Tobby’s Recommendation Yell: nostraightanswer’s SYNTECH 0
As I further re-evaluate my sense of what it means to make good art, I’d like to express my appreciation for the double album version of Lupin’s debut lyrical album, a version which now stars both Vocaloid and human singing, and my opinion on how important it is to the Vocaloid scene, especially for the Anglophone and pop-oriented parts of it.
As far as I know, I think I can also describe nostraightanswer (also known as Lupin), the mastermind behind SYNTECH 0, as a more popularly digestible Ed Sheeran clone, a clone that Ed Sheeran himself would probably rip off from for another everyman “nice guy” marketing gimmick. In particular, said clone’s second album, specters, would be quite a victim of cheap imitation. And funnily and maybe even unsurprisingly enough, specters sounds like a condonation – one that is confused and misguided at best, especially if those album liner notes are also considered – of an often imitated style his friend Circus-P also pioneered in their genre, a dark and frigid style to be carelessly enjoyed by all us antisocially social kids, whether popular or unpopular, and a style I tried to review positively by making some narrative out of it. Not like awareness about social issues and mental health and such shouldn’t be promoted, and it’s not like we don’t have any steam to vent and fears to face in our everyday lives, but we should also remember that the bounds that form publicity and privacy aren’t there just to be broken, and that talking too much is just as bad as talking too little and being improperly silent.
Not like Circus is the only issue of a presence in the Vocaloid scene. In the Anglophone side, where it isn’t some angsty and violent bastard of Circus and Crusher, it’s a clone of KIRA and his Vocaloid reimagining of creepy yet catchy pop music us fools would rant about about every single day like the most irritating tsunderes. And I don’t know about you, but I get the feeling that my appreciation for the Vocaloid scene, starting from the Japanese side, in the first place was more exoticism than anything noble until Jin (Shizen no Teki-P) and the Kagerou Project happened to me, especially when I consider how I thought that I didn’t want to hear anything that sounded like the shallow, violent, edgy, perverted, and blah blah blah totally crap thing we call Western pop music ever again until I heard musicians like Giga and Umetora, who are also quite known for hypersexual electro-dance pop music, being slobbered over by mobs of fellow weebs who also claim to be above all that crap we ran away from. And then there’s how Vocaloid is being overshadowed by certain producers who moved on to performing with human vocals and bands, such as Hachi and kemu, and while it’s certainly impressive to hear their awesome performances and see them having mainstream reach, it makes me wonder what Vocaloid was to them and if they look at Vocaloid as artistically infertile now just because it isn’t trendy or popular anymore. Such concerns are what I have for Lupin, whose SYNTECH 0, which I fell in love with as a fresh full release while I started out my life as an office worker, got me thinking of him as a very promising musician, the best Anglophone producer the Vocaloid scene has so far, and a musician I’d like to evaluate as right beside Jin.
So as I further re-evaluate my sense of what it means to make good art, I’d like to express my appreciation for the double album version of Lupin’s debut lyrical album, a version which now stars both Vocaloid and human singing, and my opinion on how important it is to the Vocaloid scene, especially for the Anglophone and pop-oriented parts of it. First released around a month from each other on Bandcamp, with the Vocaloid + side (July 11, 2019) coming before the self-cover/remix – side (August 23, 2019, which also accompanied the full digital release of the double album on iTunes, Spotify, etc.), SYNTECH 0 is a refined and expanded version of Lupin’s debut lyrical Vocaloid album SYNTECH, which made its first appearance as a Groupees offering in 2017, while its contents started out as singles released as early as 2014, with two of them being demo songs for Dex (“Respire”) and Daina (“Pushing Daisies”). Its halves’ titles and division bring to mind the now disbanded REOL’s No title, which brought us hits like “Hibikase,” “drop pop candy,” and its title track (and do take note that Giga was also a member of REOL). It does go pop, but it goes beyond not only what the Japanese group did but also what any typical famed Anglophone Vocaloid producer does. With SYNTECH 0, the whole Anglophone Vocaloid scene, if not the whole Vocaloid scene in general, now has more of an established lighter AND deeper side in nostraightanswer, contrasting CIRCRUSH’s edginess and KIRA’s creepiness (even while taking some pages from the Circus-P playbook, considering the human vocals in the + side and the Vocaloid vocals in the – side) while treating Vocaloid as something that’s more than a disposable tool without worshipping it. It goes retro not to be popular but to pay respect, and with respects paid properly, I’d be expecting even better music after it, which is why specters and its confused, self-centered, and mob-attracting attempts at expressing and overcoming fear threw me into a vortex of unbelievable disappointment I should’ve expected ever since I found our tastes in music to be similar, down to the worse parts of it (though I’m arguably worse, considering how I still have musicians like Eminem in my playlist). Still, at the very least, there’s something to bug Lupin about for the sake of his actual improvement, and giving me more confidence is how his best work is nothing like those of Ed Sheeran’s and Eminem’s, whose best works should be processed with a lot of caution, whether then or now.
Further proof of how better Lupin is with SYNTECH 0 being his best work? The title track, “Someday You’ll Notice The Evening Colored Horizon,” which not only encapsulates the album’s emotionally optimistic overall sound but also pays tribute to Vocaloid and his fellow enthusiasts with first-boom lyricism – and the Vocaloid version is even voiced by, of course, Miku – toeing the line between heartfelt and cheesy, sounding like rock with EDM instruments and pop touches more than EDM and pop with rock touches, which is pretty much the sound that had Crusher breaking out into the Japanese Vocaloid scene as well, but in a more positive direction. It didn’t quite get me at first, which I guess is to be expected when I’m a little too used to the typical madness. But as I kept on holding on to a bit of faith, that song then led me to a surprising restoration of more faith in Lupin’s abilities. Whether as a track to randomly stumble upon or a part of a big album, it is a very healing and empowering song, so much that I’d even call it a miracle. And while I also think that Lupin did well in singing it with his voice, I think that the way he made Miku sing it, with his own vocals also making a short appearance as backup in the second verse, ended up having more power than his own full performance had. Whatever vocal version, though, the song gives me the idea that I can dare to expect better after and not be disappointed, even as a truly good life also means facing suffering in the process.
And indeed, suffering shows a lot more in the dusk-colored + side, where the robots sound like they’re relating to us broken fools as they emphasize awkwardness and melancholy while facing the darkening horizon like Lupin’s voicespawn Dex does in the album cover. After the double album’s spoken word intro and the title track’s Vocaloid version, the first half of the double album seems to go into a progression from most notable track to most obscure track at the time of release. At the same time, the sound progresses into a colder and colder crawl, like a bad time being experienced live, but then it ends with a satisfyingly surprising step back in “You Get Me,” which works like a reminder of how the dawn will surely come after the night and is only truly experienced with faith.
Regarding the vocal work of the + side, five Vocaloids and one human vocalist were utilized. Maika’s accented voice emphasizes the themes of emptiness, surrender, and humility and in Lupin’s breakout track “Define Me” and the more overtly Latin-sounding “Infinity,” so much that any exoticist endearment I felt at the accent makes me feel like a carelessly prejudicial human that’s also being lovingly understood. Dex’s rougher timbre is quite distinct from the voice that served as its basis, bringing to mind the wolfish wildness his character design shows through songs like the deceptively smooth and airy “Respire,” which served as his solo demo song long before, and the other rock offering “My Impulse,” which contrasts the title track with its heavier themes. Daina’s malleability is well-utilized in the fragile “Pushing Daisies,” her solo demo song, and the mesmerized “You Get Me” (which also has the album’s sole guest vocal tuning, specifically Circus-P, who worked on the track’s rap), one of the new additions. Dex and Daina also have a wonderful duet in “Both of Us,” taking “typical quarrel” to a counterculturally positive direction with simple yet deep sass. Miku also gets even more respect with how her voice is used in “Pacify,” with her historical weighty lower range and restrained higher range allowing her to express a complicated variety of emotions that can and should be shared to those who need to connect with it. Meanwhile, Avanna’s high-pitch work in “Half-Life” and Lupin’s cold vocals in “Suffocate” sound anonymous, but the anonymity provides further humble complexity to their respective songs.
After the turnaround done with “You Get Me,” the dawn-colored – side comes up next. The illustrated teary likeness of Lupin himself on the cover seems like someone afraid of the sunrise, but then again, one can still see the light of morning even with one’s back to the sun, while the sun isn’t something to look at directly. The second half of the double album starts by keeping up the light and groovy momentum through the beautifully unconditional “By My Side,” which serves as a contrast to the anxiously sexual “Respire.” After Lupin’s cover of the title track follows up, the shifts towards conflict become a lot more drastic than what the + side did, going with high risk for high reward, and it’s also enhanced by the rearrangements, all until the glorious finisher titled “Courage,” which has both nostraightanswer and Circus-P in their best forms so far (and, of course, the Vocaloid version tuned by Circus is no slouch either). The melodic outro also closes the album wonderfully with such realistic optimism, adding yet another piece of motivation for me to ask “Why does specters have to exist in the first place?” Though I guess I don’t need to look further than SYNTECH 0, as what other sort of person would even ask the question “Will it ever be enough?”
As for the vocal work in the – side, Lupin’s fragile and filtered vocals take center stage, with the exception of “Infinity” and “Both of Us,” which keep the synthesized voices in a trance remix by ODDEEO and an EDM remix by Circus-P respectively. While the Vocaloids give off a sense of living ice sculptures that are quite able to brave melting, Lupin gives off a sense of illuminating connections that burn bright even as the music threatens to swallow the voice swimming in it, and all with, ironically, a cool voice that’s best for expressing deep introspection and reclusive melancholy more than explosive rage and public disdain. The best examples of that can be found in his remade cover of “My Impulse,” where he also adds a heartrendingly strong repeat of “Like it or not” in the already poignant yet enduring ending, a feeling which also shows in the other best example, that being his rearrangement of “Pacify,” which has a double layer of ending vocals that’s composed of a powerfully rousing yell on top and an optimistically subtle rap at the bottom. Listening to those vocals along with the shifted keys and the reconstructed instrumentations is also like listening to the Mekakucity Actors/M’s takes on the KagePro tracks with the album quality of Mekakucity Records, with character expression and introspection the story we’re being told. Of course, Jin is more capable when it comes to darker and more fiery expressions, but on the other hand, that’s just when he’s working with Vocaloid. That aside, both musicians’ best work are already powerful as music. And if they have to have supplementary writing, then it should be just that: supplements or enhancements, not crutches or fanservice.
And speaking of supplementary writing, this double album definitely wouldn’t be so transcendent if its also pop-influenced sounds engaged in all that hyperconfrontation promoted by today’s popular culture and, unfortunately, Lupin’s own second full-length. To be more exact, SYNTECH 0 has very good liner notes, with the ones for the Vocaloid version of “Half-Life” being the best example among them. Said online liner notes express his environmentalism as he talks about using environmental abuse metaphors to express desperation for protection in the face of bullying, but they feel more like a welcome surprise after listening to the song itself, which isn’t as direct and pointed as the liner notes. Personally, I find the contrast effective in making me think about how to connect hard science issues like that with soft science issues. Pretty awesome for what was once an old notable single’s B-side, then, no?
All in all, SYNTECH 0 is a humbling piece of work that I’d like to call nostraightanswer’s magnum opus so far. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a full-length Vocaloid album so filled with human and, dare I say, Godly love, even in its appreciation for what are essentially tools we give character for us to suspend our disbelief to. SYNTECH 0 is neither overenthusiastic about these niche, foreign, and fictional things, nor is it cynical about these tools usually, if not originally, meant to grow and maintain the madness we call pop culture, which is only good when subverted. It need not achieve mainstream appeal, nor I do even expect it to achieve such an appeal with positive results. I understand the desire to make these lovely yet niche things we like mainstream, like I know Lupin’s trying to do according to the About section of his Spotify Artist page, and I think the way SYNTECH 0 employs popular influences can be a valid reason to picket about how it deserves mainstream appeal, but I also think that pop culture then and now, whether American or Western or Japanese or Internet or wherever else, has given us more than enough valid and sound reasons to not aim for mainstream appeal or popularity in general in the first place, because any good intent will be meaningless in the hands of such a perverting force, which dictates that the worst thing isn’t being degenerate but being ignored. In short, trying to make something as good as SYNTECH 0 mainstream would be like throwing pearls before swine, and that’s no better than going edgy ass upon the world. Lupin’s lack of understanding there, especially in practice, is the core of why specters disappointed me greatly. Eminem or Ed Sheeran he isn’t, fortunately, but specters had me finding Lupin even more at risk of becoming like those self-destructive artists drowning in their inconsistency and despair until they decide to let its waters take their last breaths, whether overtly or covertly, all while inspiring our fellow sinners into doing the same. According to my Catholic ass, any sort of fear other than fear of the Lord, we must also talk or express about in order to overcome it, indeed, but it would be quite unbecoming, especially of a musician, to consider silence no good at all. Silence can be death, sure, but to this ass and his Catholic beliefs, death is not the worst thing a person can experience. And silence can be betrayal, but being betrayed while refusing to be a betrayer is better than being a betrayer while trying not to be betrayed.
Of course, like Lupin and everyone else here on earth, I still have a lot to improve on. Still, I dare believe that it will be enough. I’m sure we have different perspectives on what all that means, but still.
It will be enough.