PINK CRES. – “Roulette”
PINK CRES has finally grown up. I know it seems odd to say that a pop group consisting of 24 to 27 year old women has “grown up,” but that’s how I feel listening to “Roulette,” the A-side of PINK CRES’s major label debut single. Whereas “Tokyo Confusion” was an inspired teenage rebellion against two albums worth of playing dress-up with long-established sounds, “Roulette” presents a group establishing their own place in the world of Japanese pop.
While the base of this song is 1940s swing, it’s really neo-swing built upon a foundation of modern sounds, while strings and horns play supporting roles to help to set the mood. The strings in particular create a dark atmosphere that persists throughout the track, and they work perfectly with the simplified “Sing Sing Sing” back-beat. It’s a smart arrangement that never veers into “retro,” and is mature while maintaining PINK CRES’s charm and whimsy, which is crucial for this group.
So why does it sound like the vocals were mixed by a half-deaf chimpanzee? Nearly every line sits too far back in the mix, some to the point of being completely subsumed by the music. Take Hikaru’s rap during the intro: the opening “Let’s get started!” and closing “Three. Two. One. Go” stand out, but only because they occur during music drop-outs. Everything in between sounds like a conversation in a hurricane. The vocal mix on the verses aren’t so bad — although they’re not great — but they fight for frequency-range primacy against the strings and horns during the choruses, and Hikaru’s pre-bridge rap is almost totally lost in a similar battle.
To make matters worse, almost every effect used on the vocals is a failure. The bit-crushing distortion on Miyabi’s first lines makes no sense in an establishing verse and only serve to clutter the mix. As if to rub it in your face, the distortion disappears at the drop-out, the very place it might have actually worked.
Yuuka’s line leading into the first chorus is tuned hard, and I can’t tell if it was meant to be for effect or not, because it only affects the first two notes. It’s not as prominent the second time around, so my guess is they just yanked her into tune because they had to. Then again, the vocal mix is such a plugged-toilet that it might honestly have been for effect. Who knows?! None of it makes any sense, and it’s absolutely ridiculous that this got mastered and released.
It’s too bad, because “Roulette” is still a jam, and the video is outstanding. The girls look fantastic in their neo-40s dress and styling which, like the music, is evocative of the era without being full-on “period.” Of all the styling elements, Hikaru’s hair-do comes closest to being retro, but it suits her so well that it hardly matters. Honestly, the girls deliver here just fine, and it’s a shame they were sabotaged by their recording director. Also, if we don’t get a deck of PINK CRES playing cards, they need to fire their promotions guy.
Vocal mix cock-ups aside, “Roulette” is a strong, if frustrating, major debut for a pop group that seems to become more confident with each release. I hope the B-sides are more than just filler, because PINK CRES seems to have carved out an interesting niche as an adult idol group in practice, if not in name. It’s a niche that I have been eager for someone to fill for years now, and it will be intriguing to see if the greater J-pop public has any interest in such a group.
“Roulette” is available for download now on iTunes; the full single will be released February 26, 2020.