Game Music, Japanese, Reviews

Gather Around For Nobuo Uematsu’s 10 Short Stories (Review)

April 23, 2010 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook Gather Around For Nobuo Uematsu’s 10 Short Stories (Review)on Twitter

Well, it’s finally here. We’ve been hearing about Nobuo Uematsu’s 10 Short Stories for what feels like ages now, and it finally hit the global iTunes store last month. We’ve looked at many of the pre-release singles that Dog Ear Records put out last year to generate interest in the album, and while all four of those tracks appear on the album and were quite good, there are actually some more surprises and, in my opinion, even better tracks found on the album.

Uematsu covers a variety of styles, from pop ballad to synth rock, jazz, and traditional Japanese, but each is viewed through the lens of children’s music. Every track works in cheery vocals by CHiCO, which I know not everyone appreciates based on the response to the iTunes singles, but trust me, her versatility on this album will surely provide something that will catch your ear.

So, how does Uematsu’s latest solo album compare to his last? Find out in our review after the jump!

The first sound Uematsu treats us to in “It Begins” is the sound of barking dogs which are shortly joined by a solo piano and CHiCO’s gentle voice. This is a nice introductory ditty before the album launches into “Here Comes Conga Boy.” For anyone who hasn’t heard this yet, it’s an incredibly upbeat and catchy tune that we commented on extensively last year when it was released on iTunes. I’m glad that they decided to open the album proper with this track, as it really speaks to Uematsu’s bubbly personality with its inclusion of laughter, goofy beat boxing, and chirpy vocals. It still stands as one of my favorite tracks from the album.

Another iTunes track, “Gimme Gimme,” is next, which works in an impressive bluesy vibe with electric piano, swanky guitars, and even harmonica. The sound of falling coins playfully hints at what Uematsu means by “Gimme Gimme.” The first “new” track on the album is actually a song written for Uematsu’s upcoming RPG score, Fantasy Life, titled “Hikkari Pikkari.” It opens with a stirring string section before pop-style guitars and hip-hop percussion join the mix. Despite the blending of genres and the snappy percussion, the piece still has a certain lullaby-esque quality about it with its laid back vocals and soothing atmosphere.

“No Worries!” is an interesting piece that sort of ticks away back and forth between two notes as CHiCO provides brief vocal phrases with lots of strange vocal effects. The highlight of the track, however, is the rockin’ chorus section that explodes forth with electric guitar, piano, and percussion, which is otherwise absent from the track. “Whistle a Song” goes in a different direction, bordering on country music with its whistling, fiddle work, and strong bassline. The vocals here are more subdued than in some of the other tracks on the album, coming as airy, and fitting the song perfectly.

We get a short break with “Recess,” a short but touching ballad with some lovely vocal harmonies and a solo piano that sounds absolutely great. Perhaps Uematsu should get in the business of writing more pop ballads! It’s then on to “The Incredibly Flying Natsushiko,” which opens with an English narration about two lovers on the other side of the Milky Way who only get to spend one day together a year. Once the music gets started, it takes on a very Katamari-esque feel with spacey vocals and electro-pop sound. It’s definitely one of the biggest surprises of the album, and one of my favorite tracks.

The next two tracks, “Coconut Castaway” and “The Chef Who Used His Noodle” were both also released on iTunes, with the former being a playful children’s song that Uematsu originally wrote when he was 12 years old, and the former being incredibly catchy Asian-inspired piece with bendy strings and even a fun twang on the vocals. It jumps into what almost sounds like Celtic territory about midway through, which was an enjoyable surprise. “Every New Morning” follows suit as a soothing traditional Japanese piece featuring shamisen and shakuhachi, which would fit perfectly as a town theme. If “Every New Morning” was the town theme, “Revenge of the 5-Foot Swhail” is certainly the battle theme with its rock percussion, pounding synths, and provoking vocals. While it may a bit heavy from my description, it’s still playful in nature, avoiding all-out electric guitar wailing.

Getting on to the end, “That’s All” sounds like it belongs in a kid’s television program with its almost circus-like approach. Clapping, organ, and incredibly silly vocals (plus some rhythmically barking dogs) make for an interesting 38-second closing. But wait, it’s not over year. The final track is a bonus arrangement of “Gimme Gimme,” credited as the “alternative version.” It’s a more abstract version that uses a lone belltone, some rhythmic bongos, and minimal guitars to back the vocals. About midway through, however, it turns into a odd smooth jazz track with CHiCO moaning and saying “mmm… mooneeey…,” which was rather odd. Still, I love the contemporary jazz approach. This arrangement makes me curious about Uematsu’s “alternate versions” of some of these other tracks that he may have tucked away in his head.

Regarding the packaging, the album comes in a thick cardboard case with a really glossy cover and backing. It really feels sturdy. Inside, there’s a booklet that’s attached to the front cover, containing all the lyrics from the album along with artwork, all printed on thick cardstock. The disc itself looks like a mini vinyl record, which it’s pretty hip looking. It feels like a very mature and serious album despite the music contained within!

Well, how does Nobuo Uematsu’s 10 Short Stories compare to his last solo effort, Phantasmagoria, you ask? It’s not really a fair comparison to make, as the two albums are so different. Uematsu told us that Phantasmagoria was written at a time he needed healing, whereas this one is supposed to represent his life, and if the upbeat nature of this album are any indication, it’s been a good life. I don’t think there’s anything on this album that is going to blow you away, per se, but it is catchy, fun, and full of variety, and any fan of Uematsu’s music should at check out the samples on the album’s official website and strongly consider picking up the limited edition from Dog Ear Records. It’s also available on iTunes in both Japanese and English.

What do you think of Nobuo Uematsu’s 10 Short Stories? Are you looking forward to more original work from him in this style in the future?

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