It’s been a few weeks since the release of the latest album from she. You’ll have to excuse me for taking so long over it, but there’s been a lot of thought, deliberation and re-listens gone into it.
As you may have read on my artist review of Lain Trzaska, the music of she is often more than meats the eye, or rather the ear. There is an ongoing story told through the medium of music which links several songs, EPs and albums together. Notably Days, Coloris and now Orion. This makes a review quite a tricky task as I think it’s only fair to review the technical and musical aspects as well as the underlying story (as I see it).
Many of she’s albums have dramatic introduction tracks and this is no exception. The album opens with the escape of our heroine Sarah from her research lab prison, sirens blare as we hear her gasp to catch her breath as she escapes from the security drones. The opening synth line let’s us know we are listening to a she album, the guitar-like screech and echoing piano are unmistakable she trademarks.
Onto the opening track Atomic. This is a banging track with a great melody, but I felt instantly let down when first listening. Lain has used the sidechain compression effect to emphasize the thumping kick drum. I’ve never been a fan of this effect and most people got bored of it a year or two ago and it’s thankfully died away, yet Lain has chosen to use it here. What is worse, the compression has been set far, far to harsh meaning that you can’t even hear the underlying music most of the time. It’s a real shame as this would have been the best track on the album if the effects hadn’t been so badly done. I’d love to hear this track without the rediculous compression.
Rant over, it’s on to Moonlight. This is a great downtempo house track and you really feel like you’re in a european nightclub, some nicely filtered piano and strings give a bright edge to the music. There’s more sidechain (or a limiter) here, but it’s been done properly and doesn’t assault my already offended ears. I’m beginning to forgive Lain and get back into the feel of this album. In this track we are reintroduced to the “Dancing Girl” from Coloris.
Computer Music is loaded with 8-bit pulsewave synthlines and sampled guitars, a cracking track which reveals she’s chiptune roots. However, more sidechain compression…*sigh*. Our two heroines meet and escape together.
The two take a Ride together. You get a real feeling of movement and even catch the occasional bit of futuristic traffic whizzing by. The 303 lead line is really catchy and again reveals Lain’s heritage and wide range of musical skills.
Their journey leads them Home and onto a more relaxed vibe. Pianos, drifting pads and tinkling lead on to an instrumental guitar piece. I still can’t decide if this is sampled and sequenced, or played live and multitracked, or a mixture of both. But it doesn’t matter, this is a nice relaxing instrumental. The keychange and chord sequence in the middle bring out a dark edge, but we’re back into a lighter note before then end of the song. A clever piece of work.
The next track is a real confusion, it’s a remix of the introduction to the Chiptek album so I’m not sure why it’s here. The compression is once again set ridiculously high, but compression speed has been set incorrectly so that the percussion and drums loose all their punch. It’s a very flat sound. I’m sorry for getting so technical, but I’m despairing with the overproduction.
Back on track again with See You Again. Clearly this is the point in our story where the girls part ways and go on their separate journeys. No doubt the Dancing Girl is off to a new and exciting club and Sarah continues her evasion of the forces who would have her re-incarcerated. It’s a very jolly track with very cute sounding Japanese vocal. I’m still waiting for a translation of the lyrics and will be sure to post them up as soon as I have them. Let’s hope it’s some clues and insights into the ongoing she storyline! The final half of this track is a powerful and driving rhythm which really uplifts you, this is what I love about Lain’s music.
As I see the next song title appear, I’m once again confused and slightly disappointed. Generic Eric is a track released some time ago as an April Fool surrounding the non-release of the upcoming Nights album. Lain himself declared this is a song he quickly knocked up in 3 hours for a radio show. It plays no part in the storyline. That said, if you didn’t know that, the song fits in well and you’d probably be wondering who Eric is and how does he help Sarah?
Elemental Nights is another chilled out number which leads us on to the end of the album, the title track : Orion.
Again, this track has Lain’s trademarks all over. It has the real feel of the end of a Hollywood blockbuster. Some snippets of Japanese speech again tease the listener…what’s being said? Is it part of the story? A final clue as to Sarah’s fate? Did she get away or meet a sticky end? I could listen to this song over and over (in fact, I hit rewind a few times). Some lovely 8 bit sounds and a glistening bright and emotional edge to this closing track.
This may have been a harsh review, but it’s only because I’m such a fan of Lain and know all of his work well. Before I listened to Orion, I familiarised myself with the previous album release Coloris. A review of Coloris will follow, but to be brief, it’s a album which has more instant appeal and on the face of it is a superior album to Orion.
So, Orion is a flop then? NO, not at all. I’ve re-listened to Orion more times than I can count and once you get past the glaring production and mastering errors (did I forget to mention the annoying -2 second gap between each CD track?) and the use of some filler tracks, this is a great, great album in it’s own right. Although there’s not the instant appeal of Coloris, Orion has perhaps more of a lasting appeal and is a great showcase of Lain’s work.
If you’re into Bitpop, Chiptune or just a fan of electronica, this is essential listening. Coloris sold out very quickly, so be sure to get over to YesAsia and order your copy now! (or download from iTunes or Amazon if that’s your bag).
The next release from she will be the long anticipated Nights album. The name suggests a further continuation of the ongoing storyline which started with Days. I’m not sure what I’m going to do to pass the time….oh, what the hell, I’ll put Orion on again!