MIYAVI: “Imaginary” Review

Synthesized instrumentals teleport listeners into the world of “Imaginary,” the 13th studio album released by MIYAVI on Sept. 15. With his latest release, MIYAVI has proven that he has once again reinvented himself adding a new and futuristic sound not found in his previous works, while still showcasing his unmatched guitar skills and abilities as a musician. 

“Imaginary,” when being compared to MIYAVI’s other albums, has more of a synthesized sound versus the more traditional rock sound I have heard in his other songs. While some may look at an artist experimenting as a negative, I really enjoyed seeing his versatility in this album. While that synthesized, feedback-like sound has been in other songs of his, it seemed different tonally and had more of a 1980s pop sound, or music that would fit in right with a video game soundtrack.

With the thought of classic arcade sounds in mind the first track, “New Gravity,” really encapsulates that feeling both in the song itself, and visually with the music video released alongside the album. The opening line of “I’ve been running through the maze / stuck inside the one I made / don’t know how I got this way” brings forth the idea of the album’s name “Imaginary” or how we create our own world of imagination. That feeling of being stuck in a never ending cycle of dread or stuck too far into reality I think is being conveyed here. Finding a way to escape reality and I felt it started this story that the album was trying to tell in some songs how people experience reality versus that of our own imagination. This is echoed in the lyrics that follow “Ceiling pressing down on me / underneath reality.” The consensus of the world being imperfect and at times overwhelming is not much of a stretch, making these lyrics relatable to many and wanting to find a way out of it is not uncommon. During the chorus the lyrics “‘Cause I believe / the dreamers are true” indicates to me that if we allow ourselves to be out of our current reality for a bit and imagine a new world, a new reality can be created.

The track that follows, “Imaginary” featuring Kimbra, portrays what that fantasy some dream of may sound like. It is incredibly upbeat, having a more pop inspired sound to it. It continues the fast paced vibe that started with “New Gravity” and carries that into the song that follows called “Warrior.” If I had to compare it to a role-playing game, “Imaginary” would be the song when you start the game and everything is bright and dandy with little to no worries, versus “Warrior” that reminds me of the songs you hear when a battle might start, a small one, but still a battle. It will keep your adrenaline pumping and can motivate anyone.

Throughout the album, listeners will find that MIYAVI’s style of playing is not like any other guitarists. In a 2018 interview with Bandwagon, MIYAVI spoke about his style of slapping the strings of his guitar like a musician playing the shamisen, a traditional Japanese guitar. It creates a different sound like a bass and electric guitar competing against each other depending on how he plays. With added instrumentation and lyrics, it gives each song depth. This is why I find his music individualistic to him, he has never really sounded like any artists I have listened to before.

The album also contained a cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” which MIYAVI announced via his Instagram that he had the privilege of re-imagining. Having already liked the original, I was excited to hear his interpretation of this song. The opening notes give a completely different vibe to the song and almost a bit faster paced than the original. It still holds the feeling of being able to headbang to it and the added rasp in MIYAVI’s voice adds even more to it. His unique guitar style and reimagining of those distinct notes gave new life to the song. Plus, the echoing “hellos” in different tones gave me chills. I truly enjoyed this rendition of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and it was one of my favorite songs off of the album.

“Youth Of the Nation” featuring Troi Irons is undoubtedly the song that stood out the most to me. The solemn tone conveyed right off the bat let me know this song holds a lot of meaning. The lyrics are incredibly simple and repetitive, however repetition with good word choice makes a huge difference. Opening with “There’s got to be more to life than this / There’s got to be more to everything I thought exists” broke my heart. When looking at the title of the song and knowing MIYAVI’s past work with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, I assumed this was about the world the youth lives in, the unfortunate reality witnessed every day and how much confusion and pain that must bring. Sirens and news reports can be heard underlaid in the song, with a chorus of voices accompanying both MIYAVI and Troi Irons. The addition of Irons’ soft spoken vocals and echoed “the ones who can save us” gave me chills. While the wording is simple, the weight of this song was felt and I cannot stop thinking about it.

In terms of the album’s flow, it kept a good pace, transitioning well between each track. It opened well by grabbing my attention and kept the momentum going by having upbeat and faster paced songs. Nearing the halfway point of the album with “Living In Fire” and “Hush Hush” featuring KANG DANIEL began to come down from that high, preparing for the softer tones of the album found in “Youth Of the Nation” and “Dance With Me.” Like any story, there are little spots where songs would pick up like “I Swear” and “Are You With Me?” nestled between the two slower paced songs on the album. Closing out the album with “Super Hero,” this song wrapped up the album very well. It blends elements of other songs on the album well, having an upbeat tempo with slower tempoed moments to allow MIYAVI’s vocals to shine. “Super Hero” was beautifully composed, with a standout moment of silence before the final crescendo making a bigger impact to end the album.

While the album overall had a lot of standout songs, some of them did not really hit the mark personally. “Are You With Me?” and “I Swear” just hit that lull in an album where a lot of songs tend to be forgotten, especially “Are You With Me?” being the one that never really grabbed my attention and the same can be said for “Living In Fire.” The song “Imaginary” is well done and very upbeat, however it is not really a song I could see myself listening to again and again, unlike “Youth Of the Nation” or “New Gravity.”

“Imaginary” brought a new and exciting sound to MIYAVI’s expansive discography. The more synth-pop inspired sound, mixed with his style of playing, blended well together and will undoubtedly bring new favorites to fans of his in no time. While not all songs were standouts, as not every song has to be, it flowed well together and told a beautiful story of believing in oneself, allowing creativity to open their mind and never forgetting to use one’s imagination.

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