Hey y’all, this week we continue our back catalogue review with Poppin’Party’s second single Star Beat!, along with its coupling track Summer Skies & Sun! Sun! Seven!. One’s a fan favorite, and one is…something!
Both tracks were composed by Noriyasu Agematsu and arranged by Ryutaro Fujinaga, with lyrics by Kou Nakamura.
Dorian: “Star Beat!” is the first song to really capture what I’ve come to think of as the “Poppin’Party sound”. They’ve got a fairly broad range, but this kind of midtempo major-key number with the sprightly piano is a well they’ve returned to often. Star Beat! is strong on its own merits, though, not just as a template—the chorus and verse feel well-matched (a common pitfall that songs in the franchise can fall into), and while it’s quite long, the production provides enough variation between verses that it never feels like it drags. To name a few highlights: I love how the first verse starts with just piano and then this is echoed in the verse after the instrumental solo, with the latter layering in instruments even more gradually. I think the two points with the high guitar-feedback ringing are well-chosen and effective. But most of all I love the weird, thudding discordant chord on which the instruments drop out at 2:28 before roaring back in for the chorus seconds later—it’s so unexpected, but so effective.
Madi: If “Yes, BanG_Dream!” is Poppin’Party’s introduction, then “Star Beat!” is their anthem. Of the early Poppin’Party releases, Star Beat! is the song most of their future hits can most easily trace their musical DNA back to—“Kizuna Music” in particular strikes me as its spiritual successor, though you can clearly hear it in “Straight Through our Dreams!” and “Dreamers Go!” too. Twinkly keyboards over warm guitar riffs, bouncy beats big on kick drums and crashy fills—these are the hallmarks of the Poppin’Party song, that youthful girls band vibe, and it’s what makes Star Beat! an evergreen PoPiPa hit (and one of my enduring favs). The keyboard and kick drum intro set the song in motion and the sound simply pulls you along from there, moving from soft and warm to bouncy and energetic without shaking you loose. Kasumi (Aimi) squeezes so much heart into her voice that the song practically overflows with it, which is only appropriate for a band like Poppin’Party. BanG Dream! music is always well-produced, but Star Beat! lands a particular harmony between drums, keyboard and guitars where everyone gets to shine. Also, that guitar solo! Damn! In Kasumi’s own words…this is a truly sparkling, heart-pounding song.
Dorian: “Sun! Sun! Seven!” is another essentially piano-less song, apart from some electric-organ shadowing of the guitar and vocal parts. I don‘t think it’s a particular standout; the melody is not terribly distinctive, and while the song is lively, that’s true of enough of Poppin’Party’s discography that it doesn’t feel terribly notable. All that being said, the sort of martial feel set by the intro (and recurring elsewhere) is kind of an interesting departure from the band’s other songs—the straight-ahead drum march breaking into the more syncopated title section is an unexpected start, and the way the verse alternates between the looser lines by Kasumi (Aimi) and the rigid rhythms of the backing vocalists is fun. As it repeats throughout the song though, it does wear out its welcome—the four-and-a-half minute runtime feels heavily inflated. Overall, there’s some decent ideas here, but the repetitiousness and lack of truly striking elements stops it from being a highlight in Popipa’s catalogue.
Madi: This song is such an odd duck, especially as a B-side to Star Beat!. Part of it is because like the previous single, there isn’t much of a keyboard part, with Arisa (Ayasa Itou) on the tambourine. But musically it feels all over the place; the beat from the intro feels out of step with the rest of the song, and that guitar solo feels out of touch with the rest of the track. Poppin’Party’s early singles are still finding their feet, but the march-y beat sounds more like it belongs in a Hello, Happy World! track. And yet…it kind of works for me? The vocals, for once, don’t do a whole lot for me, but there is a definite danceability to this track that makes me want to clap along. At last year’s Summerly Tone Live, the band played a mostly instrumental-only version of this song while they danced to it which, to be honest, is probably the best way to experience “Summer Skies”: put on the instrumental track and bop along, you’ll have a lot of fun.