Kikuo may not be the most well known name within VOCALOID producers, but that doesn’t stop him from having fans all over the world. Having started his own record label as “kikuo sound works” with si_ku, they are in charge of everything down to mastering the tracks, which is not the case for most producers with a discography as large.
Instrument-wise, mixes of acoustic and electronic instruments are common while usually catering darker themes and a sort of simplified scat singing in terms of lyrics. Let’s take a look at Kikuo’s most recent release:
The fourth instalment in Kikuo’s ongoing series of VOCALOID works released yearly since 2011.
Kikuo’s sound in this album is impossible to describe in one sentence due to how much it varies throughout depending on the song/theme; to keep the review brief, I won’t go through every song in detail but there are a few things to look out for when listening to his works in this release. For one, Kikuo doesn’t really have a base set of instruments, just instruments that may appear more often than others in his works such as the xylophone, piano, or even drum-set, though it may appear in the majority of his songs it could very well not be in the next song, this is but one of his techniques to immerse the listener. Kikuo also really takes advantage of the stereo stage used on most headphones and speakers with amazing attention to detail on instrument placement and tempo that is not often seen.
In slightly more technical terms(and only in certain songs in this album), Kikuo knows where to place a group of instruments doing a call-response sequence while his signature percussive sound effects add depth and still maintaining the vocals as the focus, certain parts even include counterpoint melodies interacting with each other in a way that still compliments the theme of the piece, which is the largest part of this album. In きくおミク4 (KIKUOMIKU4), Kikuo dedicated more songs to theme and atmosphere than technical complexity, for example “矮星花火” (short star’s fireworks) which feels like a march sounds like something that would be played at some unorthodox independence day or “おばけの招待状” (Haunted’s invitation) which has fitting effects and chord progressions. Finally, Miku’s tuning is undeniably Kikuo’s, recognizable, memorable, and again fitting depending on the theme Kikuo attempts to express in the song.
Though this album in particular has slightly less of Kikuo’s signature darker lyrics, it leaves space for the differing themes included in this release. Once again, the focus of this album seemed to be evoking different themes, emotions, and atmospheres and that if reflected again in the lyrics. Themes varying from soldiers, what a giant might feel like, or some classic Kikuo well deserved punishment in hell as seen in “A Happy Death – Again -“. Though the focus may not be as lyrics based as PinocchioP, it’s definitely there and he did a great job of it.
Having claimed big in terms of passages involving tempo, call-response sequences with vocals layered nicely on top, and masterful stereo placement for immersion I think it’s only fair I place one of my favourite tracks as the sample song. I can ramble on forever about technicalities but nothing beats actually experiencing it so just close your eyes, put on your favourite pair of headphones, and let Kikuo’s music take you where it shall. This song isn’t as heavy in terms of theme as others in the album so I recommend you also check out 矮星花火 if you were looking forward to truly be put some place else. Of course, two songs alone don’t equal the whole album so please listen to more!
Although this album is part of a series it seems to have a different goal than it’s predecessors touching upon different moods with Kikuo giving it his own spin on them keeping the listener surprised with unresolved endings throughout. Though the pros heavily outweigh then cons, there are a few I would like to mention. For one, Kikuo seemed to lean away from live sounding instruments in favour of almost exclusively electronic instruments which is what gave きくおミク3 much of it’s colour. There was also the case that some songs on the latter half of the album sounded like popular edm which seemed to abandon the immersion Kikuo built up, again something the last album did a better job keeping in tact. As a whole, Kikuo is both stylistically safe and experimental in this album appealing to a wide audience.
P.S. from the author: I want to make reviews something I push out regularly (maybe weekly) as my small collection of VOCALOID albums grows (yes, I still buy the physical copies) and possibly requests in the comments. I want variety in my reviews so up next is a different producer involved in a different genre but if requested, I’ll write a separate review for きくおミク3 later to expand on Kikuo since it is my favourite work from him thus far. Finally, bonus points if anyone can identify the piece in the background of the picture.
It definitely earns it’s rating of 3.5/5!