Midori
Second


4.0
excellent

Review

by johnnydeking29 USER (52 Reviews)
December 4th, 2018 | 7 replies


Release Date: 2007 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Midori's least accessible album scans as austere, but opens up into a gift that keeps on giving.

Midori were a quartet from Osaka who twisted jazz and a combination of other styles into a surprisingly stylish punk frenzy full of both hooks and dissonance. It’s a fairly love/hate deal, but they picked up a following and released a string of albums (many of them major label) before putting their short career to rest in 2010. Eight years later, I’ve been digging into their work and would like to offer a re-examination of it. This is partially because I believe they were, in their own way, a great band and deserve commemoration as such, and partially because I’m curious to determine how well or badly the work of a band so associated with novelty and shock value has aged. And with that scope in mind, let’s turn our attention to the band’s second studio release and first LP…

Part Two: Second / セカンダ

As I outlined in my review of Midori’s debut, First (recommended reading for new listeners), vocalist/guitarist Mariko Goto and co. conveyed the core elements of their unique sound loud and clear on that release, but it was also evident that they had some way to go when it came to refining these elements into something more assured and convincing. On this basis, Second delivers everything that could be expected from a follow-up and establishes Midori as a force to be reckoned with. The album reels from track to track with a slickness and intensity that never once blanches at the fact that this was (at the time) the longest Midori release, at thirty-two minutes. Every track holds its own and demonstrates a competent band confident in their bizarre style.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it much further: Second is a fine album without a weak track or any glaring singular flaws. From a removed perspective, everything is as it should be, all boxes ticked. However, for the first few listens at least, I found it a surprisingly unsatisfying experience, given how clearly it improved on First and the self-apparent strength of its material. This brings things into the realm of personal preference, but I soon realised that my difficulty in getting into the album was due to its immense leanness; everything here is remarkably fat-free and focused, suggesting a high level of discipline underneath the sonic chaos. This goes a long way to shaping the album’s tone, and it sculpts it into something deceptively daunting. Most Midori albums present an intense, hostile sound in a more-or-less light-hearted manner to the degree that they become accessible; this is not quite the case with Second.

Perhaps the best way to get to grips with this is through frontwoman Mariko Goto’s contribution; she’s wound tight as a spring as she barks her way through Second’s thirty-two-minute runtime, but her performance treads a fine line between being and draining and adrenalising. Outside of the album’s three softer tracks, there is rarely a place that she sounds enlivened by her own performance, which is one of Midori’s secret drawing points: their music is enjoyable for us because it sounds like it was enjoyable for them. When I imagine Goto recording First, Shimizu or even Aratamemashite, I can almost see her bouncing off the studio walls with energy; when I imagine her recording this album, I think of her getting to the end of a string of takes and collapsing onto a sofa, wiping sweat off her forehead and reaching for the nearest source of caffeine. In fairness, this criticism is somewhat harsh given how she had improved since First – she seems to have sifted through her past vocal stylings, cutting out the bland pop postulation and throaty wannabe metalhead bollocks that sounded so off on that album. She found her style and sharpened it to a fine edge over these tracks. Thank goodness. It is also not a slur against her performance, which is very much the driving force on this album, but it is a reflection of the wider fact that the Midori of Second come across as strained and taut, with little indication of letting their collective hair down. It’s a serious, serious album, and that brings us to the point:

The aesthetic of Midori’s sound is enjoyably weird (read: anything from mildly silly to full-on deranged), and although the performances and songwriting are both tight on Second, neither aspect really takes advantage of this weirdness. The band’s best moments tend not just to be impressive but entertaining – they come when the band go for something fantastically unlikely and pull it off. Second frequently comes within an inch of being a dry album; Midori were not a dry band. They were a quirky band, a daring band, a fun band. These songs are well-realised, but tend to stay in the same place from start to finish in a manner that is consistently energetic but seldom surprising. Although the more seemingly homogenous tracks benefit greatly from repeat listening, I feel that this misses part of the point; while Second does great justice to Midori’s strengths as musicians and songwriters, it hardly epitomises the spark and entertainment value so distinctive to their musical identity.

There are, of course, exceptions to this statement. The album’s fifth track, あたしのお* is an upbeat pop track that manages to be charming, catchy and saccharine in a way I certainly hadn’t seen coming from this album. The band seem to enjoy themselves a lot on this, and it works wonders; the song is perfectly placed as a mid-way palette-cleanser. As an aside, I think it’s hilarious that Midori play with all manner of unlovely rhythms on this album with appropriate complexity and brutality, yet the most inelegant the lot somehow turned out to be the sweet mockery of 3/4 waltz time that anchors this track. It’s not all tongue-in-cheek though – あたしのお*is genuinely catchy and supports every inch of its silliness with a tight, personable performance. Other snatches of the album’s capacity for goof and quirk manifest themselves onあんたは誰や, perhaps the most ‘punk’ song here with a gleeful sense of ceaseless lyrical repetition broken only by a flurry of exclamations in showstopping Engrish midway through, and うわさのあの*, which lurches right into a violent swagger full of an explosive likeability that isn’t quite as present in the album’s other (many) tracks of this kind.

Putting these songs aside, there are also points at which the tight-lined, serious ethos prevalent on Second surpasses its ambivalent influence on the album’s tone and becomes an active strength. Some of Midori’s absolute finest tracks belong to this album, belonging in the sense that they owe their merits to its no-frills attitude; I can’t imagine them being placed on any other release, and Second is all the stronger for it.

Surprisingly enough, two of these tracks are downright gorgeous – 声を聞きたいのですが、聞こえない です and都会のにおい. are softer tracks that differentiate themselves from Midori’s typical pop fare through a higher standard of dynamic and melodic complexity. Hajime owns these tracks with some of his strongest and most tasteful melodies, and Goto’s more relaxed vocals feel completely at home. 声を聞きたいのですが、聞こえない です suggests more of a reflective dreamscape as it ebbs and flows (occasionally punctuated by well-placed two bar sections of power chords), whereas都会のにおい. builds with something close to trepidation, closing the album in a way that feels more like a controlled release of tension than a final climax, but both tracks invoke a gentle nostalgia far closer to introspection than corniness. Perhaps most importantly, there’s nothing goofy or ironic about them; they stand completely outside of novelty and rely on a sombre, earnest tone (admittedly I have no idea what Goto is singing on either track, but this aside…). These tracks alone demonstrate that Midori were by no means dependent on the quirk and flair more prevalent on their other releases, wonderful as those qualities are.

And then there’s the opener. I’ve left this song for last because it is fairly anomalous in relation to the rest of the album, but also because it is absolutely stunning and deserves focal placement. The other eight songs on Second can be neatly, if expediently, summarised as five jazz-punk stomps that deviate very little from the Midori formula, two piano-driven mood pieces, and a pop song. ドーピング☆ノイズノイズ*ッス (Doping ☆Noise Noise Kiss) refuses to be itemised so easily. It’s easily the most intense thing here, and also the most dynamic; its structure is a composite of several different sections and the band shift between them at a disorienting rate, but they have more than enough momentum to tie it together. The tone is urgent and highly dramatic; the ‘chorus’ (I think") sounds like the most demonic of invocations and the opening piano line smacks of the theatrical. Most notably, the song’s frenzy rises to and beyond breaking point in a cacophony delivered with such intent and focus that, where most bands would fall into a sloppy scream-laden mess, Midori deliver something highly unsettling but utterly compelling Hell, it borders on the kind of thing Unexpect would do but plays out far less pretentiously. It’s a harrowing opener for sure, but also a perfect song that has a strong claim to the title of best Midori track. When I imagine Goto crashing onto the studio sofa after burning out on these tracks, this is the only point at which I share her intensity enough to wholeheartedly wish I could do the same…

In any case, between these three highlights – that’s a solid third of the album – and the rest of its material, Second conveys a convincing formula with a handful of distinct selling points. It’s perhaps the Midori release least contingent on cheap thrills, which is, in a sense, a shame – Midori are very good at cheap thrills. However, returning to my consideration of the band’s longevity, the sound here is much more mature than fresh and funky and holds its own ground enough to have aged well; I honestly don’t know how much of a difference it would have made if it came out today, rather than eleven years ago (or even eleven years before that). Solid songwriting and musicianship are key to this album, and if it isn’t Midori’s most entertaining, it just might well be their best most consistent; this leads to a growing payoff from repeat listens, through which the album grows into a real treat, but that investment may deter casual listeners. Their following releases Shimizu and Aratamemashite… showed how far they could go with more innovative pacing and a few more risks, but Second was the album that really put their sound on the table and showed they meant business. Next up was to show how much fun business could be, but that’s another story…


3.75/5 (rounded up to 4)



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user ratings (48)
Chart.
4
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
johnnydeking29
December 4th 2018


11829 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Appropriately enough for the album, this review was a real drain to write but felt v much worth it

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SandwichBubble
December 4th 2018


8500 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

NIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIICE

will read later

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johnnydeking29
December 4th 2018


11829 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Hehe let me know your thoughts

AlexanderMR
December 4th 2018


3490 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Atashi no Outa is a jam. Also, I don't see how this is Midori's least accessible album, but all of their work seems equally accessible (or inaccessible) to me so, eh.

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johnnydeking29
December 4th 2018


11829 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yes haha, love that song! And to cut it short I think their other albums are less dense than this and have much more obvious hooks

Frippertronics
Staff Reviewer
December 5th 2018


18214 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

absolutely love this album

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johnnydeking29
December 5th 2018


11829 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

The more I jam this the more I'm convinced it's a keeper tbh



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