Stepping back into 2008 with Re/Oblivious

There’s been some heated discussion in fan circles just lately about the recent output and the future direction of composer/songwriter Yuki Kajiura’s Kalafina project. Since hearing them for the first time in early 2009, I’ve seen them grow from a movie theme tune side-project to being a chart-friendly act playing the prestigious Budokan, which I believe holds the same level of kudos as a UK act “playing Wembley”.

I started trawling the used market for some of the more obscure and hard-to-find items in their back catalogue, outside of the usual CD singles, live DVDs, T-shirts and squishy shark-shaped phone charms (don’t ask). Some of the releases are already out of print, but the b-sides and other rarities can be some of the most interesting. The one thing I’d been looking out for over the years was the little-known Re/Oblivious.

With the benefit of hindsight, the CD’s plastic inner sleeve is a weird little prediction of their most recent releases getting vinyl editions

What exactly IS this? A maxi-single? An EP? A remix mini-album? If you’re a long-standing follower of the group it’s like a time capsule, with an ad leaflet for a 2008 live event and minimalist packaging that lacks detailed credits or member photos. My first thought was that the Kalafina of 2015 would never release something like this, which makes the time and effort to find a copy all the more worthwhile (as in, I understand why you’d want the thing, but I wish you the best of luck in actually finding one).

The opening track is a variation on their debut single Oblivious, with a stripped-down arrangement that retains the lead vocals and synthesised beat, but otherwise lacks many of the lush layered overdubs and reverb-drenched choral backing chants. I have to say I prefer the ‘fuller’ sound of the original over this rather more bare soundscape, but the vocal melody has enough impact to carry the song and give the listener a refreshing change. I vaguely recall that Kajiura had her doubts about the single version sounding too ambitious and overproduced, so this could well be her answer to that.

Interlude #1 is one of those obscure tracks that only dedicated fans are likely to be familiar with, although it did get occasional live performances (their Fifth Anniversary Live compilation album for instance). Interlude #2 and Finale continue the same theme, so give a sense of continuity and cohesiveness that prevents them being mere filler designed to fill up space on the CD. They’ve clearly used the melodies and harmonies from Oblivious as a template, in the same way that successive movements of long classical pieces often have recurring themes.

The two other songs on here that might be more familiar are Kimi Ga Hikari ni Kaete Iku and Kizuato, which were the original b-sides of the Oblivious single and eventually joined it on the full-length debut Seventh Heaven the following year. Here though they’re given the re-arrangement treatment with simpler accompaniment of piano and strings.

Acoustic or ‘unplugged’ versions of already-released songs are something of a rock and roll staple, but can give artists the opportunity to experiment with new ideas or present existing songs in a new light. These tracks fall into both categories for me, and I suspect may have inspired alternative arrangements for certain songs in their more recent live concerts, such as the Kalafina With Strings Christmas shows or the slower renditions of Sprinter.

In the same way that Seventh Heaven made use of leitmotifs due to so many of its songs being written for the same movie series, Re/Oblivious shares that same sense of revolving around the common themes from the Garden of Sinners movie adaptations. This means that, as short as it is and as familiar as three of the tracks will be to anyone who’s listened to that album, it still feels like a self-contained release in its own right. Rather than some afterthought made up of half-baked ideas and failed experiments, it’s a delightful little companion piece that captures a moment in time for the band that the more devoted among us will find quite fascinating.

As with the single b-sides later in their career, the songs on here are presented without the pressure of meeting expectations that an a-side or album track may be exposed to. Again, this isn’t something I’d expect them to do with songs from their latest releases, mainly because the group enjoys a higher profile and have had time to find their signature sound and identity that are distinct from, say, See-Saw or FictionJunction.

These songs also highlight Kajiura’s eclectic musical inspirations, from the likes of the Cocteau Twins, Depeche Mode and Portishead to European classical orchestra and opera (well, I can hear them!). Which is in contrast to the last few of Kalafina’s singles, which sound more similar to standard TV anime theme song fare. What this might mean for their output in future it’s impossible for me to say, at least until I’ve had sufficient time to experience their next full-length Far on the Water. Which is a discussion best left for later I think.