So after what I thought was a really successful single release in "Crybaby" this past June, Kinoko Teikoku have put out another track as they approach the release of their new album Ai no Yukue this November. "Natsuno Kage" (or "Summer's Shadow") hit iTunes at midnight Japan time - I'm assuming it's just going to be another limited digital-only release like "Crybaby" - and my fingers were crossed, as I prepared to hit the play button, that this would be yet another sign of a return to pre-major form.
The first thing I noticed when I pulled the song up is that it's seven and a half minutes long, making it the longest song they've released since "Flower Girl" on their 2013 Long Goodbye EP. You don't find a whole lot of pop songs drawing on this long, so my curiosity was further piqued. I cleared my mind, got their entire back catalog out of my head, and finally hit play.
"Natsuno Kage" kicks off like a Fishmans-esque dreamy dub track, which is a lot more appealing than the light pop chorus that it transitions into. Similar to "Chronostasis" following "Tokyo" as the second lead single going into Fake World Wonderland, "Natsuno Kage" really slows things down when compared to "Crybaby" (and for what it's worth, I like it a lot more than "Chronostasis").
My opinion through the first half of the track is that it has a bunch of redeeming qualities. The chorus didn't wow me, but the chill-out reggae twist was really pleasant, and Sato's voice has just been so consistently good that there's no real need to say anything about that. Once again Kinoko Teikoku show a remarkable ability to fill every ounce of space with sound, and the vocals are a major contributor there. Just as on the previous single, A-chan really gets back to what she does best: creating depth with her guitar work. Even if the track doesn't quite get back to the early Kinoko Teikoku material that really showcased her ability and perhaps best reflected her own artistic influence, it sure sounds, as we draw nearer to the album release, that A-chan has more freedom than she did on the major debut.
There's a bit on the track about three minutes in that teases with a bout of rumbling guitars, before transitioning right into that catchy chorus that I didn't really care about, but by this point in the song has embedded itself somewhere deep in my brain against my will. Again at the four minute mark, things get a little heavier and the song has gone in a different direction...and we're back to the chorus. As far as I'm concerned, the track could have ended at this point. When that last chorus kicks in, there's the sense that it is going to crescendo into a big finale. It does build up, but it never quite gets to the point that it feels like it should. It does this for two minutes, actually. I wouldn't call this a deal-breaker, but the five-minute version of the song is preferred.
I don't feel as strongly about "Natsuno Kage" as I did "Crybaby", but after a handful of listens I remain optimistic heading into Ai no Yukue, based largely on the perception that Sato is sharing the reigns with A-chan a bit more. The dream dub vibe worked pretty well, but when we finally get this new album, the hope is that there'll be a bit more of an edge to it. We'll see.
There aren't any links to the new song at the moment, but the title track from the upcoming album is the theme song for the upcoming film 湯を沸かすほどの熱い愛, and is featured in this trailer (starting at the one-minute mark):