Review Summary: Haru Nemuri's pre-breakthrough EP shows her gaining momentum but not quite hitting lift-off
Haru Nemuri’s 2018 album Haru to Shura
was a powerhouse release that generated a rare level of cross-genre hype and gave her the platform for an unexpected but well-earned international breakthrough. The album’s warm, wall-of-sound production coupled with Nemuri’s passionate stream-of-consciousness vocal style and occasional well-documented screams. It never skipped a beat and the energy behind her performance came across so clearly that it was difficult not be swept away by virtually any given moment. Take a step back, however, and it would do well to remember that Haru to Shura
’s hype didn’t actually come out of nowhere and there was a scene tuned into her pre-2018; this bring us to her 2017 EP Atom Heart Mother
In many ways, this release sounds exactly like a listener only familiar with Haru to Shura
might expect it to: while assured in her lyrics, vocal presence and general tone of urgency and excitement, this version of Haru Nemuri was less certain of her instrumental style and not quite ready to hit the same unbelievable highs as she would on her debut full-length. Take, for example, Inochi ni Natte
(Bring Me To Life), which stands as Atom Heart Mother
’s mission statement in the same way that the incredible one-line anthem Narashite
(Cry Out) did for [i]Haru to Shura[i]: the track features the same kind of repetitive piano hook that feels characteristic of Nemuri’s writing at this point, but rather than explode into the flurry of passion that Narashite
or tracks of its ilk did, it plays out more as a neat upbeat pop song with an endearing note of aspiration. There’s nothing wrong
with this per se, but having seen how colossal the scope in this sound turned out to be, it’s difficult not to see Atom Heart Mother
as much more than the sound of an artist who had more or less found her feet but was still refining her style.
This sentiment is aptly reflected in SAYONARA BABY PINK
’s chorus mantra “Boku wa boku ni naritai” (I want to be[come] myself); this EP provides a pretty clear overview of who Haru Nemuri is and what she’s about, but it showcases her potential rather than its realisation. This extends to her vocal performance too; by anyone’s standards she’s peppy and personable here, but it’s clear that she hadn’t quite caught fire in the way she would a year on. There’s a perfectly reasonable argument that since these songs and arrangements aren’t quite as forceful as those on Haru to Shura
, a slightly toned-down vocal approach is appropriate, but since that raw forcefulness is what makes Haru Nemuri so powerful at his best, her otherwise solid performance here is still symptomatic of what this EP is lacking.
On the other hand, it’s not completely
fair to weigh this EP up against its towering successor, as it does touch on aspects to which Haru to Shura
paid less attention. The general style here tends far more towards hip-hop than Shura
’s rock/noise-pop hybrid, especially in opener Kuuki Ningyou
, which opts for such a starchy atmosphere and firm focus on Nemuri’s rap that it’s hard to believe that the beat only comes in. The other songs are more colourful and pop-tinged, but seem to be directed more towards spotlighting her vocals than augmenting them into something more. This approach is largely justified; the songwriting here is simple but effective and there’s a slew of good hooks to carry things along. There are a few surprises too: Answer Waltz Romance
is more openly synth-pop than some might expect, but takes a decent (if slight clunky) shot at it, and then there’s TOKYO CALLING
, which packs a ton of good ideas into a two-minute runtime to the effect that almost all of them come off as half-baked. It’s like she pasted her voice over a Shinsei Kamattechan-style slice of disorienting noise-pop, which builds up steam only to shift suddenly into a surprise coda featuring fuzzy metal guitars. Not exactly a winner, but certainly good fun.
Boku wa Saishuu Heiki
, however, strikes gold with noisey, bitcrushed synthesisers and the same kind of relentless pulse that would be revived on tracks like Nineteen
and Yoru o Oyoideta
. It’s an easy highlight here and the only track that could have sat on Haru to Shura
in both style and scope; it’s notable that its title and chorus (I Am the Ultimate Weapon) is a key statement by which Haru Nemuri continues to define herself. It’s quite fitting that this track is the one that gave early fans the clearest sense of what to expect from a follow-up; her ambition has always carried a slightly militant edge in its resolute conviction and urgent personality. Perhaps that’s why it’s so enjoyable to hear her honing her craft across these songs; the sense of a slightly tentative, less intense presence behind Nemuri’s ‘singing weapon’ fits neatly into her arc. In any case, Atom Heart Mother
is a solid if imperfect EP that is well worth a check for those both familiar and unfamiliar with Haru Nemuri; if she wasn’t quite ready to tear the world apart in 2017, she was well on her way to getting there.
Boku wa Saishuu Heiki