Tobby’s Recommendation Yell: Circus-P’s 715
edited by Pat/Burrito of Feels
Independently released on July 15, 2017, his twenty-second birthday, and covered by Sleppu’s drawing of Glacier, a winter-equipped child in pastel colors, it’s as if he revealed that, yes, 715 is the birth of the true Circus-P in all his vengefully scheming ringmaster glory, though with a deceptive appearance looking way more harmless than his horned and fox-eyed “Patches” persona. And no, “revelation” doesn’t sound as fitting as “birth,” as the former can’t make him sound as crazy as the latter can. Not only that, 715 is also his first completely English full-length. Has anyone in the Vocaloid scene even released an entirely English full-length before 715?
Circus-P is underrated. Actually, scratch that. He’s under-credited in the under-reviewed genre of Vocaloid music in English.
And it’s likely for good reason. If my guess based on certain commentary regarding the “Deja Vu” credits and the missing videos of certain songs he had been involved in is correct, then perhaps it’s punishment for his overrated presence in Crusher-P’s hits back when he was with her as CIRCRUSH. It’s a pretty good punishment to execute in the era of modern advertising, where a lack of attention is a bad thing, while controversy isn’t considered bad publicity. And that’s not even his first offense, if those old notes about his digital piracy are true. But at the very least, it seems that the Vocaloid community has given him a good amount of second chances, considering the fact that he can still collaborate as per usual. Still, he’s not the guy who wrote the first Vocaloid English song that reached the Niconico Vocaloid Hall of Legend, and that song’s official retuning/album version (tuned by Fruutella) sounds a lot better than what he did for it at first. To be even fairer about Crusher’s impact, if there’s something that Circus forgot to consider in the process of trying to breakout within the whole Vocaloid genre, it’s how rock – one of the foundational genres for the Vocaloid sound in general – should’ve been mixed in better with his fantasy nightclub sound.
But beneath all those PR and artistry nightmares, Circus has talent and skill of his own, something further emphasized by his win in a Vocaloid song contest. I’ll even go as far as saying that he pioneered the Vocaloid genre in English. Keyword here is “pioneered,” not “popularized.” Despite being a basement dweller in the scene, he needs more credit for building up the foundations for the genre’s Western aesthetic. Ever seen all those OCs that look like they managed to crawl out of a TV on sale at the Inaba branch of Junes? Ever heard those characters given blunt and/or vague lyrics to sing over nightclub music? Ever known about a Vocaloid producer in English who has actually managed to release a remotely memorable full-length album before 2014, or better yet, 2012? Ever even learned about how “Circus Monster” hit the Niconico Vocaloid Rankings years before “ECHO” hit the top of that list?
Perhaps we can take this assertion even farther: Circus-P isn’t just the underrated creator who first turned heads with “Circus Monster.” Just as much as he is the ringmaster, Circus-P is the Circus Monster.
That is who he shows himself as in 715, his second full-length album. Independently released on July 15, 2017, his twenty-second birthday, and covered by Sleppu’s drawing of Glacier, a winter-equipped child in pastel colors, it’s as if he revealed that, yes, 715 is the birth of the true Circus-P in all his vengefully scheming ringmaster glory, though with a deceptive appearance looking way more harmless than his horned and fox-eyed “Patches” persona. And no, “revelation” doesn’t sound as fitting as “birth,” as the former can’t make him sound as crazy as the latter can. Not only that, 715 is also his first completely English full-length. Has anyone in the Vocaloid scene even released an entirely English full-length before 715?
And if all those questions sound like a clown’s pestering, then there’s the unity of the album to back it all up. It’s distorted and phantasmal electro-house music with a bit of trance and a dash of pop. It’s also full of lyrics that would make Circus sound more like a chad had he sung it all by himself. But with Vocaloid, it becomes a more accessible world, almost completely hiding how this work can be tied to public personal issues that many know but few discuss. His confidence in expressing his improvement in that VNN interview regarding 715 even adds to the impression that he planned this lots and well. And in terms of big Vocaloid names, it’s mothy and Dixie Flatline mixed into Western directness.
The core of the album’s power is in three things: the Vocaloid use, the sound production, and the narrative construction. And with this album, Circus has started to have some worthwhile consistency as a Vocaloid producer, growing out of the mimicry of his older albums and capitalizing on the strengths of his most notable solo works.
Of course, since this is a Vocaloid album, one should listen to how the vocals work. Even as Vocaloid producers themselves have gained more of the spotlight in Vocaloid song releases, the vocalist still transforms the experience, and Vocaloid is no exception. While he presents songs more clearly drawing from his own experiences, the way he makes his Vocaloids sing with accented restraint and daring unintelligibility makes the singers function as filters for emotions too raw and/or complex for human performance. That way, the Vocaloids very much seem like human characters of their own instead of flat sycophant mascots or obvious storyteller puppets. In a genre where visual mascotry and supplementary material are usually inseparable like crutches with the music they accompany in promotion, this is quite a feat. Even the blurry talk segments in some tracks contribute well because of that.
The voices clearly serve roles, too. The mirroring Kagamines function like glowing yet lost spirits within the blurry dichotomy of Gothic characters, with Rin an unforgiving victim in “Karma” and Len a regretful villain in “Poltergeist.” Animal-eared Dex and Daina, meanwhile, personify dangerous degrees of self-loathing with their shining native vocals: Dex has the weakly resisted sort in “Different Seas,” while Daina has proud sort in “Castaway,” and then they all fall down into eternal destruction when they duet in “Fade.” As for the blue one-offs, Kaito sounds like an alien made familiar through the brimming emotions of his voice in “1/4.” Before that, Number One Vocaloid Mascot Miku stands out with how subdued she sounds in “Deja Vu,” so much that she’s taken over by her duet partner. Vocaloid English breakout star Gumi is boxed into living victimhood, yet how her voice lashes out shows that it’s not for a lack of trying to escape. And last but not least, Luka is the album’s ultimate Gothic mastermind, with her aggression increasing as her four appearances unfold, as if the Circus Monster really is trying to break out of its shackles and its circus despite the odds.
Circus-P even appears in a singing performance with nostraightanswer in the mainline version of their collaboration track “Patches.” If the bonus track Vocaloid version powered by Kaito and Dex had appeared in the mainline, those aforementioned roles would’ve become messed up. The human vocals fit in better because of how serene they sound with the music, so much that the listener can forget that the track is just the eye of the storm that is 715.
Regarding the music underneath those vocals, it’s a spiky yet streamlined crystal ice sculpture. It takes the cold and streamlined crystal style of the FIVE EP and sticks shards of the grand roughness of Lucid and the Cupacke EP into that style. While the introductory piano mashup of 715 shows how similar the chord progressions are across the tracks, they are also varied enough, especially in terms of production, to be worth listening to in sequence. “Fade” exemplifies that best with its vocal verses, ringing choruses, and glitching bridge carried by buzzing lines and grand stomps, creating something fit for the final boss battle of a JRPG. And speaking of which, the sound of 715 is mostly reminiscent of JRPG boss battles with multiple phases for each. If not for the more breathing songs along the way, it would’ve become an outright merciless boss rush that would require very patient and diligent grinding beforehand.
Then again, that is only in terms of the sonic quality. Combined with the lyrics, it becomes real close to that outright mercilessness. As singles, the tracks are so-so because of that. Even its hit singles “Copycat” and “Karma” are carried by the music powering the words, which depict experiences so raw, blunt, and familiar that they just hurt enough with their robotic singers and otherworldly music. And when it isn’t so raw, it’s self-effacing at best and posturing at worst. “Patches” is exemplary of that weak contrast against the rawer singles, delivering nihilistic aphorisms like “It’s fine to be lost/It comes at no cost/Whatever you do/It’ll be the right thing,” which are made to sound convincing by the vocals and the instrumental. Fortunately, when all those lyrically simple or try-hard songs progress through the tracklist sequence, a more meaningful narrative appears despite the difficulty.
After the Introduction does its wordless prologue, there come three acts, with each act consisting of four songs. The first act establishes the premise of the whole thing: The self-loathing Circus Monster tries to break free and be loved, but at the expense of a nearby upstart human being it envies, all exposed by the victims’ hateful and raging spirits. The second act brings in the rising action: The roaming Circus Monster tries to assert its place in the outside world, only to find itself stuck in the cycle of monstrosity it grew up in as it tries to get along with human beings, making it lash out and attempt another escape. The third act is the climax and the resolution: The weak Circus Monster makes a last stand for its pride, but because it only assumed that it knew what love really is, the haunting of regret makes the Monster despair and live in total self-destruction upon realizing its own lack and wrongdoing.
To go further into the specifics of how the tracks give life to each other under this narrative, examples should be made out of each act’s most crucial track. The first has the Five Nights at Freddy’s: Sister Location fan song “How to Pretend,” a duet between Circus Monster Luka and young upstart Gumi, the latter even explicitly referring to the former by her title. One doesn’t even need to play the game the song pays tribute to in order to appreciate how well it complicates the narrative, as the song functions like a Disc-One Wham Shot right after the apparently disconnected trio of tracks before it. Or if you thought that they were connected, then the question would be this: You thought that Luka, Gumi, and Rin were friends? Nope. One’s a spirit, one’s a victim, and one’s a villain. Good luck telling who’s who and which is which. And you should’ve seen it coming already, especially with all that self-loathing. Rin even foreshadowed that battle when she went “Someone/Can someone/Please someone/Save me now” and “Someone/Can someone/Please someone/End this now.”
Next, the second act has “Different Seas,” Dex’s solo song. With its deeply breathing instrumental, it bears the most human lyrics of not only its act, but also the whole album: “So call me rash/I didn’t even give you a chance/My spontaneity was something/You said you loved in me.” Right after the first act ends with falling gears and cogs and some time before the Bad End of the Circus Monster’s story is locked in by the ending vocal glitches and worldly expectations, Circus lets out a reminder that as much as it’s a monstrous show, there’s also a growing human being beneath all that, a human who can love himself as much as he loves others. That is the one lyrical moment that makes this whole album truly worth it, as it shows that the song’s persona really is trying to look at the beloved as someone human to respect and love and not some fellow monster to control and destroy, imperfect that attempt at understanding may be. That is something that can be seen by those who have faith, though, as this song is filled with resisted self-loathing that is only rivaled by Daina’s appearances.
And then comes the third act, which has “Castaway,” the album’s most dangerous track, so much that it can be a guilty pleasure. While Studio Guiana singles “Deja Vu” and “1/4” over in the second act can be cringe-inducing lyrically (“These moments are your fault/I’m losing a rigged battle” and “The worst part?/I always knew/So here’s my final ‘F**k you’” are the standout offenders for each, respectively), and “Patches” tricks the listener very well like a radio regular, the third act makes them all seem like even more foreshadowing for worse disasters. “Castaway” is the most extreme point of those foreshadowed disasters, as it is temptingly fascinating with how it dramatizes a suicidal acceptance of death. Luka may be the mastermind declaring that “It’s all over now” in “Fair Game,” but Daina’s solo puts prideful self-loathing on center stage, having taken over the Circus Monster completely like it was the plan in the first place. No wonder the clueless Circus Monster falls for this horrifying thing so easily, completely falling apart with the entirety of its weakness exposed by the end of the story, an end which also has final boss music in the background and Dex as a duet partner. Still, as monstrous as it is, it brings to mind the sad reality of how the world today glorifies self-loathing and suicide. This track is something that would probably be very disturbing as a single and even worse as a one-off, but as a part of the album, how this makes a clearer sense of monstrosity allows the album’s more human moments to stand out.
Overall, it’s a postmodern Gothic journey with a tragic end and a few glimmers of hope before that. One can even say that the voices give character to the beloved or the other as much as they do the Circus Monster itself. That is all fragmented even further by how the voices sound like they can stand on their own as characters, making them seem more like the strange Smiths of Suda51’s killer7 and less the mean men of Flannery O’Connor’s fiction. But even with all the attempts at being fancy and mysterious, the way it goes aggressively personal prevents it from becoming a total mind screw, for better or for worse. If this album is also revenge against a certain someone, then Circus apparently getting away with it in such a tightly knit community becomes very curious at the very least. Personally, I’m quite impressed and concerned at the same time.
Even the bonus tracks feel like a doubling down on that vaguing vengeance as much as it functions like curtain call music. The Vocaloid version of “Patches” sounds like it doesn’t bother with being convincing anymore. Empath-P’s “Different Seas” remix sounds like it’s smiling. nostraightanswer’s “Castaway” remix sounds a lot more fatalistic. The fact that these are also collaborations between best friends makes them feel even smugger underneath! It’s pitiful as much as it is fascinating, really. At least 715 is not as bad as, say, “Breathe.”
And then there’s the album’s Physical Edition to be considered, which will be coming out as part of the Interface Vocaloid album collection with nostraightanswer’s SYNTECH 0 and the English edition of Empath-P’s Ghost of Artificial Trees. Its tracklist will be updated like a repackage, slipping in two tracks (which were first publicly released during the two years that passed after the digital release of 715) and replacing one song’s mix. Those two tracks are the instrumental “Welcome to the Circus,” which Circus actually called his boss battle theme, and the Rin-powered “Beast,” which Circus said to be unfitting of his current musical style at first. The song whose mix shall get replaced, meanwhile, is “Karma,” with the baffling “Circus Mix” label accompanying a more rock-styled sound, at least according to the preview he made available. Circus ends up seeming like a more irritating monster with that tracklist, then, especially considering how the self-introductory “Welcome to the Circus” comes in between the seemingly try-hard “Karma” remix and the valuably shocking twist of “How to Pretend,” all while doubling down even further with the painfully faithless “Beast” coming in between the pretentiously vague “Poltergeist” and the grandly despairing “Fade.” Again, how is this guy getting away with this? He better not be wasting away with his friends and fans, then.
I still have hope for him, though, considering post-715 releases like “Dream.” That particular track has him adding funky sugar to turn his bitter coldness into bittersweet recovery, all topped off by Luka’s voice, as if she were depicting the Circus Monster that had already learned what true love really is and transformed like the Ugly Duckling turning into a swan.
So with that, somebody needs to bug the guy into moving on into a healthier life with his friends and fans. 715 is just the beginning, and while it has the potential to build camaraderie between broken people, the hateful sort included, what’s broken should be fixed and improved eventually. Hopefully, he can get a decent clown too.