[Album Review] Sayonara Ponytail – You Are My Universe (2018)

(This review was originally posted on Facebook in my 2018 reviews album, with some slight editing to make this piece easier to read and to add a couple of new additional sources and links, and also to live up to the formatting potential WordPress.com offers to me)

 

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Sayonara Ponytail – You Are My Universe

さよならポニーテール – 君は僕の宇宙

Release Date : February 14th 2018

Genre : Twee Pop, J-Pop, Folk

 

Now, there’s something that I would like to admit first. I’m not a big fan of Sayopony‘s previous album (Yumemiru Wakusei, released in July 2017). At least, I don’t listen to it quite as religiously as I did for other Sayopony record like Seishun Fantasia (2013) or Enban Utopia (2015). It wasn’t bad per se, but I have to say I’m a bit disappointed by the overall tone and finished product. Well, I was mostly betrayed by my own expectations anyway, so who am I to blame?

The so-called “new phase/stage/era of Sayonara Ponytail”, precipitated by the departure of one of Sayopony’s original and long lasting member, was teased by the group on the eve of New Year 2017 on Twitter. The unveil brought forth promising signs of fresh new direction to be undertaken by the ever enigmatic group. And well, they mostly delivered on that change. They stopped region-blocking their songs on Spotify, giving new means for content-starved gaijin followers of Sayopony to listen to their music (although Yumemiru Wakusei‘s the only album available on the catalog, but hey, it’s a start). They also made an appearance in the opening song for Koei Tecmo/Gust’s new fantasy school life RPG, Blue Reflection. This however can be credited to the supervisor of the game, Mel Kishida, who was a long time character designer of Atelier franchise and frequent Sayopony collaborator, having himself lent his voice in some of Sayopony’s number throughout the years.

They also became much less conservative with the (usually recurring) visual aesthetic and imageries of Sayopony (the group 2 dimensional persona) as well, with the depiction of five core member girls itself undergoing rapid exploration and experimentation throughout 2017, opening way for other artists to interpret and paint them in their own quirks without altering fundamentally the core concept of the girls in question. This was demonstrably proved with Yumemiru Wakusei‘s bold, monotonous and realistic (live action) portrayal of the five girls.

 

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Sayonara Ponytail – Yumemiru Wakusei (Album) (7.6.2017)

Or maybe the limited single’s cover art that came before this album which while retaining the “traditional” vivid childlike colors and soft lines, also altered the character design to a more stumpier, rounder looks.

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Sayonara Ponytail – Sentimental (Single) (20.12.2017)
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Sayonara Ponytail – Seishun Nostalgia (Single) (17.1.2018)

And as for You Are My Universe‘s cover art, I mean, it undoubtedly took some notes from the old shoujo visuals, perhaps with a little touch of traditional painting. Looking at the bigger picture, Sayonara Ponytail is currently undergoing a phase of creative outburst, churning out works at a rate unparalleled and unprecedented since Sayopony itself was formed back in 2011.

Even then, Yumemiru Wakusei was sonically a bit of disappointment and missed the mark, but as I stated in my review of the album back in August, if the album was just a transitional phase from “Old-Sayopony” to “Nu-Sayopony” then I’m looking forward to see what would happen next. I am fairly sure the transition was complete by now, and after listening to this album, I am certain that it doesn’t disappoint me in the slightest this time.

The album starts with “Sentimental“, a beautifully crafted track which seemed to incorporate a good number of element which makes this track rife with callbacks to previous Sayopony classics (Hooking riff, acoustic guitar driving the song, delicious synths, strong, melodious, and nostalgic chorus). Next comes the bouncy, funky and infectiously catchy “I’m So Into You“. I’m 100% sure this has to be one of the catchiest Sayopony song ever.

Someday We’ll Meet Again” is another fun track, somehow reminiscent of one of the song in Enban Utopia, perhaps deliberately composed to be so strikingly similar. “A New World With You” is an upbeat energetic electronic song, vastly enhanced with its inclusion of sparkling arpeggiated synths. “One Memory of a Summer Night” is re-released song, having already seen the light of day in 2013. A weird decision to include it within the host of new songs, but nonetheless managed to maintain coherence of the whole album. “Do You Remember What We Promised?” is a beautiful short instrumental track, serving as the bookmark half of the album. “Goodbye, Summer Boy (Second Summer ver.)” is a retread of a track previously present in Yumemiru Wakusei, but with a poppier, synth driven arrangement instead of folk. I prefer the original version to be honest. “Love is On a Broom” is another bouncy synth track, but otherwise nothing too special about it. “Who Knows the Truth” is an absolutely rocking, high energy and upbeat pop track, driven with loud cymbals and guitar. It is also Chinese music-influenced. Next on menu is “Keep Your Treasure“, a lowkey electronic breakbeat track which is kind of so-so. It might grow on me, though. The obligatory simple acoustic folk song, present in form of “The Way We Were” is a treat. Beautiful vocals complemented the already great songwriting. If there’s one thing certain from Sayopony, it’s that they never botched the acoustic track. Ever. “As We Grow” is another fun, bouncy synth pop. It lacks something worth noting though. The last track, “Message” is a reflective, bit creepy slow tempo ballad with trippy guitar solo and deliberately muddled sound. I like it, but it kind of overstayed its welcome.

Final Thoughts : This is the proper return to form for Sayonara Ponytail, with consistently great songwriting and production, and their success in boiling down all the defining traits, quirks and upside of their entire discography into a neat 13 track album. It isn’t as ambitious (or as grand) as the monumental triple album Enban Utopia, and isn’t as resonant and impactful as Seishun Fantasia, but it certainly already secured a place in one of my favorite Sayopony record ever. 

Standout track : Sentimental, I’m So Into You, A New World With You, One Memory of a Summer Night, Who Knows the Truth, The Way We Were

 

Rating : 9/10

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