Review: Summer of Scandal
If you attended ACEN (Anime Central) over the Summer, you may have seen waves of con-goers proudly displaying shirts emblazoned with the letters S-C-A-N-D-A-L. In case you mistakenly thought that otaku throughout the Midwest simultaneously developed a sudden obsession with the ABC political drama of the same name, allow me to enlighten you: Scandal is of one of the most accomplished Japanese rock bands around. Their music is poppy, melodic, and extremely catchy. They’ve provided opening and ending theme songs for Bleach (“Shōjo S,” “Harukaze”) and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (“Shunkan Sentimental”), among others. Chances are, you’re already more familiar with the band than you thought you were just a few seconds ago.
ACEN was one of 31 stops on Scandal’s globe-spanning “Hello World” tour. While you’d think that the band would take a well-deserved rest after such an exhausting trek, they kept on the grind and released a new single in mid-summer (July) and yet another single as summer came to a close (September).
“Stamp!” (Single) – July 22, 2015
Hot on the heels of their “Hello World” album and tour cycle, Scandal released “Stamp!” on July 22. The song wastes no time in letting you know that the title is quite apropos. No long, drawn out intro. No fade ins. Just in-your-face, foot-stamping, head-bobbing, hand-clapping, fun, summer rock. “Stamp!” feels like a cool breeze with the top rolled down. It’s that first bite of an ice cream sandwich to spite the blazing heat. A tall, icy drink with an umbrella in it. You get the idea. In a nutshell, “Stamp!” sounds like an audible manifestation of summer.
Mixed by grammy-winning American super producer/mixer/engineer Tom Lord-Alge (Weezer, Avril Lavigne, Fall Out Boy, among others), every section of “Stamp!” sounds HUGE. Nothing is buried in this mix. Practically every snare hit sounds like it was accompanied by an eager, happy handclap. Bass lines punch through perfectly without obscuring the guitars or vocals.
Speaking of guitars, the music for “Stamp!” was written by lead guitarist Mami, who certainly has her moment in the sun with this song. Despite the fact that there aren’t many chord changes, she manages to make the song feel more dynamic by either adding to or removing from the overall arrangement. For example, even though they share the same melody with the chorus, the guitar parts during the verses are played slightly palm-muted and reserved. The guitar is even removed altogether from the first half of the third verse. This leaves the bass to carry the song for a bit, changing the dynamic between instruments to keep things interesting.
In contrast to the verses, where music is either subdued or removed, instrumentation is added to the overall arrangement in every other section. Turntable-scratching sounds during the pre-choruses conjure images of Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello and his infamous string-swiping technique. During the guitar solo, you’ll hear a wah effect against distorted vocals or a vocoder (think of the “whoa-oh-oh”s during Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer”). Just when you think that the song has run out of surprises, the girls hit you with a one-two punch combo in the coda. While the music mostly remains the same, the coda introduces a new vocal refrain along with vocal counter melodies by Haruna (lead vocalist) to close out the song: “Everything’s gonna be alright/Everything’s gonna be okay/Everything’s gonna be alright/Yay! Yay! Yay!”
The song ends right before the root chord as one of the secondary vocals trails off. Like a lingering summer sunset fading into the horizon, you’ll wish that it would last just a bit longer.
“Stamp!” would’ve fit perfectly among the other tracks on Scandal’s latest album, Hello World. Appropriately enough, the artwork for both feature photos that look like they were run through an Instagram filter or two. The first press editions of both “Stamp!” and Hello World even included a bonus photo card and a photo sticker (respectively) which featured a random band member. This shared visual theme is also prevalent in the music video for “Stamp!” The video’s aesthetics go hand in hand with the vibe of the song and the CD artwork. Sonically and visually, every aspect of this single is connected. Speaking of music videos, there are 2 limited edition versions of “Stamp!,” each with its own set of live performances on a bonus DVD.
Flashback No. 5 (B-Side)
Including “Flashback No. 5” as a B-side to “Stamp!” is a bit mind-boggling. The song is definitely catchy enough to stand on its own. In fact, as soon as the song kicks in, you immediately get that “anime theme song” vibe. While it doesn’t really provide anything different in the scope of Scandal’s catalog of songs, “Flashback No. 5” is still a great straightforward, up-tempo, rock song. Like “Stamp!,” “Flashback No. 5” would’ve been a welcome addition to Hello World.
Just as the Summer days made way for Autumn’s changing leaves, Scandal released a new single in the Fall. Join us for part 2 (coming soon) as we take an in-depth look at “Sisters!”