Review Summary: It's a lot, isn't it?
AliA are a recently formed Japanese six-piece rock band with a transparent affinity for all things extravagant and mainstream. Their roster includes a grandiose violinist, every familiar hook in a pop vocalist’s 101, and a combined wardrobe that many would die for. On their debut album, AliVe
, the order of the day at any given moment consists largely of an aggressively catchy over-the-top tribute to all possible labels involving the words ‘power’ and ‘epic’. That is to say, this is absolutely music for the sweet-toothed; it’s neither tongue-in-cheek enough to indulge an ironic listening nor innovative enough to offer much appeal for those interested in the quirkier side of the Japanese scene. And so, unless you’re happy to discard the concept of an upper bound as far as all things cheese are concerned, you’d be well-inclined to stay the hell away.
With that significant caveat out of the way, I think it’s fair to say that AliVe
represents a pretty worthwhile offering as far as shamelessly kitsch music goes. The band are all proficient musicians and while their songwriting and style reinvent the wheel, they do pull these tracks off with a sufficient level of energy and focus to indicate that their intentions behind their music’s clearly crafted mass appeal are mostly positive, and that they’re having a whale of a time performing it. The worst thing that can be said for music like this is that it comes across as like it was conceived purely as a means of exploiting the process of consumption. A good mainstream band sounds like its sound is accessible because the bandmembers genuinely care about the enjoyment a large audience stands to gain by hearing it. Gauging from the liveliness of their performances here, AliA seem to fit the brief soundly enough.
As such, the earnestness behind their sound occasionally comes across as ridiculous but does successfully drive most of the tracks with an intensity and excitement that’s hard to deny. The only song that mishandles this is the obligatory powerballad, Koe / Voice
, which shoots for engaging dynamic variety but fails to gather steam until its final minute, but otherwise they more or less succeed in sustaining a level of pacing that sounds like it was conceived with little besides an endless stream of endorphins in mind.
This is accentuated by moments of instrumental boldness, most notably in Silhouette
, which draws on prog sounds in its sporadic opening and the extremely busy keyboard sustained through its verses. Limit
toys with some low-fret guitar crunch and off-kilter string accents in its second verse but sadly returns to a regular 4/4 feel before the moment has really sunk in. Other songs are prone to flashy lead work from both keys and guitar, but these are largely confined to central motifs or conventionally structured solos. On the other hand, the pop elements here are appropriately focal and never less than euphoric. This is showcased best by the album’s two catchiest numbers, Simple
and かくれんぼ / Hide-And-Seek
. These lean towards an established J-Pop mode, boasting ultra-huge choruses full of all the epic
chords, harmonised vocals and obligatory woah-oh-ohs that have driven countless ultra-huge choruses of the same breed. It’s a familiar thrill, but AliA make it their own to an adequate degree.
There are limits to the heights reached on AliVe
, however. The title track pushes the band’s climactic atmosphere as far as it can, with symphonic leanings and a climactic drive that is immediately invocative of all manner of hyperbolic music-is-life speeches and lighter-waving gestures that will doubtless occur live. It’s not exactly a flop, but given its placement as album closer I was a little underwhelmed at the way the band sought to round off a relentlessly upbeat maximalist album with even more
upbeat maximalism. The song itself as worthwhile as song as any here but the point suggested by its placement at the end is more likely to incur an eye-rolling “okay, we get the picture” than anything else.
A couple of hiccups aside, AliVe
acts as a fleshed out mission statement without overstaying its thirty-minute welcome. It works well as a debut, although if AliA wish to produce more extensive releases in future they would do well to explore their songwriting process and band chemistry further, with a view to further dynamic variation and/or complex technicality. As a six-piece, they have all manner of opportunities to do either and are already so far into the realm of cheese that flashier musicianship is hardly going to drag them down. A little more character from individual performers wouldn’t hurt either; I often felt as though the keys and guitar were interchangeable in the way they played off each other and the violin rarely left much of an impression beyond the way it played on timbre to elevate the scale of each track. These components are effectively arranged as is, but they have a lot of potential for development.
As one last (probably unsurprising) caveat, I haven’t taken AliA in particularly good faith. The enjoyable elements of their sound have been more surprising than satisfying, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t more more impressed by the hipness of their outfits than the experience of their music (not without good reason; check out the video for かくれんぼ / Hide-And-Seek - those drapes will have you pining over Google Image results for Harajuku faster than you can say ‘sugoi’). I expected to hold onto a dismissive attitude throughout their album, and while this was fortunately not the case, I still don’t take it entirely seriously. However, at the end of the day even my jadedness can’t obstruct the fact that this is about as infectious and enjoyable as anything one could expect from a over-the-top rock band in the 2019 Japanese mainstream, all caveats included. Fair enough to AliA; I’ll be listening to whatever they put out next with somewhat more optimistic preconceptions.