On this episode of TTMR, I shall treat you to a review of not a single song, but effectively an entire album.
陽風蓮花, pronounced Youfuurenka, was the last album produced by m’s (or えむずぅ / emuzu), the sole individual behind ad libitum records. For me, it was the soundtrack of a new beginning. When I listened to this, I went from casually enjoying my existing and personal collection of Touhou music to becoming serious about collecting them. Let’s dive in.
I have an interesting relationship with the words ad libitum. This Latin phrase, which translates to “as you please” or “as much as you want” (or more poetically, “to your (heart’s) desires”), has been a pretty good description of the way I’ve lived most of my life.
To ad-lib something is to improvise, do things without plans. It’s a well-known phrase in music, and it immediately jumped at me to find out there was a Touhou music circle called ad libitum records (all lowercase). It’s a bit like finding a punk rock band called Do Whatever. Regardless of the kind of music you’re about to hear, you know you’ll want to hear it just based on the name.
Ad libitum can also mean “with no restriction” or “without limits.” In a certain sense, this is also part of my personal beliefs. I believe that, from a certain point of view, no-one should be subjected to any kind of arbitrary restrictions so that everyone has the room to be who they are. Purely from the point of view of music, this is also my approach. No genre is too bad, no music is not worth listening to.
That doesn’t mean I “like everything” or “listen to a bit of everything” in a formless or undefined manner. I do have my tastes and they are well-defined. If you are listening to Youfuurenka and you know about my tastes, it’ll be very obvious this album fits easily in mine.
But what I do believe ad libitum means from that point of view is that you should never restrict yourself. If you’ve ever felt like your tastes in music aren’t broad enough or if your playlist is the same 17 songs you listened to for 17 years… it’s time to do what I did: take a dive, go try and discover things, at complete random if you must.
The worst thing that’ll happen is you’ll find something you won’t like, but there’s no way to know for sure until you hit Play. On the other hand, you just might find new things you didn’t know you’d like, or you might find things you knew instantly you’d love.
This album became somewhat of the latter for me, but it did something incredibly important that I’ll summarize in one sentence:
“I found this at random and I found a new favorite. How many other circles are there that sound good?”
This album, and ad libitum records in general, pretty much lit the flame of Touhou music collection for me. It became the somewhat-official reason I decided to get serious about finding new music whenever I have the time. You could say this is the new beginning I was talking about; it was like a passion renewed for something I loved already!
Whether the music is from circles everyone loves or names nobody but me will give a hoot about, I care about the entire universe of music that the fandom has produced, and this album is one of the main reasons why.
But for now, let’s dive into the album itself.
I don’t recall exactly when I first listened to this album, other than it was some time after finishing high school and officially entering adult life. This is part of the “new beginning” I mention in the intro of this post.
If I had to guess, it was probably 2013. I have a vague memory of using one of the songs as a phone alarm, and an embarrassing moment while in the driving school car. The song started playing because I had set an alarm, and my instructor didn’t allow me to reach for my phone and shut it off. So we both got to listen to this for a full 2 minutes while I was trying to learn to drive…
What I do remember clearly is how quickly ad libitum records albums stuck with me. There may only be four known albums (this one, Dividing from Hell, 玄海秋桜 (Genkai Kosumosu), and 蓮華狂異譚 (Renge Kyoibanashi)) but they all stood out. All of them came extremely early into the Touhou music scene’s lifespan; this album in 2009, Dividing from Hell in 2006, and the other two in 2005.
But, as popular as trance arranges inevitably were back in the day, they felt fresh when I listened for the first time and they still do now. They have that dream-like quality that really elevates songs in the genre, and they rapidly became daily listens.
Youfuurenka achieved this feeling the most consistently, because all of its highs are really high, and there are few lows to speak of. In fact, I would say this album’s biggest drawback is how short it is; just 27 minutes and 17 seconds of total runtime. But you do get an exceptional ride.
I’ll do my best to summarize exactly what makes this album special for me, in both objective terms and more subjective descriptions.
A continuous mix is an album where each track flows naturally into the next, with no marked pauses (or at least, none on a good media player). It feels like one continuous track that runs from start to finish seamlessly.
Good examples in the Touhou music sphere include the Dancehall series of Alstroemeria Records albums. Outside of Touhou, my favorite continuous mix albums are probably Solar Serenades by Ferry Corsten (probably the greatest classic trance album of all time) or the Dance Machine compilations that came out in France in the 1990s.
In terms of pure vibes, Youfuurenka draws me in like Ferry Corsten’s album does and keeps me engaged throughout. That’s what continuous mixes are meant to do originally; keep you listening, so you keep on dancing. I don’t know if I would call Ad Lib’s work danceable, but it is very much head-bangable or at least close-your-eyes-and-travel-to-Gensokyo-able, and that’s all I need. Honestly, if your Touhou arrange sends me on a trip and makes me feel like I’m already there, you win. It’s good music.
But in order to draw you in like that, it needs a strong opening. Which brings me to…
Continuing on my comparison with Ferry Corsten, the strongest track of Solar Serenades is easily Track 1, Endless Wave - Albion Remix. It’s 6 minutes of pure, unadulterated trance goodness, and pretty much everything good ever about the year 1999.
Youfuurenka opens on 人恋し神様, an arrange of A God That Misses People ~ Romantic Fall from Mountain of Faith. It’s the theme of the game’s first stage; thematically, it’s a strong choice.
The track begins with a subdued introduction, made mostly of a beatline and electronic beeps. Then, a background pad makes an appearance at 0:13, playing an airy version of Romantic Fall’s opening notes and announcing the song is just winding up. Then, at 0:26, you get hit with a literal whoosh, and m’s finally makes it clear what this song is going to sound like; an energetic trance remix with everything good about good trance remixes. Optimistic main instruments, airy and ethereal atmosphere, all guided by a thumping drumline and occasional sprinklings of that same “whoosh” sound effect and some reversed beat sounds. It’s very mid-2000s, but damn it it’s good.
By 1:51, the electric piano finally makes its entrance amidst the still-thumping kicks and hats, playing Romantic Fall’s main melody. The piano isn’t loud or overpowering, but it does have an echo effect, giving the feeling that the song is giving equal measure to all its instruments. Everything is pretty well balanced.
By 2:52, the drumline stops, and we’re left with just the background pads and the piano playing the second part of the song. But that’s only to keep your attention and wind back up soon after. Hats and cymbals return at 3:11, returning a sense of rhythm for a brief moment. They go away for a short period at 3:32, letting the piano play completely solo, then all instruments come back at 3:47 for the final section.
The image I pictured in my mind at that point was a shrine maiden flying very high, above the clouds, then diving back down into the action at full speed, probably straight towards Shizuha Aki, whom you meet in the same stage the original song plays.
On its own, I would have called this song an inspiration. It is a five-minute concentrated pill of everything I like about the airy, light-side, positive-sounding type of trance music. But as we pass the five-minute mark and approach the end of Track 1, the track doesn’t fade out or prepare itself to end. It continues… and transitions suddenly from steady beats and melody to…
… my actual favorite track of the album. Track 2 is 稲田姫様に叱られるから, an arrange of the theme of the same name, Because Princess Inada is Scolding Me. Minoriko’s theme song. The actual Stage 1 boss is now in sight.
The introduction works so well it works both on its own and as a transition from the previous track. It’s hard to describe, but it’s effectively a landmark “thump!” followed by pads and a progressively clearer backing melody, with accompanying kicks for about 26 seconds. Then, the main drumline shows up, and makes it clear the tone has shifted. You’re in a boss fight, now! It sounds way more serious! Yes, it’s still the stage 1 boss and Minoriko is cute as a button, but damn it she’s trying anyway and that’s exactly the vibe I get listening to this.
At 0:54, the track dips down, cutting all instruments except a pad with downward notes, as if freefalling for a moment. It’s like Minoriko and Reimu are taking a moment to size up one another. Who’s gonna draw the first Spell Card? Is it gonna be Minoriko? Is it gonna be Reimu? Then, the main melody, so positive it sounds almost triumphant, plays almost with no backing at 1:06. Minoriko makes the first move; probably the opening dialog before the first volley of danmaku. The song appropriately picks up again, all instruments coming in crescendo, until they all return, drumline included, at 1:48.
Track 2 goes into full swing, and this is usually the moment I close my eyes and just.
It’d be easy to miss, but at around 2:14, the song’s tone starts to shift. The triumphant main melody goes away, the electric piano is now focusing on backing notes, and it’s as if the song is preparing for a new phase very progressively. Which it is; the tone turns almost anxious and off-key, but not so much it becomes dissonant. Each instrument goes away bit by bit starting at 3:09, and we hear the “free-fall” sound effect from earlier at about 3:22, with all other instruments except for an occasional backing synth.
Then, m’s does it again. When everything goes away, reintroduce a new mood with the electric piano. It comes back, almost alone, at 3:36, with Princess Inada’s main theme song and absolutely ethereal pads progressively louder and louder.
You see this? This is exactly the definition of atmospheric!
Surprise return of the triumphant mood at 4:16, as if Minoriko herself is going all-out with her final Spell Card. This is the direction the song goes as we approach the 5-minute mark… on a 5:39 song.
I won’t wholly describe the rest of the album, because from here on out, the album establishes its progression and its pattern. End of song, transition, change of mood, and into Track 3. Each transition is strong, and m’s choices of songs to remix from ZUN’s catalog is pointed and thematic. Which leads me to…
Whether this was m’s intention or not, Youfuurenka ended up being a short, but extremely thematic album. All five tracks of this continuous mix are remixes of Mountain of Faith songs (see the Album and Song Details section below for the exact track names).
Because this album came out in 2009, a year and a half after MoF did, I am tempted to think this was the intention from the beginning. Many Touhou albums that come out at any given point in time focus on songs from a single game, often one of the latest released.
But more than just the choice of tracks, the choices made with this album are very intentionally done to maintain a specific theme. Progression, transition. Buildup, sustain, wind down. Although the continuous mix helps, many such albums have transitions that feel more abrupt than others, or have to work them in more, resulting in very long transitions.
Here, everything flows. Every track is about the same length (in the 5-minute range), every transition is perfectly executed, every change in mood is well-timed. You can tell they’re five tracks, but if you don’t overanalyze and simply let the album run its course without thinking about it, you can and will easily lose track of where each track starts and ends.
Earlier, I compared Youfuurenka to Ferry Corsten’s Solar Serenades. I’ll do it again to examine the biggest difference between the two: Sheer runtime.
Where Solar Serenades brings together different artists for every single track into an expertly mixed album, it brings almost too many songs and they are all very different lengths… but also all very long. Solar Serenades is 12 tracks long, ignoring the megamix track 13, and each track ranges from a reasonable 5:50 (Dreamtime by Vimana) to a marathon experience of over 10 minutes (The Chain - Babealicious Mix by Breeder).
As much as I love this album, I often find myself dropping out of the album near the middle. Usually after Track 5, Club for Life '98 - Chris & James Solar Power Mix by Chris & James. By that point, I’ve had about 37 minutes of trance in my ears and I need a bit of a break.
Youfuurenka is short. It is just five tracks and it’s ten minutes less than the first five tracks of Solar Serenades. When I first listened to it, I felt sad at first. “How come this amazing album of amazing amazingness is already over? I need more of this amazing stuff!”
Then I listened to it, again, and again, and again, and before I knew it, this became a daily listen. Then over time, as I focused on new albums, it became part of the albums I put on like I eat comfort food; to take a break from the rest, to have a guaranteed good time.
Youfuurenka made it to the list of Music I Will Consider Eternally Good… or in other words, it is one of my favorite albums, because it got there completely naturally. It was good, and further listens cemented it as one of the greats. It wasn’t an instant great, like my discovery of Paradot’s work, nor was it a, “I was cold on it at first then warmed up to it a lot” type of situation. It started good and just became better. Kind of like fine wine.
Maybe it’s one of Minoriko’s wines.
For m’s, the arranger, Youfuurenka was, as far as I was able to find, their last album. After this album came out at Reitaisai 6… and these are words I feel like I say too often… that was it.
All of the other ad libitum albums are previous releases. While m’s did contribute to other albums, they all predate Youfuurenka. An example would be 花詠束 -hanataba- by the collab circle Unionest．NET, which brought together names like Lix of Trance Shift, koutaq of Sensitive Heart, 隣人 of Cytokine, Masayoshi Minoshima of Alstroemeria Records, BeatMario of COOL&CREATE, and many others.
After Youfuurenka, m’s name was spotted twice more, as part of the soundtracks for FLOWERING NIGHT 2011 OPENING BGM and FLOWERING NIGHT 2012 OPENING BGM, which were live concert events held annually from 2006 to 2013 in Tokyo, with the exception of 2010.
In the 2011 edition, m’s composed Terrible Souvenir, an arrange of Heartfelt Fancy from Subterranean Animism. For 2012, they produced 恋色マスタースパーク Remix, an arrange of Love-Colored Master Spark from Imperishable Night.
And after that? … That was it. Ended on a bang of a song, like everything Marisa does.
I don’t yet have either of these CDs, but if I find them…! I must have the final works of m’s!!!
Circle: ad libitum records
Release date: 2009/03/08 (Reitaisai 6)
Genre: Trance, continuous mix (all tracks)
Type: Instrumental (all tracks)
Track 1: 人恋し神様
- Artist: m’s
- Touhou original remixed: 人恋し神様 ～ Romantic Fall ; A God That Misses People ~ Romantic Fall (Mountain of Faith, Stage 1 / Shizuha Aki’s theme)
Track 2: 稲田姫様に叱られるから
- Artist: m’s
- Touhou original remixed: 稲田姫様に叱られるから ; Because Princess Inada is Scolding Me (Mountain of Faith, Minoriko Aki’s theme)
Track 3: 明日ハレの日、ケの昨日
- Artist: m’s
- Touhou original remixed: 明日ハレの日、ケの昨日 ; Tomorrow Will Be Special, Yesterday Was Not (Mountain of Faith, Extra stage theme)
Track 4: 少女が見た日本の原風景
- Artist: m’s
- Touhou original remixed: 少女が見た日本の原風景 ; The Primal Scene of Japan the Girl Saw (Mountain of Faith, Stage 5 theme)
Track 5: 神さびた古戦場
- Artist: m’s
- Touhou original remixed: 神さびた古戦場 ～ Suwa Foughten Field ; The Venerable Ancient Battlefield ~ Suwa Foughten Field (Mountain of Faith, Kanako Yasaka’s theme)