Review Summary: The closest a simple collection of songs can get to being a classic album.
A collection is inherently difficult to shape into a quality release. In cases where an artist releases a compilation of their own songs, simply due to a bands natural evolution, the final product can often be incoherent. Obvious highlights are found mixed in with songs that just don’t mesh. Classic tracks rest alongside weaker pieces in a bid to garner popularity and respect for the new direction of a band well past their heyday. Most b-side albums full of unreleased material are similarly underwhelming, made up of rejects and castaways that couldn’t make the cut for the most recent album. It’s hard to get excited when a collection is announced, and this fact is especially pertinent for an artist like Nujabes. Jun Seba is heavily reliant on the atmosphere his albums conjure, yet here, he hands his labelmates the reigns and simply guides them along with his steady hand. What results is a varied, yet consistent collection of tracks that work together and contribute to one another’s success, reaching for his past works and at times, even eclipsing them.
The first and most notable difference between this collection and past releases, is that not only does he give the Hydeout Collection crew more room to shape the tracks, he isn’t even the producer for a number of tracks. Both Emancipator and Uyama Hiroto are given the limelight and allowed space to craft entire songs on their own. One track is even a remix of a Daisuke Kojima track, with Jun simply shaping the song to fit his bill. This could be considered a risky move, because whilst Nujabes has always been an effort heavy on collaboration, cutting himself out of entire songs is a bit excessive, right? Yet here, it pays off tenfold, adding spice to the album without affecting the core of what makes his music so appealing. Addictive horns, gorgeous string sections, jazz odysseys; they’re all still here, and all entrance just as easily.
Another key shift between Modal Soul
and this album is a greater emphasis on instrumentals. Jun excels at creating the perfect skeleton for rappers to weave their tales over, but left to his own devices, it can be hard to flesh out a full album instrumentally. Jun understands this, and times each alternative production and guest rapper impeccably. Uyama Hiroto’s contributions are driven largely by a varied drum section and rely far less on the simple boom bap skeleton Jun often incorporates, and spacing these pieces out ensures the album never becomes too predictable or repetitive. The relaxed female vocals and choir chants that flow through ‘Imaginary Folklore’ refresh the listener. The piano melody acting as the focal point of ‘Another Reflection’, the crackles throughout closer ‘After Hanabi(Listen To My Beat)’ and the overbearing wall of sound forged in DSK remix ‘Winter Lane’ shake things around, keeping the listener on their toes but without discomforting them, never losing the magic atmosphere that pervades the albums 62 minute runtime.
The increased focus on instrumental work comes at a cost, and the cut comes at the hip-hop Nujabes is so often praised for. Despite this, the few guest spots are truly memorable, coming in at just the right time and never overstaying their welcome. After a brief interlude opening the album, the absolutely spectacular ‘Sky Is Falling’ announces itself with a bombastic horn section, before immediately settling into a comfortable groove for C.L Smooth to spill himself across. The vocals are mixed low in the track, with the music and emcee battling for attention from start to finish, and this opens the album on the best note possible. ‘Hikari’ sits right alongside ‘Eclipse’ as Substantial’s most heartbreaking contribution to a Nujabes track, with an emotive string section rising and falling while the emcee is torn between his wife and another love. Five Deez, Shing02 and Pase Rock all visit tracks and make contributions that, while not reaching the heights of the first two, serve as a welcome return to any avid Nujabes fans that will surely appreciate the familiar faces.
At some point in this review, I stopped referring to this release as ‘a collection’ and started calling it ‘an album’. This is because the flow, cohesion and sheer quality on display here are all indicative of a truly great album, and not just another set of songs. It is a sin to pass this compilation off as a collection of b-sides and unreleased material better left in the grave. Combining some of the best work ever laid down by Jun Seba, Substantial and C.L Smooth, alongside worthy contributions from every guest artist involved, this album is a treat from start to finish. This is as close as any collection of songs can get to being a classic album, and is essential for any Nujabes fan.