REVIEW: Retro Future – Blue Toybox

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Last year, our attention was drawn to progressive electronic act RETRO FUTURE thanks to their collaboration with local vocalist Mikael Salo for the song Heavy Rain.” Well, a year later, the full album is finally set for release tomorrow, March 9th, 2022, via Cat Foot Records, so we thought we’d give it a spin and see how the other songs held up!

The album begins with the sound of footsteps on a wooden floor, acting as an intro to “Welcome to the Future.” A digitized voice then introduces the song title before the official track starts. It’s a very punchy instrumental electronica piece, even boasting a few psytrance elements at the beginning before going full Eurodance. It’s a really fun, energetic track that’ll definitely get you up and dancing. This goes straight into another powerhouse track, “I,” which features Shiro Neko as the first guest feature. Her modulated voice adds a nice touch to this rocking electronic piece. There’s a lot happening in the electronics of this song, though it mellows out, allowing space for the vocals to soar in the chorus. Props for a nice solo too!

There’s a surprising change of pace when the album moves to “Set Your Heart Free,” featuring Flo(Void)Curatt on vocals, which goes in an alternative, wonky, groovy direction musically, including a guitar solo, with less prominent electronica. The chorus is very catchy, though I do feel as though I’ve heard the melody somewhere else. The album then goes full SONATA ARCTICA -era power metal with “Heavy Rain,” so it’s no wonder they asked Mikael Salo [METAL DE FACTO, THY ROW, ex-EVERFROST] to do vocals. This song has always made me feel like WHISPERED-went-’90s-power metal, thanks to the combination of the folky elements from the Japanese koto and the wailing vocals and classic power metal melodies. Props to the performances by Rahadiyan Harris and Rina Hoshino as well! It’s one of the more metal songs on the album, despite not being one of the heaviest.

Another familiar musical name appears in “Blank Jack”: Derek Sherinian, who has played with so many bands that it would be burdensome to list them all, alongside Daisuke Kurosawa & Yusuke Umeda. Needless to say, there’s a lot of flavorful soloing in this long instrumental track, which both balances and alternates between feisty electronica and pure metal shredding for it’s full runtime. The album takes another surprise turn with the slow piano interlude that is “2123,” a brief instrumental piece that gives listeners a rest before the very high-energy “Stage Actor.” This song immediately feels like pure anime intro theme material. As someone who listens to a lot of psytrance, I personal don’t like the muffled effect on the vocals during the verses – they’re pretty messy and I like my electronics clean – but that is common in a lot of Japanese pop, so I suppose it’s a stylistic choice. Beyond the muddy verses, the song is really lively and catchy, definitely fun to dance around to!

Shihori Kadota is the guest on “Don’t Look Back,” which is a really great radio-friendly J-pop track, filled with fun synth parts and lots of catchy movement within the electronica. Shihori Kadota‘s sweet, poppy voice really suits the song, making for yet another energetic and danceable song. “Tears” is the album’s de facto Japanese ballad, so you’ll either love it for the melodrama, as well as the instrumental soloing, or you’ll hate it for its cheesy, same-as-always J-ballad sound. The album then wraps up with “Different Futures,” coming full circle from the first song, with a rockin’, high energy electronic instrumental track. This song reminds me again of ’90s dance music, very fun and easy to go crazy to. Beyond that, the guitar part is pretty lively and groovy, so the song never gets boring or repetitive. It’s a great way to finish up.

RETRO FUTURE‘s “Blue Toybox” turned out to be full of delights when we opened it. While there are some imbalances in the mix between songs and a few parts sound a little messy, the album otherwise has a lot to offer! There is a lot of variety in sound, without anything sounding out of place, and there are a lot of nice little details in the electronic parts throughout the album and the solos are really strong, making it really enjoyable even when there aren’t vocals. Throw a healthy dollop of fantastic guest features, and you’ve definitely got a really entertaining album to listen to. We’ll definitely be checking this out more after release!

Tracklist:

  1. Welcome to the Future
  2. I (ft. Shiro Neko)
  3. Set Your Heart Free (ft. Flo(Void)Curatt)
  4. Heavy Rain (ft. Mikael Salo, Rahadiyan Harris, Rina Hoshino)
  5. Blank Jack (ft. Derek Sherinian, Daisuke Kurosawa, Yusuke Umeda)
  6. 2123
  7. Stage Actor
  8. Don’t Look Back (ft. Shihori Kadota)
  9. Tears (ft. C.ChanΩ)
  10. Different Futures

Lineup

Mio Nakamura (keyboards)

Yoshiyuki Kojima (drums)

Guests:

Shiro Neko – YouTube

Flo(Void)Curatt – Facebook

Mikael Salo – Instagram

Rahadiyan Harris – Instagram

Rina Hoshino – Twitter

Derek Sherinian – Twitter

Daisuke Kurosawa – YouTube

C.ChanΩ – Twitter

Label

Cat Foot Records

Links

Homepage

Twitter

YouTube