The Amazarashi duo, Hiromu Akita and Manami Toyokawa, are known for their progressive, math-rock style rhythms, erratic drum beats, and visually stunning music videos. However, on May 13th they gave their listeners something a little different- ‘Senbun no Ichiya Monogatari Starlight’, an almost entirely acoustic album. The album focuses on Akita’s voice, allowing you to hear every tone, every change, while using Manami’s skills on the keyboard in beautiful piano arrangements.
Single ‘Kisetsu wa tsugitsugi shindeiku’, isn’t too altered from the hard-hitting original (the video of which is equally hard hitting, not for those with a weak stomach), with some simplification of the instruments and a moderately toned down vocal. These changes give the song a softer, sombre feeling, which is the case with many of the ballads on this album. Tracks like ‘Mudai’ and ‘Sakura’ share in this effect, although while I found ‘Sakura’ to be repetitive, ‘Mudai’ actually has a very powerful crescendo towards the ending, which will undoubtedly pull at the heartstrings.
Amazarashi mix up their piano and vocal duet, often adding some acoustic guitar, bells, or strings, but in the case of ‘Sumidagawa’ Hiromu takes the centre stage with a vocal and guitar version until the second half. Surprisingly, despite its simplicity, this track is one of the most touching of the album. The gentle, sweet verses, and the slowly building piano and strings at the end are stunning. In fact, several of these acoustic versions may capture the hearts of Amazarashi’s listeners more than the originals. The very first track, ‘Hikari Saikou’, uses gently rolling drums to build pace, while Hiromu’s voice moves from breathy and soft to the big-impact chorus, and the highly pitched piano melody will send chills down your spine.
In contrast, Amazarashi maintain some of the energy of original songs to produce some faster or more organised tracks with stronger beats, including ‘Mukade’, where low, experimental piano parts spring beneath squeaking strings and a faster vocal that is supported by shivering cymbals. The track grows more aggressive, more energetic, as it progresses, with the most crashing chorus you’ll find on Senbun no Ichiya Monogatari Starlight. ‘Natsu wo matte imashita’ is treated much the same way, but provides a more relaxing alternative to ‘Mukade’. It brings the electric guitar back with a more defined beat than the ballads preceding it. It still lacks the impact of the original, but has a more polished feel and is an easier listen than some of the experimental tracks.
At last, the band gives us the title track, ‘Starlight’, which uses atmospheric piano and drums to grow the sound, twisting in the original guitar pattern and accentuating it with strings. The furiously speedy vocal feels a little forced into the instrumentation at times, but generally the track preserves its joyful feeling that leaves the album on a real high.
I won’t deny that Amazarashi’s jumpy vocals and guitar are more suited to a stronger beat and denser music, but where they lower the volume a little they produce some good results. The strongest tracks are those that utilise the piano to recreate the strength of the electric guitar, and balance the vocal best with what’s going on around it. Sometimes the fast vocals clash with the sound they’re are trying to create and lose some of their original progressiveness. However, the band still maintains that air of relaxed self-assuredness and inspiration, uplifting the listener and transporting them away.
Words by Lauren du Plessis