By Beatrice Esteban, Courier Staff Writer
Underground Japanese producer Nujabes (real name Jun Seba) emerged onto the scene in 2003 with melodic, jazz-based beats and meaningful lyrics. People from both Japan and other countries developed an appreciation and respect for his music, finding it to be a stark contrast to mainstream hiphop’s repetitive hooks and misogynistic lyrics. Over the years he has not disappointed listeners, collaborating with other producers and artists to deliver such albums as 2005’s Modal Soul. The follow-up Mellow Beats, Friends & Lovers, released in July of this year, was intended on preserving his reputation as a musical mastermind.
Many listeners that have listened to Nujabes’ past albums were expecting him to have turned out yet another exceptional album. However, the same dedicated listeners that appreciated the tranquility and solitude offered to them may end up disappointed and regretful of their time. Songs such as “Kiss of Life”, “After It”, and "Sitting on the Beach” begin with soothing instruments such as the piano and violin, but completely change the mood of the song by introducing either striking, obnoxious vocals or taking on completely different tempos halfway in. The listener may decide to end their time there, but if they choose to continue, there are a few more likeable songs, despite the fact that many tend to draw themselves out for far too long. For instance “Green Power,” gives the listener a relaxed feel, but it would have been better as a song rather than a simple instrumental. The piano screams “love lyrics” and soothes the listener, making this song one of the better ones off of this album.
Another one of these “better” songs is “Right Here” by DJ Mitsu The Beats and Dwele (of Kanye West and Common collaboration fame). In the beginning, the song begins to sound like a song by Common, but later evolves into a sound similar to that of older R&B artists such as Maxwell. The saxophone in the background adds a unique touch but is far too subtle, buried by Dwele’s rapping.
The highlights of this album are the two songs with the beautiful lyrical content and relaxing harmonies that Nujabes’ collaborations have gained notoriety for. In JAM’s “Jazzy Joint,” the listener is immediately given the impression that they are in a jazz club, complete with a saxophone. The lyrics are extremely optimistic, telling the listener, “We’ll find time for love to exist.” Rapper Jose James has a voice that sounds similar to today’s rappers, but with meaningful lyrics. Meanwhile, Uyama Hiroto’s “Vision Eyes” gives a more urban feel. Hiroto and Nujabes have collaborated various times and always come out with very satisfying music, so it is no surprise that this newest track is no exception, giving the listener an earful of Hiroto’s astounding saxophone skills. Aside from the instrumental aspect, the lyrics scream beautiful metaphor and true thoughtfulness, explaining that “in sleep, magic dreams reveal hidden patterns between what is real and imagined” and that “there’s none more profound than mere logic.”
Many of the later tracks tend to follow a similar pattern as the first few: they sound like Nujabes is trying too hard, with forgettable instrumentals and repetitive lyrics. The song titles do not seem to match many of the songs; “Lust” does not give the listener any type of lustful feel, instead making them feel as if they are playing a video game.
Nujabes has diverged from his usual style of instrumentals with beautiful lyrics, resorting to many unremarkable, average beats and bothersome vocal redundancy. The listener is left wondering how Nujabes could have come up with such an album in comparison to its subtle but beautiful predecessor Modal Soul. However, tracks like “Jazzy Joint” tell the listener that although he may have made a generally sub-par album, he has great skill that he merely has not executed properly.