[Album Review] A9 - (2018) Planet Nine - 4/10
#1
Like always: the original Dutch version is published on The Sushi Times, this is a translation for your enjoyment.

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Artist: A9
Release: Planet Nine
Rating: 4/10
Label: Nine Heads Records

So unfortunate. A9 was on a bit of a roll lately, but 'Planet Nine' is just as disappointing as the final album released under their former (and more popular) moniker alice nine. The whole album shows that we're dealing with a bunch of excellent musicians - drummer Nao especially excels - but the band threw all the progress of the earlier albums as A9 out of the windows and chose to persue an incoherent mix of J-pop, J-rock and electronics. Let's hope this lapse of judgement is a one time only thing.

For those unfamiliar with the band: A9 has been experts at making easily listenable, quite popy J-rock that is quite subtle by Japanese standards. Officially, the band is considered visual kei, but their appearance was never that flamboyant and although guitarist Hiroto has his fair share of guitar hero moments, their music never really gets too heavy. The same can be said about the inoffensive voice of frontman Show. Between 2009 and 2012, the quintet then known as alice nine released a number of very enjoyable singles and albums, that have stood the test of time better than most J-rock and visual kei from that era.

Shortly after the release of the painfully mediocre 'Supernova' (2014), the band broke with their old label and management PS Company and decided to continue indepentently as A9. Though they never said so with so many words, it was a clear attempt to escape the pressure of record labels in favor of having full control over their own output. Initially, this appeared to be the right decision. All A9 singles, EP's and the album 'Ideal' that was released last year were fine releases that could almost compare favorably to 'Gemini' (2011) and '9' (2012), but apparently, something went wrong after 'Ideal'.

Background

Upon first spin, 'Planet Nine' appears to share a large number of flaws with 'Supernova'. The electronic approach goes at the expense of the instrumental expertise that A9 has among its ranks. Especially Hiroto and his fellow guitarist Tora are relegated to the background. Fortunately, Nao has not been replaced by drum computers and bassist Saga has some brief displays of jazzy and funky virtuosity, but except for the decent, but forcedly heavy Pendulum, the entire album appears to be a vehicle for Show.

And that is part of the problem. Show is a decent singer who is never unpleasant to listen to, but his range and power are too limited to carry a full album. For the ballad Sonata, one of the very few truly good tracks on 'Planet Nine', he is the perfect singer and because of that, it might have been a better choice to focus on ballads rather than chaotic electronics. In the past, Show sometimes switched between clean vocals and surprisingly raw passages, sometimes emphasized by Saga and Hiroto. It is a good thing that they did not go for that this time around, as it would have made the degree of coherence on 'Planet Nine' even less.

Frustrating

The most frustrating thing is that, as a listener, you are occasionally reminded of the fact that A9 is actually a really good band. Near the end of the albums, a couple of decent rock songs pop up, such as the nicely structured Giga and Neophilia. The calmer, but exciting Asylum is worthy of some attention as well. Sure, these songs are not as convincing as The Arc, Gallows, Shinkiro and Rainbows have been in the past, but if 'Planet Nine' had more of these kinds of songs, it would have been an album worth purchasing. Sadly, it absolutely isn't.

Even within the songs in which the electronics and the guitars are tripping over each other, there are some decent moments. No one has to teach A9 how to write a chorus that will remain in your memory and there are plenty of those to be heard here. It just seems like the band stumbles across poorly connecting ideas in order to reach them. Five Joker especially has a lot of these sections that unfortunately go nowhere.

Haphazardly

Japanese bands generally are better at combining live music and electronic influences than we are in the west, but A9 misses the mark completely with 'Planet Nine'. It is quite notable that the songs with little to no electronics are the sparse highlights of the album. The programmed sounds are not to blame for that, however. It's the fact that there doesn't appear to be any idea behind them. Some passages sound like they have been thrown into the songs haphazardly without paying any attention to structure or a pleasant flow.

Would that not be a problem for you, but are you in doubt if this specific case is anything for you? In that case, it is a good thing that a large portion of A9's work is available online via iTunes and Spotify. The EP's 'Ginga no wo to' and 'Light and Darkness' have inexplicably disappeared, but 'Planet Nine' can be heard there entirely. Maybe that EP format would have suited this album a little better.
If you can't get enough of me giving my opinions without having asked for it, you can read more of it on my Kevy Metal weblog.
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#2
(09-09-2018, 08:12 AM)Agonymph Wrote: incoherent mix of J-pop, J-rock and electronics

Good to know that I'll never be buying this. Laugh
Occasionally, I write music reviews.
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#3
You'd probably like some of their albums... But not this one Tongue
If you can't get enough of me giving my opinions without having asked for it, you can read more of it on my Kevy Metal weblog.
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#4
(09-09-2018, 08:12 AM)Agonymph Wrote: an incoherent mix of J-pop, J-rock and electronics.

(09-09-2018, 08:18 AM)Dudemanguy Wrote: Good to know that I'll never be buying this. Laugh

madness - the first sentence describes many of the best Japanese bands and actually made me want to check out the album more than anything.

5 songs into the iTunes clips and admittedly I'm not loving it, but I'll never mark down a Japanese band for genreblending.
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#5
The name alone cautions me.
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#6
To be honest, I'd be pretty surprised if I ever like anything by A9, but then again I never did check out any of their stuff in any depth.
Occasionally, I write music reviews.
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#7
(09-09-2018, 10:49 AM)TimJ Wrote: 5 songs into the iTunes clips and admittedly I'm not loving it, but I'll never mark down a Japanese band for genreblending.

Oh you definitely have a good point there. My problem with it isn't that it's weird genre blending, but that it's bad weird genre blending. At least on 'Gemini' and '9', they made an interesting mix of J-rock, J-pop and distinct hints of hardrock, heavy metal and progressive rock. 'Vandalize' is somewhat more poppy, but still quite good. It could just be a one time gaffe for them though, they've had those before Smile
If you can't get enough of me giving my opinions without having asked for it, you can read more of it on my Kevy Metal weblog.
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#8
yeah, it's not quite for me in the end, but the singer is actually OK. Not that he's got the same power or range (at least in the short clips I heard), but some of his tones actually remind me a little of Demon Kogure in places, which is no bad thing.
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#9
Personally, I never really made that connection, but now that you say it, I guess there is some similarity in their mid-highs... Funny how you don't notice that until someone points it out Laugh

I don't have any issues with Show either. I don't think anyone does; he's quite inoffensive. With the proper musical backing, he sounds really good. 'Rainbows' is an example of a song where I think the music and his voice are in perfect balance.
If you can't get enough of me giving my opinions without having asked for it, you can read more of it on my Kevy Metal weblog.
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#10
Some of their stuff is truly excellent in the J-rock realm. They definitely can lose track and make something foolish at times, but when they're on their game they're a great band.
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