Since 2003, Negicco have delivered music and performed live on a regular basis on several stages between Tokyo and their beloved city of Niigata with no sign of slowing down, always keeping up their work with a smile on their faces and occasionally some tears. Negicco isn’t a common group after all, and in all honesty, as the most popular local Indie Idol unit of Japan, they are an anomaly in the music industry: Being active for thirteen years (we’re talking about girls who performed with Perfume in the early days), gathering a very attached fanbase, and still keeping their local identity intact while performing on the same kind of stages they were hitting when they were barely teenagers, shows how much these girls love what they do, but also casts a shadow on their future and on their real intentions as artists, because at the moment, it isn’t exactly clear what direction Nao☆, Megu and Kaede are taking. Their contract with well known indie label T-Palette and the release of their first, impressively good album Melody Palette looked like the beginning of a new era and the turning point they deserved as talented Idols and veterans of the scene, but as anticipated by the weak series of singles released in the past year, with their second full length album the result is unavoidably and sadly weaker.
That doesn’t mean everything is bad, but it’s clear that Rice & Snow is an album with no coherence or consistence at all, despite its clear approach: What Negicco tried to do is to create a structured album featuring songs showcasing both their classic synth-pop sound and their delicate, simple and instrumental pieces repeatedly proposed during this era, with a result that gives mixed feelings but also clear answers on what these girls and their long time producer connie can do in terms of choices. With a smart and almost coherent flow going through the entire record, Rice & Snow alternates sections of electronic and upbeat pieces and slower tracks, for a various experience composed of songs that sometimes reach their achievement, and sometimes not. Despite its clear flaws already analyzed in my previous review, Triple! WONDERLAND finds its place in the album as an energetic opening and a nice way to kick off the album with the formula the girls still keep close to them, also well represented by the following Tokimeki no Headliner, one of the best tracks on the album and of their recent catalogue, featuring a very particular, almost melancholic vibe balanced by a nice structure and catchy choruses, leaving behind the sometimes too cheesy attitude found in several tracks of their discography. But while the album kicks off nicely, the central part of it is dominated by the softer and more instrumental approach adopted in most of their recent productions, matching their image of “pure girls” and local idols greatly, but with shallow and honestly boring results on the musical side. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s entirely bad: The production is crystalline and some ideas are really nice and well developed, like the nice guitar riffing and rythmic section in Sunshine Nihonkai or the catchiness of 1000% no Kaotomoi, but in the midst or repetitiveness and exaggerated length of these tracks, these are sadly details that get lost in generally shallow and excessively cheesy songs that will just get through your ears unanimously with no real highlight or charisma to entertain; What’s even worse, one of the most famous and played tracks of their catalogue, Sayonara Music, isn’t present here, a real shame as this excellent track could have well represented this side of their sound way better than half of the tracks present in this record.
Looking at the bright side, the flow in this album luckily brings the listener to more interesting sounds, despite not free of flaws: Futari no Yuugi and Pajama Party bring very nice 80’s synth-pop sonorities that can entertain despite suffering from a way too lengthened structure where a more direct approach could have worked better, while BLUE, GREEN, RED AND GONE and Space Nekojaracy represent the most interesting part of the album, as experimental tracks playing with electronic sonorities and particular structures, probably the first real series of tracks on the album that while shamelessly betraying what proposed just two tracks before, can actually entertain and offer a new, unexplored and actually promising side of the Negicco sound that works way better than anything these girls did in the last year. The album reaches its end with the nice and catchy Hikari no Spur and a delicate ending, but the feeling left by this album is mixed and uncertain: Their classic synth-pop sound works well but it comes in a very little dose here, while the delicate and instrumental sounding tracks weren’t fitting their musical identity in their singles as well as in this album; Interesting experimental sonorities brought by some tracks towards the end of the record give hope to the future of this group and bring up the album from the overall dull and shallow feel that permeates most of its tracklist.
Hardly an album has been so various yet confusing at the same time, but while several flaws stain its composition, there are also some good tunes to listen to it, and what’s most important, it still shows that these girls and their production team have talent and strength to stand up despite the uncertain and confusing result brought by this album. The hardcore fans will probably appreciate Rice & Snow, while the others will hardly come back for a full in-depth listen, but they will still keep hope alive for the future as some promising signs are hidden in this album.
Rice & Snow confirms what every Negicco fan already knew, and the controversy brought by this album (with all its pros and cons) gives clear answers to these girls’ musical directions: Their classic synth-pop sound still works well, their delicate and more instrumental approach is shallow and doesn’t bring interesting results, and their talent is still there as represented by some interesting experimental vibes that we hope to see more often in the future. Rice & Snow barely reaches a sufficient result, but it brought light to what these girls can do best and the road they may want to take to finally reach what they didn’t achieve in thirteen years of career: A clear musical identity.
Vote: 6 / 10