A 9uality act

THYME: Hello PV

It’s been over a week a while since THYME’s debut album first 9uality, and chances are pretty good that if you liked Fly Away, you’ll like at least 9 of the 12 tracks on the disc.

That’s not because most of the songs sound just like Fly Away, but I think that you’ll find a lot of the elements (or 9ualities?) that made Fly Away likeable throughout the album.

I’m not a fan of speaking of a performer’s or group’s “sound” and treating it like some ethereal concept, so here goes my attempt at expressing THYME’s appeal in marginally more tangible terms.

The first thing you ever hear in Fly Away is thyme (or Kamiyama Sayaka). I personally think that she’s not mixed, but speculation aside, there’s no disputing Western influence on her singing.

She can lilt, she can drawl, can casually slide up or down to her target pitch, and imitate the throaty rumble you get when putting a brass instrument at the edge of its dynamic range. Apart from these country and blues techniques, thyme generally carries a strong rhythmic line, driven home through varying combinations of the above skills, range jumping, and a choice of lyrics that lend themselves well to accenting and small lifts.

The songs emphasize thyme’s vocal abilities, but not in a way that she’s allowed to dominate throughout. Strong harmonizing vocals have a shading effect, and in numerous instances backing instrumentals have short but prominent figures. Occasionally, an entire counter line is introduced in the right or left audio channel.

And in babycar, her voice is run through a slight mute and tighten to recreate classic country dance hall. I have no idea if that’s the right term.

I know, “babycar” isn’t a word. One contentious result of all this Western influence is the insertion of engrish, of which thyme’s pronunciation track record is … mixed. Let’s leave it at that and go on to track specific notes.

THYME: forever we can make it! PV

01. Seiten (Fine Weather) was an indie song of theirs that they re-recorded for the album. Bringing in the string ensemble always seems to open up the acoustic landscape, and dropping them in and out is used to good effect heading into the final iteration of the chorus. Extended outro, with a new line closes off an atmospheric opener.

02. Hello is another atmospheric piece, this time with a courageous character, and some country inflection courtesy of the vocalist. Rhythmic right channel guitar in the second verse just adds to an already driving performance. The extended chorus that closes the track has lyrics that line up really well. Strings drop in and out, this time in a supporting to role to back a short detached line.

03. Our Rock Star has a very obvious guitar line, a short and insistent motif that begins on the right and ends up on the left. In the second verse, a counter line is added on the right. Obvious bass movement in the chorus. Harmonic progression is strong throughout the album, but a solid base (bass, too) and good balance is always appreciated.

04. forever we can make it! demonstrates the band’s ability to straight up rock out. Classic rock n’ roll riff in verse supports more contemporary phrase-length key modulation. Detached style in bridge creates some variety in texture. thyme likes to clip her words short in this one. She arguably looks the most mixed in the PV for this track.

05. Drive has ramp pitch slides in abundance. Echo effect plus lengthened slides make the bridges prominent passages. Simple rhythmic elements skew the spotlight towards thyme; this is very much a technical display for her. One of her more “gutsy blues” performances of this album.

06. Fly Away, Natsu no Sora’s OP, and what piqued my interest in the first place. Call and response between instrumentals in second verse. Slightly developmental bridge section ahead of the final chorus that starts out in the dominant key (probably?) that winds up in the home key in time for the last phrase of the song.

What can I say? I like short modulations between major and minor, major to minor chord transitions, and deceptive cadences. The way they’re pulled off — almost choral backing, a descending bass figure, or the fresh striking of a guitar chord to punctuate the change — doesn’t hurt either.

And somewhere in all that, there’s a piano. That’s just gravy.

THYME: Fly Away PV

Teppei Shimizu, the guitarist to thyme’s left (screen right) in all three of their PV’s, always seems to be singing along, and although he is credited with some backing vocals, I haven’t ever picked him out.

07. I’ll be back is notable for having the most prominent use of engrish. Heavy use of thick chords in time with snare drums. Other than that, it’s whatever kind of rock that was popularized in the mid-90’s, of which I’m generally not a fan of.

08. The LAST DAY [sic] is like Drive, with a more balanced arrangement that is still sparse enough to put the spotlight back on thyme. With more drive than Drive, instrumentals have punctuating roles, and thyme navigates a line that alternates between smooth verses and snappy, fast-talking choruses that’s pure syncopation. You hardly notice the walking tempo upon which all this activity is built upon.

09. babycar is the neatest track in the album. It’s not the richest song of the bunch, and without an extended bridge and outro, it’s also the shortest of the album. But in 3 minutes and 16 seconds, THYME has managed to nail history. They’ve brought in all the right instruments for a laid back country blues number.

As noted before, thyme’s voice is filtered through something resembling a large dance hall, the result being an echoey croon. Great piano part here, too, managing to keep things lazy without going into swing eighths.

10. My Life, the resident pensive track, is not dramatic, but it is richly arranged. Woodwinds gently mark out the beat during verses, and a myriad of brief figures layer weave enough texture to get lost in.

11. Humming Bird features a violin in a fiddle part, the first thing coming to mind being Vienna Teng’s Harbor. While not as up-tempo as Harbor, things are still kept pretty light. In addition to filling in little gaps and playing response to calls, the violin has a wavering line that adds a bit of weight during the chorus.

12. Wonderland brings out the piano and strings one last time for a casual stroll along sun-kissed sidewalks. Curious that the high hat is relegated to the right channel. Anyway, cross-channel reverb adds to atmosphere, and strings add a pulsing effect, like soft steps.

thyme has a really nice bounce in her voice throughout this song, but it shines in one particular section. In a bit of development midway through, she breaks out into a conversational stretch, as if straight out of a musical. It’s the equivalent of breaking into song in the middle of the street, and yet it’s fitting, not awkward. Facilitated by a smooth transition, thyme talks fast but with a lot less snap and a lot more round, navigating her line with a soft bounce.

THYME: Hello PV

With a giggle, the song, and album, comes to a close. first 9uality is all about accessibility, but beneath those instantly recognizable forms and styles is a meticulous attention to detail and a gutsy attitude geared towards doing cool stuff. The overall mood is sunny and coy, and for me is a solid contrast and change from the shadier haunts that is Heart Station.

A couple general notes before I go.

Hello and Drive comprised THYME’s first single. They have been touched up for the album, with Hello getting cleaner separation at the end, stronger strings, and giving the comping guitar the right channel for the verses. For Drive, thyme gets the echo effect for the bridge. I think they’re all great changes, and Hello in particular is noticeably clearer as a result.

The cheapest shipping option offered by CDJapan really does have lead times of up to three weeks. I didn’t believe it at first — Amazon’s free shipping option delivers in less than a week most times — until my order arrived just short of that.

With only about 13 minutes and change in PV’s, you’d think that the DVD would contain progressive video, but no; it’s all interlaced. This is even more incentive to encode, something which I haven’t done in a while.

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