As I am spending this day traveling back to Bethlehem and am likely not going to have time to write today's entry, I am going to see if this blog's queue function works. So, if you can read this, HELLO FROM THE PAST.
kiichi - バフォメット [Baphomet]
The introduction of synthesized singers, namely the Vocaloids, is one of the most interesting things to happen to music recently, yet it is a virtually unknown phenomenon outside of Japan. This trend, thankfully, is slowly changing. The Vocaloid series will have an American release soon. Noted sci-fi author William Gibson, the godfather of cyberpunk, even has admitted that the posterchild for the Vocaloid series, Hatsune Miku, is "clearly a more complex phenomenon than I initially assumed. Requires further study," after dismissing her at first as being "too anime." The strength and success of Miku and the other Vocaloids is closely tied to the Japanese Youtube-equivalent Nicovideo, which has spawned a huge community of independent musicians and producers making songs not for money, but for sharing through videos posted on this site. Users create music of all genres. Pop is overwhelming, since Miku at heart is designed to be a virtual pop idol, but what fascinates me the most is when the writers take her places pop idols seldom, if ever, go.
One of my favorite such composers goes by the artist name kiichi. I know very little about him (or her), but kiichi is an important representative of this "underground" Vocaloid community concerned with making irregular pop songs. While a lot of these artists foray into very experimental, atonal, and arhythmic territories (among them another favorite, Competor), what I tend to like the most are songs that straddle the boundaries between accessibility and experimentation. Kiichi strikes this balance with apparent ease.
I was hesitant about including this album on my year-end list, since most of these tracks have been released in years prior as "singles" on Nicovideo, but, ultimately, this collection of songs is unique and interesting enough to warrant praise, especially considering how unfamiliar the Western world is with this kind of music. Baphomet is primarily electronic, which meshes appropriately with the electronic nature of the Vocaloids' voices. The aesthetic kiichi creates is difficult to describe--no two songs on here sound the same, but there is an overarching feeling to the album. Something slightly melancholy, perhaps even sinister. And the electronics, although done with impressive production, retain this aged quality which gives them a lot of warmth absent in most home-produced electronica.
Like I said, I had heard most of these songs before I serendipitously found the album. The new material largely consists of incidental tracks. The first track opens the album with a chorus of Vocaloid voices (I can pick out Hatsune Miku and Kagamine Rin, at least) with a sparse accompaniment of drums and pizzicato. "2026" has a melodic line reminiscent of Westminster Quarters, hinting at one of the songs to come. "原風景その2" and "原風景その3" are more abstract instrumental pieces, and pleasant enough. The last track, "The New Town Renaissance Plan of chairman baphomet," is an entirely new song, and much more rock-oriented than anything else on the album, which makes for an interesting closer. These tracks are nice additions that aid the flow of the album, but the heart of the album is its singles.
My personal favorite is "The Ghost of Romantic Transceiver." It has a beat that sounds like a record skipping in a dusty player, which creates this simultaneously entrancing and unsettling atmosphere. Meanwhile, Miku's voice echoes, almost unintelligibly, in the distance, creating something which does sound truly ghostly, before the song slowly dissolves into static. "にじいろのへび" is probably the most whimsical song on the album, and where the aforementioned Westminster Quarters reference is complemented. The beat bounces happily along with brass and piano as Miku takes the role of a little girl singing and reciting childhood mnemonics, such as the alphabet and solfège. The back-to-back combination of "[I Love You]" and "Love Love Nightmare" is a really spectacular argument for why this album is not simply a collection of previous singles. "[I Love You]" is a haunting ballad by Kagamine Rin, and I take it that the brackets represent the notion that this sentiment is one locked inside the singer. It certainly fits with the desperate tone of the song, and makes for a natural transition into "Love Love Nightmare," which is one of my favorite musical moments of 2010. The latter song is positively frightening, as the beat becomes faster and more erratic, with the pitch constantly shifting semitones in and out of tune. Then, Miku starts singing like she is malfunctioning, and effect aided by cut-and-paste vocals (one of my weaknesses). Things mellow out towards the middle, but then, when you think you're safe, the frantic beat returns, getting faster and faster and faster until it's over.
I don't want to go through all the tracks, but there really isn't a bad song to be found on Baphomet. The only reason I am not ranking it higher is because the new material does not quite live up to the familiar singles. Regardless, this album is forward-thinking, irregular pop at its best, and it is a great introduction to the community-driven success of the Vocaloid series.