Toshiki Masuda‘s 1st full-length album “Diver” is far from perfect but its imperfections end up being its charm.
Title: Diver Label: TOY'S FACTORY Release date: 08/01/2020 Genre: Rock
01. Diver 02. キミになる旅 03. 風にふかれて 04. 青い少年 05. here, there 06. フラットブラックシンドローム 07. 孤独の輪郭 08. エアープリズム 09. シリウス 10. 不完全ビリーバー 11. フレーズ
Track by track analysis:
1 – Diver
Urgent guitar riffs open the curtains for “Diver”. The verses lie on muted guitar riffs for the very first seconds, slowly evolving into something with more life, building up to the chorus.
The chorus is quite interesting as it doesn’t feel like one at all. It is minimalistic, there’s not that big of a change in comparison to the verses.
I think of it as an extension of the verses although the buildup hinted at something more powerful waiting for the listener.
You can expect strings to be in the spotlight in the first chorus, later carrying over to the other parts in the song.
Props to the guitar solo, emotional and quite tasteful, carrying quite a lot of tension on it that contrasts with the overall quiet vibe of the song.
Masuda delivers a rock-solid performance on the vocal end with some vibrato going, nothing special but certainly a solid performance.
2 – キミになる旅
Things change around for “Kimi ni naru Tabi“. The song picks up the pacing and brings piano melodies to Masuda’s classic rock band sound.
The verses are simple and fast-paced. You can feel some urgency in those, illustrating exploration or adventure, something that the strings help flesh out.
The clock ticks as the song progresses and the pacing never really slows down, creating quite an intense performance.
My only reservation with this song is how far back are Masuda’s vocals. This is certainly intentional on the production side but I don’t feel like it pans out in the chorus – which is loud and rather crowded – in comparison to how well it sounds in the verses – uncluttered -, this may be personal preference but, at least, the vocals could have been brought forward in the chorus.
As it is, the chorus sounds murky, with a vocal performance completely buried behind the instrumental.
3 – 風にふかれて
[PREVIOUSLY REVIEWED, REVISED]
“Kaze ni Fukarete” kicks off with a loungy and funky instrumental piece, counting with delicate and legato strings in the intro, atmospheric synth melodies, and a crazily good funky guitar.
The piano and strings mix brings out those acid-jazz vibes you get from bands such as SID. It’s playful, funky, and relaxing while being quite tasteful in its presentation.
The verses feel incredibly well, with the bassline being massive throughout. I love with bass takes the spotlight and this song not only does it but puts it also as the driving force for the song as a whole.
The piano solo in the bridge is a nice touch, creating a smooth section in which the listener can cool down a bit before the fancy chorus.
The wah-wah guitar riffs in the outro make “Kaze ni Fukarete” one of Masuda’s best songs to release and, in my opinion, one of the best solo debut songs for male seiyuu in the past 5 years.
There’s a duality in this song, something easily noticeable with the contrast between the rock and funk elements.
The funk in this song is quite accentuated, lending a bit from jazz music in its flair. The bassline is massive, the guitars are played in a funky fashion while the piano embraces the class and refinement of jazz music.
On the other hand, as a top layer, we have the rock elements, something Toshiki Masuda is really particular about. Drums are splashy, with pop-rock hints and the vocals and the vocals exude a charisma that is not often found when Masuda performs live.
4 – 青い少年
“Aoi Shounen” brings melodic, jazzy guitars, loungy mid-tempo beat, and organ melodies.
This song embraces citypop with an extra dose of jazz and funk on top. The verses are relaxing, painting a summery soundscape that you’ll want to lose yourself in. Although barely noticeable, alongside the drums and punchy bassline, there is some percussion helping fleshing out that summery vibe.
Wah-wah guitar riffs and a minimalistic beat guide you to a smooth chorus in which Masuda awaits you with a riveting performance overflowing with flair and charisma as he tackles the lyrics with a lot of vibrato in the mix.
I love how the transitions between parts in the song always have something interesting going on. Between the first chorus and the 2nd verse/Part B of the song fans are presented with a dreamy guitar solo.
The bridge brings forward the guitar for a bluesy solo that capitalizes on the good vibes in “Aoi Shounen”. The outro features an organ solo, unexpected but such a nice touch to this song.
One of the best songs on this album.
5 – here, there
Intensity is back with Toshiki Masuda going for a striking performance in “here, there”, bringing forward shredding guitar riffs (in the chorus)/melodic guitar melodies in the verses, pounding drums, dramatic strings, and a mesmerizing bassline.
The verses are rather quiet, with the focus being put on the vocals but quickly, strings make their appearance, pacing picks up in the drums and the guitars explode for the outstanding chorus Masuda presents us with in this song.
I am particularly fond of the heightened drama in chorus, with the strings and a choir reaching for that spot in which you can’t help but make your jaw drop in awe to what is unfolding.
The instrumental in the chorus is in a league of its own as well and then you have Masuda delivering an emotional performance that made goosebumps all over my skin.
“here, there” will get under your skin and you’ll find yourself completely mesmerized by it. This is a song I want to watch being performed live. Absolute masterclass.
6 – フラットブラックシンドローム
Masuda shifts gears for “Flat black syndrome”, song in which he goes all out in a classic 4-piece rock band sound.
The verses have a comfortable pace, leaving more than enough space for guitars to play around will the drums to set the confident tone to the song.
Although the instant focus in the instrumental will be on the guitars, I feel like the drums are the highlight of this song. Those are incisive, fast, and intense, with quite the fancy pedal and hats work going on.
This song has a late 1st chorus – only arriving at the 1:35 mark (and the full song is 3:40 minutes long) – with its focus being on fleshing out that gritty and raw rock sound that is shining in the verses.
A downside to this song is the lack of a prominent guitar solo. In a song with such a classic rock sound, it’s easy to anticipate such a thing but it really never translates into something impactful or highlight-worthy, which is a pity.
On the vocal end, this is the first time I listen to Masuda perform rock music in such a rough and raw way. In a way, I can’t help but draw parallels between this song and, of course, what GRANRODEO has been creating in the past decade and a half.
The sound is very reminiscent of theirs and Masuda sure went for a performance that draws a lot of inspiration from KISHOW’s singing style.
7 – 孤独の輪郭
“Kodoku no rinkaku” embraces jazz music and with it, we’re presented with a pounding contrabass melody, fancy piano melodies, uptempo splashy drums, and playful guitar melodies.
The verses are tasteful in their approach to jazz music. You can see that a gritty yet classy environment appears before your eyes as you listen to this song. The ambiance is spot on for me, capturing the whole jazz bar vibe however not exaggerating once.
It is dim in here, it smells like cigarettes, people are classily sat at their booths, Masuda is on stage performing with his band. It’s quite the soundscape for me.
The chorus brings shredding guitar riffs – only noticeable to your right in the headphones/studio monitors – to the table, adding a bit of spice to the instrumental.
You’ll also find a brief guitar solo leading up to the last chorus of the song. The solo sounds a bit rushed, as if it’s something that is just there to check the box of “having a solo in the song”. I feel like either a longer solo or no solo at all would have worked best for this song.
Although not in any way comparable, I find it really interesting that Masuda’s performance for this song has PORNO GRAFFITI influences. If you’re familiar with the band in question, you’ll know that the band’s frontman – Akihito Okano – has quite the quirky singing tone – a bit nasally – and Masuda (who is not known for delivering performances in such a way) goes for a bit air in his performance, thus bringing a bit of a nasal flair to his performance.
8 – エアープリズム
Acoustic guitars and sweet strings set the gentle tone for “Air prism”.
This is an interesting change of pacing within the album at the same time that it shows a different side to Masuda’s singing.
The verses are simple, riding on cozy piano melodies and acoustic guitar riffs on top of splashy drums. Tension rises and thus, emotional strings and a bouncy bassline join in to create a warm chorus.
In the bridge, there’s a change of tone to the song, with Masuda raising the tension with his performance and then going for the complete opposite for a couple of seconds, lowering it and wrapping up that section on a sweet note.
The song overflows with a warmth that you can’t find anywhere else in this album. I love how the piano goes and ends on a dramatic note – on those low notes in the C1 – C2 range. It’s a big contrast from the vibe in the song and a nice little detail that I believe not many people have noticed.
When it comes to the vocal performance, Masuda brought his best to the table. There’s some vibrato – that he usually uses within his mid-tones – but the gentleness in his vocals is what makes the song for me. He’s almost lullabying the listener in this performance.
9 – シリウス
The acoustic elements in the previous song carry over to “Sirius”, song with a playful, upbeat rock sound.
A thunderous bassline, screaming guitar riffs, and snary drums add power to the acoustic guitar riffs leading the way, this creates a genuinely fun set of verses and a catchy chorus that you’ll find yourself singing along to in no time.
I find the pacing in this song quite comfortable despite the obvious speed you find in the chorus. The vocal progression in the chorus is also something that stands out quite a lot to me. I love how Masuda smoothly tackles it, raising his tone and intensity to match the powerful chorus.
The bridge has an absolutely shredding guitar solo that will put you on the edge of your seat however, the highlight for me lies in that quick set of notes by the acoustic guitar carrying over from the electric guitar chords.
On the vocal end, Masuda is overflowing with energy, delivering an engaging performance that you’ll want to hear more of.
10 – 不完全ビリーバー
The tone changes again as “Fukanzen Believer” quells the intensity in the previous song and, instead, goes the quiet, deliberately dramatic route.
Acoustic guitars are still a big focus in this song, leading the way however complemented by electric guitars, a deep bassline, and simple snary drums. The pacing in the verses is comfortable, leaving the spotlight on the vocals.
On the vocal end, I’ve noticed a couple of things that may be of interest to analyze. Masuda delivers a clean performance in the verses – with his vibrato shining – however, did you notice the distance he has to the mic or how wet or dry his performance is?
There’s a change between wet vocals in the verses – in which Masuda sounds like he’s in an open space and thus everything sounds cleaner – and the option for the dry set of vocals for the chorus – farther from the listener yet in a closed environment.
That duality in the way his vocals were handled in the mixing/post-production is quite interesting and helps to convey the feelings in the song without resorting to the lyrics.
11 – フレーズ
[PREVIOUSLY REVIEWED, REVISED]
“Phrase” kicks off with airy strings on top of a simple beat and guitar.
A bassline leads the way in this song, being the core to the song with the piano serving as a nice contrast to it, adding depth to this song.
This is the kind of song that will channel a youthful, adventurous vibe that, for fans of lighthearted pop-rock will come as a treat. It’s almost cinematic at some points, with strings soaring, Masuda going for falsetto, and culminating in a climax that could be the end or the start of someone’s feelings for someone.
This track brings forth Masuda’s singing skills and is a direct result of years of continuous development on his side. His falsetto and vibrato are now a thing – better yet, reliable and with a lot of flair -, his mid-tones are robust and his low notes sweet and consistent. Masuda has found his stride.
Beautiful song that wraps up this album on a good note.
The seiyuu industry has very few rock artists in its ranks. In those ranks is Toshiki Masuda, singer with an emotional range, control, and charisma that few seiyuu artists have.
“diver”, despite not being a brilliant, flawless album, is filled with highlights as well as plenty of exciting takes on the rock genre, never forgetting to add a lot of drama to it.
Yes, Toshiki Masuda approaches his rock music dramatically, at least, on the instrumental side of things.
Guitars scream, drums hit your soul, the bass is riveting in all tracks, strings soar, all heightening the drama in the songs, even of those that are meant to be quieter like “Air prism” and “Fukanzen Believer”.
Something he’s really keen of is on having piano and strings in his music to heighten that drama.
I find it to be quite an interesting detail, and I believe it is really through both that he achieves that dramatic sound in his music. Let’s not forget that his music has a really prominent bass – leading the way for most of the songs in “diver” – so the addition of piano and strings also serves as a way to add depth and variety to his music.
As a result, songs like “here, there” – the best song in this album – and “Phrase” shine in this album, with the strings taking the spotlight for both in ways that I wasn’t expecting.
This certainly is a different approach to rock music among all seiyuu artists with a rock sound.
Drama makes Toshiki Masuda’s music unique. Then we have his performances.
For those that follow the reviews I’ve been publishing on this website since 2010, you’re aware that, for years, I was vocal about the “half-assed” way in which Masuda sang for Marginal #4, for example.
In reality, back then he was having a genuinely tough transition from musical theatre singing to pop music singing, and it was showing in his performances for 2D groups.
If you’re familiar with Masuda’s work as a musical actor, you know very well that he has always had a massive range and a lot of talent as a singer.
However, that didn’t initially translate to his performances as a seiyuu for 2D music projects. He took quite a while to find his stride and adapt to the completely different style of singing required.
In 2016 however, Masuda turned the tables around and appeared with polished vocals, his vocal range was already fully adapted to “regular” singing, he developed his vibrato into a reliable skill to deploy in his performances.
He was hitting high notes without failing, he was delivering songs with a lot of emotion, that emotion that fans of his musical theatre acting were hoping he’d immediately bring to the seiyuu industry when he made his debut were finally here.
I may arrive 1 year later to review “diver” but I’ll say this as if I reviewed it in 2020: it is a delight to follow Masuda’s journey from a musical actor to seiyuu and now a solo artist. He’s grown a lot and it can be heard in this album.
The performances in “diver” are a result of hardwork and a lot of passion for his craft.
In my opinion, Toshiki Masuda is now one of the most reliable singers among male seiyuu and, as a solo artist, he’s one of the most exciting artists to have made their debut in the past 5 years.
I’ll say it again. “diver” is not a perfect album but I love its imperfections.
It shows Toshiki Masuda growing as an artist, putting effort into improving day-by-day his craft. It shows his passion for rock music and his skills as a singer.
It’s been a year since this album was released – and no news since then on a comeback – but I sure hope I can hear more of him as a solo artist because knowing how he is as a professional, whatever he releases next will surpass the quality of “diver”, which is a genuinely solid album well worth your time and money.
Diver is available for purchase at CDJAPAN.
“diver” is available for streaming on Spotify.
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