REVIEW: LapLus Raises the Bar for Debut Releases with HAKUMEI

It was a sad day for many of us here at VKH when DIV announced their plans to disband. So it was with great joy that I found myself reviewing the first release from ex-DIV drummer Satoshi's new band LapLus. And I certainly wasn't alone: the band's first show sold out in no time. I definitely expected LapLus to channel many of the elements from DIV's music, but what I did not expect was the level of musical diversity that LapLus shows off in HAKUMEI. This immediately set them apart in my mind from DIV, who was more known for their consistency than their experimentation. All in all, LapLus does a solid job balancing the old with the new, and makes a great first impression with their debut EP HAKUMEI.

HAKUMEI Album Cover
2. RED QUEEN-禁断の果実- (RED QUEEN-Kindan no kajitsu)
3.「夢幻に消えた翼は砂上に歌う」(Mugen ni kieta tsubasa wa sajô ni utau)
4. Night Drive

I would say that the easiest way to describe HAKUMEI is "something old, something new." LapLus definitely touches on some song structures and musical styles that will be familiar to fans of the lighter, easy-listening side of neo-visual kei. However, they also mix in a much wider variety of sounds than I'm used to hearing from bands like this, at least on the first release. What's also striking is just how well all of these sounds and styles are executed. An obvious explanation for some of the interest in LapLus is due to it being Satoshi's first band since DIV disbanded. However, HAKUMEI demonstrates that this band has much more worth writing about than just "it's Satoshi's new band", so let's take a look at why that is.

HAKUMEI's title track (and PV track) is a well-written, well-produced anthemic song that sounds like it would fit perfectly as the intro theme to a mainstream anime series. Yuki's clean vocals are backed by catchy and well-placed guitar riffs. Satoshi's tightly-executed drumming on this track made me realize how much I'd under-appreciated his abilities in his last band. "HAKUMEI" basically does everything well and in just the right amount. Neither the vocals, the guitars, nor the drumming steal the spotlight, but rather work together to create a solid final product. It's the most "traditional-sounding" of the tracks on HAKUMEI, but it's so well-executed that I can see why it was chosen by LapLus to be used for their first PV.

I probably would have gotten bored of HAKUMEI if the rest of its songs followed a similar format. However, the remaining four tracks completely subverted my expectations, and provided a wide array of different sounds that kept me engaged the whole time. After "HAKUMEI", the EP jumps straight into the fun jazz rock song "RED QUEEN-Kindan no kajitsu". This track alternates between fast-paced rock and slow jazzy interludes. The intricate guitar and bass playing fit nicely with the varied drumming, and the use of jazz instruments such as trumpets and piano are a nice touch. "Mugen ni kieta tsubasa wa sajô ni utau" continues the jazzy vibes while slowing the pace down. I could easily imagine this song being played in a jazz lounge. Yuki's vocal melodies really help to set a pleasant, "chill" mood. The slower pace of "Mugen ni kieta tsubasa wa sajô ni utau" doesn't stop Takuya from working in a variety of excellent guitar work, including a thrilling solo. Takuya's guitar work is phenomenal throughout HAKUMEI, and really adds depth to this light rock sound that so many bands tend to oversimplify.

"Night Drive" starts off with a hook that vaguely reminds me of James Bond movies, but quickly changes into a rock boogie that makes for an excellent driving song. Satoshi's driving (no pun intended) drum rhythms and Yuki's varied vocals add an extra layer of personality to the song. "Mr.PRAYER", which wraps up the EP, could be considered the "hardest" sounding of the tracks on HAKUMEI. The track excels in its use of rocking guitar work and a fist-pumping chorus. The main guitar riff of the song is extremely solid, and Ryuichi implements some excellent bass guitar work of his own. While his more intricate instrumentation is mostly behind-the-scenes and less prevalent than Takuya's, this bassist certainly has his moments throughout HAKUMEI.

My general impression of LapLus after listening to this EP is that every band member knows exactly what they're doing. I was surprised at how many sounds the band was able to authentically emulate in HAKUMEI. It was refreshing to hear a debut EP this varied and well-developed. The songs are well-written, well-performed, and well-produced. I'm confident that LapLus has a strong grasp on what makes them sound good. Whether they decide to experiment with other styles or just flesh out what they've got so far in future releases, it's pretty safe to say we won't be disappointed. If you're looking for an EP to give you a renewed appreciation for the lighter side of visual kei music, HAKUMEI is for you.

Click here to listen to HAKUMEI by LapLus on Spotify!
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