EXILE – THE HURRICANE ~FIREWORKS~ [31st Single]

July 23, 2009 at 4:38 am (EXILE) (, )

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EXILE’s 31st single, entitled THE HURRICANE ~FIREWORKS,~ was released on 07.22.09.

FIREWORKS is the first song on the single. Beginning the song is a cool upbeat instrumental with some traditional sounding influences, which makes a very interesting combination. Then the chorus comes and the vocals are just okay, suiting the music nicely although it does feel a little cheesy with lines like “your love is like fireworks.” The verses are a little better just because the vocals sound cooler and suit the music much better. It’s a nice song although not the most interesting.

優しい光 is the next track. It’s a pretty ballad in terms of the instrumentation although the lead singer’s vocals do get to be a little high at times. However, it is quite a nice song and a good fit with the boys’ style.

The boys team up with FLO RIDA on THE NEXT DOOR -INDESTRUCTABLE.- It’s an edgier dance song with an aggressive sound that definitely shines. This should have been the A-side since it’s a sound that really works with the boys’ voices well.

Single Ranking: B

THE HURRICANE ~FIREWORKS~ is a good single in terms of diversity. FIREWORKS has a good dance sound, 優しい光 has a pretty and emotional sound while THE NEXT DOOR -INDESTRUCTIBLE- carries the needed edge. However if the first two songs hit the mark a little harder then the overall package would have been more enjoyable.

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EXILE – THE MONSTER ~Someday~ [30th Single]

May 2, 2009 at 5:01 pm (EXILE) (, )

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EXILE’s 30th single, entitled THE MONSTER ~Someday,~ was released on 04.15.09. This single comes as the first one following the merge of EXILE and J Soul Brothers to form a 14-member group.

Someday is a poppy upbeat song made for being happy. That opening instrumental sequence is very pretty and is actually really ear-catching. Then comes the first verse and as usual, the vocals are good and compliment the relaxing music very well. Even though the chorus doesn’t really sound that different from the verses, there’s just something likeable about it, which is good. The pure instrumental section sounds wonderful and definitely has a summery feeling that just helps the listener drift off into paradise. Someday is a very good song and perfect for the season.

THE NEXT DOOR is a aggressive and energetic number. Beginning the song is a very cool dance instrumental with that hip-hop flare that makes the listener stand in awe. When the first verse starts, rock elements come out to play, spicing up the instrumentation even more. The vocals sound great with the music and they primarily stay in the higher range but the listener can’t help but love it. More of the members get a chance to sing on the chorus and it offers a nice little vocal variety and with the music staying strong, it stands out as a good section of the song. THE NEXT DOOR is a great track and is one of this group’s more memorable songs.

給珍愛的未來 is a beautiful love ballad. The song starts off with the piano, introducing the listener to a delicate and fragile atmosphere that has a certain feeling of spring to it. When the first verse comes, the vocals are fantastic, portraying emotion and truth, which stays on the listener’s mind. The instrumentation supports this with such a sweetness and the combination is perfect. The chorus stands out as the music becomes stronger and the vocals follow suit so that a magical feeling emerges. It’s another strong song for the boys with the emotional context standing out very nicely.

GENERATION, a dance song, is the last track on the single. Opening the song is a dance instrumental that just has fun written all over it. The first verse starts in and the vocals are good although they could have been better, more emotive. There’s just something about the music that is missing and so it feels a little hollow. This persists in the chorus so although the vocals are good, the music isn’t capturing enough and doesn’t hook the listener as strongly as it should. It’s by no means a bad song but a fuller instrumentation would have made the song much more memorable.

In order to promote the single, a PV for Someday was made. The video is simple, just featuring the fourteen guys dancing and a group of adorable kids watching. It was a nice idea to have everything centered around the color white, since it tied the whole video together. Not the must intriguing video but the dancing was really good.

Single Ranking: A –

The guys did a great job here and this is a strong single to introduce the new 14-member line-up. Someday takes on a summery sound to make the listener want to dance along and be happy; THE NEXT DOOR goes for a cool sound that the boys really excel out; 給珍愛的未來 is a sweet ballad of love with emotions coming across strongly; GENERATION fell a little flat but it’s a nice song nonetheless. Hopefully they’ll be able to keep up this quality in the future.

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[Part Five] Oricon Year 2008 Top Albums

December 10, 2008 at 5:01 pm (AAA, aiko, Aira Mitsuki, Arashi, ayaka, AZU, Berryz Koubou, BIG BANG, BoA, capsule, EXILE, Hamasaki Ayumi, Ito Yuna, KAT-TUN, Koda Kumi, Kuraki Mai, Leah Dizon, MEG, melody., Misia, Morning Musume, NEWS, Perfume, Shimatani Hitomi, Stephanie, Suzuki Ami, Tiana Xiao, Tohoshinki, Utada Hikaru) ()

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Well there have been many albums released in 2008, some good and some bad. This is a countdown of the top 30 albums released this year. Who’s album reigned number one? Who made it onto the countdown? Continue reading to find out…

albums1It’s no surprise now which album takes the title of Album Of 2008. Just take a look at the picture above or to the right. Koda Kumi’s Kingdom was a fantastic album from start to finish and one really deserving the title of album of the year. It all started with the first single of the Kingdom era BUT / 愛証. BUT was my first Kuu song and the beginning of the love that would follow. It’s an absolutely addictive song and definitely one of her best songs to date! With each release, I became more excited: FREAKY, 愛のうた, LAST ANGEL (featuring Tohoshinki) and anytime all proceeded Kingdom and each single was another reason to make me anticipate the album. When I finally listened to it, I was blown away. Introduction For Kingdom is absolutely gorgeous and continues the trend of Kumi’s amazing introductory tracks. Some of the album gems are 甘い罠 (the traditional addictive Arabian number), Under (the hottest new track showing off that coolness that Kumi portrays so well), MORE (the best ballad with the emotions coming through clearly) and Black Cherry (full version of INTRODUCTION from her previous album and a fantastic dance track). Having a video for each track was also fantastic as we got to see sexy Kumi in the Under PV, beautiful Kumi in the MORE PV and we got another storyline (恋の魔法, 秘密, 甘い罠 and あなたがしてくれたこと). Kumi always makes wonderul storyline PVs ever since BEST ~second session~ so it was nice to see her do another one. This album is perfect from every angle since we really got variety. From the beautiful ballads to the upbeat dance numbers to the cute tracks which make you smile, Kingdom has it all and then some. It really helped Kumi shine this year and it sucks that promotion for the album was cancelled because of a comment she made. Nonetheless, Kingdom is a praise-deserving album and I can only wait to see what she has in store for us with her next album, TRICK (hitting Japan on 01.28.09).

Coming in 2nd place for album of the year is Supreme Show by Suzuki Ami. It’s no secret that Nakata and Ami make a suzuki-ami-supreme-showperfect team and Supreme Show is the perfect result of that chemistry. The single tracks and their B-sides are actually some of the album’s strongest material. ONE serves as the perfect album closer with its aggressive sleek instrumental and memorable vocals from Ami. Tracks 2 to 4 are can’t stop the DISCO, climb up to the top and SUPER MUSIC MAKER (SA’08 S/ A Mix), all of which are extremely addictive. The album also made me love A token of love even more since it really feels like a part of Supreme Show. Some of the new tracks really shined though like TEN, Mysterious and TRUE. TEN is the opener and although it is very lyrically simple, the music is heaven and features a different sound from many of Nakata’s other productions. Mysterious is a return to that cool vibe with a dark atmosphere, which makes it one of Supreme Show’s most memorable songs. TRUE also proves that Ami can slow it down and still make magic. Supreme Show is the culmination of hard work beween the dream team of Nakata and Ami. I only hope they will continue to work together and produce even more strong tracks.

albums3If you want an emotionally charged album filled with strong rock tracks and touching ballads, look no further than GUILTY by Hamasaki Ayumi. Ayu went through a lot when she recorded the album. Her dear friend passed away; she broke up with her long-time boyfriend and she had to go through being deaf in one ear. So the emotions in her life really came to fruition on the album. Three of the four tracks released before the album: glitter, talkin’ 2 myself and decision are all strong and give the album the extra edge it needed to draw the listener in. The new tracks then made the listener addicted. Mirror, (don’t) Leave me alone, MY ALL, Marionette and untitled ~for her~ all stood out brightly. (don’t) Leave me alone was the perfect new rock track that showed Ayu’s attitude with strong lyrics about fake kindness. Marionette was a beatiful new ballad still holding some rock tints on the chorus that is a standout number. MY ALL was the other new happy song and with a similar sound to Replace, it’s definitely nice to her Ayu happy. The song is so sweet, it will make you cry. This album is really one of Ayu’s best and it sucks that it didn’t get the weekly number one spot on Oricon.

Well it should be very obvious that Suzuki Ami is talented. Two albums in the top 5 is no easy feat but then again, we can’t all be as talented as Suzuki Ami. Before she teamed up with Nakata exlusively, they albums4collaborated for only one single:  FREE FREE / SUPER MUSIC MAKER, which originally didn’t grab me but it really grew on me. She worked with various other artists to form the awesomeness that is our fourth place album winner, DOLCE. Two singles were released before the album: FREE / SUPER MUSIC MAKER and Potential Breakup Song.  Those three tracks alongside the B-side of the latter, feel the beat, really were some of DOLCE’s highlights. Some of the new tracks that stood out strongly were Bitter… (joining Studio Apartment), Stereo Love (joining Tomoe Shinahara) and アイノウタ (joining Rocketman). It’s actually nice to hear Ami’s voice without all the distortion (although she sounds better with it). The album had quite the diversity and definitely caught my ears with the various sounds. Even though some of the songs sounded kind of weak, it turned out to be a very cohesive package worthy of praise. However I still prefer Supreme Show so I’m hoping Ami will stay with Nakata because the two of them just make magic together.

albums5Spot number five may come as a surprise but this girl worked really hard and her efforts paid off big time. She said that each track was like revealing a new secret and it gives the listener that personal connection that makes it a little more special, which makes aiko’s 秘密, the fifth strongest album of the year. Two of the strongest tracks, シアワセ and 横顔, were released before the album and really popped on the album. However it was the new tracks that really made this album memorable. 星電話 is the best new track and the album’s best number overall as it shows off those wonderful aiko vocals with a laidback style that any listener can enjoy. Some of the other new enjoyable tracks are 秘密, キョウモハレand ウミウサギ. One thing that makes this album so strong is that aiko’s style comes across on each track, making it one of the most cohesive albums of the year. It’s one heck of an album and it’s definitely worth listening to if you haven’t heard it yet. Also, did I mention that the covers (particularly the one to the left) are absolutely gorgeous? Like seriously.

06. Morning Musume – Cover You

07. Leah Dizon – Communication!!!

08. ayaka – Sing to the Sky

09. Utada Hikaru – HEART STATION

10. Tohoshinki – T

11. Perfume – GAME

12. MEG – STEP

13. Aira Mitsuki – COPY

14. AZU – AS ONE

15. melody. – Lei Aloha

16. Berryz Koubou – 5 (FIVE)

17. Arashi – Dream”A”live

18. BoA – THE FACE

19. Kuraki Mai – ONE LIFE

20. EXILE – EXILE LOVE

21. Misia – EIGHTH WORLD

22. Ito Yuna – WISH

23. NEWS – color

24. capsule – More! More! More!

25. Shimatani Hitomi – Flare

26. Stephanie – Stephanie

27. KAT-TUN – QUEEN OF THE PIRATES

28. BIG BANG – Number 1

29. AAA – CHOICE IS YOURS

30. Tiana Xiao – desTiny

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[Part Three] Artist Profiles

December 8, 2008 at 5:01 pm (AAA, aiko, Aira Mitsuki, Aladdin, Amuro Namie, Angela Aki, Aoyama Thelma, Arashiro Beni, ayaka, AZU, BIG BANG, BoA, BONNIE PINK, capsule, Crystal Kay, DOUBLE, Every Little Thing, EXILE, Hamasaki Ayumi, Ishida Yuko, Ito Yuna, Jyongri, Kobukuro, Koda Kumi, Kuraki Mai, Leah Dizon, MEG, melody., Mihimaru GT, Misia, misono, Miyavi, Nakashima Mika, Nishino Kana, Otsuka Ai, Perfume, Seamo, Shimatani Hitomi, Shimizu Shota, Shiraishi Kikyo, Stephanie, Suzuki Ami, Takasugi Satomi, Tanimura Nana, Tiana Xiao, Tohoshinki, Utada Hikaru, WaT) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

There have been so many artists this year that should be proud for putting out some fantastic music. From the boys to the girls, from the new artists to the veterans, they have made this Oricon Year one of strong music. Today, we’ll explore artists that have released this year (exluding those from Hello Project and Johnny’s Entertainment, who have already been covered).

suzukionecddvdLet’s start things off by covering one of my favorite genres, Japanese electropop. From Perfume to Aira Mitsuki to SAWA, there have been many different styles from electropop that stood out. But there is one producer who is the head of this genre: Nakata Yasutaka. And there is one person who reigns queen of J-Electropop 2008: Suzuki Ami. Nobody brought the heat like Ami. DOLCE was released at the beginning of the year and even though, it didn’t feature Nakata’s touch all over the album, FREE FREE and SUPER MUSIC MAKER were integral parts of that album. Then to commemorate her 10th anniversary, she continued to release. Both singles, ONE and can’t stop the DISCO, got me hooked on her. Even the B-sides,  A token of love and climb up to the top, were extremely impressive and it made me really anticipate Supreme Show. I was definitely not disappointed because tracks like TEN, Mysterious and TRUE are twinkling jewels of the Nakata and Ami team. She brought something new to the electropop scene: sexiness. Let’s face it, electropop is more on the cute and quriky side but it’s nice to see something new and that’s what Ami is. She has her own style that makes her stand out against the other girls of electropop. She did a fantastic job this year and definitely deserves high praise. Perfume, also produced by Nakata, impressed me this year. After releasing a fantastic single, Baby cruising love / マカロニ (マカロニ still holding the title as best electropop slow song), the girls came with GAME. It was a strong album featuring many impressive numbers such as Butterfly and シークレットシークレット which made me really take notice of them. However it was the following singles, which cemented me in fandom. Love the world and Dream Fighter were two excellent singles that really have me anticipating another album from them. They gamedefinitely bring that electropop flavor well. Aira Mitsuki also had some memorable tracks come through to make me a fan of hers. Swallowtail D.A.N.C.E. (Cherryboy Function Version), Beep Count Fantastic (featuring Terukado), チャイナ・ディスコティカ and Rock n’ Roll Is Dead are all addictive tracks and she has a habit of getting the best tracks with a focus on instrumentation rather than vocals. With these kind of tracks, it’s no wonder that she stands out in the electropop crowd. I know MEG isn’t the most popular product of Nakata’s work but she has gotten some standout songs like SUPERSONIC, MAKE LOVE and the amazingly fantastic NATALIE <FM 16 MIX.> That last song is one of my favorite electropop songs ever so it’s clear she can bring the magic. Although Nakata is the king producer of electropop, his group capsule wasn’t as strong as I was hoping for. There were some standout numbers on their new album, More! More! More! such as Phantom and e.d.i.t. but overall, they were definitely not the strongest electropop members. Electropop certainly stood out this year and with the growing popularity of Nakata, I look forward to seeing what he brings us in 2009 (particularly for Ami and Perfume).

kikyo_shiraishi1Let’s move onto J-Urban. The J-Urban scene has been pretty quiet this year with certain acts like EMYLI and m-flo not releasing anything but we did have some nice new songs. Newcomer, Shiraishi Kikyo, made waves with me. Both BLACK and again really hooked me because a new talented girl who was doing something upbeat with that sexy vibe was coming through. I thought she did a very good job and she should certainly be proud. Her third single was a little on the bland side but her fourth is already a step up. I’m not exactly sure why she’s changed to Nori Shiraishi but honestly, I think it’s kind of funny. I guess we’ll see what that does for her. Somehow, I still haven’t heard the full version of again and I don’t think a full PV was ever released (that’s nice guys…). I look foward to seeing what she’ll do in the future. DOUBLE stood out to me because she collaborated with superstar Amuro Namie for the sleek and catchy, BLACK DIAMOND. These two girls brought the heat on this new track and definitely set me up to see what she is going to do next. We also saw the Aoyama Thelma achieve massive success with second single, そばにいるね featuring Soulja (to my surprise and confusion). However it was her 4th single 守りたいもの (plus amazing B-side, MADONNA), which caught my attention. I know Thelma can make some very good songs but I’m hoping that her music will be more diverse in 2009 (how about some more upbeat numbers Thelma?). Crystal Kay had some enjoyable songs too as she released another album (Color Change!) and two singles (涙のさきに and ONE). 涙のさきに was pretty catchy and some of the songs on Color Change! were nice but I’m hoping next year, the music will be even better.

Now let’s talk about the boys of J-Pop (not including JE boys). It was obvious from the start that Tohoshinki would be tohothe real standout guys of the year. They’ve released so much material that it’s ridiculous. They’ve released a total of 9 singles and an album (also a Korean album) so they’ve been really busy. How did they reach such a high number of singles? The TRICK project. The song TRICK from their album T wsa a mashup of five different songs and so the group released those five seperate songs as singles and added their own solo number as well. Some went very well (If…?! / Rainy Night [Junsu] and Runaway / My Girlfriend [Yuchun]) while some fell flat (Two hearts / WILD SOUL [Changmin]). Overall though it was an enjoyable project. In addition to those 5 singles, four others were released: Purple Line, Beautiful you /千年恋歌‎‎,  どうして君を好きになってしまったんだろう? and 呪文 -Mirotic.- That last single was amazing as was Purple Line so the boys should be very proud. The other two were okay and could have been stronger but hey, they can’t all be hits. Their 3rd Japanese album, T, also featured some great songs like CLAP! and LAST ANGEL -Tohoshinki Version.- These boys did a fantastic job this year and I can only anticipate what they’ll pull next year. Their next single, Bolero, has already been announced for a January release. Jaejong and Yuhno also really caught my eye because they were absolutely sexy during the Mirotic promotional time. It was…wow. Just look at the Mirotic and Wrong Number PVs. Another group of guys who stood out this year was EXILE, who released quite a bit themselves: three singles, three BEST albums and one studio album (released at the very end of 2007 but  believe it is counted in Oricon Year 2008). The singles weren’t as great as I hoped for but the album material was enjoyable from EXILE LOVE. The one amazing jaestandout track was Make Love, a hot and sexy number that really shows the boys’ mature side strongly. Atsushi has some wonderful vocals so I’m happy that he’s been given the chance to shine. Newcomer Shimizu Shota also made waves with me as he was a fresh new face with some great vocals (i.e. HOME). He released an album and even though I haven’t gotten a chance to listen to it, I will do so soon. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s good looking. BIG BANG was quite active this year, releasing in both Korea and Japan. G-Dragon has become one of my favorites because there’s something about his voice that really catches my ear. WaT released two singles this year and they were okay, nothing that really made me go wow but I still think they have some nice voices and hopefully the music will be stronger in the future. Although Kobukuro have not been very active this year, they did release the single あなたと with ayaka, which really stood out to me. I look forward to seeing more material from these guys in the future. In the world of J-Rock, Miyavi and Gackt did some releasing although Gackt wasn’t particularly impressive this year in terms of music (but he did look hot). Miyavi was a little better, releasing his album This Iz The Japanese Kabuki Rock. His voice is nice though so maybe he’ll do something stronger in the future. Seamo also caught my eye even though his singles were a little bit iffy. Again, he released an album that I haven’t listened to yet but I do want to hear it soon. So overall, the boys had some nice music (particularly Tohoshinki) and I hope next year it will be even better (because let’s face it, Johnny’s Entertainment music was a lot better than the other guys’ music).

kingdom1Now we go to the four female artists who I call my Fabulous Four: Koda Kumi, Amuro Namie, Utada Hikaru and Hamasaki Ayumi. There is absolutely nobody like Kuu. She’s fun; she’s free and she’s one of a kind. Kingdom was a fantastic album, filled with everything from sorrow to cuteness to sexy and it really showed how strong of an artist she is. Unfortunately, she made a comment about women’s rotting amniotic fluids which caused an extreme backlash. Contracts were cancelled and promotion for Kingdom was cancelled. Personally, I think the public over-reacted to the comment and it was totally undeserved for Kumi to go through all of that. But she continued to release in June with MOON, then TABOO. TABOO was just the song that make the public go Kumi crazy because it’s a return to her fun sexy dance side that we all love. stay with me will be released in a couple weeks (which will be counted on Oricon Year 2009 so I will not talk about that). I think she’s done a great job this year and I think next year will be even better. TRICK will be amazing and I know that from the bottom of my heart. Amuro Namie has had one hell of a year and everyone knows it. BEST FICTION was a smash hit, managing to almost take the crown of best selling album of Oricon Year 2008. Sadly it did not reach it but it’s okay because it was a million seller and it managed to stay at the number 1 spot for various weeks. Sexy Girl and Do Me More were amazing new tracks that made BEST FICTION worth checking out. She also released the hit single 60s70s80s, which achieved great sales, managing to outsell a slew of her previous ones. WHAT A FEELING was the star track on that single and it’s another one of Namie’s awesome tracks. I hope we’ll be getting some new material in 2009 but Namie deserves a nice long break so I hope she gets it. Utada Hikaru also had an amazing year seeing as HEART STATION is nearing the million mark and has outsold her previous album, ULTRA BLUE. There were some amazing new tracks on there like 虹色バス and Fight The Blues. The singleswere strong as well, which made me one of the most cohesive albums of 2008. Hamasaki Ayumi had a pretty good year herself even though she didn’t get wonderful sales. In fact, GUILTY became donther first album to not hit the number one spot…ever. Nonetheless, the album was good featuring tracks like (don’t)Leave me alone, Marionette and MY ALL. Well this was Ayu’s 10th anniversary so I was hoping she’d release a little more but what we got was Mirrorcle World and another BEST album. Her new single is set to be released very soon but it will count towards Oricon Year 2009. I wonder when we’ll be getting her new album but hopefully there will be a few more singles before that. Of course, she’s had her troubles during the year too. She officially announced that she is deaf in one ear; she broke up with her boyfriend who she has been seeing for a while and her friend passed away. You know, Ayu is a fighter and it’s one of the reasons why I respect her so much. I hope she has many years of happiness to look forward to.

So let’s move onto the female veterans of J-Pop. Well the term “veterans” can be disputed but I’m coining the girls that have been a while as “veterans.” Which veteran knocked it out of the park this year? Well that’s none other than aiko. 秘密 was one of the strongest albums of the year with many wonderful tracks that showed off aiko’s laidback and relaxing style. She also released KissHug, which was used as an insert song for the Hana Yori Dango movie. It didn’t aikoget the sales it deserved but I’m hoping she’ll have even more success in the future because her music is that good. Her talent is undeniable and that’s why she is “Veteran of the Year.” Kuraki Mai is incredible and if you want proof of that, just look at 24 Xmas Time. That was a fantastic wintery song that reached back to her old style. She released ONE LIFE, an album with some standout tracks such as ONE LIFE and Born to be free. She also released the following singles: 夢が咲く春 / You and Music and Dream as well as 一秒ごとに Love for you. They may not have been the strongest singles she’s released but they were actually pretty catchy. Mai will be releasing yet another album, entitled touch Me! in January so I can’t wait to see what she brings. Misia was another veteran who stood out this year. EIGHTH WORLD was a pretty good songs like 以心伝心 and Hybrid Breaks -Interlude.- She released various singles but none so addictive as digital release, Catch The Rainbow. It’s an absolutely fantastic track that will be seeing a physical release soon. Misia, good job this year for your 10th anniversary and I can’t wait to see what awaits us in 2009! BoA is definitely a force to be reckoned with. THE FACE was released early in the year and featured some new standout tracks like Girl In The Mirror, Style and AGGRESSIVE. Although it wasn’t as strong as her previous albums. She then released VIVID, which also was not up to BoA’s usual standards. However what makes her so strong is that she always tries new things. She’s mainow started her American career with the release of the hot single, Eat You Up. Her new song, Look Who’s Talking is even better and it makes me highly anticipate her debut album. Otsuka Ai did some nice releases as well. Even though ロケット スニーカー / One × Time was very forgettable (it ended up being the lowest selling single of her career for a reason), クラゲ, 流れ星 was a step up and already she’s set to release her 5th studio album, LOVE LETTER. It looks to be better than LOVE PIECE but I guess we’ll see when hits stores very very soon. Even though BONNIE PINK was largely inactive this year, she did stand out with the digital release of Ring A Bell and then physical release of its Japanese counterpart 鐘を鳴らして. Both songs were good (the English being the stronger version) and BONNIE should be proud of her accomplishments. I’m hoping she’ll put out an album next year because it feels like forever since Thinking Out Loud was released. Finally we come to Shimatani Hitomi, who could’ve been better. Her new album Flare did not live up to the hotness of its name but I’m hoping that next year, she will pull out the stops for her 10th anniversary.

Now we’ll talk about the newbies. These girls are still relatively new to the music scene but some of them have definitely taken no time in standing out from the crowd. Tanimura Nana has given us some fantastic music. Who could forget the incredibly addictive SEXY SENORITA or the smooth and sultry Ooh… or the catchy upbeat number nana3Place of Love? She’s taking on the sexy image just right and with each release, she gets better and better. I’m really looking forward to her debut album and I hope that it will be coming soon because I can’t wait any longer. Actually any new release from her will be welcome. It’s been a while. ayaka released her sophomore album, Sing to the Sky, early in the year and it was a huge step up from First Message. Songs like 愛も嘘も真実, ゴールドスター and POWER OF MUSIC really made a fan of hers. Her voice is incredible so it’s no wonder that the album shined like it did. ayaka definitely has the power to make it big so I wish her all the success in the world. In addition to an awesome album, she collaborated with Kobukuro again for あなたと, a beautiful ballad that blows their last single out of the water. She’s had a great year and definitely will be shining even more brightly in 2009. Leah Dizon certainly had an eventful year. She released two singles, her sophomore album, got married and is expecting a child in 2009. Love Paradox was her strongest single to date and Vanilla (LOVE SWEET CANDY included) was another memorable single from her. Communication!!! was also a pretty good album with great album tracks like Nothin’ to Lose, Step into my World and BxKxRxxx. I was very surprised to see that she was pregnant but I’m happy that she has found somebody and I wish them all the happiness together. I also wish they have a happy and healthy baby and she will be back better than ever next year, ready to show Japan just how strong of an artist she is. Ito Yuna has really impressed me this year, particularly with miss you and 恋は groovy x2. BREEEEEZIN!!!!!!! (the B-side of miss you) is her best song to date and one that definitely cemented my fandom. WISH wasn’t a bad album either, featuring some memorable songs like Power of Love. Hopefully her next album will be even better, shining strongly for all the fans. Even Jyongri had her time to shine with Winter Love Story, her newest single. All the songs on the single convinced me of Jyongri’s power. Her album may have been pretty weak but it looks like she’ll be on the path for strength. One other newcomer that caught my eye was Ishida Yuko with her wonderful new single Changes, which featured an addictive title track, I’ll be sure to look out for her in the future. She has a cool image and a great voice, worthy of celebration. AZU has had her time to shine as well with standout numbers like VIOLIN. She has the voice and talent to make it far so I hope she has more succes in 2009.  Other newcomers like Tiana Xiao, Nishino Kana and Takasugi Satomi have had some nice releases and even though they were not particularly engaging, I look forward to what they will do next year. Even Stephanie had some songs here and there.

Let’s go onto the girls who are neither veterans nor newbies. melody. has also done some nice work this year with the release of the beautiful andaaa calming Lei Aloha. The songs on that album really formed a cohesive one that emerged as one of the standouts of the year. I’m very sad to have heard the news that she will be retiring to focus on the fashion industry. I guess if she had to leave, I’m glad she left with a bang. Arashiro Beni has experienced some popularity this year with her collaboration with Dohzi-T. She also released three new songs for her BEST album, switched labels and starrred in a movie so she’s been quite busy. Mellow Parade was fantastic and hopefully she’ll do another song like this in the future. She has recently changed her name to BENI so I guess we’ll see how that goes for her. Other girls like Angela Aki, Nakashima Mika and misono have had their releases this year and it’s Mika who really impressed me with her most recent single, ORION. The B-side, FOCUS, stood out to me strongly and I have really got to listen to her new album.

Finally, we come to the groups which feature members of both sexes. To be honest, they haven’t been very impressive with the exception of one group: AAA. MIRAGE was absolutely addictive, featuring some Arabian sounds to push the track over the edge. Everyone sounded great on the track and it was really one to remember. Following a very unforgettable single, they released MUSIC!!! / ZERO. ZERO was wonderful, showing a dark atmosphere that the group really shined with. Other groups mihimaru GT, Aladdin and Every Little Thing failed to impress but hopefully they’ll step it up next year.

This year, some artists stepped up and some artists took a step back. But there are a lot of artists who should be proud for releasing such quality music. There is still one artist left though, an artist who will be crowned “Artist of the Year.” He/She will be announced in part 7 (the final part) of the Oricon Year 2008 Countdown.

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EXILE – LAST CHRISTMAS [29th Single]

December 6, 2008 at 4:34 pm (EXILE) (, )

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EXILE’s 29th single, entitled LAST CHRISTMAS, was released on 11.26.08. The song is a cover of WHAM’s song of the same title.

LAST CHRISTMAS is an wonderful upbeat wintery number. The song begins on a very strong note with the boys vocalizing before the beautiful and upbeat wintery instrumentation comes in and entices the listener. On the chorus, the boys really sound great as their vocals are smooth and even have a certain sex appeal to them. What stands out the most from the chorus is the opening line “last christmas,” which is sung perfectly. The verses follow suit and stand out as Atsushi sings his heart out, hitting the higher notes fantastically. Overall, LAST CHRISTMAS is a very enjoyable song worth checking out from these very talented boys.

Single Ranking: A –

LAST CHRISTMAS certainly is one of the best Christmas songs of 2008 and a much more memorable single coming from these boys than The Birthday ~Ti Amo.~ I hope they get to be releasing material aside from new songs for BEST albums soon.

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EXILE – The Birthday ~Ti Amo~ [28th Single]

October 5, 2008 at 11:47 am (EXILE) (, )

EXILE’s 28th single, entitled The Birthday ~Ti Amo,~ was released on 09.24.08. The title track was used as the CM song for Meiji’s Melty Kiss.

The Birthday ~Ti Amo~ is a sweet midtempo number. The song starts off with a very pretty instrumentation with some Spanish influences that give it that kind of dreamy feeling the listener can just fall into. On the first verse, the music becomes more simplistic so the focus is on the boys’ voices and the vocals are pretty smooth here so that was a wise decision. Introducing the chorus nicely is the progression of the music that becomes slightly louder until the chorus comes in. It’s a nice section although it doesn’t stand out as much as hoped from the verses. Nonetheless, it’s quite enjoyable and the whole song is catchy so it’s no problem. The Birthday ~Ti Amo~ strongly takes on those Spanish sounds to make this song catch the listener’s ear and it compliments the boys’ smooth vocals strongly.

In order to promote the single, a PV for The Birthday ~Ti Amo~ was made. The video is very long, clocking in at just over eight minutes. It’s actually a really boring video that tells a story and while it’s always nice to have a storyline, this video was just so boring that it wasn’t even worth it.

Single Ranking: A –

The Birthday ~Ti Amo~ gets points for successfully taking on Spanish sounds to transform this ballad into a quite catchy midtempo song. It’s another good one from EXILE worth looking at.

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EXILE – EXILE ENTERTAINMENT BEST [2nd Consecutive BEST]

July 22, 2008 at 1:07 am (EXILE) (, )

EXILE’s 2nd consecutive BEST album, entitled EXILE ENTERTAINMENT BEST, was released on 07.23.08. This album is the second of the three BEST albums that form EXILE Perfect Year 2008. This album features the group’s most energetic tracks and is comprised of a few new songs and re-recordings of old songs with new band members Atsushi and Takahiro.

The first new song on the album is SUPER SHINE. The song starts off with a cool twinkling sound before the song’s true sound comes in. With some opening vocalizations, the song then goes into the chorus, which is catchy for the interesting instrumentation and the way that the boys hold their notes well. The first verse then comes in and the boys sound great here. Closing the song is the same twinkling sound that opened it. The song is definitely a fun song that stands out to the listener strongly as the boys vocalize strongly and the instrumenation remains as interesting as ever.

Following SUPER SHINE is MY FANTASY, a upbeat song still holding a more mellow vibe. The song begins with a cool sounding instrumentation and some nice vocalizing. The first verse then begins and it’s actually the instrumentation that catches the listener’s attention instead of the vocals, which are a little too soft anyway. The chorus is somewhat forgettable but the English is a nice fit for the song’s atmosphere. MY FANTASY is a pretty forgettable song and doesn’t fit as well with the overall theme of this BEST album as being energetic.

Much like 24 Karats -Type EX- on previous studio album, EXILE LOVE, the same style is brought with AI for So Special-Type EX.- Instead of having the whole group however, Atsushi steps to the position, making it a duet. The song begins with a sweet and softer instrumental before the first verse starts. AI’s vocals sound pretty deep here and don’t exactly catch the listener’s ear as strongly as they should. Atsushi’s vocals sound nice but nothing particularly noteworthy. The two voices mesh well together on the chorus however, complimenting each other well. Overall the song is again, pretty forgettable and not a good fit with the album’s theme.

New Songs Ranking: B

The new songs on EXILE ENTERTAINMENT BEST are all right, although there are the ups and downs. SUPER SHINE is very catchy and definitely fits the overall theme of the album perfectly. So Special is pretty bland and not memorable while MY FANTASY is somewhat between the two. Not the greatest new numbers but the collection of other songs is nice for an EXILE fan.

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EXILE – Pure / You’re My Sunshine [27th Single]

February 25, 2008 at 6:19 am (EXILE) (, )

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EXILE’s 27th single, entitled Pure / You’re My Sunshine, was released on 02.27.08 fairly recently after the release of their latest album EXILE LOVE. All the songs on the single received tie-ins. Pure was used as the LISMO CM song while You’re My Sunshine was the theme song for the movie Team Batista no Eikou. The B-side, 変わらないモノ, also had a tie-in  as the DAIHATSU TANTO TUCOM CM song.

The first song on the track, Pure, is a sweet ballad with uptempo elements to it. The first verse features vocals more in the lower range while keeping with the music. The chorus gives the song a bit more energy with more of an uptempo approach and makes it stand apart perfectly. The vocals show strength and range as notes in the higher range are hit. The second verse is similar to the first with a little more power behind the vocals while still complimenting the music. The third verse changes up the instrumentation a bit and adds an undescribable flavor to the song. Following, the chorus is sung with the instrumentation playing less of an active role and here more emotion comes across from the vocals. Pure is a wonderful song and a great introduction to the next album’s era.

Track number two, You’re My Sunshine, is a perfect compliment to Pure. An upbeat and summery song, You’re My Sunshine captures the energy perfectly. The first and second versew feature smooth vocals that blend perfectly with the music and the higher notes that are hit are well sung. The chorus brings out the feel even more because of the instrumentation coming out a bit stronger and the vocals, which are as always strong. The third verse features the boys repatedly singing “everything’s gonna be all right” and it works perfectly in the context. The ending “sun shining bright” really brings home the sunny summery imagery associated with the song. The ending instrumentation is a wonderful finish to the song and no other way would be better. You’re My Sunshine is a wonderful pop uptempo number that has a summery feel to it and the boys performed wonderfully on it.

変わらないモノ, the B-side, is a wonderful midtempo track. The vocals during the first verse really present good emotion  and accompany the music well. The hook serves as a bridge and to the instrumentation introduces the chorus with a “climax effect.” The chorus is very beautifully sung with emotions jumping right from the vocals and the harmonization was excellent as usual. The second verse has even stronger harmonization and vocal strength than the first verse, making the song stronger as it progresses. The third verse gives the song a new energy as the instrumentation changes direction slightly and the boys follow suit perfectly. The notes that reside in the higher range are hit perfectly and effortlessly. The song ends with instrumentation for a beautiful finish.

Single Ranking: A

EXILE’s 27th single, entitled Pure / You’re My Sunshine, features different moods but all tackled with an amazing approach. Pure is a very interesting ballad with uptempo nuances that make it all the more special. You’re My Sunshine shows the sweet and poppy side of the boys, which sounds great and captures the summer feel effortlessly. 変わらないモノ is a powerful midtempo number with beautiful vocals and a wonderful instrumental. Although coming soon after the release of their latest album, the single proves that the boys haven’t lost any steam and look to continue just as strongly.

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EXILE – EXILE LOVE [6th Studio Album]

February 3, 2008 at 4:26 am (EXILE) (, )

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EXILE released their sixth studio album, entitled EXILE LOVE, on 12.12.07. Ranging from summery songs like SUMMER TIME LOVE and 時の描片~トキノカケラ~ to wintery ballads such as I Believe, the album gives many different moods. Among the most interesting offerings on the album are the opening track (What Is Love), Make Love and空から落ちてくるJAZZ. The singles preceding the album were SUMMER TIME LOVE,  時の描片~トキノカケラ~  / 24 karats – type EX – and I Believe.

What Is Love, is the opening track, and is a strong way to open up the album. Using violins and a slightly synthetic beat, an ethereal sound is achieved. The song has a midtempo approach while maintain an upbeat poppy appeal. The catchiest part of the song is the hook, when the beat slightly changes and the vocals grow a little stronger. The transition into the chorus is just a bit discontinuous but the chorus is still pretty strong. There’s something capturing about the song but there seems to be a small element missing that could take it to the next level.

I Believe, the second song, has a wintery feel that makes for a soft beautiful ballad. From the opening, the bells and chimes alongside the sparkling beat create the whole feeling of Christmas. The verses are nicely done even though the vocals could have had a little more power. The transition from the hook to the chorus is a bit abrupt but doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the song. The hook once again prevails as the strongest section within the song as it serves as a bridge between the more midtempo approach of the verses and the uptempo nature of the chorus. The song ends a cappella and finishes off the song quite nicely. Overall the song is relatively simple but a wonderful Christmas time song and a nice addition to the album.

The next song is the uptempo pop song, Beautiful. The hook is the strongest part as it balances between the sweetness of the chorus and the mellower vibe from the verses. The instrumentation features some slightly weird sounds that work for the song overall in this case (seen after the first chorus). The guitar during the pure instrumental section creates a certain flavorful flare to the song. Although the song is enjoyable and the hook is strong, it seems a bit generic. This is particularly seen by the ending as they sing “it’s a beautiful day, love is beautiful baby.” So it’s a nice attempt that doesn’t exactly hit but doesn’t miss either.

The fourth song, ~Hibiki,~ is a beautiful ballad. From the instrumentation, there is a fantasy atmosphere within the song. The vocals are more low-pitched but still hold great to the beat.  The hook particularly impressed me with amazing vocals, making it stand apart fantastically. The chorus is also very strong and showcases just how powerful these boys voices are. Their vocal strength lies in both their ability to project and their ability to impressively hit high notes. Even though the song has so much inside of it already, the third verse gives the song even more spirit. This is a wonderful addition to the album and is one of the strongest songs on the entire album.

君がいるから, the fifth track, follows in the vein of the previous song. The instrumentation is somewhat similar but doesn’t possess that magic element. Instead of following the trend of some of the songs on the album, the chorus stands stronger than the hook when the instrumental introduces with a flurry of sounds. The hook is where that instrumental change begins but it’s the chorus that brings it to the forefront. The piano plays a key role in the song and greatly assists the wintery feel that the song possesses. The vocals are great and although they don’t go to the great range that the boys of EXILE are capable of, it remains one of the stronger songs on the album.

Make Love, the sixth song on the album, is definitely the most interesting song on the entire album. The harmonization between the boys of EXILE blend perfectly with the hot beat of the song. The sexual energy that fuels the song is found both within the synthetic and electronic beat and the consistently strong vocals. Although the chorus is relatively simple, it’s very addictive. In fact, the chorus consists of only “let’s make love” and “I feel like making love…tonight/with you.” However the real sections that stand out are both the slick verses and the hooks, powered by extremely strong vocals. The pure instrumental sections really give the song the extra kick. Because of the hot synthetic beat and amazing vocals, Make Love is my favorite song on the album.

The seventh song, SUMMER TIME LOVE, is a strong pop number with a clear summer feel. From the title, the summer imagery jumps out strongly from the moment the song opens and stays throughout the entire instrumentation. The chorus is pretty catchy and even the verses are able to keep interest. During the instrumental section, the true summer spirit is found in the sparkling sounds and uptempo beat. This track is definitely not a typical summer song and is one to be remembered.

空から落ちてくるJAZZ is the eighth song on the album and uses a slick tempo to make a strong track. Strangely enough, the song isn’t as reliant on jazz as the title leads one to believe. It’s an uptempo track with a certain element that sounds very dark and the combination of the two creates a very interesting feel. It sounds like there is a slight jazz influence that runs throughout the song and keeps the song fresh. The third verse sparks even more creativity when they sing “do you feel the touch of love?” There is a slight sexual energy there that is subtle and works in the overall favor of the song. The vocals compliment the music perfectly by keeping to a lower pitch. This song is one of my favorite songs on the album for keeping it interesting.

love, the ninth song on the album and is a track that borders on the line between midtempo and upbeat. The transition between the verses and the hook is very strong and seems almost continuous. The chorus is a bit more striking as it’s sung in all Japanese, excluding the song’s title, drawing attention to it. With phrases “I’ll love you for the rest of my life” and “you are the sunshine of my life,” there is a cuteness charm within the song that works very well. The vocals are at their usual strength and keep with the beat well as always. Overall this was a pretty good song and again, there seemed to be just a small something holding it back from being amazing.

The tenth track, entitled sayonara, is a ballad with a guitar as the central instrument. The strength of this song is found within the arrangement of the song, which takes certain twists and turns that keep the song interesting. The boys of EXILE are consistently strong with their vocals and here, their vocal capabilities shine. The transitions throughout the song, including verses, hooks and choruses sounds effortless but the arrangement shows the change between the sections. At the final chorus, the emotion comes across so strongly, it almost sounds like the tears are beginning to fall. This song is very enjoyable and possesses one of the most interesting arrangements on the entire album.

Track number eleven, entitled 変わらないモノ, is an enjoyable pop song with R&B influences. While the verses are more mellow, the chorus gives the song that extra kick. The vocals are well maintained throughout the song and blend well with the instrumentation, which also carries the imagery to it as well. After a small instrumental break, a certain energy comes to the song that didn’t shine as much earlier. This song continuously grows stronger, making it enjoyable from the beginning until the very end.

時の描片~トキノカケラ~, the twelfth song, is a midtempo pop number that has a summer feel to it. The opening is a bit strange since it doesn’t really fit with the rest of the song but it doesn’t detract from the overall theme. The actual song begins off with a midtempo twist but then goes into the pop sound during the chorus. It has that sweet pop charm that reminds me of Tohoshinki. Between a back-to-back chorus, the instrumental changes up a bit and gives it an unexplainable magic. Overall it’s a nice listen that is perfect for the summer time.

The thirteenth track, Touch The Sky, features Bach Logic and is an uptempo track. The chorus really stands out as impressive as the vocals are consistent despite being sung somewhat quickly. The verses are well done and flows perfectly into the hook. Back Logic offers the rap nearing the end, which is kind of low-pitched but doesn’t clash with the uptempo beat of the song. Because the chorus plays a central role in the song, it keeps the song fresh and not at all repetitive. It’s a wonderful addition to the album and a memorable effort.

The final song on the album, entitled 24 karats – type EX, – is a great way to end the album. The song opens up with the sound of a screeching car and then flows nicely into the actual song. The song has a very aggressive beat so the opening rap fits perfectly. The transition from rapping to singing is effortless as the singing maintains a hip-hop flavor. The hook utilizes strong vocals, making it very memorable. The chorus consists of a catchy rhythm that blends perfectly with the beat, making it stand out. Sowelu is introduced in the chorus and her vocals are a little soft but mesh well with the boys. Up next, Sowelu sings her part and the slight similarity from the vocals from the chorus make for an incredible transition. Her vocals aren’t amazingly strong but they work very well in the context in the song. On the next chorus, Sowelu steps up to the plate in terms of vocals. The next rap isn’t as strong as the first one but it still has great energy. This is the perfect party song and a great way to end the album.

Album Ranking: A –

EXILE’s latest album offers a variety of sounds and feelings but there is a slight repetitiveness to some of the tracks that leaves the listener wanting more. On songs such as What Is Love and Make Love, EXILE proves that they can give unique songs with effortlessly. Their vocals are consistently particularly on the album’s ballads and perhaps that is their strongest asset. While the boys shine on hot dance tracks and beautiful ballads, the pop songs with R&B influences could have performed a little stronger.

 

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