It works both ways.
It’s funny. AcQuA EP, the rock-ish boyband-ish group composed of hosts from Osaka, released their first single in September 2006. 6 months, 3 singles, 2 DVDs, 1 tour, and 1 album (Didn’t See Us Coming) later, they’ve announced their plan to disband – after another tour and another DVD, of course.
Who could’ve thought that such a project would’ve happened to begin with – breaking into the music industry with a bunch of hosts? In retrospect, it seems a bit obvious, but before they banded together, it probably wasn’t thought of seriously.
And now, with one member from their 8-man lineup gone, they’ve decided to disband and form another project, presumably with the same current 7 members, maybe more. It just won’t be called AcQuA EP. It’s a bit odd how they couldn’t have just gotten a name change, since they have apparently managed to develop a dedicated fanbase (one which I’m clearly not a part of, since I’m not weeping or spazzing or any of the normal reactions to this sort of news).
But as the title of their first album proclaimed, we didn’t see them coming. And we definitely didn’t see them going. Thankfully it won’t be for long though, because their first album is a decent work that shows some potential.
Things are going to be a bit confusing in this post. The producers behind AcQuA EP took the whole “limited edition being different from the regular edition” thing a bit far, and mixed up the track order, along with including a few extra tracks not found on the other. This review is based off the CD+DVD (limited) version of the album, and as such, follows that particular track order, so if you found the CD-only version, you might be jumping around a bit.
The album opens up with an R&B instrumental that also sets a slightly ominous mood for the tracks to come. Running throughout the 2:47 track is a light twinkling synth melody that perches atop a background of electronic bass lines, a handclap-esque beat, and a varying mixture of guitar and keyboards. Amusingly, in the CD-only version of the album, this track serves as the outro, and it would work just as well.
o2/ Get out the way
I generally don’t listen to visual kei, so I’m clearly not the most qualified to judge. But this sounds very much like something that came out of the v-kei scene at one point or another, with a chaotic use of electric guitars and a sung melody covered with a grunge filter. The rap-style verses draw to mind nobodyknows+, with the raw emotion and variance in voices. The guitar solo’s nice too, and I suspect it was done by one of the guys from the group.
o3/ 禊～surface～ [Misogi~surface~]
Perhaps you could call this a remix. I assume this to be a slightly reworked version of their first single Misogi (see below). They have generally the same music, lyrics, and vocal arrangement – but the chorus is different in all of the above cases, the chorus for this song being more melancholy and repeating the opening melody.
o4/ 虹架 [Nijika]
A rock ballad, one of the more amusing things I realized was that normally, I would completely ignore this song, even if the dramatic power of the electric guitars spices things up. But for some reason, it fits in perfectly in its niche right after the above song, and doesn’t seem quite so boring. But it’s also a pure boyband-style track.
o5/ ONE REASON
The Latin-style dance opening was a breath of fresh air from the pop-rock despite being punctuated with bursts of guitar chords, but no, they went back into the pop-rock after 9 seconds. But to compensate, it ends with some funky piano. The chorus is fun and fast-paced, but also messy in execution, the music easily overpowering it. While I really want to like this song, and probably could, this shows off the flaws in the vocals of the group – they’re not in sync with each other, and do go flat a bunch. But the music’s fun so I can overlook that.
o6/ Walk with U～眩い明日へ～ [Walk with U~Mabayui Asu e~]
The group’s third single, and last one before the release of this album has some more deceptive rock guitar riffs – this is actually a calmer pop song. And I guess it shows, because all I could think of was one KAT-TUN as I tried to figure out who sang this when it randomly popped up.
So far, while I’ve been saying every song sounds boyband-ish, this one actually brings to mind ORANGE RANGE. It’s the sing-song rap verses, I tell you. The music gets a bit jarring about a third into the song, because it’s a mess of guitars and weird synth chords and both the men and the music seem to be fighting for volume dominance. In comparison, the first third was very light and almost folksy.
o8/ FINAL HEAVEN
The name of this track may be channeling L’Arc~en~Ciel, but the track itself really isn’t. It’s a mixture of tempos, though all with a desolate air thanks to the music and the melody. I’m not too fond of the verses, which don’t have smooth vocals, but perhaps they aren’t used to singing like this – that is, soft and gently. The chorus is nice, with them all in sync, but they go a bit flat between the constant ascending/descending notes – the only time I really liked it was at the end where it started out as a solo. The best part of the song is clearly the rap and the desperate cry of “Where is my heaven?” at the end. Which is a bit sad, but it’s just one song out of 15.
o9/ One’s precious feeling
Unfortunately, the subpar vocals continue in this song – but this time, they have the gritty attitude down. The problem I have is really just the way they go whiny and nasal. (Well, at least they’re holding true to the boyband side of their concept.) The chorus sounds a bit weak, too. But the music is decent, and one of these days I’m going to whip out an audio-editing program and just remove the vocals because it’s a shame how it steps back to showcase the singing.
10/ Re: dear…
While choruses are one of the strengths of this group because they’re pretty good at harmonizing and with each other, unfortunately, whoever produced the songs often overdid it with lowering the volume. I understand how 8 voices can easily overpower the music at full blast, but here they sound really distant. Otherwise this song, their second single, is a decent pop song with a rocking background that makes good use of an otherwise constant abuse of electric guitars.
11/ fragile we are!!
A good break after a bunch of decent songs – even better reason that they chose this one to be the promotional for the album. Well, I could be biased, this was the first song I actually heard by the group. But without the imagery provided by the music video to laugh at, I like this song a lot more. It strikes a nice balance between pop and rock, and while they still sound like a boyband, they’re not far off from imitating the sound of various rock bands as well. Some of the vocalists need a bit more power, but the song is catchy, and as long as I ignore the “like a fragile we are!” line, I think I’m good.
12/ winter tears
…didn’t L’Arc~en~Ciel also have a song with the same title? Or wait, is that every Japanese rock band? Well, regardless of the title, it’s not a depressing pop-rock song, rather surprisingly. I thought any Japanese pop-rock song with “winter” in its name had to be oddly sad, but AcQuA EP does one better than that. The music is really upbeat and almost angry, but it’s the vocals that make this song sound sad – and I mean that in a good way. There’s the ubiquitous rapping section, popping out and matching the music beat for beat, to my amusement. But it also serves a nice contrast to the vocals of the rest. Quite easily the best song on the album lacking a promotional video.
The shortest song on the album – the only track shorter is the opening instrumental. But at 3:30, it’s not skimping on time all that much, and considering the nature of the song, it’s at just the right length, too. Usually when one gets a dramatic, sad song, it can go on for a while – such as X-Japan’s Forever Love. The music and vocals combine for a nice listen, the music causing the buildup and allowing the individual vocals their own showcase at the same time. But any longer and then flaws would show – how many repetitions of a “We fight for _____” chorus can you withstand? So as Goldilocks would have said, “This song is just right!”
14/ 禊-MISOGI- [Misogi-MISOGI-]
The group’s first single, this is one of the tracks that didn’t make it to the CD-only version of the album. It opens with a piano melody and a lone vocal singing the opening, then shifts in the heavy rock and guitars. Despite the desolate feel of the opening and the desperate sound of the verses, the chorus takes a more optimistic turn, and the end result is a much more boyband-style song.
15/ AcQuA’s Pray
The other track not found on the CD-only version of the album, this is an odd song that’s not really a song. It’s an instrumental epilogue combining various styles – starting with some industrial techno, shifting into a rocking drum showcase, then a more-laid back piano-led melody before going into the industrial again, and ending with another drum showcase supported with a gothic-style melody. After that, there’s a minute of silence. Then the opening of Misogi plays and ends abruptly right where the verses are supposed to start. And in case you need to know, I liked the opening instrumental part much better.