Misia – Eighth World [8th Studio Album]

March 30, 2008 at 2:40 pm (Misia) (, )

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Misia’s eighth album, entitled Eighth World, was released on 01.09.08. Eighth World features a variety of singles ranging from a jazzzy feel to aggressive pop to powerhouse ballads. Only two singles were released prior to the album: ANY LOVE and Royal Chocolate Flush.

以心伝心, the opening track, is a powerhouse pop song that is a perfect way to introduce the album. The song opens up with a very cool instrumental that sets up an introduction for the chorus to come powering in. Clearly the strongest element of the song, the chorus features powerful vocals that support the instrumentation well and then a small and catchy instrumental part to transition into the verse. During the verses, the marching-beat element of the instrumentation is brought out stronger and the vocals still maintain their strength. Following the set of the second verse and chorus is an interesting break that features an unidentified man talking along with some short ad-libs from Misia. The section has a hip-hop like element that keeps the song catchy and going in a different direction. Following is a section that emphasizes the instrumentation with Misia singing “I can feel you.” Finishing off the song is instrumentation and gives the song a finished feel. 以心伝心 is a perfect way to open up this album due to its catchiness and Misia’s vocal strength.

ANY LOVE, the first single from this era, appears as the second song on Eighth World. The song quickly opens up with some great ad-libbing from Misia, which flows well ino the first verse. The way that she sings the lines makes them stand out as there are slight pauses after each one. She also draws out the final notes of the words…The chorus is a bit slow and too similar to the verses. With some subtle varieties in the instrumentation or even a small build up to the chorus would have made it pop more. Overall the song is a bit lacking because it never reaches that potential point but Misia uses some nice vocals to make it a nice song to listen to with closed eyes.

The second single released before the album, Royal Chocolate Flush, is the third track on the album. To properly open the track is an unidentified speaker who says “Ladies and Gentlemen, Get Set, Go!” and then the true song begins with a powerful and aggressive instrumental. The first verse relies on a amazingly catchy instrumental and strong vocals from Misia that combine to make a danceable and enjoyable track. The transition into the chorus is smooth and introduces the powerful section. The following hook features some more mellow vocals from Misia that work well with the music. The constant subtle variations in the instrumentation that run throughout the song keep the listener engaged and ready to dance. Royal Chocolate Flush is definitely single material and its release before the album was wise and it sounds even stronger on the album.

November – Interlude – is the fourth song and one of two album interludes. This interlude is pretty simple throughout the entire song and begins with the playing of the bass, which sets up the song for a jazzzy feel. Following is a moment of silence before the instruments come together. The piano makes a smooth entrance to the song and blends well with the bass. Nearing the end is some distorted vocals from Misia that make their way onto the song. Although there isn’t much on the track, the interlude is interesting and makes a good entrance into MISSING AUTUMN.

The swwet and soft song, MISSING AUTUMN, is up next on Eighth World. The song opens up with Misia speaking over a beautiful instrumental with the piano spotlighted. The verses are mellow and feature some nice vocal accompaniment from Misia and then there is a smooth transition into the chorus. Because of the arrangement, there is a certain uptempo element that is introduced that only comes in with the chorus. Misia’s use of English during ad-libbing sections makes them pop as she sings “I’ll be missin’ you.” MISSING AUTUMN is a nice and soft enjoyable track but it doesn’t too far apart from the other jazzy tracks. With a little more diversity in the arrangement, MISSING AUTUMN could have stood out even more.

To Be In Love, the biggest ballad on the album, follows MISSING AUTUMN. During the verses, Misia uses softer vocals to support the piano-driven instrumentation. The hook serves as a bridge into the chorus by introducing some new instruments. The chorus features Misia’s range as she holds true vibrato and draws out certain notes to spotlight her vocal abilities. The music is so beautiful on this track that it makes the song so very enjoyable and Misia’s voice suits the song perfectly. Towards the end, her vocals show even more power as she projects loudly but still supports the instrumentation well. As the powerhouse ballad of the album, Misia shined on To Be In Love and placing it as the middle track really draws attention to it.

The seventh song, 裸足の季節, is a nice and smooth track. The song begins with soft instrumentation before moving into the chorus, which really brings a lounge vibe to life with her powerful vocals. The verse features some nice vocals from Misia that blend well with the jazzy feel of the instrumentation. As always, Misia’s vocals are on and they shine so powerfully on this song. Following the set of the second verse and chorus, this true strength is seen as she hits a note in the upper register, showing off her range. The removal of the primary instruments during one of the choruses really spotlights the smooth beat and with the vocals sound great. The song ends with some true ad-libbing to bring this soft song to a perfect close. This track is one of the jazzy album songs and Misia sounds so at home here that it makes the song enjoyable and relaxing as well.

Chandlier appears as the eighth song and is a creative and wonderful album track. The song begins with a jazzy and relaxing feel within the instrumentation brought by the playing of the xylophone. The first verse is smoothly transitioned into and Misia’s vocals show such strength while still complimenting the atmosphere of the song. Her vocals show even more range on the chorus as she opens in a higher register and continues to show off her pipes throughout the rest of the chorus. Following the second verse and chorus is a small instrumental section that first is introduced by some jazzy shaking noises and then the instruments are re-introduced alongside some whispered vocals by Misia. The song ends with some very cool vocals from Misia as the instruments become spotlighted and then a fading ends the song strongly. Chandelier is an excellent song that found its place on the album and the contrast between the mellow feeling of this song and the more aggressive atmosphere of the next interlude is amazing.

The second and final interlude, Hybrid Breaks – Interlude, – is the ninth track on the album. The track opens strongly with guitar playing, which remains throughout the entire interlude. Over time, more sounds come into the track and soon some more distorted vocals come into the picture amplifying the creativity of the song. Following a man’s voice, the instrumentation changes slightly as drums are introduced. Finishing off the interlude is a dramatic instrumental finish followed by an unidentified man speaking “Welcome to the Eighth World.” This is the superior interlude and would have made a very strong album introductory interlude.

Making the transition from Hybrid Breaks – Interlude – is Dance Dance, the fun and poppy dance song. It opens up with a very light-hearted dance vibe and from the beginning English lines, the feeling is kept. The chorus is very sweet and fun and it is particularly the ending tone of the chorus that captures that feeling. The verses see a relaxing of the instrumentation to focus more on the beat and the vocals, which are controlled but still display enough power. The song continues by taking some twists and turns in terms of lyrics by switching into some English lines as well as some instrumental changes. Dance Dance is certainly an happy and uptempo track made for dancing and for smiling as well. Its addition to the album was a wise one.

太陽の地図, the eleventh song, is an uptempo poppy song. The song opens up strongly with a mellow chorus, which consists of English “good day for you, good day for me” sung with powerful vocals. A stronger sense of the upbeat atmosphere comes in after the chorus as a new instrumentation is brought in. The first verse begins happily with “wake up!” and continues strongly with strong vocals that support the instrumentation well. Finishing off the first verse is a strong vocal from Misia that introduces the chorus well. The slight change in the instrumentation of the third verse, heard by subtle twinkling sounds, makes it stand apart as a strong and enjoyable section. The use of English phrases help the song pop by spotlighting them as introductory phrases of their respective sections. Finishing the song is the fading of the chorus, which provides a smooth exit of the song. The song is a nice and upbeat song that finds its home on the album.

Up next is the sweet ballad そばにいて… The song begins with a very soothing and almost child-like atmosphere. The instrumentation centers around the piano and Misia’s vocals blend well with the sound. The transition into the chorus is flawless as there is absolutely no instrumental change and her vocals remain relatively at the same levels. While it keeps the flow, it creates an over-simplistic vibe and with at least a subtle change, it could have stood apart more. The piano solo was a nice addition as it really puts a spotlight on how sweet and soothing the music and Misia’s vocals work well with the music but there should have been more variety to really show the versatility of the track. The song is nice but it’s nothing that stands out as being amazing.

The penultimate song on the album, 君は草原に寝ころんで, is a sweet and creative track. The song begins with a soft piano instrumental supported by some smooth vocals by Misia. Soon other instruments are brought in and introduce the first verse. There is a certain jazzy element that works so well and during the first verse, the vocals support the instrumentation very well. The chorus is as smooth as the rest of the song with drawn out notes that show Misia’s true vocal strength. There is an angelic quality in Misia’s voice that is truly brought out on this song and this comes out even stronger when she effortlessly hits a note in the upper register. With the album almost coming to a close, the placement of the track is perfect for a relaxing and enjoyable song.

Finishing off the album is 太陽のマライカ. A nice ballad to end the album begins once again featuring an instrumentation centered around the piano. Unlike some of the other ballads, the other instruments besides the piano combine to make an enjoyable experience that work well with Misia’s voice. The arrangement is strong here as Misia delivers her lines strongly and there is a strong introduction to the chorus. Overall the song is a nice way to end the album and it stands apart from the rest of the ballads for being different.

Album Ranking: A –

Misia’s eighth studio album, Eighth World, has its strengths and weaknesses. Misia shines on tracks such as Royal Chocolate Flush, 以心伝心, Chandelier and Dance Dance even on Hybrid Breaks – Interlude. – The versatility of these tracks show off just how much of a threat she really is and what she can do. The biggest weakness on the album comes through on some of the ballads, which feature over-simplistic arrangements that are too central on the piano. More subtle changes in instrumentation would have made them pop more. However Eighth World is an amazing album that features some true strong tracks and is a signal to even more strength for her next album era.

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Utada Hikaru – HEART STATION [6th Studio Album]

March 28, 2008 at 4:01 pm (Utada Hikaru) (, )

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Utada Hikaru’s 6th studio album, entitled HEART STATION, was released on 03.19.08. Hikki’s ethereal experimentation played a central role in the album to create a cohesive and beautiful album. In interviews, Hikki has mentioned that her role as a woman played a key role in the creation of the album and the album is considered her most “heartwarming” album to date. Marking her 10th anniversary in the music industry, the album was heavily promoted from the very beginning. The singles released before the album were Flavor Of Life, Beautiful World / Kiss & Cry and HEART STATION / Kiss & Cry. In order to further promote the album, Fight The Blues was released to radio stations on 03.08.08.

Opening up the album is Fight The Blues, a synth-powered ethereal track with a positive message. The song begins with a soft synthetic beat and then transitions smoothly into the chorus. The opening line of the chorus [the title] is pronounced in English and thus draws attention to each introduction. The verses consist of two sections: the first maintains the ethereal sound and the other focuses on an edgier beat with Hikki’s breath to create a nice “breakdown.” As always, Hikki’s vocals are strong and compliment the music very well. The ending instrumentation supported by Hikki’s ad-libbbing is a great touch for its catchy and upbeat feeling. Overall the song is a highly enjoyable track and a perfect way to open up HEART STATION.

Following Fight The Blues is a slew of single tracks and the first to appear is HEART STATION. The title track begins with a beautiful instrumentation similar to that of Keep Tryin’ with an ethereal flavor alongside some opening ad-libs. The verses feature smooth vocals and a relaxed instrumentation. The bridge begins to introduce new instruments and the vocal power is strengthened, making a perfect transition into the chorus. The chorus features notes ranging more in the upper register and the ending lines such as “I miss you” and “I love you” are accentuated as she hits the note strongly and draws it out. The lyrics center around the metaphor of a radio station that connects people through the frequencies of the heart. The song then ends with Hikki repeating “heart station” for a wonderful finish. With beautiful lyrics, a beautiful ethereal sound and great vocals, HEART STATION was a perfect choice as the central song of the album.

The ethereal masterpiece, Beautiful World, is the third song of the album. Opening up with a magical and ethereal sound, Hikki then sings “it’s only love” before coming into the chorus. The English lines “beautiful boy” and “beautiful world” and those similar to those stand out since Hikki uses her upper register to hit them flawlessly. The instrumentation of the verses highlight certain lines, which Hikki’s voice perfectly accentuates. The pure instrumental section alongside some ad-libbing sounds beautiful and gives spotlight to the wonderful sounds of the song. Beautiful World ends with Hikki repeating “beautiful world” to give a strong finish. Although the song is uptempo, the lyrics are tinged with a feeling of sadness and the arrangement of the song suits that. The song was strong when it was released as a single but is even stronger on HEART STATION.

Flavor Of Life – Ballad Version, – the smash single of 2007, comes as the fourth track on HEART STATION. Beginning with the soft chorus, this version captures the sorrowful element of the lyrics from the very opening. The vocals of the chorus show her range and ability to draw out notes to create the most memorable section of the song. The verses features vocals in the lower register and because of the instrumentation, they seem even lower than those of the original version. This version of the song suits the lyrics perfectly by spotlighting the powerful emotion after losing a loved one. The ending of the song is one of the song’s strongest moments due to Hikki’s strong ad-libbing. By putting the emotions to the forefront, Flavor Of Life – Ballad Version – is one of Hikki’s most memorable songs and comes more to life in the context of the album.

The fifth track, Stay Gold, is a piano-driven ballad. After a sweet piano interlude, the beautiful chorus comes in. The vocals within the chorus stay primarily in the upper register and make a good contrast to the verses, which generally stay in the lower range. The bridge is a perfect bridge into the chorus because of the introduction of new instrumentation as well as a shift in vocal style to more of a beautiful breathiness. The phrase “My Darling, Stay Gold” particularly stands out as it is in English and gives the chorus even more flavor. Drawing on inspiration from a Stevie Wonder song of the same name as well as a Robert Frost poem entitled “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” Stay Gold sounds even stronger in the context of the album than it did on the single. The truly magical and ethereal element of the song is brought to the forefront for an enjoyable experience.

The final song in the slew of singles is one of my personal favorite single songs from the HEART STATION era. The song begins very strangely with the blaring of horns and then the true sound of the song comes in. The verses feature some good vocals from Hikki that support the instrumentation well. The hook is a good bridge into the chorus by introducing new sounds and even the horns blaring finishes off the hook. The chorus shows more of Hikki’s range and seperates it as being so very strong. The lyrics are bit strange at some points such as “cup of noodles” but they provide for a certain light-heartedness atmosphere of the song. The third verse is somewhat similar to Flavor Of Life by lowering the instruments to focus on the beat and lyrics, which are in English as it begins. The song ends with Hikki’s strongest ad-libbing on the album as she sings “you’ve got me on a natural high.” She hits the notes perfectly and brings the song to an extremely strong finish. The overall theme of the song, freedom, is personnified through the lyrics and the uptempo instrumentation makes the message even stronger. Kiss & Cry is one of Hikki’s best songs and its immense strength as a single is even greater in the album.

Gentle Beast Interlude serves as the 7th track on the album and the traditional album interlude. It opens up with some nice adlibbing from Hikki before coming into the real uptempo beat. Bits of “HEART STATION” are heard such as the opening ad-libs as well as a whispering of the title. There is also the sound of laughing intertwined that sounds great in the context of the interlude. The entire track consists of Hikki adlibbing but those vocals come even stronger near the end to finish it off amazingly. Gentle Beast Interlude is the perfect interlude of the album since it intertwines the overall sounds of the album and makes an effortless transition into Celebrate. Hikki’s best interlude to date certainly makes a strong impression on the album and makes it very memorable.

The transition from Gentle Beast Interlude into the next track, Celebrate, is effortless for a reason. The two tracks were put on the same demo disc and were seperated for the creation of these two respective songs. Following an instrumental section if the first verse which features smooth vocals that compliment the dance beat. The English lines featured in the hook makes it strongly step out. The phrases “Mr. DJ” and “sexy lady” are accentuated and really show the fun atmosphere of the song. The chorus features relatively simple lyrics but work so well with the music that it’s still really enjoyable. The instrumental section sounds perfect here as it transitions from maintaing that same dance beat to a breakdown where the instrumentation is pushed to the background to focus on the beat. The song ends with Hikki singing “I love the way you make me feel” among other lines to create an excellent finish to a great song. Celebrate is definitely a perfect addition to the album and while maintaing the same sound as the rest of the album, the song takes it in a different direction.

In contrast to the dance-track Celebrate comes a track centralized around strings: Prisoner Of Love. The song opens up Hikki singing “I’m a prisoner of love” and transitions smoothly into the first verse. Notable from the very beginning, Hikki’s vocals sounds great. The hook serves as a bridge from the verses to the chorus by introducing some new instruments that come fuller in the chorus. The arrangement of the chorus alongside the instrumentation creates an amazing sound that stands out clear and strong. The short phrasing of the lyrics gives them emphasis and the tone that she uses perfectly suits the song. The song ends with Hikki singing “stay with me” various times and provides a strong finish for a strong track. Prisoner Of Love is one of the strongest songs on the entire album and Hikki’s mentioning of being proud of the track comes across vividly.

テイク 5, the most creative song on the album, serves as track number 10. Following a powerful opening instrumental comes the soothing verse. Hikki’s softer vocals alongside a very slick instrumentation combine to create such a unique and unforgettable combination. The hook features primary vocals staying within the lower range alongside some other vocals that show her true range. The chorus is pretty simplistic but the booming instrumentation compliments her voice so well that it steps out so strong, especially following the lower pitched hook. The song finishes off with instrumentation supported by Hikki’s ad-libbing. The complete finish of the song is very strange as it sounds like it was cut off in the middle but with the overall atmosphere of the song, it belongs right at home.

ぼくはくま, a cute children’s song and the first single released before the album, finds its home on HEART STATION. Although I was initially nervous about the song being placed on the album, it sounds perfect. The song is very simple and mainly consists of the chorus. Although the song doesn’t feature that true ethereal beauty that the others possess, there is a certain childlike magical feeling that goes with the overall feeling of the album. Hikki even speaks in French in the middle of the song to add to the cute factor. Besides that line and the chorus, there are few other actual lines but the cuteness of the song speaks for itself. The song truly belongs on the album and makes a smooth connection to the next track.

Creating a fluid transition from the previous track, 虹色バス serves as the twelfth (and official final) track on the album. It begins with a light-hearted instrumental before going into the chorus. The tone of her voice in conjunction with the instrumental definitely gives a cheerful feeling and while the lyrics are arguably tinged with sorrow, the sound of the song fits perfectly after the previous track. The hook once again serves as a bridge as it introduces new instrumental additions and flows perfectly into the chorus. The instrumental section following the chorus is very interesting as Hikki’s ad-libbing experiences both a lowering and highering in pitch as it looms. The song ends with the repeating of “everybody feels the same” and provides a nice finish to the song. 虹色バス is a perfect way to finish the album with heartwarming lyrics, a wonderful sound and Hikki’s magical touch.

While the ballad version made the official tracklisting, Flavor Of Life was added as a bonus track. This version is the upbeat (and my personal favorite) version of the song. The song opens strongly with the chorus and then makes a smooth transition into the first verse. The note that she holds on “life” sounds great alongside the instrumentation and brings the chorus to a nice finish. The hook serves as a bridge between the verses and chorus by introducing new instrumentation, putting an emphasis on the strength of the chorus. The instrumentation change in the third verse is a nice touch as it gives it more of a dramatic effect before returning to the usual sound. The song ends with the repeating of “Flavor Of Life” to bring the album (including bonus track) to a perfect close. Adding this version of the song as a bonus track was wise so that the album could appeal to people who prefer this version over the other.

Album Ranking: A +

Hikki’s 6th studio album, HEART STATION, uses an ethereal sound to communicate different emotions and consists of various sounds to make the album a cohesive and enjoyable album. All the songs released beforehand as singles were strong: from the uptempo Flavor Of Life and Kiss & Cry to the emotional Stay Gold and Flavor Of Life – Ballad Version – to the true personnification of ethereal sound Beautiful World and even the cute and childish ぼくはくま. The album tracks keep up with the single tracks and even the interlude sounds amazing. From the true creativity of テイク 5 to the beautiful string-ballad Prisoner Of Love to the perfect opening ethereal and synth masterpiece Fight The Blues to the magical 虹色バス, the album features various jewels that especially shine when listening to the album as a whole. The lyrics do prove that this is Hikki’s most heartwarming album to date and her production on the album really shows what she can do. There is not one single mis-step on this album and she really delivered a quality album which showed who she really is.

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Kuraki Mai – 夢が咲く春 / You and Music and Dream [28th Single]

March 22, 2008 at 9:43 pm (Kuraki Mai) (, )

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Kuraki Mai’s 28th single, entitled 夢が咲く春 / You and Music and Dream, was released on 03.19.08. The single consists of two tracks that compliment each other well by providing such a clear contrast. While 夢が咲く春 is a nice and slow track with an upbeat feel to it, You and Music and Dream is a fantasy ballad.

The first A-side on the single is 夢が咲く春, is a slow and funky track. The song opens up with an extremely catchy instrumentation that blends perfectly into the first verse. Mai’s vocals sound very slick as she finishes each line and provide a good introduction to the chorus. The breeziness of the chorus is captured particularly by the relaxing instrumentation supported by Mai’s soft vocals. The repeating of the title throughout the chorus sounds slightly awkward at times but it makes the chorus very memorable. To end the song on a good note, the song features a slight instrumentation change alongside Mai’s adlibbing to create a great finish. 夢が咲く春 is somewhat reminiscent of One Life with a slower tempo and makes a great transition from her last studio album into a new album era.

You and Music and Dream, the second song on the single, is a good contrast to 夢が咲く春 as a ballad. After a fantasy-like instrumental opening, the first verse opens. Mai’s vocals during the first verse are somewhat breathy but work very well in the context of the song. The chorus features some beautiful vocals in terms of pitch and ability to stretch the notes out. The pronounciation of the title is a bit rushed but doesn’t detract from the overall flow of the chorus. Mai’s vocals after the chorus really showcase her range in a great way. The song ends just as soft and beautiful as it began with a soft instrumentation.

In order to promote the single, a PV was made for 夢が咲く春. Although the video is very simple, it nicely capture the atmosphere of the song. The PV features Mai walking on a beautiful spring day with various images brought in to somewhat a slideshow. Some of the featured images are of flowers, buildings and of the japanese characters for the title displayed across the screen. Mai’s expressions throughout are very cute and fit well with the tone of the song.

Single Ranking: A

Kuraki Mai’s 28th single, entitled 夢が咲く春 / You and Music and Dream, is a great transition from her previous album ONE LIFE. The first track is sweet spring midtempo funky track while the second shows off Mai’s range in a beautiful ballad. If Mai is able to keep this quality throughout this new era, then she is on course for a great album.

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BoA – THE FACE [6th Studio Album]

March 10, 2008 at 5:17 am (BoA) (, )

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BoA’s sixth studio album, THE FACE, was released on 02.27.08. BoA experimented with this album and because of it, some strong album tracks were born. BoA even took her hand at writing a song [ギャップにやられた!], showing a more personal connectin that she had while recording the album. The singles released before the album are Sweet Impact, LOVE LETTER, LOSE YOUR MIND and be with you.

BoA’s opening tracks tend to be one of the strongest and AGGRESSIVE is no different. The song opens up with a hot dance instrumental and segways into the opening line: “Let’s say I love you, it’s so easy!” Accompanying the beat are violins, which introduce the first verse flawlessly. BoA sails through the first verse with controlled vocals that blend perfectly with the music and once the chorus comes, the vocal strength increases and the true pop sound emerges. The use of English helps the words stand out during the chorus, properly seperating it from the rest of the song. Following the second verse and chorus pair, the music returns to its opening sound and BoA shows off her vocal range, perfectly hitting a note with power. During the following chorus, she flawlessly hits notes in the upper register and compliments the poppish beat wonderfully. The song ends with the chorus and by the end, a strong impression for the rest of the album is definitely accomplished. AGGRESSIVE wonderfully continues BoA’s tradition of powerful opening tracks.

Following AGGRESSIVE is Sweet Impact, the first single from this album’s era. To properly open up such a strong upbeat song, the English of the chorus kicks the song off as BoA sings “what you feel, what you see.” Opening with the chorus was a wise decision as the powerful vocals help it stand out strongly. While the music steps down a bit during the verses for a more mellow feeling, that poppiness still looms and keeps the arrangement interesting. This chorus ends with BoA singing “fall in with you baby” with a sort of techno-influenced moment within the music. The pure instrumental section really shows off a hot arrangement that begins low and transitions smoothly into the blaring beat accompanied by BoA’s vocal prowess. The song ends with BoA repeating “what you feel, what you see” and brings the song to an excellent finish. Sweet Impact, one of the strongest songs released beforehand, was a definitely an awesome follow-up after AGGRESSIVE.

After two uptempo tracks, BoA joins WISE for My Way, Your Way. A relaxing and sweet instrumentation opens up the song and soon more sounds are brought into the picture, supporting that cuteness factor even further. The first verse has BoA using softer vocals to really match the music and the approach of accentuating the first words of each line she sings definitely was a strong idea. The chorus is poppy and filled with so much sweetness that lies behind both the music and BoA’s vocals. Following the chorus, WISE delivers a fast-paced but sweet rap that works very well in the context of the song and creates a smooth transition for BoAs part of the verse. Following another chorus, WISE drops another rap but BoA sings alongside him on some lines such as “you made me feel special.” Having both of them performing some of the lines really solidifies the cute romantic element of the song and captures the atmosphere perfectly. The frequent of English phrases is present again and also adds to the whole cute vibe of the track. BoA’s vocals remain consistent throughout the song with its shining spots, making My Way, Your Way a song to remember from the album.

My Way, Your Way served as a clear bridge between the pop sound presented early on in the album to the fourth track, the beautiful love ballad, entitled be with you. The song opens beautifully with pure instrumentation alongside BoA’s soft vocalizing, blending into the first verse. Her vocals are seen as she holds the notes finishing each line. However it’s the chorus when BoA shows off her range both in terms of power and ability to reach notes in the higher register. The beauty behind the instruments comes out following the chorus in a small music section, which is able to capture the emotional presence of the song effortlessly. The third verse features a slightly different instrumentation, used to bring focus on BoA’s vocals, highlighting certain ones [such as the final line of that verse]. Similarily to how the song began, sweet instrumentation brings be with you. to a wonderful close.

LOSE YOUR MIND, which was released as the third single from THE FACE, is a return to hot dance songs. As a collaboration with Yukata Furukawa from DOPING PANDA, he lends master guitar playing to the instrumentation, which opens the song up. From the first line of the first verse, the vocal strength is clear and serves as a nice introduction to the rest of the song. The hook features some non-sensical lyrics [shoo-do-be-do you wanna bags, shoes and cosmetic?] but they give a cute feeling that works even in the context of a hot dance track. The chorus stands apart for its stronger vocals as well as the English phrases that begin each lyrical line. Following the second set of verse and chorus is a section comprised of pure instrumentation. Here Yukata Furukawa really stands out and the guitar plays more of a key role in the instrumentation. The final choruses really show off BoA’s range and as she sings the final “lose your mind,” she hits one of the most powerful notes on the entire album. LOSE YOUR MIND was the strongest song released as a single and it hasn’t lost any of its flavor in the context of the album.

Making perhaps the most flawless transition on the album, LOSE YOUR MIND is followed by Girl In The Mirror. This is without a doubt the most addictive and aggressive song on the album and an extremely addictive one at that. The song powerfully begins with the chorus and a very edgy instrumentation. The English used at the end of the chorus is always fun [“choose it: Crazy? Sexy? Kawaii?”] before she sings the title. The vocals during the verses follows a pattern of beginning of lower with finer vocals finishing the lines. The hooks in which she names three “professions” [i.e. “bad girl,” “Actress,” “supermodel”] uses a different vocal approach that sounds great in such a diverse instrumentation. The third verse features a slightly different instrumentation and powerful vocals that transition into a pure instrumental section. Finishing off the song is a repeat of both choruses. Girl In The Mirror is the edgiest song on the album and due to vocal strength and an interesting and aggressive arrangement and instrumentation, it’s one of BoA’s most memorable songs to date.

In contrast to Girl In The Mirror, Happy Birthday is a sugary pop song. It starts right off with the chorus, which has BoA singing more in the upper register. The little instrumental section following and it really is reminiscent of some of her older cute pop songs. The first verse continues the vocal approach of staying in a higher range and the transition into the chorus is absolutely flawless. During the verses, the instrumentation is very much present but some of the instruments are pushed back to really focus on the vocal prowess. They begin to return during the hook, which serves as a transition between the verse and chorus in terms of music. The longer instrumental section features a wonderful and welcomed change of instrumentation by bringing a new instrument to the forefront that compliments the overall atmosphere perfectly. Even though Happy Birthday may not be as strong as some of the other cute songs from her previous albums, it certainly is enjoyable and returns to that flavor BoA had in her older albums.

Although all of the B-sides from this era didn’t make it onto the album, Diamond Heart [from the LOVE LETTER single] thankfully did. Continuing the cuteness from Happy Birthday, Diamond Heart simultaneously takes more of a dance approach. The song opens up with an unidentified man speaking and then the chorus comes, whch features some strong vocals by BoA. During the verses, BoA delivers her lines at a somewhat fast pace in a lower register that comes off very slick and works well in the context of the song. Because of this approach, the verses actually hook me more than the chorus does and it serves as a good contrast to the cuteness of the chorus but still sounding cohesive. The third verse has BoA showing her range off and goes right into the chorus. The song ends with a fading of instrumentation and brings the song to a great close. Diamond Heart is a perfect combination of sweetness and more of a mature pop flavor that creates a fantastic dance song.

LOVE LETTER, released as the second single from the era of THE FACE, comes next. The song opens up with the chorus, which features brilliant vocals and a strong instrumental presence. The use of English [“love letter from my heart,” “love letter for your smile”] really makes it “pop” and makes it stand out. The vocals stay within a lower range during the verses, which serves as a perfect contrast to the power behind the chorus vocals. This is also supported by the instrumental that jumps out more during the chorus, making the entire song perfectly cohesive. The third verse changes things up a bit while still maintaining excellent vocals and making a smooth transition into a pure instrumental section that shows off the beauty behind the song. The ending of the song repeats the English lines and puts BoA’s range to the forefront by getting into the higher range. LOVE LETTER is a strong ballad that finds its home on the context of THE FACE.

Contrasting to the poppy songs [Diamond Heart and Happy Birthday] and LOVE LETTER comes BRAVE, the coolest sounding track on the album. Opening up the song is an amazing instrumentation that makes a great transition into the verses. BoA effortlessly delivers the lines smoothly with good vocals and slick sexiness to them that makes them extremely enjoyable. The use of English phrases [“brand new morning” and “silent sky”] also help the verses pop in support of the certain hollow atmosphere. A more uplifting feeling is achieved during the chorus, which features strong vocals that compliment the music clearly. The pure instrumental section features some impressive guitar accompaniment that smoothly transitions into the final choruses. For its powerful originality as well as dark and hollow atmosphere, BRAVE emerges as one of the strongest album tracks and most enjoyable songs off the album.

BoA decided to take her hand at writing one of the songs on the album and ギャップにやられた! was born. The opening is really strange and then the real beat comes in with a sugary light pop sound. The verses feature some poppy vocals that work well with the beat and stay to more of a higher register. Interestingly enough, BoA delivers one line before the chorus with a more distorted voice that packs attitude behind it. The chorus sounds really cute and pretty with wonderful vocals and the instrumentation works perfectly with it since it highlights certain notes that BoA follows through on. The third verse features lyrics entirely in English and helps it stand apart from the other verses in a big way. The song ends with pure instrumentation and brings the cute song to a perfect finish with a slightly funky ending. As BoA’s first attempt at writing, she definitely delivered a great adorable song.

The somewhat funky ending to ギャップにやられた! serves as a bridge to one of the most interesting tracks on the album: Style. The song opens up with a funky instrumentation that goes straight into the first verse. The vocals in the verses sound are more lower on the register and the lyrics are delivered with a slickness to them. The hook serves as a great bridge between the verses and the chorus and the cool arrangement during the “going on, going on” sounds great. The chorus is interesting as the words stand out because the phrases are so short and the vocals compliment them very well.  The third verse features a somewhat different arrangement and more power behind the vocals, which serves as a great transition to a small instrumental section. Following is part of the chorus with somewhat distorted vocals and then the regular chorus. The always edgy instrumentation ends the song with some strange sounds introduced but sounds great. Style definitely is one of the best album tracks and is memorable.

Another B-side to make it to the album is Smile again, from the LOSE YOUR MIND single. A beautiful piano opening introduces the song and then there is a transition to a fantasy-like instrumentation. The first verse returns to the piano alone alongside BoA’s deeper vocals and that fantasy feeling begins to come back as it introduces the chorus. The chorus features some amazing vocals that carry both power and emotion behind them. The pure instrumental section that is accompanied by BoA’s vocals in the upper register are definitely not to be forgotten. The song ends with that fairy-tale feeling and brings the song to a wonderful finish. Smile again is one of the beautiful ballads from the album and stands out for its strength and emotion clearly expressed in her voice supported by an absolutely gorgeous instrumentation that contributes to the wonderful atmosphere.

Like the other B-side from the LOVE LETTER single [Diamond Heart], Beautiful Flowers found its way to the album. The opening drum roll and following violins create an impressive introduction, which then melts into a strong instrumentation to create a fantasy-like feeling [somewhat similar to Smile again only in an uptempo form]. The verses feature a poppy dance beat with great vocals by BoA but it is really the chorus that stands out when the vocals get even stronger and the instrumentation jumps forward. BoA accentuates the beginning words [in English] with vocals that are highlighted by the music to make it catchy and memorable. The pure instrumental section mixes the violins with the poppish instrumental to make a wonderful sound and soon the drum roll momentarily comes back, bringing all the musical elements together. The song ends with the fading of the chorus to end the song nicely. Beautiful Flowers is a wonderful part of the album and bears somewhat of a resemblance to Beautiful Fighters by Hamasaki Ayumi. Adding Beautiful Flowers to the album was definitely a wise decision since it’s A-side material.

Best Friend, a midtempo number, was chosen to finish off the album. The vocals during the first verse are well-maintained in the lower range and compliment the music well. The chorus features cute English phrases [“you’re my best friend” and “I wanna be there for you”] and has more powerful vocals. The third verse is my favorite part of the song as the vocals reach new highs and the instrumentation becomes more involved. Following is the chorus and is somewhat remiscent of an acapella section since BoA’s vocals come to the forefront and the music takes a step back. The song ends with a nice instrumentation made for listening to. Best Friend is a cute midtempo song and a sweet way to finish off the album. I think Smile again would have been a better ending for the album but this track is still cute and friendly and relies more on a simplistic arrangement to find beauty.

Album Ranking: A

BoA’s sixth album, entitled THE FACE, features lots of strengths. From the beautiful ballads such as Smile again, LOVE LETTER and be with you. to the edgier and cool tracks such as Girl In The Mirror, AGGRESSIVE, BRAVE and Style, BoA offers such versatility and diversity with this album. From start to finish, BoA’s vocals show their true power and range as she belts out some notes [LOSE YOUR MIND] and sings primarily in the upper register [My Way, Your Way and Diamond Heart]. THE FACE is one of BoA’s strongest albums to date featuring strong singles and amazing album tracks to create a cohesive and enjoyable experience.

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Amuro Namie – 60s 70s 80s [32nd Single]

March 10, 2008 at 5:16 am (Amuro Namie) (, )

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Amuro Namie’s 32nd single, entitled 60s 70s 80s, was released on 03.12.08. After the great success of her last studio album, PLAY, Namie participated in the new project entitled Fashion X Music X Vidal Sassoon. On the single, Namie sampled parts of three songs all from different eras [60s, 70s, 80s]. As Namie’s first triple A-side, she certainly brought her best game.

New Look, the first song, is a creation that was inspired by the 60s. Sampling The Supremes’ hit single, Baby Love, New Look is a poppish song about fashion. The opening instrumentation booms amazingly into the chorus, which stands out the most from the song. Even from the chorus, the frequent use of English is displayed and despite some dated phrases “we so fly” and even some newer phrases “lol” and “omg,” there is a cuteness element that comes across perfectly. Throughout the verses, her voice consistently remains controlled in a lower register while her voice brings out more power on the chorus. The song ends with her strongest vocals yet as she sings “baby love” [an ode to the original song sampled]. Overall the song was the weakest on the single but is still very enjoyable and worth the listen.

The second track, Rock Steady, was influenced from the 70s. Sampling from Rock Steady by Aretha Franklin, Namie’s song has a rock flare alongside a pop sound. The opening instrumentation transitions perfectly into the first verse with strong vocals that compliment the beat perfectly. The chorus is easily the most addictive with strong vocals and even a small countdown reminiscent of FUNKY TOWN. The third verse has Namie singing in a lower register with a slight instrumentation change. The song ends with the chorus and then a closing line of “get steady.” The song is the second strongest on the single and definitely a Namie song to remember. The song could have been a little stronger if the arrangement had a little variety in it and seperate other parts of the song aside from the chorus.

The 80s era has produced What A Feeling, the strongest song on the single. Sampling What A Feeling by Irene Cara, Namie’s track features a techno sound that comes through very strongly. From the opening lines of the first verse “I love to dance yeah, everybody call me dancing queen,” the energy of the song is presented. The vocals are consistent as they remain in a lower range until they reach the hook. As Namie sings “ooh,” the vocals grow stronger and show their true power when the chorus comes. Although simplistic, it captures the energy and supports the atmosphere perfectly. The third verse gives the song in a slightly different feel as she sings “forth” repeatedly, sung in a lower key. The lines following are sung in the same lower register and blend perfectly into the small instrumental section. The song ends amazingly with pure instrumentation and finishes off the song with as much strength as it began with. Overall the track was the strongest on the single and it was smart to release this song as the final song of the campaign.

The cute atmosphere of the PV for New Look focuses on fashion. With clothes scenes and hair scenes and various colors splashed throughout the video, the director definitely brought the atmosphere of the song to a wonderful visual representation. Rock Steady’s PV features some great choreography and Namie with attitude [The opening car scene is a prime example of the cool demeanor Namie possesses]. The overall video definitely captures a music life with chart positions, live performances and even street dancing. The PV for What A Feeling is very original and primarily uses dark colors. The robots are a nice touch and contribute to the whole 80s  atmosphere. Of course the strongest point of the PV is Namie’s dancing, which reflects the era’s style while bringing a modern flare to it.

Single Ranking: A

Although I was nervous about Namie’s 32nd single when the project was first announced, 60s 70s 80s really blew me away. While New Look is really cute and poppy, Rock Steady has an edgy element that stands out proudly and What A Feeling presents a hot techno sound to finish off the single with the best track. As Namie’s first triple A-side, she definitely brought strong material and it keeps me hopeful that her next single will continue the amazing quality that only she can bring.

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Tohoshinki – Keyword / Maze [21st Single] [5th TRICK Single]

March 10, 2008 at 5:14 am (Tohoshinki) (, )

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Tohoshinki’s 21st single, entitled Keyword / Maze, was released on 03.12.08. The song TRICK from their latest album T, is a mash up of five different songs. Quickly following that album was the TRICK project in which five singles were to be released each with a solo song from each member on the single. This single features Maze, a solo song sung by Jaejong as the B-side and therefore is dubbed “his single.”

The opening song, Keyword, is a sweet midtempo track. The song opens up with a very interesting instrumental that flows perfectly into the first verse. The first verse possesses wonderful vocals that perfectly compliment the instrumentation and follows the arrangement, which calls for higher notes at certain points. The chorus stands apart from the verses with controlled vocals and different instruments coming into play. The second verse continues the flow from the chorus by keeping the notes relatively in a lower and softer range, greatly supporting the overall atmosphere. The song ends as sweetly as it began, putting a good finish and maintaining the flow. Overall Keyword is very enjoyable although there should have been some more powerful notes that could have been ad-libbed near the end.

Jaejong’s solo song, Maze, is another experiment into the rock genre. The song opens up with some powerful instrumentation. Once the first verse begins, the blaring rock sounds are lowered so that Jaejong’s voice can be the focus and surprisingly, his voice sounds right at home on the track. The hook is a bit awkward cause the words seem a little slow to catch up with the beat but it serves as a great transition into the chorus, which features perfectly controlled yet powerful vocals that sound just like a J-Rock song. Perhaps it’s the transition from the chorus that makes the second verse stand out more than the first but in any case, it works well in the song’s favor. The song ends greatly with instrumentation, bringing everything to a close. Overall it’s a great song but a little more variety in arrangement would have made it a little more stronger.

Single Ranking: A –

Keyword / Maze, the fifth single in the TRICK project, ends the project on a strong note. Keyword, a perfectly sweet midtempo song is one of the best group songs on the project while Maze is a stronger attempt at the rock sound. Jaejong steps out from the group via his strong vocals and chooosing to end the project with him was a wise idea.

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Kanjani∞- Wahaha [8th Single]

March 10, 2008 at 5:10 am (Kanjani∞) (, )

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Kanjani∞’s eighth single, entitled Wahaha, was released on 03.12.08. In an interesting marketing strategy, only the regular edition of the single contains an extra song as the B-side entitled BJ. Despite a very strange name for the song, the guys of Kanjani8 really brought some strong material on the track.

Wahaha, the title track of the single, captures a very poppy and funny element strongly. The song opens up with a strange laugh that sounds really weird but is a good opening for the light-heartedness and transitions nicely into the instrumentation, heavily driven by guitar. The vocals within the first verse go well with the music and the instrumental remains ever interesting. The chorus features good harminization by the group members and more powerful vocals as well as some more strange laughter. The second verse continues the good vocalizing from the first verse and transitions well into the chorus again. The third verse changes things up slightly for a moment due to a change in arrangement and the vocals show continued strength. The song ends with some laughing and a few notes of guitar. Overall it’s a really great summer tune and despite having its weird moments, is an enjoyable song to listen to while in the mood for a laugh.

The B-side of the single, 誰よりキミが好きだから, is an enjoyable uptempo track. It opens up with a strong instrumentation that creates a summery feel. When the first verse begins, the atmosphere becomes upbeat with a jazzy atmosphere looming. The vocals are well performed and compliment the music well. The chorus features nice harmonization between the members of the group and stands out the most for its catchiness and strong vocals. The instrumental section is nice and it ends with a great ending just like it began.

BJ, a B-side only available on the regular edition, also is guitar driven to create a midtempo track. The first verse features some vocals primarily within a lower register to go perfectly with the music and goes great into the hook, which features a slightly different instrumentation that is memorable. The chorus is very nice and while it doesn’t seperate itself from the chorus too much, it’s a nice continuation of the song that catches attention. The third verse is a great addition to the song containing a slightly different arrangement and following is a very sweet and “twinkling” instrumental section that goes along with the music. The song ends with a summery atmospheric instrumentation. Overall the song is a nice addition to the single and placing it on the regular edition alone was a smart marketing strategy.

The accompanying PV for Wahaha is definitely as strange as the song itself. While it does capture the atmosphere and spirit, the video seems somewhat childish and just crosses the point where it’s still really enjoyable while listening to the song. It features various funny facial expressions as well laughing and just playing around. It fits with the song but maybe they could have toned it down…just a little.

Single Ranking: B +

Kanjani∞’s eighth single, Wahaha, features three different feelings in different songs. The title track is fun and enjoyable, always ready for a hearty laugh. 誰よりキミが好きだから is an uptempo jazzy number that is very creative and original. BJ is a sweet midtempo track. It’s a quality release that makes me look forward to new releases.

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Tohoshinki – Close to you / Crazy Life [20th Single] [4th TRICK Single]

March 4, 2008 at 7:24 pm (Tohoshinki) (, )

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Tohoshinki’s 20th single, entitled Close to you / Crazy Life, was released on 03.05.08. The song TRICK from their latest album T, is a mash up of five different songs. Quickly following that album was the TRICK project in which five singles were to be released each with a solo song from each member on the single. This single features Crazy Life, a solo song sung by Yuhno as the B-side and therefore is dubbed “his single.”

The leading song, Close to you, is another strong song from the TRICK project. Opening the song is guitar driven instrumentation with the group’s name being spelt out. It sounds somewhat awkward but compliments the cute element the song possesses. The chorus features some nice vocals but very strange English phrases pop up and are very noticeable. They set the song apart from the rest of the song but the approach could have been much smoother. The following rap works well in the context of the song and maintains a strong flow. The pure instrumentation is a really nice touch with some vocals here and there and sound great. Overall the song began pretty weakly but really picked it up to be catchy. 

Crazy Life, Yuhno’s solo song, is an energetic dance song. The song opens up with a hot dance instrumental with an interesting arrangement followed by a very small rap. The verses contain smooth vocals that compliment the music perfectly. The hook is a good bridge between the verses and the chorus and shows off some nice vocals with a subtle sexiness hit in some of the notes (as he sings “sexy”). Although the chorus is relatively simple, it works well with the context of the song and compliments the overall atmosphere. The third verse features a long rap and there are some other strange sounds in there but it’s a rather enjoyable part which is followed by a pure instrumental section that was made for a dance break. The song ends similarily to how it began and is the perfect finish for the track. The song was enjoyable and danceable and showed off Yuhno’s rapping. The only area of improvement was that there were no shining vocal moments.

Single Ranking: A –

Close to you / Crazy Life, the fourth single in the TRICK project, loses no steam from the last release. Both tracks are upbeat and made to dance to. Close to you is a cute and danceable song while Yuhno performs strongly on Crazy Life, a hot dance song with great vocals. Hopefully the final single in the project will be able to follow the previous strong releases.

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