Soma Saito goes bold with his sound, presenting himself emotionally raw for the spine-chilling 2nd full-length album “in bloom“.
Estimated reading time: 23 minutes
Title: in bloom Label: SACRA MUSIC Release date: 23/12/2020 Genre: Emo-Rock / Alternative Rock
1 - carpool 2 - シュレディンガー・ガール 3 - Vampire Weekend 4 - キッチン 5 - ペトリコール 6 - Summerholic! 7 - パレット 8 - BOOKMARK 9 - カナリア 10 - いさな 11 - 最後の花火
Track by track analysis:
1 – carpool
A melancholic acoustic guitar melody leads the way for carpool, song that is big on its band sound.
The verses have a good pacing, something that, with the acoustic guitars, deep noticeable bass line and clean drums, give an impression of going on a trip. This would be the sort of music that I’d want playing when driving, regardless of the destination.
At the same time, the verse itself is split into 2 parts, hinting at a chorus early on, especially due to how the song flows, as the song appears to have a subtle raise in tension that could very well be a pre-chorus. In that two-part verse, we go for yet another couple of seconds before properly building up to the chorus.
The chorus of carpool flows smoothly and, despite the instrumental having a sort of optimistic vibe, the lyrics point in the opposite way, giving off a decadent vibe that suits pretty well the semi-acoustic rock sound going in this song.
I am a big fan of a good guitar riff and solo so, I was surprised that, with all the tension that was going on in the song, we would, for certain, get a proper emotional solo.
We don’t have that but, in return, there’s a really good riff going on in the bridge and outro that more than makes up for that lack of a “traditional rock” part.
Soma Saito goes for a gentle performance riding on a lot of falsetto to capture those fleeting emotions overflowing from the lyrics and instrumental.
2 – シュレディンガー・ガール
It has been a while since I last heard an artist channeling Porno Graffiti and The Cure vibes in the same place.
Schrodinger Girl doesn’t shy from its full, groovy bass-driven sound and dreamy guitar riffs, much in line with what you’d find in Shoegaze rock.
The verses are intense and, at the same time, pretty refreshing and open, putting Soma Saito at center stage, giving off the impression of him being on stage playing with his band and you, the listener, being in the audience watching the performance unfold. The soundstage is really well done for this track.
The slow pace and groovy sound, focusing on the bass sound and fancy guitar riffs shines. Slowly, the song builds up, with more intensity being added tot he track with the fast paced, hi-hat driven drums.
The chorus is explosive and pretty uptempo, something that is a first in Soma Saito’s repertoire. It works so well with the lyrics and the skilled vocals by Saito, that even goes through a lot of vibrato and some falsetto with legato in the mix to further enhance his performance.
Massive guitar and drums solos in the bridge, leading up to a groovy and fun build up to the addictive and danceable chorus.
Schrodinger Girl is so, so good. One of the best tracks in this album.
3 – Vampire Weekend
Soma Saito ups the ante and goes bold with Vampire Weekend.
Finger snaps slowly introduce us to the protagonist of this song and what follows is something fans have never heard from Soma Saito, the solo artist.
Funky guitar riffs, minimalistic EDM and an intense and punchy bass line create what is the dreamiest and sexiest song Saito has released so far in his career.
The verses progress smoothly, basking on the seductive soundscape created by the massive bass line, the old-school synths melody and playful guitar riffs.
If the allure and charisma weren’t enough for you to handle, the song suddenly comes to a close, leaving you craving for more.
On the vocal end, Soma Saito surprises with a smooth, lower toned and slightly raspy performance, tackling the lyrics with a confidence and charisma that are hypnotizing.
Vampire Weekend is the best song on this album, hands down.
4 – キッチン
Kitchen is a sweet sounding acoustic rock song with a dreamy twist.
The instrumental has some glimpses of bossa nova in its rhythm, being rather danceable for how simplistic it really is – acoustic guitars and a cajon mainly.
The verses are simple, flowing in a carefree, gentle way, leading up to the intense, albeit unusual chorus, in which the dynamics change drastically but never end up opening completely. It is as if Saito is, purposely reasing the listener, never giving the climax this song hints at, leaving you hanging.
I find this composition style to be rather fun and pretty fresh, straying away from the textbook pop or rock song composition structures.
On the vocal end, Saito goes for a gentle, melodic performance in a really bright, clear, high key that is pretty comfortable for him.
There’s also a bit of legato and crescendo in his performance, adding a bit more flair to his, already awesome performance.
5 – ペトリコール
A song made for the rainy season; it is what Soma Saito aimed at with Petrichor.
And the birth of a new era in his solo career, one that is darker and sonically contrasting to everything released up until now.
For those that are not familiar with the artistry and complexity of Soma Saito’s music – that goes way beyond just “seiyuu” music -, those are, certainly, bold statements.
However, if you’ve been following his growth as a singer-songwriter, you’ll notice that those are just his confidence showing, now that he has managed to tap into themes and emotions he couldn’t or didn’t want to explore before, and his vocals are getting even better with each release.
Soma Saito is bolder in the melodies and goes straight for your heart with dark lyrics that, on a first look, might not seem like anything out of ordinary yet (not even seem like dark, emotional lyrics at all), yet those have a deep level of complexity and lots of layers of double entrendres and innuendos to peel, which makes for an interesting analysis session.
When I should be focused on listening and understanding the song, another sensation is called into action, in this case smell, a nostalgic smell.
Petrichor brings that humid smell after rain just fell into this song. It is a song that manages to summon that sensation into the mix in a clever way.
It does so with the atmosphere it creates, with pouring rain introducing the listener into this track, taking into the warmth of home, watching as the rain pours with no end to come. But each melody and especially, each hit on the drums feels and sounds like rain falling.
The comfort you get from the instrumental comes from those warm jazz vibes, courtesy of the fancy sax, groovy bass line and classy piano.
Drums are slow paced and minimal, basically accompanying the piano and bass line – the latter being more prominent -, helping shape this track into a slow tempo, alluring yet nostalgic tune.
And the rain continues to pour.
The chorus embraces the listener in a sweet city-pop-esque sound, slow, enticing, warm and nostalgic. And the sax is just so good in this part.
The tight hi-hat and those sax melodies in the 2nd verse shift the song’s vibe from classy into sexy territory.
If that wasn’t enough, Soma Saito knows how to get to the listeners’ feelings by going lower and lower in his vocal range as he tackles a slow clean singing section with some hints of rap in the delivery.
Soma Saito’s performance is filled with legato and his consistency shows in those sections. Smooth, as if gliding through those, Saito’s performance has a flair and a quality that stands out.
Add to this his falsetto, ad-libs, high notes and the fact that he made his lower register the benchmark for this track, and you got yourself one hell of a memorable performance.
And can we talk about those piano and sax solos in the outro? Heavenly stuff, especially if you’re a big jazz fan. Those sax melodies are such a throwback to those classy 80s pop/city-pop songs.
The ending leaves you hanging as it is really abrupt however, that might mean that the upcoming digital single will tie up and pick up from where Saito left off.
In a way, Petrichor reminds me of Date (not the lyrics though). You could say that Petrichor is its sophisticated and mature counterpart, taking the jazz and city-pop elements one step further, while shifting the vocal performance from cute / bubbly into a full-fledged seductive and classy one.
6 – Summerholic!
Summerholic! is the 2nd entry in the in bloom series, a series that is 100% focused on capturing the vibe of seasons or, if you look it in another way, be a soundtrack to those seasons.
For Summerholic! we ditch the melancholy of the rainy season that was in Petrichor and embrace fun, laidback Summer days.
The track kicks off with playful, surfer rock guitar riffs and playful drums, clearly taking the listener through a fun, summery trip to the beach.
The soundscape is pretty obvious, much thanks to the instrumental being a mix between textbook surfer rock and 90s pop-punk, 2 sub-genres that usually are tied to and give off summer / careless fun vibes.
While rather simple, the verses are dynamic, with a big focus on its bass sound being the driving gear for it.
There is also some brevity in the verses, but those are still entertaining, carrying a mid-to-fast tempo in the drums, building up the excitement for the fast paced upbeat chorus that gives off the illusion of going for longer than the verses.
This is yet another point in which Summerholic! goes the complete opposite route to the previous entry in the in bloom series – Petrichor – : the speed.
This is an energetic song that goes by pretty fast, not one that slows time down – made to be enjoyed in a completely different way -, which further enhances the brevity of summer, especially for those that are having fun.
On the vocal end, Soma Saito goes for a rather unique performance, capitalizing on his strengths but creating peculiar dynamics in his performance.
I am not a big fan of the compression / final mixing of the vocals in this track.
It sounds as if too much sound was caught with Saito’s vocals, as if there was no sound isolation at all in the recording booth. Or Saito was singing far from the mic. Or the performance was not wet enough. Can’t quite pinpoint what is the reason but I leave you with my guesses.
He’s also locked at center and much farther from the listener than in previous songs, something that makes, alongside the mixing in the vocals, sound like he is singing rather quietly in comparison with the loud instrumental.
Still, you can look at this from another prism and say that it adds to the rawness of the track.
His performance is filled with falsetto, contrasting heavily with the pop-punk / surfer vibe in this track.
He then adds a couple of quirky yells/shouts here and there – reminiscing of KISHOW’s iconic ones (if you’re a GRANRODEO fan you know what I mean) -, smooth flourishes here and there, and goes for brief, insanely fast rap parts that perfectly glue everything together.
His singing is on a slightly higher key than usual, something that is easily noticeable, especially when you compare to his performance in Petrichor, in which he was obviously tapping into his deeper vocal register to make the song sound purposely alluring.
This time, he went the opposite direction and, even though surfer rock / pop-punk sort of demand solid mid-tones with a bit of flavor in them, it is quite interesting that Saito went this route vocally and it still worked pretty well.
7 – パレット
Palette is 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.
8 – BOOKMARK
Soma Saito’s first ever arrangement credit – shared with rapper J – comes in BOOKMARK, song that brings orchestral hits, fancy brass, funky guitar riffs, atmospheric synths and what is one of the best bass lines in this album.
Groovy and ethereal, BOOKMARK flows in a smooth, refreshing way as a dreamy neon-lit night soundscape is painted in the background. The instrumental is too good for its own.
Among the grooviest and most addictive I’ve had the pleasure to listen to in 2020.
Every beat is clean and groovy, having enough bounce and intensity to be both an alluring track and a dancefloor certified track.
For this song, Soma Saito goes for a higher toned performance – pretty unique tonality for this performance – with a bit of a breathy touch, just enough to take this song to suggestive territory.
Adding to his crystal clean vocals, Saito adds a clever rap section for himself, delivering a performance that plays around with tempo, witty wordplays and delivery.
This is the best rap part I’ve heard Soma Saito perform so far (and yes, I am also counting his performances with Fling Posse).
His performance is intercalated with J‘s fancy, groovy rap. Saito also going outside of the box for the composition of this track, avoiding falling in the common trend of having a “rap part” by the end of the song.
Instead, Saito switched things up and made it possible to have 3 rap parts split throughout the song, with the guest rapper, J, getting rap parts in the 1st and 2nd verses, whereas Saito goes for a masterful rap performance in between all those parts.
Transitions between rap and clean singing are smooth and seamless, something that deserves praise as Saito and J polished this song in such a clean way that there are no mistakes or things standing out where they shouldn’t.
Awesome track filled with groove and fancy performances to top it all. Awesome 1st arrangement credit for Soma Saito as well.
9 – カナリア
Canaria takes us back to the roadtrip, with acoustic guitars setting a melancholic vibe that just makes you want to sit back and listen to the story being told, your attention all on the storyteller.
I am particularly fond of the composition for this song, as you start the song simple, a stripped down acoustic sound and slowly work your way into being more and more intense.
Slowly, other instruments join in the mix but do so in a pretty awesome fashion, noticeable if using headphones or blasting this song through dual speakers (with left and right monitors).
A cello reverberates in your right ear as a dramatic piano melody slowly takes over your left ear. The intensity is there, the beauty is there. Melancholy is everywhere.
Let those feelings sink in because Soma Saito is going to crank it all up a notch, with the cello going for a solo and his vocals going up and up in the scale, reaching that beautiful, clean head voice high notes that send chills down your spine.
This is a song with a really dark twist, a song that stays with you even minutes after listening to it. It is haunting.
10 – いさな
A dramatic piano plays in the background as you drown in nothingness.
Isana continues the dark, emo-rock meets Brit-rock side of this album, going for distant guitar riffs with a lot of effects on top – once again, influences of Shoegazing rock in here -, dreamy piano melodies, urgent drums and a reverberating bass line that will shake your skull if using the right set of headphones.
The chorus is dark and fatalistic, having some bits of melancholy on top. This song leaves a strong after taste that will make you want to stop and go over the lyrics, now with proper attention.
And don’t fool yourself into thinking this is a regular, emo-rock song. This is a behemoth of a song. It has a whooping 8 minutes of length and it never, ever sounds that long when you’re listening to it.
If there is one thing that composers usually complain about is how hard it is to compose a song longer then the traditional 3:20 min or 4:10 min. Why is that?
Because then, you have more than 3 repetitions of the chorus – and it can get dull after that – or if you try to make things interesting by changing too much within the song, you risk making it too “experimental” for anyone’s tastes or completely fall on your rear with a bland song that seems like it takes ages to end.
Much in a Pink Floyd fashion, Soma Saito manages to pull off a monster song, almost 10 minutes long and it went by in a flash. You’re so invested in the lyrics and the soundscape is so stifling and uncomfortable, that you can’t help to want to know more of the story. When you notice it, the song is over.
I thought this was a masterful touch to this song, an awesome and refreshing – yet heavily influenced by 60s psychedelic rock – composition, following an unusual structure. Love it to bits and, somehow, it kept me wanting for more.
11 – 最後の花火
Saigo no hanabi showcases yet another new side to Soma Saito: the romantic.
Funky, wah-wah guitar riffs, subtle percussion, washy drums, and a citypop inspired synths melody paint this warm, beautiful soundscape, a first in Saito’s career as a solo artist.
Strings find their way in the later part of the verse, carrying over to the chorus, creating a tasteful and gentle soundscape.
There’s still a bit of melancholy in the air – this is, after all, a Soma Saito song -, but it’s really refreshing to find him tackling a song with such a theme and vibe.
Up until now I would not paint him as an artist with a romantic side but things changed with this song. He does have that side and he’s quite able to tackle it in a really mature way.
From the old-school lead synths to Saito’s vibrato-filled vocals, there’s no shortage of great moments and overall good vibes coming from “Saigo no hanabi”.
12 – 逢瀬
By now, Soma Saito’s fans are already well aware that his releases will always include a hidden track. “Aise” wraps up this album in a pretty unique fashion.
Birds chirp in the background as a melodic acoustic guitar adds some texture to this track. Soma Saito’s vocals are filled with falsetto and intensely breathy, gliding their way through this song.
This is a really gentle, almost lullabyish song that, midway through goes a bit dark, with Saito’s vocals being muffled and the vibe to the song changing slightly.
I love the acoustic guitar work on this song, really tasteful and simplistic. It feels like someone just strumming away with no care for chords, just for the tempo, following the vocals along. It is carefree, simplistic and, in its own right, pretty beautiful.
What did I just listen to?
My unbiased music production geek side tells me that this is a flawless album – compositions, arrangements, mixing and mastering – with a lot of experimentalism in the way these songs were composed, straying away from the common song structures.
My music aficionado side immediately tells me that this album has Pink Floyd, The Cure, The Stokes, Porno Graffiti and Maroon 5 influences all over.
And my Soma Saito fan side makes me have the widest, proudest grin I’ve ever had plastered on my face. I do love when seiyuu grow as artists and when everything about their music exudes that maturity and growth – with a quality that you can’t help but want to praise them about.
in bloom is this good of an album.
To be more precise, this is the perfect sophomore album, a feat that many artists wish to attain but few really manage to pull off.
And why is “in bloom” a massive improvement over “quantum stranger“?
This time around, Soma Saito was in charge of all songs on it.
There was his touch, his fancy literature nods, that groove that he loves in his bass lines, his unique, cryptic lyrics everywhere. This is his most honest and, at the same time, fun release to date.
It is decadent at times, dramatic and emotional at others, mundane in some instances and downright sexy at others. It is a release in which Soma Saito let his imagination and creativity flow free and the results are here.
“in bloom” feels genuine – more closer to the artist Soma Saito – and has a much higher quality as an end product.
Don’t get me wrong, “quantum stranger” is one of the best albums released in the past decade by male seiyuu, however it just doesn’t pack a punch as heavy and intense as this one, nor does it have the depth and high production quality that “in bloom” has.
If I had to rank both albums, “in bloom” takes the crown as Soma Saito’s best album. There’s no question.
Aside from all that growth, there’s a rawness in this album that is spine-chilling at the same time. Underneath all the rock tunes and sexy songs, Soma Saito explores a story or, more precisely, a dark and rather serious theme of the “beyond the end of the world”.
That decadent feeling is all over this release, even in those upbeat, uptempo songs, even on those sexy songs. Decadence and emo go hand-in-hand and, as a result, this album has a lot of emo-rock in the mix, something that I deeply love.
Hard to pick the best songs on this release but, as far as my favorites go, I’d say: “Palette”, “Vampire Weekend”, “Schrodinger Girl”, “BOOKMARK” and “Isana”. These are the songs that better showcase who Soma Saito is as an artist.
I won’t talk in detail about those songs – I already did a pretty lengthy review but let me add something: Soma Saito’s vocals keep on improving. He’s as clear as ever, perfect enunciation and diction leading to insanely clean performances but, at the same time, he’s been improving his technique.
His vibrato is a good example of that. It is something he has been practicing a lot recently and it is starting to sound more natural and more powerful (still a long way from being a massive feature in his performances but he’s going in the right direction).
His voice is getting a bit deeper as well, something that has been rather obvious in 2020 thus, his tenor range now also packs quite a versatile lower range, tapping almost comfortably into baritone territory.
Adding to this is the flair that he adds to his performances. The falsetto, the head voice, those breathy mid-tones, the alluring low notes, the power and emotion that he is able to add to his performances. He’s improved in all fronts and, if you compare with his previous work, you’ll notice those changes. It’s like night and day.
Soma Saito, you are, indeed, blooming into an outstanding singer-songwriter, a magician of words and a master composer.
As a big fan of good music with substance – lyrics with depth, stories that connect, music that has a meaning and a purpose -, and singers that do what they want, what they love and go wild, enjoy themselves while creating, I can’t help but to praise “in bloom” and its mastermind, the insanely talented, Soma Saito.
Soma Saito is now unshackled, and this freedom as a singer and songwriter is something that won’t stop here. Now, no one can stop him and I can’t wait to enjoy every minute of it.
It arrived late in the year but “in bloom” comes to steal the show. This is my album of the year.
in bloom is available for purchase at CDJAPAN.