing listeners to what you can categorize as the trippy part of this song. Bassy synths play in the background, and guitars are distant and reverbed as Saito slowly lets his low – yet increasingly high – vocals take the lead to the final chorus.
As you go round and round, getting mad with power in this paradise while, at the same, realizing that something is off, you arrive at “Kazahana”.
4 – 風花 (Kazahana)
The tone changes drastically for the visceral emo-rock tune “Kazahana”. That image of paradise shattered and left the story’s protagonist wounded and lost in a soundscape as empty and devoid of life as this one.
Soma Saito quietly welcomes you to this song with his voice carrying a lot of emotion that is unleashed ever so slightly through the head voice he added in the intro.
The verses kick off with barely anything going on in the soundscape. It is devoid of anything, it is dark and in dire need of color. The vocals and instruments echo in it and have no reply back.
With those feelings looming over you during “Kazahana”, the song builds up its tension and takes you to a chorus that, in a way, sounds like a really toned-down version of “Palette”.
The bridge is quiet and lonely, with slow, minor key guitar riffs keeping company to Soma Saito’s emotional performance. In that place of loneliness, a piano melody fades into the scene, with its notes falling like snow on top of your head. It is cold. Sad and melancholic.
You can tell that there is nostalgia, you can feel the sadness but this time the character in the story is smiling as they feel an immense void in them.
As they feel empty and on the verge of breaking from the flurry of snow hitting them as the delicate piano melody joins in the chorus.
But those feelings fade away as the protagonist realizes that the person they are looking for will never come back, leaving them wounded and, as a matter of fact, all that is left is not nostalgia but pure hate. “Only now did I realize it (how much I hated you)… I feel stupid”. Those words hit like a truck and take you to the final stages of this song.
When the outro arrives, the electric guitar first is incredibly composed, then picks up the pace and ends up screaming. In a way, those feelings that were, apparently, in check during the rest of the song poured in that part, showing a loss of composure despite the strong “front” the character in this story is putting.
As for the vocals in “Kazahana”, Soma Saito unleashes his emotional range for this performance, giving off strong “Palette” and “uzumibi” vibes. His vocals are clean in the verses, slowly carrying the weight of the world on top of them, wavering for a bit (the subtle vibrato in the endings of some words does hint at that).
When you go to the chorus, his tone is still contained. The vocals are still clean. He is still performing in his mid-toned tenor vocals. nothing changes.
But when the bridge arrives, you feel the destruction in the character’s mind as Saito’s vocals go low and then muffled in a brief scream for help. Yet, when you are back to the chorus, the vocals are the same as ever.
That’s when the guitars speak more than the actions (in this case, the performance itself). What Saito left unsaid, the guitars are complementing and that’s where that spine-chilling guitar solo in the outro comes from.
If you haven’t started to feel the emotional blow that you are going to get in the end… Be aware that it’s only to get darker from this point on.
5 – 蝿の王 (Hae no Ou)
A dirty bassline leads the way for the disruptive rock tune “Hae no Ou”, song clearly inspired by the 1954 novel by William Golding titled “Lord of the Flies”.
Expect extreme violence, chaos, and disaster going on in this song, something openly illustrated by the shredding guitar riffs leading the way.
As soon as the song kicks off, it is clear that it takes massive inspiration in “Helicopter” by Bloc Party. It is disruptive and incredibly aggressive and its pacing is insanely fast at all times.
The drums are loud and relentless in the verses, keeping up a strong pacing for the whole song to take over from. The hi-hat is massive in the intro, adding urgency to the instrumental, then shifting away for a trashy style of playing in which the splash and ride are quite prominent, washing away the issues, or, apparently trying its best to wash away and mask what is really happening.
“It feels good when it hurts” should be a sign of how twisted this protagonist has gotten since they experienced that idyllic paradise early on. Now, only pure destruction and chaos is there. The feelings have twisted. Right and wrong are messed up. Everything is messed up.
The guitars show the conflict going on in the lyrics as the human condition is tested in this crazy experiment of governing a society starting from scratch in no-man’s land. The results are disastrous and Soma Saito makes it so that you can feel the destruction increasing as you go through the song.
One thing that will easily stand out to those that listen to “Hae no Ou” is that this is the very first time that Soma Saito goes all out with a rock tune and purposely makes it aggressive and as fast as this song is.
There is no need to mask anything here. What you see is what you get and what is in front of you is pure anarchy, something that you don’t even need to dive into the interpretation of the lyrics to understand.
It is worth noticing that this time, Soma Saito is delivering a raw, visceral performance in which he mixes both his mid-toned tenor vocals with screams (not full-on screams but noticeable raises in the volume of his voice with a bit of a rough edge to them).
The bridge gives you a brief time to think about your choices, and almost in a mocking tone and with the rimshots echoing in the background, Saito drags you by the arm and into the final chorus almost like a “see what you have done. That mess is your fault” type of approach.
As far as the story goes, Saito is giving voice to one of the characters in the story, showcasing pure frustration and anger in the middle of this torn, chaotic soundscape.
The choices seemed simple. Everything seemed easy to pull off. Now, look at the destruction in front of you and the despair in the people.
A bloody brilliant take on the novel by Soma Saito, making this song a highlight in this EP.
6 – mirrors
Paradise is no more. Only melancholy and pure sadness is left in the middle of this dream-like, twisted soundscape.
Dramatic guitar riffs play in the soundscape as memories of the past go by you. The noise in the background is that of people happily (or mockingly) laughing as you sit in front of the mirror and finally face yourself.
That’s when Saito appears as a dreamlike voice, performing in full head voice – which is quite impressive -, going really high as the bass, in contrast, slowly and weirdly, lullabies you.
The guitars scream yet again and this time around, really early into the song, following up the very first, raw chorus that is more about “show, not tell” with minimal lyrics over an instrumental that completely wrecks your emotions.
“Sadness… Also Sadness… I love it” how Saito purposedly leaves you hanging about what he means by “also” is something that is quite ingenious. The protagonist is clearly broken. With no sense of what is right and wrong. But at their core, the protagonist knows that something is wrong with them.
After that explosive chorus… Everything is quiet. A delicate piano melody paints the soundscape as Saito’s vocals grow more somber. The inner conflict starts getting more noticeable on the outside.
The bridge is filled with distortion in the instrumental. The drums are dirty, the guitars are overdriven, and the bassline is incredibly low however, the piano is bright and dreamy.
Soma Saito’s vocals are ethereal but are getting increasingly buried in the background and you can’t do a thing to reach them. But do you want to reach the person on the other side of the mirror? Do you want to… reach deep into your psyche and shut down that voice that calls you an impostor? Do you want to face yourself?
And there, before the last chorus, comes that heavily distorted pull of the guitar, screaming in the background, giving life to Saito’s feelings yet not shown in his performance – going way beyond those to deliver a massive blow to you.
“mirrors” feels like death incarnate.
The death of a part of you or even the realization that we, humans, are filled with self-doubt and destructive thoughts that we deem “okay” while avoiding facing them altogether.
It’s overflowing with nostalgia, despair, and sadness and it reeks of death.
But it is okay, apparently, that’s why Saito’s voice so calm, unusually calm, and collected throughout. “It’s okay to feel sad” and “I love to be lonely”, “if this is a dream, then don’t wake me up” seem like sentences he says over and over to mask the fact that, in fact, the other person in the mirror, playing around with his memories, those shiny, precious memories, is breaking him mentally.
If you choose to say goodbye to the person on the other side of the mirror… are you saying goodbye to yourself? Do you want to choose that? Isn’t good and evil at the essence of what is being human? Why discard a part of yourself?
The mirror reflects your choices and the outcomes of those. It is calling you an impostor, and it is right in a way, after all, you are saying you love to be sad and feel lonely. When, up until now, you – as the protagonist – were making a mess of paradise and completely destroying it in the process.
And while it is okay to feel comfortable around those dark feelings – something Soma Saito’s performance perfectly illustrates -, it is not a sane state of mind and that reflects in the dream-like tone of this song. The pure despair and regret you feel by the end of this song further enhance this.
Saito’s performance feels distant, and cold yet, at the same time, it carries a lot of emotion, having a dilemma in his mind to tackle while trying to keep up the façade for the whole song, being an impostor to himself.
You notice the protagonist trying to disconnect from that voice, the other person on the other side of the mirror. The song’s mixing purposely buries Saito’s vocals and by the end of the song, he is barely there. That voice is being quieted.
Where there was an ethereal voice that sounded like the voices of many, there is only 1 voice. And it is fading away. The choice was made.
The violence in the chorus, the quiet in the intermission, the distorted bridge. And then, Saito addresses you and says “Let yourself fall”.
That voice is gone and all that is left is silence. Pure silence in this darkness as he moves to the light and let’s that voice in the mirror go to sleep.
Chills. Literal chills. This song goes deep into the psyche of someone that is going through identity issues and sees them making a choice, one that will forever mark them.
7 – St. obsession (HIDDEN TRACK)
The HIDDEN TRACK in this EP is titled “St. obsession”. In a way, this is the revelation, the twist in this EP that brings a jolly tune to the spotlight however, don’t be deceived by it because the lyrics are far from matching it.
Hello to the real protagonist of this CD: Saint obsession, the god-like character that created the “paradise”, populated it, saw destruction and when nothing else was salvageable, decides to burn everything to the ground and start again “But there is no gasoline…”.
The instrumental is quite simple, with a jazz band taking the stage in this intimate venue as he takes the seat on the bench at center stage.
This song is being performed solely to you, the person that just went through all the ups and downs, the most visceral and controversial points in the human condition, and came out of those, hopefully, sane.
In a way, the instrumental, actually, the whole song feels ironic in tone to me. The jolly vibe. The mocking way in which this saint looks at the mess that humans made in paradise, how they went crazy and trashed everything, and how easily he can start over are oddly ironic.
And things end up changing in the instrumental, with electric guitars and timpani joining in, giving this song a grandiose vibe but just for a brief moment. When you notice that sliver of violence and anger – that this song is trying to mask -, you’re already back to this bright, playful soundscape.
There are a couple of details that I got to pay closer attention to in this song after 2 – 3 repetitions. The xylophone is a new addition to Saito’s music and it arrives to add a sort of childish, bubbly vibe to this song. At the same time – literally play at the same time – you have the elegance of jazz played through the trumpet.
In a way, you have mixed signals going on here. Almost like the protagonist in this song is passive-aggressively reviewing what you did to that perfect soundscape in “Rakuen” and “SPACE TRIP”.
There’s more to this song than what meets the eyes (well, ears). The fact that darkness is present yet it is quickly hidden. The fact that soundscape is too bright and perky when Saito’s music is never like this.
The childish VS the mature touches in the instrumental, in a way, show you two of the choices you had throughout this EP to tackle what was happening in each song. The consequences-free purity of childhood and the consequences-heavy side of adulthood. The fact that the protagonist in this story, yet again heavily influenced by the protagonist in “Lord of the Flies”, had to grow up fast in order to govern himself in this paradise.
And then, it’s this weird aftertaste that is left by this song that, supposedly is upbeat but leaves you feeling dread and remorse instead.
On the vocal end, Soma Saito goes all out in his head voice, mixing in some falsetto to keep things breathy and the key really high throughout most of the chorus.
As far as the verses go, following the tiptoeing piano, Saito’s performance has quite a lot of bounce, yet, he gives off a bit of melancholy that confers this song with a decadent vibe.
While it doesn’t sound like it, what is going on behind the vocals and why they are being performed in the way they are is more complex than in most of the songs in this EP. I believe this is the kind of song that, the more I listen to it, the better I understand it.
As it is, Soma Saito tells you that humans are rotten, despair and nostalgia are more common than you think and what is left in your wake is usually destruction. And this “saint” is fed up with the mess you made to his perfect paradise.
Talk about weird after-tastes. This one is sour as hell.
“Yin/Yang” by Soma Saito is an enigma in and of itself. Yet, its rich and vivid storytelling and compositions make it so that the only word that leaves your mouth as it wraps up is “brilliant”.
In this EP you go from the creation of paradise to it turning into pure hell to its destruction by its creator. It is a rollercoaster ride of pure madness, glee and power, showing that instead of “light” and “dark” sides, people inherently have both light and darkness intertwined. You can’t set one apart, they are one and the same and you have to learn how to live with those (and the consequences of your acts).
This shows, through Soma Saito’s lens, that humans are simultaneously good and evil, and while you see in songs such as “Hae no ou” that good intentions may quickly turn into pure chaos and death, in “Kazahana” and “mirrors” you also have humans realizing how broken they are, the despair that comes with that while they lie to themselves that they are okay while harboring deep hatred for themselves or others.
This EP kicks off with a dramatic, funeral march-like tone yet it ends up spreading its arms in a carefree way in “SPACE TRIP”, bringing a lot of joy and fun to the spotlight, something that is not synonymous with Soma Saito’s music.
In a way, I feel like “SPACE TRIP” is a new beginning, a hopefully bright, pure, and happy beginning that carries over from burying that part of himself in “Rakuen”. This is the “paradise” that he was mentioning in that song, and now you can experience it and take in the beautiful sights and let yourself immerse in the warm, loving vibe in this song.
In “enigma game”, the protagonist is still quite naive, getting lost in beautiful things (angels), and challenges (puzzles), with his actions and words showing how futile he is “as soon as I find it (what they are looking for), I leave you behind”. The protagonist is mad in glee in this paradise in front of them that they don’t realize how they are breaking it apart.
The whole EP finally made sense and clicked with me when “Kazahana” took over. The protagonist finally came to their senses and noticed what was truly going around them. They are waiting for someone, wounded and hurt, foolishly waiting for them to return to the location and at the time they had set. But that other person doesn’t come back and the protagonist self-mockingly realizes how foolish they were and actually, how much they hated the one they were waiting for.
The protagonist was abandoned and the instrumental in “Kazahana” perfectly illustrates that and how futile their efforts were since the start.
“Hae no Ou” is pure chaos and destruction. It is the realization that everything is unsalvageable. Anarchy takes over in what is one of the most riveting and visceral hard rock tunes Saito has released to date.
“mirrors” illustrates that moment in which you face the consequences of your actions and confront that “impostor” on the other side of the mirror. The fragility in your psyche.
Pure sadness. Regret.
A numb sense of pleasure and pain.
If you pay closer attention to this album from start to finish, it starts with the paradise “Rakuen” and moves on to the idyllic “SPACE TRIP” and gets increasingly destructive, confusing, chaotic, and anarchic as you go through the EP. The soundscape is putrid, people are rotten, and the feelings of those in this apparent paradise are depressive.
Saito mentions in “St. obsession” that he needs gasoline – to set things on fire; to burn to the ground the flies on top of the trash, the putrid people, the rotten humanity – to start over again. But “there is no gasoline” he claims. So the cycle continues.
Rinse and repeat.
The same mistakes will be repeated because, at their core, humans are deeply flawed.
Much like the story in “The Lord of the Flies”, what seemed like paradise eventually turned into hell and the only way to overcome it is… to set fire to it and start again.
Saito plays the role of a figure akin to “God” in this EP and you only notice that after you go through all these, seemingly disjointed, songs, and chapters that cover the emotions of a protagonist that has to grow up fast, gets mad with power and ultimately destroys everything – including themselves.
The mocking tone in this Saint obsession – character that is the true protagonist or, if you will, the narrator in this story – is something that will tick you off. This is the twist in this EP, the laugh on your face after you had hope and faith that everything would work out only to see everything being destroyed because humans are deeply flawed, having equal parts darkness and light in them that will always lead to any decision that is taken to be simultaneously good and evil.
And the only character that is truly experiencing paradise is… Saint obsession, the narrator in this EP.
This is a brilliant EP from start to finish. One which is difficult to rank and categorize. One of a kind. Another twisted and intricate tale created by the outstanding storyteller (and singer-songwriter) that is Soma Saito.
“Yin/Yang” is available for purchase at CDJAPAN.
“Yin/Yang” is available for streaming on Spotify.
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