Janne Da Arc – Arcadia (2004) – 4.5/5
Whether through scepticism or simple pessimism, I don’t think I actually wanted to like this album. Part of me wanted to scoff at the notion of ‘progressive’ pop/rock with competent musicians; to be proven right that the few times they demonstrate their abilities will be overshadowed by the overt pop melodies which will soon transform from melodic to addictive to nauseating. I’ve been listening to this one release on repeat for the vast majority of the day – 7 times in full and counting – and perhaps the most sickening part of this whole ordeal is that all this time its been sinking in, rather than become annoying I find myself uncontrollably swaying to the rhythms, humming the tune without realising it and just maybe that nauseating sense that you know the song too well will never actually arrive.
Whilst I’d expect most artists within the genre would cite punk bands as a major influence, I’d be surprised if many cited old Heavy Metal bands such as ‘Loudness,’ ‘X-Japan’ and notably ‘Dead End,’ and this is perhaps a good reason for their apparent abilities. The drums know how to do more than keep a simple time, demonstrating a variety of beats that work subconsciously to add an addictive bottom layer of the framework, working with the bass to keep the rhythm for most of the tracks. The prominence of the bass guitar feels less due to the production but also the manner the guitars are composed; not simply playing at all times, they meander around one another to create a varied sound.
And the guitarists duties don’t falter at creating the rhythm either, more often than not having time to shine with a solo in each track with styles varying from the slow and melodic to the quicker neo-classical, often trading lines with the keyboards making great use of effects to provide anything from saxophone lines, upbeat organ rhythms or gentle backing synths. Completed by the vocals far from the punk energy-over-ability situation frequently found, he proves capable of holding a melodic tune that despite being sung in Japanese, never feels disconnected or notably ‘foreign.’ There really is no fat here; each member knows how to play their instrument and is given ample opportunity to prove it with perhaps only a bass solo and piano medley short of perfection.
It is perhaps a curious combination of all three aspects; the foreign but ultimately familiar vocals, their unexpected influences driving for a technical ability beyond the capabilities of most, and the diverse range of influences they are capable of bringing to the musical composition, that has ultimately led to this tireless brand of pop/rock. In fact, the only real comparison that feels appropriate is to ‘The Wildhearts’ in the manner they can both remain catchy without resorting to the most simple of song structures. It’s impressive that despite being drawn in by only a small number of tracks, the entire album has grown on me; there is nothing here out of place or sub-par to the rest of the material, it’s simply diverse enough to display their wide range of influences. From the punky “Process,” powerful and gentle acoustic ballads in “Carnation,” the instrumental “Athens” and jazzy rhythms of “Black Jack” or the old school anthemic hard rock vibe from “Freedom;” well colour me impressed.
Highlights: Romance, Freedom, Process, Carnation
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