Sa-Asa – ハローハローハロー [Debut Single]

March 20, 2009 at 12:37 am (Sa-Asa) (, )

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Sa-Asa’s debut single, entitled ハローハローハロー, was released on 03.04.09. Although she released some previous songs, this is her major label debut on GIZA records.

ハローハローハロー is a nice and natural number, driven by the sounds of the guitar. The song starts off with a nice and simple midtempo instrumentation that has a relaxing feeling to it. Then she comes in with the first verse and there’s a real cuteness in her voice that is somewhat reminiscent of Otsuka Ai when she first started. The chorus is nice although a little simplistic. It would have been nice if the music had some sort of change to stand out in the listener’s head. Overall, it’s not a bad song and sometimes the simple route is the one that works the best but this one was just a little too simple.

トワイライト slows down the pace slightly from the A-side, still keeping the natural atmosphere. The instrumentation is prettier although the similarities between the two songs doesn’t do her any favors. She should have tried a different sound so that the listener could see a different side of her.

In order to promote the single, a PV for ハローハローハロー was made. Now there’s a similarity vocally between Sa-Asa and Otsuka Ai and there’s also one visually. She looks pretty much like Ai did a while ago and there’s this sweetness to the PV that is reminiscent of Ai. It’s kind of childish but I think that’s where its charm lies.

Single Ranking: B –

For a debut single, it definitely could have been stronger but it’s still a nice listen. Both the A-side and B-side carry something similar to them and that’s nice but it would have been nice if they showed more diversity for her.

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Nishino Kana featuring WISE – 遠くても [5th Single]

March 19, 2009 at 9:44 pm (Nishino Kana) (, )

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Nishino Kana’s 5th single, entitled 遠くても, was released on 03.18.09. The title track is a collaboration with rapper WISE.

Nishino Kana and WISE team up on 遠くても. The song starts off with a midtempo instrumental with a few vocals from Kana and a few words from WISE before the actual singing of the chorus. Kana’s vocals are very pretty and sweet, helping to establish the cute atmosphere perfectly. She sings “always love you” before a little section of pure instrumentation comes in and there’s something very natural and likeable about it. She continues to sound in touch with the emotions of the song on the verses and she brings more sweet vocals. The repeating “love” part is kind of weird because WISE doesn’t really give the emotions and Kana sounds too fragile. Surprisingly, WISE’s rap section fits into the song perfectly and really catches the listener’s ear. It’s a great song with a cute atmosphere that the listener can really fall for.

In order to promote the single, a PV for 遠くても was made. The cute and loveable vibe of the song is reflected in the video. It consists of Kana hanging out with her friends and just being girls. The simplicity of the video really works with this song so it’s a good fit.

Single Ranking: A –

After her last single, Kana had to bring something good to continue such good quality and that she did. She teamed up with WISE for the sweet song 遠くても and the listener can really relate to the cuteness of the song.

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Kitahara Aiko – 春風が舞う頃には [18th Single]

March 19, 2009 at 5:30 pm (Kitahara Aiko) (, )

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Kitahara Aiko’s 18th single, entitled 春風が舞う頃には, was released on 02.04.09.

春風が舞う頃にはis a fun upbeat number with a some festive Spanish influences to make the listener want to dance along with Aiko. The song starts off with an entrancing Spanish instrumental and that guitar is absolutely addictive. She does vocalizations here and there and they add to the sort of mystery of the song. Then she sings the first verse and she provides some great vocals that really help the listener feel the story of the lyrics. The chorus has such a carefree feeling to it that the listener can really get into the song even more. Every moment of pure instrumentation is valuable and takes the listener into another world. Aiko really shines on this title track and it sort of continues the sound from her last single.

雪 slows things down as it has a certain prettiness to it that stands out, reflecting a truly romantic atmosphere. Her vocals are nice throughout although it isn’t nearly as interesting as the title track. It’s just missing that magical element that the listener can connect with.

In order to promote the single, a PV for 春風が舞う頃には was made. The video is very simple, just featuring Aiko singing along with her band and another scene of Aiko singing with cherry blossoms falling from the sky. Nothing really happens but I suppose it’s nice.

Single Ranking: A –

It’s another great single for Kitahara Aiko as she channels Spanish influences again to spice up the instrumentation. Her vocals are strong and move with the music perfectly. Although the B-side is somewhat forgettable, it’s worth the listen. Hopefully an album will be coming in the future since she’s consistently bringing good tracks.

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Super Junior – Sorry Sorry [New Song]

March 19, 2009 at 5:01 pm (Super Junior) ()

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In order to promote Super Junior’s upcoming new Korean album, entitled Sorry Sorry, the group released a promotional song of the same name.

Sorry Sorry brings out the boys’ more mature side. The song starts off with a pretty R&B instrumental that soon picks up to a hot dance feel, surprising the listener at the change. The boys then come in and the repeating “sorry” and “shawty” feature slick vocals that are absolutely perfect for the music. They really entice the listeners and leave them wanting more, which they soon give. On the first verse, the vocals are even smoother if that’s possible and they add a little spice to the song. The rap section has a kind of cool sexuality to it that augments the coolness of the song. Sorry Sorry is a strong way to introduce the boys’ upcoming album and their mature sound really gets under the listener’s skin.

In order to promote the song, a video for Sorry Sorry was made. In conjunction with the boys’ more mature sound, they bring a mature look to match. It’s in black and white and features the boys dressed in suits as they show off some great dance moves. The close-up shots are enjoyable too and put a spotlight on just how good these guys look.

Song Ranking: A

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Morning Musume – プラチナ 9 DISC [9th Studio Album]

March 18, 2009 at 10:23 pm (Morning Musume) (, )

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Morning Musume’s 9th studio album, entitled プラチナ 9 DISC, was released on 03.18.09. The singles released before the album are as follows: 悲しみトワイライト, 女に 幸あれ, みかん, リゾナント ブルー and 泣いちゃうかも.

The album begins with the aggressive dance song, SONGS. The song starts off with the piano, which gives a very pretty and sweet feeling and soon the instrumentation picks up and introduces new sounds for the listener to fall in love with. It’s very diverse and definitely is a new dive for the girls that they step into perfectly. On the first verse, they continuously deliver cool and sleek vocals that make the listener take notice of. The chorus is absolutely addictive and the girls show that their vocals go together perfectly and they can deliver attitude like no one else. Of course, the pure instrumental section is addictive before re-introducing the chorus, supported by a softer and prettier instrumental. Lyrically the song is great as it centers around the theme of moving onto the hopeful future while singing a song. It’s definitely something everyone can relate to. Morning Musume has a tendency to bring amazing opening songs for their albums and this one is no different. SONGS is addictive and follows the girls’ continuous mature-sounding material that makes them such a talented and versatile group.

The first single to appear on the album is リゾナント ブルー, an upbeat dance song about a girl getting her heart broken. The song begins with a little pure instrumentation, which starts the song off on the right way before the hook comes in. Reina and Ai sing “cry, cry, don’t cry” and immediately, the listener can feel the emotions of the song perfectly. They both have their solo lines as well and continue to bring out the emotions. Reina and Ai dominate basically all of the solo lines but it’s okay because they have great voices that suit the song so well. The other girls get a chance to shine on the chorus when everyone is split into groups and the harmonies between them are great. Reina, Ai and Koharu each “help me” and that little section is definitely one of the best parts of the entire song. It sounds like there is a slight Arabian influence on the pure instrumental section, which sounds absolutely amazing. On the final chorus, after Reina, Ai and Koharu sing their “help me,” Sayumi belts out one of her own and the listener can definitely hear the emotion come alive in her voice. It was great when it was released as a single and it hasn’t lost any of its magic.

The third track is the ballad, 雨の降らない星では愛せないだろう? Opening the song is the piano, which really starts the song off on a graceful and fragile note, touching the listener’s heartstrings. Then the girls come in on the first verse and there is such a vulnerability in their voices that the listener can really believe what they are singing. They all sound great on the chorus and the instrumentation carries an element of magic with it to make the listener really fall in love with the song. There is also a feeling of hope that comes out, which compliments the overall atmosphere of the song. It was a nice touch to have JunJun and LinLin sing in their own language because it has more of a personal feeling to it. That last note that they sing is heavenly and is a great way to move into the final moments of pure instrumentation. It’s one of the group more memorable ballads and it’s a great addition to the album.

Reina, Ai and Risa have a trio song with Take off is now! The song opens up with a man speaking in a slightly Jamaican accent before the song’s hot dance instrumentation comes in and strikes the listener. It continues that mature sound that Morning Musume does so well. Then Reina starts things off with the first verse and she sounds great. Both Ai and Risa hold their own as well and give vocals that go with the music perfectly. They sing “take off is now!” (with very strong vocals) and then there is a little section of pure instrumentation which is strangely addictive.  The chorus is full of energy that will make the listener want to get up and move. The guy comes back as he speaks over a perfect section of pure instrumentation. The song ends with a real hip-hop flavored instrumental, which just gets into the listener’s head. Take off is now! is one of the best songs on the album and is a good representation of the girls’ mature side.

The last single released before the album, 泣いちゃうかも, is up next. The song starts off with four different girls repeating “かも” before the dance instrumentation comes in, prompting the listener to get up and move with them. Reina and Ai split up the first verse and both of them do an excellent job of portraying the emotions of the song while giving strong vocals. The lyrics are similar to those of リゾナント ブルー, speaking of a breakup while keeping an upbeat tempo. Sayumi does a good job on her solo line, revealing Mariko, who is the center of the story. The hook continues as the girls split into pairs (Risa and Reina / Ai and Eri) and there’s something very capturing about these two lines and they introduce the chorus perfectly. The chorus features all the girls, grouped in two groups of five (Sayumi sings in both groups). There are solo lines performed by different girls on different choruses but they always manage to stand out because they are powerful and keep the emotional energy up. The pure instrumental section is great and provides a nice opporunity for a dance break. It’s a fantastic song and it definitely belongs on this album.

私の魅力に気付かない鈍感な人 is Mitsui Aika’s solo number. On the album, it’s probably the least interesting song just because there’s no particular spark to it. It doesn’t carry the same mature sound as some of the other tracks but doesn’t capture the energy well enough to make it really cute and enjoyable. Aika’s vocals are pretty good so the blame really falls on the hands of Tsunku and the instrumentation.

Koharu, JunJun and LinLin team up for グルグル. It definitely isn’t as strong as the two other trio songs as these girls try for the more cute and hyper approach. It’s not bad but it feels kind of out place considering the general atmosphere established by the other tracks.  However it is better than the previous track as it harneses that energy and goes full-force.

みかん is one of the album’s most cheery songs. That very pretty and sweet instrumental that starts off the song is the perfet segue into the hook, song by Koharu and Aika. Their vocals go well together and catch the listener’s ear nicely. The girls split up the first verse and the following get to sing: Ai, Eri, Risa, Sayu, Reina and Koharu. The other girls ge their to chance to sing on the chorus when the girls are split two groups: one of six and one of three. Everyone understands and portrays the happiness of the song so that it all comes together. On the pure instrumental section, the guitar comes in and adds a little flavor to the music. Although this song might get some criticism, it’s actually pretty good and helps balance the overall album package.

Reina, Ai and Risa have another trio song, this time entitled 情熱のキスを一つ. It’s another mature song, showing that these girls really bring the talent. There is a certain relaxing atmosphere on the first verse and all three girls show that their vocals are able to go with any time of music. The chorus is very enjoyable as the girls harmonize perfectly and keep the sweetness of the song. Reina definitely brings it on the last note of the chorus and shows off her vocals.  The trio of Reina, Ai and Risa are just made to sing together as seen from this song and Take off is now! This song is a great part of the album and a true gem.

Michishige Sayumi has her turn to step up on her solo song, It’s You. The song starts off with the guitar being shown off before the song dives into a certain funky instrumental that just makes the listener really get into it. Admittedly, it’s kind of strange to hear the noises near the beginning because they present such a sexual atmosphere that isn’t usually associated with Sayu. She then continues into the first verse and the continuous “hey my boy” continue that sexuality but she sounds much more comfortable here. Throughout, her vocals are very smooth and sleek, staying on the listener’s mind. There is such a sweetness to her voice though so the sexuality doesn’t take over as seen in the chorus. The pure instrumental section is genius, as it just portrays such a fun atmosphere that the listener can get up and dance along to. It’s You is definitely one of the best songs on the entire album and is undisputable proof that Sayu can do her thing.

The girls give some attitude with 女に 幸あれ, which was released before the album. Starting the song off is a cool pop dance instrumental with has a sort of emotional edge that catches the listener’s ear right way. Koharu begins the first verse and her vocals go really well with the music, standing out perfectly. Ai and Eri do a great job as well with their vocals. What make the hook so memorable is the repeating “バカ” sung by Eri, Sayumi and Reina. There’s just so much personality and attitude there, which is really what the song is all about. They deliver the emotions even more on the chorus, Reina and Koharu having solo lines which catch the listener’s ear. The pure instrumental section is addictive, making for a perfect dance break. Although it’s kind of strange to see the song come here after such a long time, it’s good to hear it again.

The album’s semifinale is Kamei Eri’s solo song, 片思いの終りに. It’s a very relaxing and pretty song that just gives the image of a sunny day that the listener can really visualize. Eri’s vocals are so sweet and inviting that the listener can’t help but love it. She is able to step up a little more vocally on the chorus as she holds her notes strongly and gets the listener even more into the atmosphere of the song. Eri did a great job on this song and she shows that she can handle a solo track with ease.

Closing the album is the rock-influenced, 悲しみトワイライト. The song opens with a cool and edgy instrumental, hihglighted by the guitar, stirring up the rock tints to spice up the instrumental. On the verses, the vocals are actually very pretty and have a certain emotional context to them that is reflected in the songs’ lyrics. The chorus allows the girls to belt out a little more. Aika sounds great on her solo line and Miki sounds great as usual. The pure instrumental section is awesome as the rock elements come out a little more stronger and give the instrumentation a slightly more aggressive edge. It is kind of strange to see this song on the album since it doesn’t feature the current line-up but I suppose it’s a nice addition to the album.

Album Ranking: A +

Now with a line of great singles (悲しみトワイライト, 女に 幸あれ, みかん, リゾナント ブルー and 泣いちゃうかも), the album was set up to be good. Normally, H!P album tracks fall a little flat in comparison to the single tracks but プラチナ 9 DISC does not face that problem. SONGS, Take off is now!, It’s You and 情熱のキスを一つ are all amazing songs that show off the girls’ mature side. Sayumi really delivered up a surprise on her solo as she got the whole mature atmosphere perfectly. The girls’ next single is already announced so hopefully they’ll be able to keep up such incredible quality.

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BoA – BoA [Debut English Album]

March 17, 2009 at 9:46 pm (BoA) (, )

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BoA’s debut English album, entitled BoA, was released on 03.17.09. The album was released before the single Eat You Up and the upcoming single is I Did It For Love. Look Who’s Talking was originally planned to be the second single but was used as a promotional song instead.

The album opens up with I Did It For Love, featuring Sean Garrett. The song starts off with a very cool instrumental with BoA repeating “I did it for love” in a sort of robotic voice to match the overall atmosphere. Then she sings the first verse and she definitely understands the attitude of the song because her vocals really portray the emotional story of a girl loving a guy who doesn’t return that love. The chorus is very simple, just featuring BoA singing the title of the song over. Although there is something about it that just is pleasing to the listener’s ear. Sean Garrett’s part really wasn’t necessary and his vocals aren’t that great so he doesn’t really add anything praticularly memorable to the song. Overall I Did It For Love is a simple song but a good way to introduce the listener to the music style of the album.

BoA gets ready to dance with some aggression on the second track, Energetic. Opening the song is an attention-grabbing instrumental and BoA sings “report to the dance floor.” Then there are some vocals from a guy and he actually starts the song off very nicely as his voice commands attention just like the music. BoA comes in for the first verse and her vocals are highlighted by the certain hollowness of the music since the beat is focused. She then sings “put me on” repeatedly and there’s something strangely hypnotizing about it, despite its simplicity. Energetic is a fantastic song that really takes the listener into the world of BoA.

Did Ya features some rock tints to drive home the message of the song. The song starts off on a fun way with a little circus-like sound going on to really stand out to the listener. She then slickly moves onto the first verse and her vocals show strong emotion and really make the listener pay attention to the story of the song. On the chorus, she sings “you shoulda loved me but you didn’t, did ya?” and the sort of in-your-face attitude really shows BoA’s confidence.  The constant repetition of the circus sound throughout the song really makes the instrumentation one of the most interesting album offerings and her vocals are some of the most emotionally energetic, which makes Did Ya one of the best songs on the album.

Look Who’s Talking is without a doubt one of the most addictive songs on the album. The song begins with a really cool instrumental that gets the dance beat going and then in comes BoA. She sings “champagne and caviar, hot boys at the bar looking at me” and this sort of harmless self-centeredness really works in BoA’s favor since she can pull the attitude off perfectly. Her vocals are sleek as well, adding to the attitude and making it believable. The hook is great as she sings “they wanna give it to me” and “this song is all about me, damn right it’s all about me” and her vocals here are stepped up a little so that the listener has to pay attention to them. Actually, the song seemed to have more energy and attitude when it was performed live but it’s still one to look out for because it’s an album jewel.

The album’s first single, Eat You Up, is next. The song begins with a hot beat and then the actual dance instrumentation comes in to spice things up. BoA’s vocals on the first verse are great and her prounciation is actually really strong. Her flirty side is shown as she sings “you feed my appetite in ways I can’t explain.” Like a lot of the other songs, the chorus is simple and just features BoA singing “I’ll eat you up.” However she sounds great, her vocals really standing out here so it’s no problem at all for the listener. The second verse features two of the best lines of the song: “Like I’ve become some kind of demon in the night, you look so tasty I could eat you up alive.” Eat You Up is a fantastic dance song and was a wise choice to release as a single.

Obsessed comes as the next song. The song starts off with a heavy instrumentation and then BoA repeats “it’s a crime” and “it’s a shame” before moving into the first verse. BoA’s vocals here are great and her prounciation is fantastic. She really brings out to the lyrical theme of the song for the listener to catch onto. She steps it up even more on the chorus as the emotions come out a little more while still keeping that cool edge. Since the music is so catchy, the pure instrumental section is great, spotlighting the aggression of the instrumentation. Then the third verse is a great followup as BoA gives even stronger vocals and blows the listener away. Obssessed is a wonderful track and certainly one that will get stuck in the listener’s head.

BoA’s sexy side comes out again with the next song, Touched. The song begins with an interesting dance instrumentation with has some kind of siren going on to make it all the more exciting. On the first verse, BoA brings great vocals and she describes just how the boy is making her feel. There’s just something very magical about the instrumentation in the chorus, which catches the listener’s ear. One noticeable thing is that the backing vocals are actually pretty loud and they seem to overtake BoA’s vocals at points but it’s still really addictive. Touched is another fantastic song that has that American appeal to it that BoA takes to perfectly.

Scream was originally written for German group Monrose and was also used to make the song Daydream for the temporary Korean group Anyband (featuring BoA herself). Beginning the song is a very pretty dance instrumental and then BoA speaks a line. There’s something very grabbing about that one line because it lingers on the listener’s mind and keeps them wanting more, which she then delivers. It sounds like her vocals are distorted but just only by the smallest amount and as the verse goes on, the instrumentation builds up and becomes more grand to introduce the chorus. The lyrics of the chorus are really good as she sings “There’s nobody to hear, it doesn’t matter, it’s only me and you and all of your fears.” It’s another great song and has a kind of prettiness to it that makes it memorable among all these dance tracks.

BoA pulls a self-cover with Girls On Top. The song was originally sung in Korean and now she’s singing it in English. Sometimes changing the language can make the song sound awkward because it wasn’t written in this second language but BoA manages to do herself proud. It’s probably one of the best vocal performances on the album, particularly on the chorus as she declares “this is who I am!” The beat is hot and definitely makes the listener want to dance. The only problem is that the parts with the backup vocalists are a little annoying and appear just a few too many times. They’re not so horrible but it would have been better had the amount of them be lessened. Overall though, it’s an enjoyable track and it serves as a sort of connection between BoA in the Asian Industry and the American one.

The semifinale, Dress Off, shows BoA’s sexy side yet again. The song starts off with an addictive dance instrumental that will have the listener moving the minute it starts. BoA’s vocals on the first verse are commanding and entice the listener and the backing vocals are a nice touch and adding a bit of mystery to the mix. What makes the song so fun is the chorus, in which she sings “why don’t you whisper to me, to me, how you wanna get freaky, freaky,” which is a perfect representation of the sexuality that BoA brings. The “dress off” part of the chorus is great because there’s this certain perky element to it that is kind of cute while still staying with the overall atmosphere of the song. The third verse is interesting as she repeatedly sings “me,” each time getting slightly louder until she’s hitting the fantastic note at the end. Dress Off is without a doubt, one of the best songs on the entire album and hopefully it will be a single in the future.

The album closes with Hypnotic Dancefloor. With its dark atmosphere, BoA brings the dancefloor to life and creates the image for the listener. Since BoA is such an accomplished dancer, it’s kind of nice that she shows that dedication and love in a song. The lyrics have a sexual energy such as “feelin’ an erotic charge, almost like a pain” and it’s obvious that BoA is vrey comfortable with it so it doesn’t come across as awkward as all. Hypnotic Dancefloor is a great way to close the album and keep the listener moving.

Album Ranking: A +

Honestly, I can’t say that BoA made one single mis-step on this album. Every single track is gold, showcasing BoA’s hot dance style. Some of the biggest standouts on the album are Look Who’s Talking, Did Ya, Dress Off, Touched and Obsessed. Any of these songs would make great singles and it’s a solid release from its beginning to its end. I hope that this album gets the recognition it deserves because one thing can be sure, it blew Hikki’s album out of the water.

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Amuro Namie – WILD / Dr. [34th Single]

March 15, 2009 at 5:01 pm (Amuro Namie) (, )

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Amuro Namie’s 34th single, entitled WILD / Dr., was released on 03.18.09. Namie continued her collaboration with Vidal Sassoon with this single seeing as Dr. was featured in their new CM. WILD was used in a Coca Cola Zero Commercial.

Namie takes to the electronic influences perfectly with the first A-side, WILD. The song begins with a hot dance instrumental, driven by electronic sounds which immediately catch the listener’s attention. There is a certain outer space feeling that comes through and when Namie’s vocals come in, it’s the perfect combination. The chorus features a lot of English (a Namie standard) such as “work the middle” as well as a list of body parts (legs, arms, belly, etc.) and it’s absolutely addictive. It has that upbeat Namie energy that is just irresistable. The verses have a more relaxed feeling to them and they serve as an interest contrast to the high energy of the verses. Following the third chorus is the repeating of “let’s get wild” and the listener really picks up on the coolness of that one phrase. The song closes with Namie repeatedly breathing in order to capture the sexual energy of the song even further. WILD continues the line of amazing Namie songs and is definitely the proper way to start off 2009.

Dr. takes on the futuristic sound of a technological world to really show Namie’s ability to adapt to any sound. This song samples the ballad theme of Bolero in order to communicate it’s theme: ultimate love that transcends time and space. The song begins with a little opening that really gives a story effect as a computerized voice says “access, please press enter after entering your wish” alongside the sound of a hearbeat and then the song’s sleek instrumental comes in. Namie sounds great on the first verse as her vocals are very cool and controlled, really engaging the listener with the atmosphere of the song. The repeating “doctor” is a nice touch and adds to the flavor of the song. She sings “Doctor Chronos!” and then she dives into the chorus, which at first might come as a surprise since it sounds so different from the verses. It’s in all English as she repeats “please change is the best, save us doctor; please tell how it’s important doctor” and the drums are brought out to make the instrumentation a little more upbeat and returns to that Namie style. There is a flawless transition into the next verse even though the sounds are so contrasting with its soft and gentle sounds. Each moment of pure instrumentation is an opportunity for the listener to fall into the world of the song. Dr. is another fantastic delivered by Namie and it’s a great way to show that she is able to adapt to any sound with ease.

In order to promote the single, two PVs were made: one for WILD and one for Dr. Namie has always been an exceptional dancer and we get to see that yet again with the PV for WILD. The video has a very dark feel to it as Namie and the background dancers are dressed in all black and show us just how wild the dancing can be. As always, her moves are on point and they match the music’s energy perfectly. There is also a scene of Namie sitting on the moon, wearing a beautiful silver dress with the view of the Earth in the background. It’s an awesome PV and it definitely matches the atmosphere of the song.

The PV for Dr. is Namie’s first animated video. It has a similar animation style to that of Utada Hikaru’s Passion PV and it actually really works with the whole theme of the song. The video tells the story of Namie traveling through time to deliver a message to the people of the past. It opens up with Doctor Chronos awakening Namie from her perservation chamber in the year 3000 and then Namie embarks on her message to save the past world from the destruction that she’s seen. In the end, she reaches a young girl and there is a feeling of hope that the listener feels. I think a video featuring the actual Namie would have been great but this animated video has a really good theme that the viewer can really fall into.

Single Ranking: A +

One thing that you can say about Namie is that she is consistent. She just doesn’t know how to deliver bad songs and this single continues to prove that. Both WILD and Dr. take on new songs for her, letting the listener understand her versatility. WILD tackles those electronic influences perfectly to make an addictive dance number while Dr. has a very futuristic atmosphere that tells the story of the power of love that can change the world. It’s amazing how she consistently deliver such strong material and I can’t wait to see what she brings next.

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alan – Voice Of EARTH [Debut Studio Album]

March 14, 2009 at 5:12 pm (alan) (, )

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alan’s debut studio album, entitled Voice Of EARTH, was released on 03.04.09. The album comes after a slew of singles including all 5 singles of the Elemental Single Project as well as other ones. The singles released before the album are as follows: 明日への讃歌, ひとつ, 懐かしい未来 ~longing future,~ 空唄, 風の手紙, RED CLIFF ~心・戦,~ 恵みの雨 and 群青の谷. Liberty was used as the theme song for the dorama Hikon Doumei. The bonus track, Together, was composed by alan herself.

天女 ~interlude~ opens up the album perfectly, introducing the listener to traditional Tibetan influences. The interlude begins with a very calming sound that really calms the listener and soon alan comes in with her vocals that reach beyond the sky. These sudden vocals do come as a bit of a surprise but they’re actually one of the best parts of the entire song. There’s just something so natural and mystical about them that the listener can’t help but love them. Then the song’s proud Tibetan influences come in and with the clear focus on the instrumentation rather than vocals, it is very reminiscent of sign, a B-side from alan’s second single. When she does sing, she actually does so in Tibetan, adding a certain flavor to the song. With more wonderful vocalizing in the background, everything is tied together perfectly. It may not feel much like an interlude, clocking in at over three minutes, but there could be no better way in opening up this album.

ashitaenewFollowing is alan’s debut single, 明日への讃歌. Opening the song is a little singing part which introduces the song beautifully. alan’s vocals are very smooth and pacifying and there is certain element of mystery to the instrumentation, which centers around traditional instruments. Then there is a small section of pure instrumentation in which the music becomes slightly more powerful and it makes a smooth transition into the first verse. She continues to give wonderful vocals so that a very natural atmosphere is established. But the best part of the song is the chorus, which might come as a surprise to the listener since alan’s stellar vocals seem to come out of nowhere. She holds her note with ease and her ability to communicate emotion is framed here. One part that stands out the most in this song is the end of the second chorus when she sings the title of the chorus. Those notes are just heavenly and have a way of sticking in the listener’s mind.

alan picks up the pace with the beautiful upbeat number, 空唄. The song begins with a great little section of sorautanewinstrumentation, decorated by Indian influences, which stand out to the listener. alan does a few vocalizations here and there that carry, really fitting with the image of the sky which the song represents. Next comes the first verse and between the calm instrumentation and alan’s smooth vocals, the listener really falls into a dreamy state. Before the chorus is one line and it serves as the transition between the verse and chorus. alan holds that last note and there is a little fanciful instrumental ascent, making way for the energy of the chorus. The English phrases “I can fly away” and “try again” really stand out as they are some of the few attempts alan makes at English and add to the overall free feeling that the more uptempo beats establishes. Things take a very interesting path on the pure instrumental section as the listener can alan’s fragmented voice repeating “I gotta…” and the usual levity of the music is brought down. It then comes shining brightly again when the chorus comes back again and alan gives more great vocals. The song ends with alan singing two lines and she sounds great as usual. The last word is sung without any musical accompaniment so that the focus is on her voice, which is a fantastic way to end. 空唄 was the one of the best releases from the 5 Elemental Single Project and it fits perfectly on Voice of EARTH.

natsukashiinew懐かしい未来 ~longing future~ communicates the element of Earth through a very natural instrumentation and soothing vocals. The song begins with the sound of some people laughing and what sounds like kids running around as a very pretty instrumental tracks slips through. alan then sings the first verse and her vocals are great as usual, maintaining that smoothness and beauty that stands out to the listener. On the chorus, she gives a stronger vocal performance as the emotions come through more strongly and in her voice alone, the listener can feel an atmosphere of hope rising. She then adds a little flavor to the song by doing her beautiful wail, matching the tone of the song perfectly. The pure instrumental section is absolutely amazing as alan plays the erhu and there’s just something very natural and true about that instrument that belongs with the song. Continuing the string of strong single tracks, 懐かしい未来 ~longing future~ hasn’t lost any of its magic from its single release. If anything, it sounds even better in the course of the album and sounds kind of like an album theme song.

ひとつ follows the same sort of mindset as alan sings about being connected to people around the world: that we are hitotsunewone. The beautiful sounds of the piano open up the song and quickly alan comes in for the first verse. She sounds great here and there’s a certain fragility in her vocals that really capture the listener, directing their attention to the emotional level of the song. As usual, the chorus offers alan the opportunity to show off those amazing vocals and she takes the chance in her hands well, particularly at the end when she sings the line including the title of the song. Following the chorus is a little section of pure instrumentation and the relaxing atmosphere really shines through. Finishing off the song is more pure instrumentation, to take the listener out of the song perfectly. It’s a great song with filled with emotion and beauty for the listener to enjoy from start to finish.

kazenew風の手紙 follows and is actually slightly edited from its release as a single. Beginning the song is a mysterious sound that inrigues the listener because of a coldness to it that evokes the picture of desolation. Then alan arrives and she sings part of the chorus over a cool instrumental track that does have a certain way of communicating the element of wind. Following is a section of pure instrumentation and that’s where the rock tints come out and spice up the music, which is welcomed because it stands out in alan’s discography. She then continues onto the first verse and gives more great vocals to catch the listener’s ear. More emotion emerges on the chorus as she gives stronger vocals. She closes the chorus with “the answer is blowing in the wind” and again, the English is very ear-catching. Near the end of the second verse, she sings “taxi driver” before going into a section of pure instrumentation. Here’s where the song was slightly edited because there is a small but noticeable cut of some of the music, which is really a shame because it’s one of the best parts of the entire song. She finishes the song off with some vocalizations, which do work with the whole element of wind quite well. For those last notes, it would have been nice if she reached higher and it would have been very effective as a final climax of sorts. It’s the final song in the slew of single tracks and it’s one of the most memorable and diverse songs on the album.

Probably the most intriguing track on the entire album is the uptempo number, BRAVE. With exotic elements driving this instrumental masterpiece and alan’s copious use of English, this song is incredible. Opening the song are a few very interesting moments of pure instrumentation before alan dives in part of the first verse. She sings “don’t you know? I just dreamed, oh by your side” and there’s something very magical both in her vocals and the instrumentation here that the listener can’t deny. Then the energy comes full force with some Indian influences driving the instrumetnation and a slight distortion that really works with alan’s vocals as she reaches a little higher. She continues on with great vocals and with the addictive nature of the music, it proves to be a truly dangerous combination. The hooks are interesting because of the English phases that finish off each line such as “long time” and “one love.” She sings these phrases with a certain freedom that sounds great. The hook features a calmer instrumentation and the English lines “I miss your voice” and “please! anyone reach for me,” which show the theme of longing. Featuring even more English, the chorus stands out strongly as the uptempo beat comes strongly again. She finishes with “I believe me, fighting for you” and there is something so powerful in that one statement that it cannot be ignored. The song finishes with the same distorted vocal section that proves so addictive throughout the song. Without a doubt, BRAVE, is one of the best offerings on the album and one that cannot be missed.

The beautiful 夢のガーデン is up next. Beginning the song is a very mysterious yet entrancingly beautiful instrumental that soon becomes associated with coldness. Instantly, so much emotion comes through and creates a dreamy state for the listener to enjoy. Then is the first verse and alan’s vocals go perfectly with the music, once again proving her ability to communicate so much through her voice alone. The chorus really stands out as the electric guitar has another chance at partaking the instrumentation and it creates a climax effect. She continues that at the end of the chorus when she holds that note with perfection. The erhu makes another appearance after the second chorus and it belongs here, adding to the unimaginable beauty of the song. This is another one of the album’s best offerings and an amazing new ballad album track.

gunjou2群青の谷, the final single released before the album, is the following song. Beginning the song is a sweet section of soft instrumentation and very pretty vocals from alan. Then the tempo picks up and the instrumentation becomes more diverse, for the listener to really fall into. She gives strong vocals and the uptempo beat tied in with traditional influences really suits alan’s voice. She gets to show off those great vocal chops on the chorus and the emotions hit the listener strongly. The pure instrumental section is wonderful because the gorgeousness of the music is shown off for all to hear. In the final chorus, alan gives some vocalizations that make this song so memorable. The song ends with a similar soft instrumental that began the song, tying the whole song together. This is one of the best singles released before the album and it’s a perfect fit on Voice of EARTH.  

And things are slowed back down with the next track, my friend. A very simple but sweet instrumentation begins the song and there’s something very natural that the listener can connect with at first listen. With the acoustic guitar serving as the primary instrument, the atmosphere drowsily comes alive just like a story. alan sounds strong on the first verse since her vocals are calm and match the relaxed atmosphere of the music. The chorus is nice as well altough there is no particular instrumental change to really build it up. When she sings “my friend,” it’s a phrase that stands out to the listener very nicely. The pure instrumental section is great because the music takes a slightly different turn and has a cool feeling to it. my friend may be the simplest offering on the album but there’s something very likeable and relatable about the song that makes it an enjoyable part of the album.

Liberty takes cues from the previous track although there is a lighter feeling to this one. Opening the song is a sweet instrumental that bears a striking similarity to the opening instrumental sequence of my friend. Moving into the first verse, alan’s vocals are at their usual smooth and pretty state, complimenting the overall music well. There’s something lighter and slightly more upbeat about the music in here that creates a noticeable difference between this song and the previous one. She holds a note sweetly and then she goes into the chorus. The instrumentation has a little bit more life in it and alan’s vocals are still great, catching the listener’s ear. There are a few notes from the electric guitar in those few seconds of pure instrumentation and they definitely don’t go unnoticed. They really come out to play on the pure instrumental section, which is probably responsible for making this song so memorable and wonderful as it is. There’s just something about it that makes the listener want to smile and that fits with the overall theme of the album. Liberty is a great track and although somewhat similar to my friend, it’s still quite the enjoyable number.

Up next is the gorgeous ballad, 月がわたし. With the piano starting the song off, immediately the emotions come rushing out and touch listener’s heart. Then alan sings in the first verse and just like always, alan does a great job of portraying emotion in her voice while keeping the smoothness that supports the music. During the verses, there are little strings of piano in descent of key, which evoke the image of water to suit the beautiful and graceful overall sound of the song. The chorus brings in a few traditional influences here and there and it’s just so magnificent that it might very well bring the listener to tears. Lyrically, the song is a masterpiece as the metaphor of alan being the moon is consistent throughout the entire song. Essentially, she sings that she is the moon watching over the person she loves (which can actually be interpreted as everyone in the world, fitting in with the theme of the album) and how she wants to take the pain away, lighting up the road to the future. It’s just an absolutely beautiful song that is one of the album’s best offerings.

RED CLIFF ~心・戦~ is the song representative of the fire element in the form of a beautiful ballad. The song begins redcliffnewwith alan doing some vocalizations and the fragility and peacefulness is almost haunting in combination of the ominous instrumentation. Following is a small section of pure instrumentation which continues that slightly haunting atmosphere, which leads perfectly into the first verse. alan’s vocals are wonderful and really stand out to the listener. What makes the song so grand and epic is the chorus, in which the emotions come pouring out. Just from listening, it’s clear that alan is singing from her heart and that’s something that is unforgettable. After the second chorus, alan gives her signature wail to beautifully calm the listener even more. More pure instrumental lead the listener out on a good way. It’s another wonderful ballad and one of alan’s most memorable numbers.

恵みの雨 is the song representing the element of water. Beginning the song is a very delicate instrumental, prompted by the sounds of the erhu. Then comes alan and her vocals here are very pretty and already, the emotional atmosphere of the song comes alive to really resonate with the listener. But those emotions are even stronger on the chorus as alan provides stronger vocals. Although she doesn’t go particularly higher, she manages to push the emotional envelope and make the listener take notice. Things take a slightly different turn on the final chorus as the instrumentation is higher and more powerful, matching alan’s even stronger vocals. With a true emotional contect, it’s no wonder that 恵みの雨 was included as the semifinale for the album.

Together, a song composed by alan herself, is the album’s finale as the first press limited edition bonus track. The song starts off with the sound of a drum and quickly, the instrumentation snakes its way into the track. alan provides some great vocals that are probably some of the smoothest on the album. Traditional elements also find their way to the music and they add a little flavor to the instrumentation. Probably a part of what makes this song memorable is that alan speaks and the listener can hear such calmness in her voice that suits the song perfectly. She shows off her vocals after the talking section and they add a little variety to the song. alan definitely deserves a round of applause for composing such a song herself and it’s a great way to close the album because it gives a true atmosphere that comes through the title.

Album Ranking: A +

Voice of EARTH is a collection of songs meant to unite the people of the world through the common thread of music. With the themes of peace and love surrounding the songs, alan’s personal philosophy is reflected so that a piece of her heart is really the cornerstone of the package. Eight singles were released before the album and offered some of the album’s best gems from the upbeat pop sensation 空唄 to the traditionally based 明日への讃歌 to the rock-influenced 風の手紙. From the new album tracks offered on Voice of EARTH, alan certainly proves her unmistakable talent. BRAVE is probably the album’s best song and it’s a great opportunity to see alan take on more upbeat sounds and be completely in her element. 夢のガーデン and 月がわたし are both beautiful ballads, each with their unique sound to really reflect alan’s heart. The only problem with Voice of EARTH is that is definitely could have had more diversity to it. It would have been nice to see more upbeat tracks to balance out all the ballads to give alan a more diverse repertoire. Nonetheless, Voice of EARTH is an amazing collection of songs that lives up to the long wait it’s taken to get here.

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Utada Hikaru (Utada) – This Is The One [3rd English Album]

March 14, 2009 at 5:11 pm (Utada Hikaru) (, )

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Utada Hikaru’s (Utada’s) third English album, entitled This Is The One, was released on 03.14.09 in Japan. Originally it was to be released on the 24th in the United States but for unknown reasons, it will be released physically in May. It will still be released digitally on March 24th. Come Back To Me was released as a single before the album.

The album opens up with upbeat dance number, On and On. The song starts off with a hot dance beat that has a very American feel with Hikki doing a few vocazliations here and there. Then comes the first verse and she gives some good vocals, managing to stay at the same pace as the music. She does sound a just a little high at some points and a lower vocal tone might have suited the song better. It sounds great when she says “make the night go on and on” because there’s kind of a level of sexuality that Hikki sounds completely comfortable with. One other line that stands out is “honeys if you’re gay, burn it up like a gay parade.” The chorus is very simple, focusing around the repeating of the title of the song. On and On truly has an American feel to it; it actually sounds like a Ciara song from the instrumentation to even the vocal stylings. It’s kind of repetitive but overall it’s a nice song and a nice way to open up This Is The One.

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence – F.Y.I., the next track, samples Ryuichi Sakamoto’s song of the same name. Opening the song is a pretty instrumental that is filled with emotion and suddenly the beat is clear and the tempo picks up, pleasantly surprisingly the listener. Then Hikki sings the first verse and her vocals are great here, staying closer to the lower tone while still being very smooth. It’s kind of strange to hear Hikki sing things like “holla at me” and “work it out hustlters.” The chorus is great and those vocalizations are somewhat haunting but they add to the mystery of the song. This song is a much better song than On and On; it’s actually one of the strongest songs on the entire album and just has a very Hikki-feel.

Apple & Cinammon, which was the first announced track, is the third song on the album. The song starts off with the piano and a clear beat before the first verse. Her vocals are good and she sings with true emotion here and her vocals really suit the music. On the chorus, the instrumentation becomes more diverse as the backing becomes stronger and more engaging. The lyrics are pretty nice too as she sings “started out so simple and innocent” and “chemistry like apple and cinammon.” That pure instrumental section is gold though with that sort of dark element coming through strongly. One problem with the song is that it does come to be kind of repetitive so that it ends up dragging on a little bit. Overall, not a bad song but just not one of the better ones.

Up next is Taking My Money Back. The song starts off with a cool instrumentation with the same musical technique of bringing together the piano and a more aggressive background accompaniment. When Hikki sings comes on the first verse, her vocals are nice but they could have been stronger. There’s something very familiar about the song but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where that similarity. Lyrically, the song is about a man who just didn’t appreciate Hikki so she’s done and she’s taking her money back. On her previous English album, Hikki explored various new lyrical themes and managed to sound completely in her element. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Taking My Money Back. There’s something about it that just doesn’t come across as truly believable.

The fifth song is This One (Crying Like a Child). Opening the song is a soft instrumental highlighted by the sounds of the guitar. She carries so much emotion in her voice and it sounds great when she holds those notes (such as when she sings the title of the song). The chorus stands out because the instrumentation becomes more diverse and more capturing and Hikki’s vocals are still great. This song is actually pretty good although it does drag on a little near the end.

Hikki throws a curveball, sampling herself with Automatic Part II. Well when the song starts, it doesn’t really sound anything like the original with some hip-hop influences thrown in to spice it up. It actually sounds pretty interesting and quickly catches the listener’s ear. Then the vocals come in and it’s a bit strange. She sings “hello my name is Utada” and the way that she says her name just sounds awkward. Even with the vocals, it still doesn’t really sound like the Japanese Automatic. On the second verse, she tells the listener that they can look up her on myspace or her newsletter. She’ll be glad to you but you won’t be getting her number. Basically this song is about how she is drawn to music and so it’s kind of cool but it’s really not her best effort when it comes to the actual lyrical execution. The song sounds nothing like the original song so I don’t really get the connection she was trying to make because although the sampling is there, it seems very distant.

Hikki shows her sexy side with the next song, Dirty Desire. She starts the song saying the title of the song and instantly the sexuality comes out strongly. Then she moves onto the first verse and she generally stays in the higher register but it works in the context of the song. The chorus is very simple, just featuring Hikki repeating the title of the song and after the chorus she repeats it four more times. On the second verse, she really brings it as she sounds like she’s doing a kind of talking-rapping thing and it suits the song much better. The song should have just been done like this with the exception of the chorus because it would have sounded much better. The pure instrumental section sounds great as it has a very interesting and creative dance feel to it that entrances the listener. Dirty Desire is a nice track although a little repetitive.

Up next is Poppin’. The song begins with a very mysterious instrumental a la Pink Panther, which takes the listener’s attention strongly and then Hikki comes in. Her vocals are too high and it’s kind of hard to understand her, so the first impression isn’t very strong. But then she sings in the lower register and that sexuality comes oozing out as she holds her notes strongly. She says “girls…you know we have it better than the boys” and there’s something so great about that one line. But then she continues back in the high register and it takes away from that coolness although the line “oops, did I turn you on?” is fantastic. On the second verse, there is the sound of a wolf crying which adds to the mystery of the song. The talking does get a little annoying after a while but Poppin’ is without a doubt, one of the best songs on the album and worth checking out.

The album’s preceding single, Come Back To Me, is the semifinale. The song begins beautifully with the sounds of the piano before moving into the song’s actual sound. Hikki’s vocals are nice throughout the song and much like Taking My Money Back, there is just something about it that doesn’t particularly Hikki. Probably the most stand-out part of the song is before the final chorus when she sings “baby come back to me.” The combination of the music at that point and Hikki’s vocals just works. It definitely carries a more mainstream sound, which can be considered a good or bad thing.

The album closes with the Spanish influenced, Me Muero. The song begins with a cool and relaxing Spanish pushed instrumental that catches the listener’s ear and then comes the first verse. She picks the wise decision in staying in the lower register and her vocals go perfectly with the music. She kind of has an accent on the chorus and it doesn’t really make sense because she doesn’t usually have one. Nonetheless, she sounds great when she sings “me meuro” and there is a lot of emotion in her voice. It’s a great way to close the album with a very interesting sound.

Album Ranking: B –

Honestly, what makes this album disappointing for me is that I know Hikki can do a lot better than this. Exodus was a masterpiece, featuring such diversity in lyrics, sounds and styles. This Is The One’s biggest problem is the repetitiveness. There are so many slow numbers with similar sounds, that it begins to get a little old. Luckily, there are some standout tracks here like Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence – F.Y.I., Poppin’ and Me Muero. What I can say is that the album is much more mainstream than Exodus but I would have taken a unmainstream diverse album over this anyday.

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alan – 群青の谷 [8th Single]

March 13, 2009 at 5:49 pm (alan) (, )

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alan’s 8th single, entitled 群青の谷, was released on 02.04.09. With lyrics written by Cocco, the song was written specially for victims of the Sichuan 2008 Earthquake. That location is also the setting of the promotional video.

群青の谷 is one of the strongest songs from the Voice of EARTH era. After back-to-back ballad single releases, this song is a breath of fresh air, taking elements of breathtaking traditional sounds and a more uptempo pace. The song begins with a very sweetly as the emphasis is on alan’s voice as she sings from the heart. Here, the instrumentation is very simple, just being the sounds of an acoustic guitar and a certain “doll-like” sound that stands out to the listener. Then the song’s true sound comes through as the pace picks up the instrumentation becomes more diverse. Again, alan’s vocals are amazing as usual and carry a certain freedom to them that will touch the listener’s heart. They’re even stronger on the chorus as she pours out the emotions, particularly on those notes which she holds with beauty. gunjou1Since the music is so wonderful, it’s no surprise that the pure instrumental section really gets under the listener’s skin and pervades throughout. Near the end, alan effectively shows off her vocal range as she reaches high and hits those angelic notes that only she can. Closing the song is the same sweet and more relaxing sound that begins the song and it’s the perfect way to round out the song and tie it together. It’s a fantastic song and alan sounds so natural and comfortable on it that the listener can feel it.

In order to promote the single, a PV for 群青の谷 was made. alan shot the video in Sichuan and the video is a visual masterpiece. It begins with alan playing the erhu for a group of people and you can tell that everyone is into it as they are slightly swaying back and forth. At this scene (and throughout the entire video), the view is incredible and is a breathtaking experience. The rest of the video features two primary parts: alan wandering the town in a very pretty wihte sweater and alan essentially singing to nature, wearing a gorgeous red dress and a magnificent cover to keep her cool. With its various colors, it really reflects the ultramarine valley of the title. It’s an absolutely magical video that suits the song perfectly.

Single Ranking: A +

With a string of singles under her belt, it was a challenge for alan to deliver a song that would make itself memorable from the other seven ones. However the challenge proved to be very easy for alan as 群青の谷 is one of the best singles released thus far. It ties together traditional elements and an upbeat tempo to make a very standout track that touches the listener. alan’s vocals are no less than amazing as usual and she really brings the song to full blooming life.

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