When we last spoke to Masashi Hamauzu, he expressed much excitement over his then-upcoming album with Mina, “Black Ocean.” Up to that time, all we’d been able to hear from them was the IMERUAT debut single, which featured 3 songs (all included on, and remastered for, “Black Ocean”).
With the full album in our hands (presently available CD-only in Japan and Europe), we’re ready to talk about the duo that made Final Fantasy XIII so beautiful and vibrant. After the jump, our review of IMERUAT’s “Black Ocean.”
The album opens with the title track, “Black Ocean.” And right from the start, I felt like “wow, I’m in for a treat.” The electronic sound style, augmented by Mitsuto Suzuki, is so reminiscent of the best tracks from Final Fantasy XIII. And the chords, almost all enhanced by dominant 7ths and 9ths, bounce along with that “oom – pah” bass note – chord combo. And Mina’s soft, breathy vocals sound beautiful. It takes about 90 seconds before the intro and first verse are complete. And when we kick into the chorus, a whole bunch of percussion comes in for 4 measures, and then pulled back when Mina sings “To the end of the woooorld!” — it’s epic. Straight up epic. Rinse and repeat, like the tides of this black ocean, and be ready for more love.
“Cirotto,” one of the three tracks originally on the IMERUAT debut single, is almost entirely instrumental. A simple minimalist pattern from the strings and piano, like something from SaGa Frontier II or “Vielen Dank,” takes up the majority of the track. Only at the end does Mina sing, and when she does, it’s almost like a tribal melody, in the lower registers, and absolutely beautiful.
The third track, “Leave me alone,” is a personal favorite. Mina’s identity, as part of the minority tribe the Ainu, makes her special. And yet, she struggles to find normalcy in herself. In this song, she exclaims and even whines (with pitch bent) “I’m not special.” The counting to 8 in different languages, the intentionally flatness of each instrument, the cerebral sort of misery that comes with the minimalist pattern … it’s easy to get lost in. And, honestly, I love it.
There are two tracks on the album that feature spoken-word. The first is “Giant,” featuring Nino Kerl speaking in German, and rapidly at that. I’m not sure what is being said, but it sounds … like an emergency. It’s intense. The other spoken-word track, “Left,” is a scripted conversation, in English, between Mina and VGM guru / personality Jeriaska. In this track, Jeriaska plays the role of an investigative journalist who has apparently overstepped his boundaries. He’s written an article, presumably about the Ainu, using Mina as an interviewee, but he uses her words without her permission, and she’s upset about it, and feels she’s misrepresented. Behind these series of telephone conversations, where we hear increasing frustration from both parties, is a swell of piano, synths, and beautiful strings. This is one of the tracks featuring arrangement from the venerable Mitsuto Suzuki, and the track sounds even better because of it. The static and the dial tones sound fantastic as well. When Mina sings “I take off my costume to avoid being noticed,” it breaks my heart. So much emotion hiding behind a wall of sound.
These two spoken-word tracks straddle “Haru no Kasumi,” another of the tracks from the single. If you listened to the single, it’s easy to detect the remastering here, where the piano is now more balanced with the string and woodwinds. A simple 6/8 track, featuring Hamauzu’s trademark impressionist, minimalist patterns, it’s one that only stands out because of the occasional dissonance. I like to think of it as a “transition” piece to get my mind ready for what more is to come.
The latter half of the album blends a little better than the first half, where each track is sort of a stand-out experience. Among the tracks in the latter half, I have two definite favorites. One of them, obviously, is the debut track “IMERUAT.” I like that, a song title that is also your group’s name. What I also like about it? The huge wall-of-sound strings, the rhythmic guitars, the heavenly piano work (totally reminiscent of SaGa Frontier II and UNLIMITED:SaGa), and of course, Mina’s beautiful voice. This song is so good, and so uplifting, even the minor chords sound happy.
And my other favorite track: “Springs.” The piano part sounds much like FFXIII‘s “Sulyya Springs,” but Mina’s doing something totally different with the vocal track here.
IN SUMMARY / tl;dr: imagine Masashi Hamauzu was asked to write more songs for FFXIII using the same team of people, but wasn’t limited by any thematic structures, cut scenes, or visuals. That’s what Black Ocean is. It’s Hamauzu flexing his creative muscles with a top team of talented musicians. Don’t miss out on this one! And, if you’re in North America, feel free to express your present displeasure that the CD is only available in Japan and Europe! We want a domestic version! (Right?)Tags: Ainu, Black Ocean, IMERUAT, Masashi Hamauzu, Mina, MONOMUSIK, Original Work, Reviews