WOMAN - beautiful

WOMAN cover.jpg

“beautiful” is the first proper album from WOMAN, a band from Osaka. Despite taking the name “WOMAN,” all five members of the band are men. They describe their music as "genreless," "genderless" and "fearless," which is pretty accurate. Don’t worry, it’s not some chaotic assault on your ears and ideals, rather it is an intelligent and thought-provoking approach to music, and in the case of this album, how might one define “beautiful.”

The traditional ways you might think about beauty are either to do with a definition of something very “pleasant”, or to do with classic images of beauty, especially young women. In terms of music, we can have nice sounding music, or pretty songs about people we love. On this album though, we lose those notions with music that is ambiguous in nature. The vocals are heavily processed either with effects or vocoder, and even if they’re singing in English, it’s not clear what they’re saying. It may as well be a Jonsi-style constructed language – one suspects neither Japanese or English listeners will manage to capture all of the meaning. On “bloom,” this is combined with synths, thundering drums and distorted guitar followed by a cinematic piano breakdown. It’s not typically pleasing, but it’s certainly different and beautiful in its own way like watching digitized waveforms or rolling thunderstorms. “butterfly” starts like an interrupted transmission with static and telephone effects, creepy piano flourishes and a dynamic bass line. The vocals appear suddenly only a third of the way through. It’s atmospheric and disturbing, yet you never feel threatened or truly uncomfortable. “brainwash” features the push and pull between organic and artificial, and while there are computerized sounds and harsh effects, the voice that asks you to “become a valued member of this organization” and “surrender” is rather reassuring. Which is pretty much how brainwashing works. 

It all comes to a cathartic conclusion with “ballad,” where a woman (although you can’t be sure with this band) is humming a pleasant tune as clocks tick and the sounds of children playing can be heard. The band sings the words to the tune in vocoded harmony, which is clearly artificial yet full of emotion. Traditionally we might picture a housewife doing chores, but in this atmosphere it could be anything now – she could be a single mother, her partner could be a woman, she could be he. Whoever it is, you can sense their compassion and inner strength through this beautiful melody.

Overall, you get the feeling that it is this complexity that is the basis for beautiful. There’s no right or wrong, no universal truth. All our imperfections, contradictions, possibilities, the variations in our lives, each and every one of us is beautiful in some way. I sometimes feel the need to add conditions to that, being wary of some of the evil people in the world, but I think I just need to be more compassionate, think boldly, and have an open mind. Do this, and you might be able to see just what kind of beautiful WOMAN is about.

1. breaking dawn
2. bloom
3. butterfly
4. brainwash
5. bystander
6. ballad

Royce Leong