What makes Kicell a compelling listening experience is the way the duo creates lush but economical music. The brothers are fearless in incorporating all manner of strings, percussion and special effects, but their songs feel wide open.
On the pair’s last album, Mado ni Chikyuu, they eased a bit on the quirkiness of their arrangements, and it worked well for them.
But this time with its latest album, Tabi, the loosened grip results in less stellar results.
A number of the flourishes added to the song feel more predictable. The string work on “Kimi to Tabi” sounds closer to Paul McCartney than to Kronos Quartet.
“Charry” is a thematically busy song, thoroughly orchestrated with a relatively traditional band of organ, guitars and drums. It’s a feast for the ears, but it feels like Kicell could have done something more — or weirder — with it.
Other songs on the album are performed straight, with little of the band’s eclectic aural vision. “Niji wo Mita” comes as close to a rocker as Kicell gets, while “Hana ga Kudasai” has all the flourish but little of the flash of the band’s richest songs.
The nearly six-minute instrumental “Michi ga Massugu” doesn’t do much more than pulse, and in an odd way, it’s one of the most interesting tracks on the album.
It also marks the turning point — after that track, the songwriting doesn’t have the kind of forcefullness of Mado ni Chikyuu or Yume.
Would these songs have come off stronger if Kicell kept with its usual modus operandi and went crazy with the effects? Maybe not, but it would have given something on which the ears could latch.
Strangely enough, the most stripped down track on the album is also one Kicell’s best performances. “Yuki ni Kieru” is little more than guitar and a pair of voices. This time, the Tsujimarus invite female singer Kudo Hazuna to offer a contrasting timbre.
Kudo is obviously an untrained singer, and her harmonizing with Tsujimaru Takefumi is slightly out of tune. It’s that bit of grit that makes the performance riveting.
Tabi, in a way, is a reflection of the band’s second album, Kinmirai. The less cluttered arrangements on Tabi conjure a feeling of warmth, in the same way Kinmirai felt like winter. The idea of summer seems to weave itself into the songs.
While Tabi emphasizes more human performances — and less reliance on cold electronics — the songs themselves seem tepid and uninivting. Mark Twain once said the coldest winter he spent was a summer in San Francisco.
Kicell may not have had the City by the Bay in mind when recording Tabi, but for its next album, the should try to keep its heart where it’s been.