“Renaissance” is the latest album by Ryousuke Nagaoka‘s (better known as Ukigumo from Tokyo Jihen/Shiina Ringo lives) project PETROLZ. It was released in Setember of 2015, and I have only just gotten round to giving it a spin now. To be honest, I haven’t been too big of a fan of previous PETROLZ releases, so expectations weren’t running high. In-fact, I was kinda dreading it, never being able to take his work seriously for various reasons. However, it had been appearing on some end of year lists and one particular description was it was the ‘most soulful‘ Ukigumo (and I’m going to use Uki in this review from now on, cause it just feels natural :-p) had ever sounded… so, hey, here I am, checking it out!

Opens (more like just STARTS) with the herky-jerky “Taito !” which immediately makes this listener reminisce back to the Phase 2 days of Tokyo Jihen (how can you not???). However, unlike Jihen, the focus is solely on Uki here. And that means more precise production. You know WHAT you’re supposed to be listening to. It also gives him more room to really play guitar the way he wants, without it sounding really goofy (for the most part). I have to admit, I’ve never heard him sound more in his element, without the pressures of being “THAT GUY FROM TOKYO JIHEN“, he seems to be way less stiff, and more organic with his playing. And that’s definitely a good thing.

What continues is a nice, if somewhat safe selection of funky tunes- and this is fine. There’s never anything that really ‘pops’ but there’s never any real moments where it drags too much either. The production has somewhat stepped up from earlier PETROLZ releases, and the extra level of clarity is really appreciated. Uki’s vocals- which are one of the main deterrents for me when it comes to his work– are surprisingly easy to listen to, he sticks to his comfort zone, and the use of layering is quite a good effect.

Other band members are just there– they never really try to hog the spotlight- it all works in tremendous unison- and like as mentioned before- for Uki’s sake, works far better than a lot of the tracks he output with Jihen. Drums are minimal and simply there to drive the songs along, bass is punchy and funky. There are also some excellent, and I do mean EXCELLENT guitar solos throughout the album- the one on “Fuel” is especially delicious.

While I personally don’t imagine it becoming a favourite, I do imagine wanting to come back to it every now and then whenever I feel like something smooth and easy to listen to- it will certainly serve as great background music (and I do mean this in the best way possible). It’s certainly the best work Ukigumo was involved in last year (lets try to forget that embarrassing rapping on Shiina Ringo‘s “Nagaku Mijikai Matsuri“, shall we?), and for this listener, it’s easily the best PETROLZ album so far.

Overall, though, it’s a great light album and certainly will please fans. For those who haven’t listened to PETROLZ before, it’s probably a much better introduction than any other releases, with its superior production and track ordering. For those who have followed Ukigumo through his Tokyo Jihen years, it’s a real reminder how much of that trademark sound of Phase 2 belonged (or should I say, should be held responsible) to Ukigumo. And hey, what do you know- Pretsy was right, he really does sound the most soulful he ever has on this one too.

And last, but not least, it comes in a triangle case!

7/10– A smooth, enjoyable ride, with a lot to keep you coming back.


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