Hello all, and welcome to the (much procrastinated) latest Musical Bonus Post! This will actually be part 1 in an ongoing series focused on Rozen Maiden. I’m pretty excited to get this series started, so without further ado, let’s do just that.
Rozen Maiden will always be an interesting and unforgettable series for me. While each respective season has its own set of flaws and incomplete storylines, the series as a whole has become one of my personal favorite anime universes. With that in mind, I’ve always wanted to look at the music of each season of the show, and how that effects the portrayal of this universe. This was going to be a “month of”, but I’d honestly rather not rush them, so think of it as a casually ongoing series. This part, however, doesn’t tie into a single season. It will instead be a review of Leer Lied by Kukui, or the Rozen Maiden Best Album. This album (which translates to “Empty Song” from German) is comprised of original songs by the band, with three of the songs being featured in the series as closing themes for the first two seasons and an OVA that we may or may not be reviewing in the near future.
Kukui (which apparently translates to “Candlenut Tree”, a symbol of Hawaii) was a collaborative duo between musicians Myu and Haruka Shimotsuki. Before I look at Leer Lied itself, I thought it would be a good idea to briefly talk about these two and see what they bring to the table.
Myu is already a favorite on this blog. She’s behind the composition/arrangement of the closing themes of Sankarea and Another, both of which have their own posts on this site, and both are amazing compositions. I specifically described Sankarea’s closer “Above Your Hand” as delicate beauty, and Another’s closer “Anamnesis” as dark beauty. “Above Your Hand” has near perfect guitar composition and great usage of programmed drums, and “Anamnesis” combines a haunting piano with one of my all-time favorite string arrangements. If I hadn’t made it clear enough already, I love Myu’s music, so anything with her involved immediately has me interested. However, she is only half of Kukui, so let’s talk about the other half.
Haruka Shimotsuki is a very interesting artist. Her music has a large focus on folk and fantasy elements (maybe even renaissance music in a way). This style is perfect for soundtracking things with these types of settings, and looking into her other music has led me to some real gems.
I will admit going into this that I assumed Haruka Shimotsuki was more of a performer than a composer, and that Myu was behind most of the compositions in Leer Lied. With that in mind, I was very happy to see that Haruka composes a lot of music as well. Really amazing music, to be more descriptive. It certainly wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Haruka had a lot to do with the writing process alongside Myu, and this was a true collaborative effort rather than Haruka simply lending her voice and a few ideas. This collaboration of different styles is the core of what makes Leer Lied the album that it is.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Leer Lied as well as one of its biggest strengths is its instrumentation and style. This isn’t your standard J-pop album, and Leer Lied makes that clear right from the start. The album’s opener, “Utsusemi no Kage”, begins with what sounds like a Gregorian Chant, until the fast piano and main vocals, strings, and driving bass and drums come in. The song is full of dynamic contrasts, letting the diverse instrumentation and vocals shine, as if to allude to what is to come. Leer Lied features instruments like harpsichord, flute, and wonderful string arrangements (some of these are probably midi, but still give off a classical feel) playing alongside more modern keyboard tones, bits of electric guitar, and programmed drums. It is very much a work that’s in its own little world, falling somewhere between some strange mix of folk, chamber pop, and more electronic pop. It’s frankly shocking just how well these instruments mix together so consistently.
I would argue that the key to what makes this instrumentation work lies in the writing and performances. Both members of Kukui are clearly doing what they’re best at, and the songs are written well enough to keep them from sounding shallow and gimmicky. This is exactly why I wanted to look at the backgrounds of Kukui’s members, as it explains where these sounds come from. Leer Lied is very genuine in its approach, and there’s a lot of depth and thought that went into the arrangements beyond the surprise of it having synths and chamber instruments in such a way.
The delicacy that I’ve praised Myu for is still very much present in this album. Songs like “Midori no Yubi” use very beautiful instrumentation, including a lingering beat boxy drum beat that’s often low in the mix. “Midori” is an absolute standout, with a very serene and comforting feel. The use of dynamics make it feel like the music itself is alive and breathing, and that music box sound that appears later in the track is the icing on the cake. This song really sets my imagination going with childlike wonder.
Myu’s expertise dark beauty is certainly not missing here either. I would describe most of this album as somewhat dark and very much inviting. The track “Kanata Kara no Chinkonka” almost perfectly fits that description, making it another standout track. There’s this dreamlike quality to every song, and the trace of darkness present really gives it an appealing atmosphere. The qualities I loved so much in “Above Your Hand” and “Anamnesis” are quite present here, and I’m quite happy with that.
Unfortunately, the album is a tad diluted with slower songs. The instrumentation and compositional quality of these songs do keep the album from feeling stale or bland during a full listen, but having so many slow ballads can lessen the impact of each respective one. It can also make me blend some songs together or forget them entirely. For example, I sometimes forget that “Utsutsu Yume” is one of the songs on the album, which is honestly a shame. It’s a song that really nails the darker tone that it goes for, and the percussion really drives that mood while providing interesting rhythms. I just sometimes forget among the other similar songs surrounding it. It should be noted that there are a few “cheery” songs, like “Pizzicato Hiyori” and “Chikikute Tooi Yume”, as well as higher tempo songs. Though “Pizzicato” specifically sounds a little bit too peppy for its own good (and it really breaks the tone established in the first two tracks), these songs do help give the album some needed diversity.
However, Leer Lied is still largely an album for certain moods and tastes, which could be a bad thing, especially if your personal tastes differ. I can say from experience that it’s a great album to listen to at 2am, but not so good for driving home from work in afternoon city traffic. It’s an introverted album, thriving best in solitude and almost unthinkable to blast in your car with other passengers. Also the instrumentation, while being something I personally adore, certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I can totally see some people not liking this album just because they can’t get past that, and I suppose I can’t blame them for it.
Although there are a few too many slower songs, Haruka Shimotsuki’s vocals at least give each one proper emotion. While not the most aggressively attention grabbing voice, I love how intimate and gentle she can be during the album’s quieter moments (just listen to the short title track above), and even the louder moments become quite passionate with her vocals.
Alongside the main vocals, the use of harmonies on Leer Lied is what really propels its sound into something special. There’s a lot of harmonized backing vocals in the songs, and these extra layers add so much. The wonderful composition as well as the way the vocals are often treated with healthy amounts of reverb gives the music a lot of ethereal depth. It sounds like an angelic church choir of sorts. One of the best examples of these vocals being used well is in “Monochrome Sekai”. The instrumental is very minimal in this song, and the multiple vocal tracks are given a multitude of different effects, creating a really unique and interesting listen.
The Songs from the Show
Of course, the highlights of the album are “Tomei Shelter” and “Hikari no Rasenritsu”, the respective first and second closers of the Rozen Maiden series. I don’t want to talk about these a lot, since I’ll be looking at them in future posts. However, I do want to talk about how they fit in the context of this album. “Tomei Shelter” fits in wonderfully as a mid-album track. It feels as if it would conclude Side A of the vinyl version of this album, with the more laid back and playful “Chikakute Tooi Yume” starting Side B. “Hikari no Rasenritsu” on the other hand closes the entire album, and I could not even dream of a better track to do that. Let it be known that I care a lot about album closers. It’s the artist’s last chance to move the listener emotionally and tie up the full experience. A subpar closer can really sour the full experience, while a good closer leaves me feeling elated and wanting to listen to the whole thing again. When “Hikari no Rasenritsu” ends, it gives me such a warm and satisfied feeling. It’s the perfect way to end Leer Lied.
Probably one of the biggest things I want to convey in this series is how much I love the world (or worlds) of Rose Maiden, and how the music helps with it. It’s not the most detailed or vast universe in anime, but it still somehow really resonates and inspires me. I also feel that they do some really cool things with it. The locations, aesthetics, and events are all really memorable to me. With that in mind, it’s fitting that Leer Lied’s “world” is just as intriguing and immersive. This album is very escapist in nature. The arrangements, the atmosphere, even the language barrier in the lyrics gives off the sensation that this is music from another world or an old fairy tale. It’s a perfect album to sit back with in the dark and just shut away from the world for a while, letting the album’s world envelop you.
Leer Lied is a one of a kind album, and I really enjoy it. A unique listen with plenty of depth beyond the interesting instrumentation. Myu and Haruka Shimotsuki both managed to bring what they do best to the table, and ended up making something special and noteworthy. It has some issues, but it’s a must for any Rozen Maiden fan, as well as any fan of unique pop music in general. If I had to give a score for Leer Lied, I would give it a solid 8.5/10.
If you do end up liking this album, I also highly recommend Jeremy Enigk’s Return of the Frog Queen. It’s much more raw and less poppy compared to Leer Lied, but it also incorporates orchestral elements, making it another unique listen.
Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on this album if you’ve heard it? This is also my first time doing a full album review, so any advice or critiques would be greatly appreciated!
Oh, I should also mention that some of the songs on Leer Lied are also character tracks for the series. Here are what some of them are:
Suigintou: Kanata Kara no Chinkonka
Kanaria: Pizzicato Hiyori
Hina: Chikakute Tooi Yume
Sueseiseki: Midori no Yubi