Review Summary: A blissful pop album that combines the power of our imaginations with the power of music.
I find it a little strange that I find any kind of emotional attachment to this album. It has nothing to do with genre, the language barrier or the target audience of the product. Pop, Japanese language albums and even the fact I’m supposed to be receiving the lyrics from the point of view of a 16 year old girl present no obstacles for me and certainly not in this case. It’s not the music or even the lyrics… it’s that the singer doesn’t exist. Yet, even though I am being sung to by a synthesiser, I can still feel something. It’s little things like this that make me appreciate the power of music so much more.
Electronic driven music that doesn’t rely on atmosphere such as this album is intriguing in a similar aspect. Even though the sound is created by a computer or a synthesiser, if it’s done right, you can still feel the human on the other side of the device inputting the music. A human doesn’t have to perform the music, they just have to have written it. The music on Supercell (which isn’t entirely electronic keep in mind) is superb in its composition. The melodies and the hooks are all incredibly catchy and memorable, creating a stellar musical experience. It’s a little simple in nature sure, but simple doesn’t necessarily always imply unsatisfying.
This is a little aside from what I was originally getting at albeit. The point I made in the above paragraph isn’t any new realisation to anyone. Rather what my original point was is the vocals… well, I guess they’re vocals. Since Supercell’s music isn’t very well suited for a male performer to sing along to, and Supercell originally started off as a little internet project by lone composer Ryo, the Synthesiser program (referred to as a vocaloid) Hatsune Miku was used to provide the vocals. That’s where it truly gets interesting. By definition Hatsune Miku exists, but she is not real. Hatsune Miku is not a tangible person. Ryo was not a 16 year old girl when he wrote this (Ryo is not even a girl), but Hatsune Miku is supposed to be and the lyrics were written with that in mind. What this means is that Supercell is more than just an indie-pop album with a synth program delivering the vocals over the top, the synth program is a fully-fledged persona; Hatsune Miku is performing. There isn’t really a 16 year old girl performing lyrics written from the perspective of a 16 year old girl, but it feels almost certain that there is; she's really out there somewhere.
What shines through on Supercell just is not just its stunning composition, but the magical power of the human imagination. Our ability to create a person that doesn’t exist and make it so that other people can relate to, sympathise with, laugh with and cry along with as if they did. What Supercell does is combine this gift along with the similarly powerful gift of music. The album has an overall feel of the freedom and blissful innocence of being 16, regardless of gender. The music is pushed through by a blend of upbeat electronics, swooping keyboards and power-chord driven guitars, a style of music that hotwires itself to your brain. It’s incredibly well defined and focused, very danceable and strongly listenable, the sort of thing that you unconsciously keep coming back to. The Hatsune Miku vocaloid is has a very distinct tone. Unless specifically programmed not to be, the vocaloid is inhumanly accurate in hitting its notes and forming its melodies and can prove to be somewhat of an acquired taste at first because of how sterile and flawless it sounds. The trick is of course to ignore the fact that it’s a synthesiser and listen to it as if it’s Hatsune Miku, who is very much her own personality. Once you do that, she fits right in; she’s perfect for the music. Songs such as the highly replayable “Melt” showcase the distinct aesthetic that Hatsune Miku’s (voice?) has. Where the soaring upper-octaves of the songs chorus would put considerable strain on a singer’s voice, with Hatsune Miku it sounds painless and simple. This flawlessness helps to unchain the refined pop, allowing it to reach heights that it sonically should not be able to.
Supercell also shows a surprising amount of variety within. The opener “Koi wa Sensou” displays a punchier guitar driven sound that wouldn’t feel that much out of place on a rock radio station. In another vein however are songs like “Line” that showcase Ryo’s sensible and ever zealous ear for melody, the instruments all working in blissful collaboration with Hatsune Miku to create a very human experience. Even if the very feminine qualities of the lyrics and their delivery are not exactly relatable for a particularly wide audience, it’s almost impossible not to get caught up in the false reality that they exude from and even more difficult not to find yourself humming along to them. The pain and nostalgia of one-sided love is very much apparent on the song “Hajimete no Koi ga Owari Toki” and “Melt” is every bit as vibrant and wild as Hatsune Miku’s persona suggests on the track. Consistently throughout, Supercell possess a blissful quality that can be really uplifting for the listener.
I’m not a 16 year old girl (or even a girl at all), hell, the guy that wrote (and from a musical standpoint at least, is) Supercell isn’t either; does it matter? Absolutely not. Supercell is a wonderful example of exactly how limitless music and the human imagination can be. Supercell isn’t anything ground breaking, sonically or concept wise, but it is amazing. I find it very intriguing as to how it is possible for someone who doesn’t even truly exist to be able to communicate feelings to you and for them to be able to register. Within the 12 tracks that make up the album, I am able to see Hatsune Miku exist in my mind as if she was really there, as if she were actually singing to me. Music is a truly special medium to be able to create things that aren’t even real, be it a specific atmosphere or a character like Hatsune Miku. Supercell is a highly satisfying pop album with a fascinating edge to it that makes it a hugely entertaining listen. For people interested in Jpop that doesn’t make you feel guilty or for people in need of something to brighten up their lives a little, this album is essential.