In the Hello! Project’s typical feast-or-famine fashion, four H!P related clips have dropped on YouTube in the past five days: two official solo covers and two very unofficial radio rips. The dam is about to break on H!P content, and the first dribbles through the cracks are solo covers from Juice=Juice n00b Kisaki Ebata and Tsubaki Factory n00b Yuumi Kasai, both of which went live last Saturday.
Ebata’s take on Erina Mano’s signature song “My Days For You” is comforting in its competence, and exciting in its character. I was skeptical about Ebata’s addition to H!P’s premier vocal group — based entirely on her performance at the KSS Shinden Test — but this recording has allayed a lot of my worries toward that end. Kisaki’s voice is strong, stable and dynamic throughout, and while the reality of AutoTune must always be considered when assessing studio recordings (every singer uses it — even the great ones) at no point is it noticeable, meaning Eba-chan is doing the intonational heavy lifting on her own. The exciting part, though, is her vocal timbre and personality. There’s a furtive depth to her timbre that belies her youth and otherwise stiff delivery, and a burgeoning electricity noticeable on her phrase endings and powerful passages. Ebata is still raw, but she has a lot to work with already and is still only 14.
Yuumi Kasai’s performance of Juice=Juice’s “‘Hitori de Ikiraresou'” tte Sore tte Nee, Homete Iru no?” stood out from the pack during her audition, so while it’s an understandable choice for her official solo clip, it’s wrapped in almost taunting irony at what might have been. Make no mistake, Yuumi would have been a great addition to J=J, and this performance just rubs it in your face like the All-Star athlete drafted one spot after your team’s bust. Kasai arrives as a fully formed singer capable of carrying emotion through even the most powerful sections of this song. Where she really excels, though, are the softer parts requiring restraint, which seems to be the most difficult thing for most H!P idols to master. Like Ebata, Kasai’s voice has a pleasing timbre and plenty of personality, but with more polish and authority. In my own perfect world, these two idols would swap groups, but H!P gonna H!P, so I’m just going to enjoy watching them grow with the groups they’ve been assigned to.
With four impressive new members, the buzz around Tsubaki Factory is greater than I can remember since they debuted, with the greatest speculation centering around how the new girls’ presence might affect TF’s signature sound. Radio rips for two of the songs from their forthcoming single that hit YT last week might give us some answers. First up is a rare good-quality, full-length rip for “Yakusoku・Renraku・Kinenbi.”
This is the track I was most excited for — Hoshibe Sho/Okubo Kaoru collaborations have that effect on me — and while it didn’t hit me immediately, it crept up and got me after a few listens. It’s not the banger I was hoping for, but that’s on me for building it up based on nothing more than the composer and arranger listed in the credits. Overall it sounds like Sho and Okubo have been listening to some older H!P recordings, because you can hear motifs of S/mileage, C-ute and Morning Musume sprinkled throughout the song, giving it a comfortable-old-pair-of-jeans feeling. The only thing groundbreaking about this song is that it’s been recorded by Tsubaki Factory. This might be the most blatantly and historically H!P sounding thing they’ve yet done, but the melancholic vibe is still solidly TF. I like it more with every listen.
For “Garakuta DIAMOND” we’re limited to the usual intro-through-first-chorus helping that most radio rips offer, and while those can be deceiving, they’re usually a pretty good representation of the larger package. What’s cool about this one is that the first verse features all of the new girls (plus Mizuho), and I gotta say, they sound great. This one feels more firmly planted in the TF sound, and the funky arrangement is a nice contrast to the somber progression and melodies. I’m eager to hear this one in it’s entirety.