Album Review: “Embrace” (Boom Boom Satellites)

Album reviews are not something I’m going to do very often, I don’t think, but since this one only came out a couple months ago, and is kind of significant to me, I figured I’d review the whole thing, rather than picking out a track for MOTW.

Boom Boom Satellites is, for those who aren’t familiar with them, an electronic/rock fusion group from Japan.  While they are not especially popular outside of their home country, they do have a loyal if small following in the US.  The band’s members are Michiyuki Kawashima, vocalist and guitarist, and Masayuki Nakano, who plays bass and does most of the programming.  Yoko Fukuda is on drums, though she is listed as a “support” member, and I don’t recall seeing her in any interviews and such.  But she does play in their live shows, at least since joining them in 2009.  Band dynamics in Japan are different?  I dunno.  It does seem like Kawashima and Nakano are really the core of the band – they founded it on their own, way back in the mid 90’s, and write all of the music themselves.  But based on video I’ve seen of their insane, energetic live performances, she absolutely goes up on stage with them and completely rocks out, not missing a beat (pun?  You decide!), through some complex (and fast) drum routines, too.  Which itself is kind of awesome.  Female drummers are really not very common in the rock scene as far as I am aware (either here or in Japan…or anywhere, really), and considering the layered, intense, and frenetic nature of much of BBS’ music, the fact that the person behind the drums is a woman just makes me like their music even more.  There’s a great moment in that video starting around 6:30, as the song finishes up with a badass drum solo; you can see the respect and appreciation they have for her skill.

Incidentally, I love that video.  If they ever come back for another US tour, I’m going to have to find a way to go see them.

Anyway, before this becomes a review of the Back on my Feet live video, allow me to get back to the main topic: they’re a lot of fun to listen to, and occupy a rather sparsely populated genre.  There just ISN’T much music out there that combines hard rock and electronic/dance music in any way similar to this, and it’s honestly a sound that I can’t get enough of.  At least, now.  That’s what I meant when I said this album was significant.  Before this, the only BBS music I was really familiar with was their 2007 album, exposed (about half of which I really liked).  That was far from their first album, but generally, their earlier music didn’t do too much for me.  So I definitely liked them, but I wasn’t a huge fan.  Embrace completely changed that.

8 out of 10 tracks being at least “good” is an excellent ratio; most albums I’ve bought over the years don’t fare nearly so well.  And of those 8 tracks, I’d say two (“Drifter” and “Embrace”) are AMAZING, three more (“Another Perfect Day”, “Broken Mirror”, and “Nine”) are not quite as good but still excellent, and the other three (“Helter Skelter”, “Snow”, and “Flutter”) aren’t even just “good”, but “really good” (again, just not AS good as the others).  That just blows away most albums I’ve ever bought, from BBS or anyone else.  The only two tracks on this album I can honestly say I don’t like are “Disconnected” and “Things’ll Never be the Same.”  And even then, neither of them are bad, just not nearly as good as the rest of the album, and not something I’d be regularly putting in my playlists.  (Well, ok, “Things’ll Never…” does have this sort of grating discordant part during the first half of the song; I get what they were going for, but I don’t think it works very well).

Oh, and yes, “Helter Skelter” is a cover of the Beatles song of the same name.  It’s the first time BBS has ever done a cover, and while it’s not among my top favorites from the album, it’s still just damn fun to listen to.

“Broken Mirror” was the first one I heard, before I knew anything about the album (a friend linked me to that track, having heard it as the theme song for an episode of an anime series).  BBS had kind of dropped off my radar, but I was pleasantly surprised by this track.  I was thinking, man, this is really good, I should look up the rest of the album.  I heard Another Perfect Day, Snow, and Drifter on Youtube, then rushed off to buy the thing.  There are still a handful of songs from Exposed that I like, but they really can’t compare to the best of Embraced.  Looking back across their entire discography, they seem like they are only improving with time, as a band.

Drifter” and Embrace, as I mentioned, are my two favorite tracks, and both are among my favorite pieces of music now, of any genre or type.  Drifter starts with a beat that quickly gains strength, and by the time the vocals and guitars (used very much in an “accompaniment” kind of way, for the most part; one could say this track is electronic/rock fusion with something of an emphasis on the former, especially in the very dance-music-esque structure of the bass and drums) kick in, the song has firmly grabbed you by the lapels and thrown you up against the wall.  Then comes that badass refrain (yes I used “badass” twice in one post; you’ll hear that word a lot when I talk about BBS), which WILL get stuck in your head for weeks. My interpretation of the lyrics suggests someone who has gone through life without making an impact, someone who is afraid of just disappearing from the world without leaving something significant behind, but who is equally afraid of what might happen if they try to change that.

The other big standout, the album’s namesake is a much slower track than I would generally expect from this group.  However, a lack of tempo does not mean a lack of intensity in this case, as Embrace builds to a big crescendo, and then releases.  The very beginning has this ghostly, unearthly sound, leading to quietly sung lyrics.  The real power of the song comes after the 2:30 mark, when the instruments and singing both swell into an epic, sweeping wall of sound that makes me think of the end of a long, difficult journey.

I’ve been listening to my favorites from this album for almost a month, and I’m not even close to being tired of em yet.   Highly recommended if this style of music sounds the least bit appealing.

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One thought on “Album Review: “Embrace” (Boom Boom Satellites)

  1. Pingback: Music of the Week #3 | Saito Nexus

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