L’arc~en~Ciel | Butterfly | Rating: 8/11 |
Last month, L’Arc~en~Ciel posted a quote from guitarist Ken saying “I want to erase any kind of predictability from our songs.” When a band’s been together over 20 years, erasing “any kind of predictability” from their music is a challenge. Still, L’Arc~en~Ciel (aka Laruku) gives it their best shot in their 12th studio album, Butterfly. Compiled from the 6 singles released during the four year span between albums and 4 additional songs, Butterflypresents an odd mix of genres from dance and electronica, to pop and rock.
On one side are the darker, synthesizer-heavy songs “Chase,” “X X X,” and “Drink It Down.” The first two are standout tracks, effortlessly blending rock guitar riffs with electronic dance beats. “Chase” kicks off the album with vocalist Hyde “calling the fallen angel, rolling on cold asphalt.” Punctuated by synthesized chords, it’s easy to imagine this live onstage with fireworks and pyrotechnic effects. “X X X” is a different animal; also known as “Kiss, Kiss, Kiss,” this track is far more seductive, luring listeners to “step into fascination, trap of infatuation, kiss…” This leads into a soaring melodic refrain more characteristic of Laruku’s earlier works, before the synthesizers return to crash the flight with a warning chant of “original sin.” “X X X” is one of the two songs that could represent the entire album, bridging bits of the past with an increasingly digital future.
In the light pop/rock corner are “Bye Bye,” “Good Luck My Way (Butterfly Version),” “Shine,” and “Nexus 4.” Scattered in pairs throughout the album, they provide a jarring contrast to the digitally infused experiments above. Bassist (and leader) Tetsuya’s playful bass lines run rampant, toying with more lighthearted melodies and simpler rhythms until Ken’s signature guitar solos assert themselves. The strongest of these is “Shine,” its sweet marriage of acoustic and electric guitars carrying an easy, bubblegum chord progression to an inevitably happy end. “Nexus 4” comes a close second. It’s an upbeat, just plain fun romp, best suited blasting from an open convertible driving down a beach during a summer sunset.
“Shade of Season” and “Wild Flower” showcase the talents of each member, resulting in a more “classic” Laruku sound. From the opening guitar lead, “Shade of Season” is instantly recognizable to those who have followed the band for some time. “Wild Flower,” however, is the other song that could represent the album for an entirely different reason than “X X X.” It’s the resigned, matured version of songs past combining the strength of Tetsuya’s (over)active bass, Ken’s precise guitar, Yukihiro’s drumming, and Hyde’s dynamic vocals.
The remaining songs are the ballads; “Bless” and “Mirai Sekai” (Future World). Strategically placed towards the middle of the album, “Bless” provides a breather between the first electronic vs. pop round, with its relaxing, breezy acoustic guitar. “Mirai Sekai” (Future World) concludes the album with a whimper, starting off as a lullaby with almost whispered verses. The sleepy waltz beat develops with a complement of guitar and bass solos before fading back to single music box notes. Despite the hopeful title, the song comes off more like a farewell, the lilting melody proving more bittersweet than soothing.
The uncertain end left me wondering what kind of direction L’Arc~en~Ciel is heading towards. There have been several hiatus periods during their 20 years of existence where each band member pursued alternative solo works, with varying degrees of success. Each time, the band has rebounded, a little changed but usually better than the last incarnation. This is the first time I’ve seriously wondered if these explorations will lead to a greater versatility in the band’s sound or “musical differences” strong enough to finally tear them apart.
In any case, what I love about Laruku hasn’t changed. They have solid, well-constructed songs in Butterfly to suit every mood, maybe now more than ever. There’s enough diversity to please fans and first-timers alike. Whenever Hyde, Ken, Yukihiro, and Tetsuya end up in a studio together the results are usually magic; even if the ride is a bit of a roller coaster.