Hamasaki Ayumi – Sunrise / Sunset ~LOVE is ALL~ [46th Single]

September 14, 2009 at 4:18 pm (Hamasaki Ayumi) (, )

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Hamasaki Ayumi’s 46th single, entitled Sunrise / Sunset ~LOVE is ALL,~ was released on 08.12.09. While Sunrise ~LOVE is ALL~ was used as the theme song to the dorama Dandy Daddy?, Sunset ~LOVE is ALL~ was used as the Panasonic LUMIX Fx60 CM song. Both songs share the same melody with different tempos.

Sunrise ~LOVE is ALL~ is the upbeat version of the song with electronic influences to spice things up. The song begins with a relaxing and cool instrumental that has a summery feel to it and then Ayu begins singing. Her vocals are quite nice and the beat of the song is clearly aggressive, providing an interesting contrast. The energy comes out more strongly on the chorus in which Ayu chants happily. There’s just something missing from the song that keeps it being particularly memorable despite its difference from past summer songs.

Sunset ~LOVE is ALL~ slows things down for the ballad version of the song. Although the verses are nice, the chorus just feels a little awkward. It worked much better in Sunrise ~LOVE is ALL.~ Ayu’s vocals are good but the music just holds it back from being a great ballad.

In order to promote the single, two PVs were made: one for each A-side. They are set at the same setting and fit their respective song well. For Sunrise ~LOVE is ALL,~ Ayu and her dancers sing and cheer happily for the crowd but for Sunset ~LOVE is ALL,~ she sits down and sings as the audience listens. Honestly, both videos are pretty boring and a lot more could have been done with them.

Single Ranking: B –

Ayu has had some great summer songs (glitter, Greatful days) but this one just didn’t stand out. It didn’t go too well for Sunset ~LOVE is ALL~ either. Perhaps she shouldn’t have used the same melody because it’s hard to take it two different ways successfully (Koda Kumi nailed it with her single of a similar idea). Hopefully Ayu will bring something stellar for her next single because she definitely still has still got it!

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Hamasaki Ayumi – NEXT LEVEL [10th Studio Album]

April 30, 2009 at 9:21 pm (Hamasaki Ayumi) (, )

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Hamasaki Ayumi’s 10th studio album, entitled NEXT LEVEL, was released on 03.25.09. Two singles were released before the album: Days / GREEN and Rule / Sparkle. The title track was used as a Panasonic Lumix FX 40 CM song.

The album opens up with Bridge to the sky, introducing the listener to the atmosphere of the album. Opening up the song is a peaceful and relaxing instrumental, which really does fit the image  of the song’s title. Slowly, the beat comes in and soon Ayu gives some calming and angelic vocalizations. There are even a few electronic sounds here and there that show a good representation for some of the later tracks. The overall atmosphere of this introduction is just so simple and freeing and it proves to be an effective way of opening up the album.

NEXT LEVEL has a summery feel to it that awakens the stirring emotions in the listener wanting to be free. The song begins with a sweet pop instrumental that just evokes a very natural and calming feeling. When Ayu comes in on the first verse, you can really hear the happiness in her voice and it touches the listener’s heart gently. Before the chorus, the instrumentation takes a slightly different tone and Ayu holds a note very well, which lingers so that the listener can get ready for the chorus. The chorus is nice and keeps that natural feeling to it, which makes it memorable. However, it feels like there’s just something magical missing, which is holding it back from being amazing. The pure instrumental section is nice because it gives the listener a chance to hear a different layer of the music before  the chorus comes back in. The lyrical basis of the song  is moving forward into the future with hope in our hearts so it’s really something everyone can relate to. NEXT LEVEL follows Bridge to the sky wonderfully and serves as Ayu’s summery song on the album.

nextlevel1Disco-munication is the first album interlude and from its title, it’s clear that Ayu is ready to bring some danceable and addictive sounds. It opens up with a few strums of the electric guitar before moving into its true sound. What makes this one so interesting are the traditional sounds that make their way into the instrumentation. the only vocal presence from Ayu throughout the entire track comes as distorted but very cool short vocalizations. It may be simple but it’s what makes  it so fun and carefree. It’s such a good track and it really should have been a full song. Nonetheless, disco-munication is a strong interlude as it introduces the next phase of the album: electronic.

Following the roll from the last track, EnergizE shows a happy and upbeat atmosphere that sounds like it would be a perfect ending number for one of her concerts. The song begins with what sounds like some drums before the beat and guitar come in to show off that electric dance sound which makes the song  so addictive. Then comes the hook, sung in all English: “put your hands up together, keep your hands up together, let me sing forever…” This part is absolutely fantastic and it’s really what makes this song one to remember. Ayu then moves into the first verse and there is a certain cuteness to her voice that doesn’t come across too strongly. Before the chorus, the instrumentation serves as  somewhat of a bridge as it becomes more complex. The guitar comes even more full-force and freeing on the chorus, which has a very hopeful feeling that is mirrored in the lyrics. One part of the song that really stands out is the pure instrumental section since it feels like the listener is being taken to another world through a few twists and turns. The lyrical basis of the song is Ayu singing to everyone who might be feeling down or weak as she tells them to just try and be happy in the face of sadness. EnergizE is an amazing song and definitely one of the best album offerings.

Ayu’s more sexual side comes out for the electronic paradise, Sparkle. The song opens with a very rapid and strange sound, followed by a door opening before the actual sound begins. There is a darkness to it that stands out and the element of mystery intrigues the listener. Ayu’s voice sounds sleek and carries that sexuality to it that might surprise the listener but it actually makes for a more interesting song. After the first four lines, the music becomes more aggressive and Ayu’s vocals do too for two lines. It’s an interesting contrast and makes each part stand out even more. On the chorus, Ayu gives us strong vocals and the instrumentation goes back to its aggressive state. But what is it that makes this song so wonderful? It’s the repeating “no, no, no” lines that run after the chorus. There’s just something very hypnotizing about them and they belong in this type of song. The lyrical basis of this song is surrendering yourself to the beat and letting your inhibitions drop so that you can stop protecting yourself. It’s actually a pretty empowering message and Ayu communicates it well. Sparkle is one of the strongest songs on the album and definitely is an addictive electronic track.

 The electronic energy continues with the next song, rollin’. The song starts off with what sounds like a carousel, although there is almost a creepy element to it that has a true Ayu feel to it. Then after a few moments of silence, the true electronic sound comes out to play and catches the listener’s ear. There is such distortion on Ayu’s vocals during the verses and the pitch is so slow, that you can’t really hear what she is singing and it does get to be annoying. Luckily this changes as the verse goes on with the distortion remaining but she is actually audible. The chorus features a more aggressive instrumental and Ayu’s vocals lose that distortion so that she grabs the attention of the listener by force. Each moment of pure instrumentation is interesting and is ear-catching but the one near the end has a sort of technological feel to it that makes it stand out. That last rolling string of instrumentation is the perfect way to close the song and it’s so weird that you can’t ignore it. The lyrical basis of this song is moving forward even though the world is moving at a speed approaching uncertainty and troubles. rollin’ is an amazing song; it’s enjoyable and shows Ayu embracing those electronic sounds to good use.

 GREEN draws on traditional elements to make one memorable song. The song starts off with those instruments creating a very beautiful opening and taking the listener back in time for the story of the song. Then comes the first verse and Ayu’s vocals here are excellent as she holds certain notes with grace and there is true emotion in her voice. She gives even stronger vocals on the chorus and the instrumentation becomes stronger as well so the two combine to entice the listener. Right before the second chorus, there is a strumming of the guitar and although only momentarily, it definitely catches the listener’s ear. The pure instrumental section sounds so beautiful and dazzling that the listener falls right back into the cradle of the chorus, now with a more hushed instrumental to let Ayu’s vocals take the spotlight. She holds that last note of the chorus perfectly and with true emotion that the listener cannot miss. This song’s lyrical basis is realizing the presence of love and the desire to let her loved one know about that wonderful feeling. GREEN is a very strong song and it’s definitely ear-catching.

 The second interlude comes as the 8th track, Load of the SHUGYO, making the transition into rock territory. This nextlevel2interlude starts off in a very mysterious and cool way with a very simple sound and soon the beat comes in and catches the listener’s ear. If you listen closely, it sounds like there are short breaths. As the song moves on, the guitars come in heavier and really bring that Ayu-flavored rock that is unmistakable. It’s not as good as the previous interlude but it does its job well of keeping the album flow and preparing the listener for the rock sounds to come.

 One of the album’s best tracks, identity, is the next track. The song opens a mysterious sound, which sets up the listener for a calm mood, before the song’s true sound comes crashing in through the guitars. Ayu does some vocalizing, which catch the listener’s ear and then she comes into the first verse. There’s something very cheeky about her vocals, which end up making this song all the more memorable. Right before the chorus, there is this little instrumental build-up and although it doesn’t last long, it stands out and these moments make the song pop. The chorus serves as a sort of contrast as there is a darker atmosphere from the instrumentation and Ayu’s vocals carry slightly more emotion in them. The repeating “I.D.” is a nice touch and the English definitely stands out from the Japanese surrounding it. Those last words she sings are sung more quietly and it leaves the listener wanting more. The pure instrumental section has a cool feeling to it those electronic influences creep their way in before the rock takes over again. The lyrical basis of the song is self-image and how the important thing is what we think of ourselves rather than what others want us to be like. It’s quite the powerful message and Ayu nails it perfectly. identity is fantastic and without a doubt a memorable track.

 The rock filled Rule is up next. Opening the song is a very cool and mysterious rock instrumentation that introduces the overall atmosphere of the song perfectly. Then Ayu comes crashing in with the chorus and providing strong vocals to catch the listener’s attention. She sounds very commanding and in control here so the power behind the song comes through strongly. Without a doubt, the verses are the best parts of the song. There is a slight distortion on her vocals so that they sound even more sleek and cool, adding to the overall effect of the song. Somehow she just pulls the listener in with these vocals and they make the song so addictive. On the last moments of the verses, the instrumentation becomes more aggressive and these moments are golden, really standing apart from the rest of the song. Interestingly enough, the hooks are sung with lighter vocals and the instrumentation is very soft and pretty. The contrast between the two sections are magical and make the song even more interesting. The pure instrumental section sounds great and puts those rock sounds on display for the listener to thoroughly enjoy before Ayu comes back for a few lines. She closes the song with the choruses and a few great vocalizations that show her true power. The lyrical basis of this song is never allowing anyone to decide the rules of your life. Rule is the strongest song of the batch of NEXT LEVEL singles and it hasn’t lost any of its magic here.

 nextlevel3LOVE ‘n’ HATE is the last track to bring the rock sounds and Ayu definitely kept up the strong quality of Rule here. Those opening five seconds have such an aggressive dance beat that it’s too bad that the song doesn’t continue in that vain. But then the song’s true sound starts and it sounds like a dark circus kind of song as Ayu counts from one to seven and then says zero. She then sings “ha ha ha ha, no no no no” before moving into the first verse. There’s just something very entrancing about her vocals that draws the listener in perfectly. It’s kind of surprising that the chorus comes so quickly but it’s a really strong section of the song as Ayu brings even stronger vocals, particularly on those last words. Following the second chorus, the instrumentation gets kind of creepy for a moment and then calm for the third verse. After two choruses, Ayu goes back to the hook. She then closes the song by counting “one, two, three, four, three, two one, zero” and that “zero” is said so menacingly, that it startles the listener. And just when you think the song’s over, the music comes back to really finish it off and the aggressiveness of it and just its surprising entrance into the song is kind of scary. The lyrical basis of the song is pretty much established in the title as Ayu is in the position of liking someone but it would be so much easier if she hated him. LOVE ‘n’ HATE is an amazing track and one of the album’s best offerings.

 Following a lyrical cue from the previous track comes Pieces of SEVEN. It begins with a very mysterious and cold instrumental, which definitely arouses curiosity in the listener for what is about to come. As the song continues, it’s noticeable that it bears a resemblance to previous interludes LABYRINTH and reBiRTH. However Ayu makes sure this one stands apart as some of the elements of previous songs come in near the end. There are some electronic influences and some rock influences to spice up that instrumental and really draw the listener in. It’s longer than the other interludes and I suppose it was a wise decision since it allows the song time to have its transitions and keep the listener interested.

 Days, the sorrowful love ballad, is the album’s semifinale. Starting off the song is a wintery instrumental that immediately stirs emotions in the listeners and establishes the sorrowful atmosphere right from the get go. Ayu’s vocals on the first verse are great, really capturing the emotions of the song. There is a fragility in her voice that shows her longing. However it’s the chorus that really makes this song memorable and wonderful as she gives stronger vocals and the instrumentation becomes more involved. The pure instrumental section sounds great and it’s a real climatic moment that introduces the following chorus perfectly. The music steps back so Ayu’s vocals can at the front and she really hits you with those emotions. The lyical basis of the song is Ayu longing to be at the man’s side and wanting to see his face smiling at her. Days is a great song and although there aren’t many ballads, she shows that she can deliver them with ease.

 Curtain call, the album’s sole new ballad, is the closing number. Beginning the song is the piano and there is a true fragility in it that makes the listener really pay attention. The song doesn’t have a traditional structure of verses and choruses as it takes on a simpler approach. The first part features Ayu singing “your…” as the subject and “me” as the direct object (i.e. “I hear your voice calling me”). Her vocals here are great and sound really delicate, perfectly representing the song’s emotional context. The second part switches the pronouns as it is “my…” as the subject and “you” as the direct object. This simple reversal is actually quite powerful and shows the beautiful reciprocal relationship between the two. When she repeats these two parts later in the song, her voice sounds particularly natural and can bring the tears from the listener’s eyes. This is a great way to finish off the album and shows Ayu’s vulnerable side, which always makes for a good song.

 Album Ranking: A

 NEXT LEVEL is interesting because it’s a lot more upbeat than Ayu’s previous efforts so in that respect, she is moving onto a new level. It’s kind of annoying to have four short tracks (introduction and interludes), leaving only ten tracks (four of them being single songs) but she does bring some great new material. energizE, identity, LOVE ‘n’ HATE and Curtain call are all wonderful songs that show off Ayu’s intense skill. All the single tracks are great as well and give the album more flavor. Disco-munication should have been made a full track to offer a little more “new-ness” but overall it’s a very strong album. Is it as strong as previous albums? I believe that they are all quite different so they hard to compare but what it comes down to is NEXT LEVEL doesn’t have many “iffy” tracks but the new songs offered on previous album did seem to have a stronger first impression. So Ayu should be proud of herself since NEXT LEVEL is a cohesive effort that shows her growth as an artist.

 BEST 6 Memorable Tracks (In Order Of Tracklist): EnergizE / Sparkle / rollin’ / identity / Rule / LOVE ‘n’ HATE

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Hamasaki Ayumi – Rule / Sparkle [45th Single]

February 22, 2009 at 5:03 pm (Hamasaki Ayumi) (, )

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Hamasaki Ayumi’s 45th single, entitled Rule / Sparkle, was released on 02.25.09. Rule was used as the theme song for DRAGONBALL Evolution, a live action movie adaptation of the popular manga and anime series while Sparkle was used as the CM song for Honda ZEST SPARK.

Rule is a fantastic rock song that allows the listener to really enter another world. The song begins with a rock instrumental that immediately catches the listener’s attention as there is a certain darkness to it that stands out. She then comes crashing in with the chorus and she delivers some powerful vocals to match the strong instrumental. Ayu shows a very cool confidence on the verses and that really is communicated to the listener, further establishing a clear atmosphere. On the last line of the verse, there is a slight instrumental change and although not very big, it makes a difference and sounds amazing. The hook features a much lighter sound and more delicate vocals from Ayu before re-introducing the chorus with a bang, both instrumentally and vocally as Ayu holds that last note wonderfully. Following the second chorus is the pure instrumental section and here, the listener can really pick up on the clear dance beats of the song. At the end of the song, Ayu shows off those great vocals as she belts out one strong note. It doesn’t last very long but there’s something entrancing about it. Rule is the perfect continuation of a long line of addictive Ayu rock songs so it’s choice to be the leading A-side is no surprise.

Sparkle is a wonderful contrast to Rule as it explores a more techno and trance sounding instrumentation, letting Ayu explore some new sounds. That opening sound is so strange but it really does introduce the general atmosphere of the song well. Then the dark trance instrumentation comes in and Ayu comes through with the first verse. Her vocals are so cool and sleek here that the listener can’ t help but fall in love with them. The chorus is absolutely addictive as Ayu steps up a little vocally and that final “no no no” will definitely linger on the listener’s mind. One noteable hing about this song is that the lyrics are quite sexually charged and have even been described as “ero” by some. It’s always nice to see Ayu change up lyrical themes and she managed to do that while still keeping that Ayu touch. Sparkle is definitely an interesting song as Ayu tries out something new and finds success.

In order to promote the single, a PV for Rule was made. Fitting with the theme of it’s tie-in, the PV feaures ninja battling and Ayu looking badass. The video starts off with Ayu entering the dojo and her walk is wonderful here, giving that kind of diva edge that only Ayu could bring (especially before the 2nd line when she flips her hair back). On the first verse, she proceeds to walk by various ninjas (the leading ones played by her dancers) and uses her magic stick to crack their mouth constraints. During the hooks, Ayu is seen in front of a silver background with matching globes and just looking pretty. It also resembles something expected from a jewlery commercial minus the jewelry. Even though it’s simple, my favorite scene of the video is during the second verse. Ayu is just sitting in a room as she sings the lyrics. She looks so great here and that shot that goes farther from her as she holds the last note is a nice touch. During the final choruses, Ayu shows us that she’s still got some dance moves in her as she and the ninjas all perform some great dancing. It’s always great to see Ayu dancing and this set of moves really fit with the overall theme of the song. The video ends with the bird magically breaking the lock of the dojo and flying away. It was a very impressive video although it would have been nice to see a video for Sparkle as well.

Single Ranking: A +

I had no idea that Ayu would deliver such amazing songs after her previous fantastic single, GREEN / Days. In fact, she outdid herself as both Rule and Sparkle are extremely memorable songs. Rule is a powerful rock song with those danceable influences that stand out while Sparkle lets Ayu enter the world of trance to deliver a sleek and sexy number. If NEXT LEVEL will take cues from these four songs, then Ayu is going to be bringing one of the best albums of the year for sure.

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Hamasaki Ayumi – Days / GREEN [44th Single]

December 14, 2008 at 5:02 pm (Hamasaki Ayumi) (, )

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Hamasaki Ayumi’s 44th single, entitled Days / GREEN, was released on 12.17.08. GREEN was used to promote the Pasasonic camera. Much like her previous single, Mirrorcle World, this single features two songs re-recorded to celebrate her 10th anniversary: LOVE ~Destiny~ and TO BE.

Days is a beautiful emotional ballad that tugs at the listener’s heartstrings. Opening the song is a beautiful and soft instrumentation with a wintery feeling (somewhat similar to her previous song No way to say) and then the first verse starts. There is a real fragileness in her voice that stands out and supports the music perfectly. The chorus stands out as Ayu delivers slightly more powerful vocals that definitely bring out the emotions strongly. The pure instrumental section is very nice and there is a certain edginess to it with the guitar being spotlighted, further stirring the emotions. Following that section is the chorus and having the instrumentation become quiet like that connects back to No way to say yet again. Days is a fantastic song with an emotional presence that will make the listener cry.

GREEN takes traditional instruments to drive the fantastic instrumentation. The song begins with gorgeous instrumentation that perfectly captures the feeling of Shanghai. With such beautiful instrumentation, the listener is lead into the first verse. Ayu’s vocals here are strong, smoothly carrying over the music. The chorus stands out as Ayu provides even stronger vocals and the music becomes more diverse. Although the pure instrumental section was a little simple, it makes for a nice break and introduction into the chorus, which features softer music to put the emphasis on Ayu’s vocals. On the final chorus, Ayu holds the last note fantastically and it really is a standout moment in the song. GREEN is a wonderful song with interesting instruments to make it stand out in Ayu’s large discography.

daysIn order to promote the single, two PVs were made: one for Days and one for GREEN. The video is absolutely heartbreaking, featuring Ayu’s dreams of love. The first scene is of Ayu sleeping and she dreams about meeting Shuya outside and he gives her a helmet so they can ride together. Throughout this scene, you can clearly see the happiness in her heart. Then they reach a little table of jewelry being sold and Ayu sees a gorgeous ring but Shuya doesn’t get it for her (which makes Ayu feel really hurt). She then comes in late for a dance rehearsal to see Shuya already dancing with everyone, making her feel left out. Finally, she wakes up and goes outside to see Shuya in hopes that things can be like the dream. She waves to him but notices that he gives his helmet to another girl (who is actually wearing the ring Ayu picked out in her dream) and she walks away heartbroken. There are various scenes of her crying and they make you want to cry to because you can really relate to how she is feeling. Her friends then come to comfort her and the video ends. This is one fantastic video, primarily for Ayu’s strong portrayal of emotions.

The PV for GREEN is one of Ayu’s most expensive, featuring a clear visual representation of the song. Drawing on the feel of traditional Shanghai, everything is a throwback to the time. We first see Ayu walking on the streets and she gets through the crowd of people (this scene is pretty similar to the opening scene of Mirrorcle World). After that, she is seen performing alongside fan dancers as a woman watches her. Ayu is then seen in her dressing room with her dancers (Shuya makes an appearance for example and looks really hot) and after that, she dances with the girl. The video ends with Ayu walking away. The video is very visually appealing and definitely captures the essence of the song well.

Single Ranking: A +

Days / GREEN is a fabulous single. Both songs compliment each other nicely to make the package very memorable. While Days is the sweet love ballad that evokes the emotions easily, GREEN draws on traditional insruments to make an unforgettable instrumental. I’m very impressed by this single and look forward to seeing what Ayu brings next with Rule.

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[Part Six] Oricon Year 2008 Top PVs

December 12, 2008 at 10:06 pm (AAA, aiko, alan, Amuro Namie, Arashi, ayaka, BoA, C-ute, DOUBLE, Hamasaki Ayumi, Hey! Say! JUMP, Ishida Yuko, Ito Yuna, Jyongri, Kobukuro, Koda Kumi, Leah Dizon, Morning Musume, NEWS, Nishino Kana, Otsuka Ai, Perfume, Shiraishi Kikyo, Suzuki Ami, Tanimura Nana, Tohoshinki, Utada Hikaru) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

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With all the PVs released this year, there have been some real standouts. We’ve seen some amazing dancing, sad love stories, cuteness and pretty lights. So here is the list of the best PVs released this year.

01. Koda Kumi – TABOO PV

02. Hey! Say! JUMP – 真夜中のシャドーボーイ PV

03. Koda Kumi – Under PV

04. Suzuki Ami – ONE PV

05. Perfume – Macaroni PV

06. NEWS – 太陽のナミダ PV

07. Hey! Say! JUMP – Your Seed PV

08. Ito Yuna – miss you PV

09. Jyongri – Winter Love Story PV

10. Hamasaki Ayumi – (don’t) Leave me alone PV

11. Koda Kumi – anytime PV

12. alan – 空唄 PV

13. Tohoshinki – 呪文-Mirotic- PV

14. alan – RED CLIFF ~心・戦~ PV

15. alan – 風の手紙 PV

16. Koda Kumi – 秘密 PV

17. Hamasaki Ayumi – Marionette PV

18. Koda Kumi – Moon Crying PV

19. Arashi – Beautiful days PV

20. Otsuka Ai – クラゲ, 流れ星 PV

21.Tegomass – アイアイ傘 PV

22. Leah Dizon – Vanilla PV

23. NEWS – SUMMER TIME PV

24. Koda Kumi – 恋の魔法 PV

25. Koda Kumi – 甘い罠 PV

26. Hamasaki Ayumi – Mirrorcle World PV

27. Arashi – One Love PV

28. DOUBLE and Amuro Namie – BLACK DIAMOND PV

29. Amuro Namie – Sexy Girl PV

30. AAA – Crash PV

31. Ishida Yuko – Changes PV

32. Morning Musume – Resonant Blue PV

33. aiko – KissHug PV

34. Tanimura Nana – SEXY SENORITA PV

35. Tanimura Nana – If I’m not the one PV

36. Shiraishi Kikyo – BLACK PV

37. C-ute – 涙の色 PV

38. Tohoshinki – Beautiful you PV

39. alan – 恵みの雨 PV

40. Suzuki Ami – can’t stop the DISCO PV

41. BoA – be with you. PV

42. Nishino Kana – I PV

43. Leah Dizon – Under The Same Sky PV

44. Utada Hikaru – HEART STATION PV

45. Amuro Namie – WHAT A FEELING PV

46. Tohoshinki – Purple Line PV

47. ayaka x Kobukuro – あなたと PV

48. Koda Kumi – MORE PV

49. C-ute – 江戸の手毬唄 PV

50. Koda Kumi – あなたがしてくれたこと PV

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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 Four] Oricon Year Top Singles

December 9, 2008 at 5:10 pm (AAA, Aira Mitsuki, alan, Amuro Namie, Angela Aki, Aoyama Thelma, Arashi, ayaka, Berryz Koubou, BoA, BONNIE PINK, Buono!, C-ute, Crystal Kay, Fukui Mai, GIRL NEXT DOOR, Hamasaki Ayumi, Hey! Say! JUMP, Hirahara Ayaka, Ishida Yuko, Ito Yuna, Jyongri, KAT-TUN, Kawashima Ai, KinKi Kids, Kitahara Aiko, Kobukuro, Koda Kumi, Kuraki Mai, Leah Dizon, MEG, MilkyWay, Misia, Morning Musume, Nakashima Mika, NEWS, Otsuka Ai, Perfume, Shibasaki Kou, Shiraishi Kikyo, SMAP, Suzuki Ami, Tackey & Tsubasa, Takasugi Satomi, Tanimura Nana, Tegomasu, Tohoshinki, TOKIO, Utada Hikaru, V6) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

mnsb2

Well there have been a lot of singles out this year. Some of them have been amazing and have made me fall in love with certain artists while others made me feel very disappointed. Which single took the number one spot? How many Johnny’s singles and H!P singles made the countdown? You’ll have to continue to find out.

mnsb1Hey! Say! JUMP has definitely impressed me this year, much more than I thought they would. I can’t even describe just how great their music has been but I’ll try anyway. The group’s fourth single, 真夜中のシャドーボーイ, wins title of “Single of Oricon Year 2008.” If there is one thing that these guys know how to do it, it’s make an upbeat single that makes the listener take notice. 真夜中のシャドーボーイ uses Spanish and Arabian themes to push their instrumentation over everyone elses. Except for Kei, Keito and Ryutaro, everybody has a real turn to shine. Yamada, Daiki, Nakajima and Chinen all have this center role (Yamada having the actual center role) since this song was used to promote their new drama Scrap Teacher so it was nice to see different people getting the time to shine. Everything about the song was perfect. With the constant repetition of the word “チェリー,” the listener is taken to another world. These boys really pull off the mature sound strongly and Chinen’s voice sounds different on this song than the others ones. Daiki, Nakajima, Yabu and Takaki all sound great too. With the multitude of live performances the song has gotten, the guys have looked hot and they sing the song with such confidence. It’s an amazing single that reigns above all the others so they should be very proud to have “Single of the Year.”

It was very hard to choose a first place winner and this single was so close to taking the top spot. Second place though kumitaboocddvdis something to be proud of too though and the runner up for “Single of the Year” goes to Koda Kumi with TABOO. After the controversy, Kumi went for a more conservative approach with MOON. However there’s something magical about Kumi when she does the sexy thing. She exutes confidence and it really makes for an enjoyable time when you can get up and move with Kuu. TABOO is the sexy anthem of 2008 as Kumi provides smooth vocals that lay over the hot instrumental. The verses are what make this song so addictive, particularly the last lines when she sings “drive away.” Kumi uses a certain cleverness with these lyrics using various metaphors to describe secret love and they come across to the listener perfectly. Plus I’m sure this single has given many others faith that Kumi will always have that sexiness in her because people have been worried that it’s been declining. Always is a nice compliment to the A-side even though it’s pretty forgettable. TABOO is the hot dance track that Kumi delivered and is just too good to pass up. Even the PV for the song was perfect. They really made sure this would be a strong single from all angles. This song single-handedly has me assured that TRICK will not be an album to forget.

cantstopthediscocddvdThird place was also really close to nabbing that top spot. The moment I heard the title track, I was instantly addicted and I knew the album that would soon follow would be amazing. That is why third place goes to Suzuki Ami with can’t stop the DISCO. It’s no secret that Ami and Nakata make a dream team because every single they release together just shines. I loved ONE but the moment I heard can’t stop the DISCO, I fell in love with the team. I first heard the chorus when it was used for the Mister Donuts CM and couldn’t get enough of it. But then when I heard the verses…I was blown away.  Ami really pulls off the cool vibe here and she’s given me one of the most addictive lines of 2008: me to me no kakehiki (love tactics). I can’t get enough of this song and it’s definitely one of the highlights of Supreme Show. Even the B-sides were amazing: climb up to the top and SUPER MUSIC MAKER (SA’08S/A Mix) were extremely strong numbers that helpe make this one cohesive single from start to finish (and that includes having each song have perfect transition into the next).

In case it wasn’t clear already, Hey! Say! JUMP has put out some fantastic music this year. So does it really come as a yssurprise that they have two singles in the top 5 best singles of 2008? I didn’t think so. Hey! Say! JUMP takes fourth place as well for their 3rd single, Your Seed / 冒険ライダー. It was with this single that I officially became a fan of these guys. Your Seed is the first time they really brought a mature song and the difference from Dreams come true shocked me. Everyone sounded great on this song and the rap section is absolutely infectious. I still haven’t found out who is doing that but the first person that came to mind was Nakajima. Was it actually him? Probably not but ya never know. It’s hard to really put my love for this song into words so let’s just say everything about this song was perfect. Not one thing could have made it any better. 冒険ライダー also had a kind of mature sound while having that fun-loving breezy atmosphere that just makes you wanna smile. I particularly like the chorus when all the boys come together and harmonize so perfectly. Also Yabu shines on his few solo lines before the final chorus so good job to him. So it’s the single that made me a Hey! Say! JUMP fan and one of the best releases of the entire year! The boys are on fire!!!

singles5Johnny’s Entertainment was definitely on a roll at the beginning of the year. NEWS’s first single of the year, 太陽のナミダ, comes in fifth place of Single of the Year. The title track uses Spanish and Arabian influences to really make the instrumentation addictive. Everybody sounded great on the song and personally, Massu’s voice stood out a little more than everyone else’s. Nonetheless, everyone sounded fantastic and their vocals really were smooth over the instrumental. バンビーナ and Lady Spider were also amazing, really catching my ear. It was actually Lady Spider that made me a real fan of NEWS because it just really sparkled in my eyes. It’s so catchy and one that could have been an A-side. バンビーナ really shows the sexy side of the boys. The lyrics have that dirty edge to them and they might even make you blush. Tegoshi can friggin sing and if you had any doubts about it, listen to バンビーナ. They did a magnificent job on this single and it’s certainly not one to pass up. As an overall package, it’s their strongest single to date so give it a listen if you haven’t already and fall in love with these boys like I did.

Suzuki Ami and Nakata really are the dream team. can’t stop the DISCO was amazing as was this year’s 6th best single, amisuzukionecddvdONE. The moment I heard ONE, I was addicted and I began following Ami thereafter. The song features a more aggressive instrumental with some perfect vocals from Ami to give it that extra flavor. When the song first opens, we are treated to the best part of the entire song: キラキラの the one. This one line makes the song fantastic but the rest of the song nicely follows this section. The chorus also stands out with the English phrases like “I love music and this world” and “I love your smile.” It’s absolutely perfect in every way so it’s the perfect way to introduce the formal come together of Ami and Nakata. Originally the B-side, A token of love, did not really impress me but after giving it some time, I fell in love with it. A token of love also features that aggressive sound that supports Ami so perfectly. I really like that last line of the chorus, the title of the song, because she says it with such edge and sleekness that it sticks in your head. Plus that ending instrumental sequence is fantastic, really standing out to the listener. Overall, this is definitely one of the strongest singles of the year, without question. It shows Ami’s cool side and is the perfect product of the dream team.

singles7alan has had a smash year with her Element Project. Each single repesented one of the 5 Godai elements and the best one to emerge of the five: 空唄. The title track is a beautiful upbeat song in which alan claims she can fly away. I think because this is the real upbeat number chosen to be an A-side, it stands out from all the other singles she has released. It really portrays the element of the sky well and lets the listener believe what she is singing. If you want even more amazingness, then turn to the B-side, My Stage. This is definitely alan’s most cheery and infectious song because the instrumentation is so light and heavenly, prompting the listener to just smile while listening. Honestly, I think I would have preferred My Stage to be the A-side since it’s a real standout in alan’s discography. I hope that she’ll be doing a similar song to this on her album…whenever that will be coming out. It shows the versatility of alan as an artist and proves that she can do music closer to mainstream music while still having that special touch that only alan can bring.

Perfume also had a strong year, releasing various singles that showed Perfume’s quirky and fun nature. However they singles8really stood out when they released Baby cruising love / マカロニ. They’re really the best examples of electrpop ballads as the instrumentation is strong and the girls’ voices suit them perfectly. Baby cruising love was nice because it still had traces of that unforgettable Nakata aggressiveness. However the real star of the single and the reason it placed so high on this chart was because of マカロニ. It is the prime example of how to slow down an electropop song and still maintain the quality. There is such a relaxing and natural atmosphere about this song that when I listen to it, I can just smile and drift off into another world. And having an emotional connection with a song just makes it all the better, which is why this is Perume’s best song to date. It was released at the end of the winter and I can see that there are some wintery traces hidden in the instrumentation. I’m hoping that the girls will bring another strong song like this for their next album, which looks to be strong looking at the singles released thus far. Good lucks girls and I hope the future brings you luck!

24If you want the best winter song released this year then you definitely have to look at 24 Xmas Time by Kuraki Mai. I was blown away when I first heard the song because there is something so natural and fun about this song that I can’t help but love. The song kind of goes back to her older style with songs like Love, Day After Tomorrow, which is always a good thing because I adore that song. Okay, let’s be truthful, the song isn’t that wintery or Christmas-like but that’s okay because it’s just a fantastic song. The verses are what make it so addictive and those moments where the instrumentation changes to set up Mai for a strong line (such as my favorite line in the whole song which translates to “kyou mo, watashi wa sekushii.” The B-side was nice, although a little generic but it compliments the whole wintery theme of the single nicely. I can’t believe Mai put out such a great single after a few that were questionable. I’m already anticipating her new album, touch Me!, because of this one song.

I love Tanimura Nana. She’s talented; she’s fun and she’s ready to go! Her 10th single, If I’m not the one / SEXY singles10SENORITA, featured two different songs that show off two different sides to her. If I’m not the one is a very beautiful ballad with Nana lamenting that she needs to know if she can’t be her admired’s one and only. She really portrays her emotions strongly and it keeps the listener focused and sympathetic towards her. However the star song on this single is SEXY SENORITA, a fun song that shows off Nana’s sexy and playful side. Her vocals here are strong and the chorus stands out proudly. She portrays attitude and sass, which is perfect for making the listener believe her. I really like the English phrases such as “call me, call me” and “crazy crazy.” I’m still waiting for an album to be released from her since I know I’m going to love it but she’s going to school (she’s attending one of the most prestigious law schools in Japan so go Nana!) so I can’t blame her. I just want any piece of news of a new release soon and it better be an album. Congratulations Nana for being such a threat with your fourth single, If I’m not the one / SEXY SENORITA, which rounds out our top 10.

11. Misia – Catch The Rainbow [Digital Release]

12. Morning Musume – ペッパー警部

13. Leah Dizon – Love Paradox

14. C-ute – 江戸の手毬唄 II

15. alan – 風の手紙

16. Perfume – Dream Fighter

17. Tohoshinki – 呪文  -Mirotic-

18. Arashi – One Love

19. Morning Musume – リゾナント ブルー

20. Ito Yuna – miss you

21. Koda Kumi – anytime

22. Perfume – love the world

23. Tanimura Nana – JUNGLE DANCE

24. V6 – 蝶

25. Kinki Kids – Secret Code

26. NEWS – SUMMER TIME

27. Leah Dizon – Vanilla

28. Aira Mitsuki – チャイナ・ディスコティカ

29. Berryz Koubou – 行け 行け モンキーダンス

30. alan – 懐かしい未来 ~longing future~

31. MEG – HEART

32. AAA – MIRAGE

33. Ishida Yuko – Changes

34. Hey! Say! JUMP – Dreams come true

35. Tohoshinki – Runaway / My Girlfriend

36. Tohoshinki – If…?! / Rainy Night

37. Tohoshinki – Purple Line

38. Utada Hikaru – HEART STATION / Stay Gold

39. Tegomass – アイアイ傘

40. Takasugi Satomi – ありがとう

41. Ito Yuna – 恋は groovy x2

42. BONNIE PINK – Ring A Bell

43. Shiraishi Kikyo – again

44. Shiraishi Kikyo – BLACK

45. Shimatani Hitomi – 泣きたいなら

46. Hamasaki Ayumi – Mirrorcle World

47. ayaka x Kobukuro – あなたと

48. alan – RED CLIFF ~心・戦~

49. Amuro Namie – 60s70s80s

50. Berryz Koubou – MADAYADE

51. Nakashima Mika – ORION

52. Crystal Kay – 涙のさきに

53. Jyongri – Winter Love Story

54. C-ute – 涙の色

55. Kuraki Mai – 夢が咲く春 / You and Music and Dream

56. Arashi – Step and Go

57. Arashi – Beautiful days

58. V6 – LIGHT IN YOUR HEART / Swing!

59. AAA – MUSIC!!! / ZERO

60. Aoyama Thelma – 守りたいもの

61. Koda Kumi – MOON

62. NEWS – Happy Birthday

63. Kitahara Aiko – その笑顔よ 永遠に

64. Shibasaki Kou – よくある話~喪服の女編~

65. Milky Way –  タンタンターン!

66. Kuraki Mai – 一秒ごとに Love for you

67. C-ute – FOREVER LOVE

68. Otsuka Ai – クラゲ, 流れ星

69. Aira Mitsuki – ロボットハニー

70. ayaka – おかえり

71. Utada Hikaru – Prisoner of Love

72. Shimatani Hitomi – WAKE YOU UP / 雨の日には 雨の中を 風の日には 風の中を / Marvelous

73. Hirahara Ayaka – 孤独の向こう

74. Milky Way – アナタボシ

75. alan – 恵みの雨

76. BoA – be with you.

77. BoA – VIVID

78. Fukui Mai – アイのうた

79. V6 – VIBES

80. Hirahara Ayaka – さよなら 私の夏

81. EXILE – LAST CHRISTMAS

82. Tohoshinki – Close to you / Crazy Life

83. Nishino Kana – Style

84. Arashi – truth / 風の向こうへ

85. KAT-TUN – White Xmas

86. GIRL NEXT DOOR – Drive away / 幸福の条件

87. GIRL NEXT DOOR – 偶然の確率

88. TOKIO – 雨傘 / あきれるくらい 僕らは願おう

89. Tohoshinki – Beautiful you / 千年恋歌

90. SMAP – そのまま / White Message

91. Angela Aki – 手紙 ~拝啓 十五の君へ

92.Tackey & Tsubasa – 恋詩-コイウタ / PROGRESS

93. AAA – BEYOND~カラダノカナタ

94. Kawashima Ai – カケラ / Flag

95. SMAP – この瞬間, きっと夢じゃない

96. EXILE – The Birthday ~Ti Amo~

97. Buono! – ガチンコでいこう!

98. Berryz Koubou – ジンギスカン

99. Buono! – Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!

100. Buono! – ロッタラ ロッタラ 

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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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Hamasaki Ayumi – Mirrorcle World [43rd Single]

April 7, 2008 at 7:02 am (Hamasaki Ayumi) (, )

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Hamasaki Ayumi’s 43rd single, entitled Mirrorcle World, was released on 04.09.08. To celebrate her 10th anniversary, Ayu has started off the year right. The title track, Mirrorcle World, is the extended version of Mirror, from her 9th studio album GUILTY and was played during Panasonic FX-35 commercials. The single also includes the B-side entitled Life, which served as accompaniment for music.jp commercials. Two different versions of the single were released, each receiving a CD Only and CD + DVD release. While one edition featured a re-recorded version of her 2nd single YOU, the other featured a re-recorded version of her 5th single DEPEND ON YOU.

Mirrorcle World opens up with a beautiful orchestral opening that creates the beautiful sounds of an opening of a French romantic film. Quickly following is where Mirror began with the first verse. The opening vocals are relatively soft but the note finishing the third line is notably more powerful than it was in Mirror. Transitioning from the softer sound, the vocals are complimented by a rock edge during the chorus that demands attention. Newly added to the song from Mirror after the chorus is a nice guitar riff and a small section that consists of a marching beat. The new second verse features a similar sound to the first but the lyrics come off a lot slicker this time around. Following is a new chorus which is just as powerful and demanding as the first. After the chorus is a crashing guitar solo that melts into a fantasy-like feeling with soft vocals. After this soft atmosphere comes the sound of glass crashing following by some new adlibbing before the final chorus. As an extended version of Mirror, Mirrorcle World is an excellent bridge from GUILTY.

The B-side for the single, Life, has a rock atmosphere that would be perfectly at home on her last studio album GUILTY. The song begins with a highly-rock influenced instrumentation before melting into the soft first verse. There is something behind Ayu’s vocals that is reminiscent of her older works. The hook introduces some new instruments that also channel her old sound as well before diving into the chorus, which is pretty simplistic. The verses certainly stand stronger than the chorus here but the chorus still sounds very nice. The ending ad-libbing shows off Ayu’s truly powerful voice that compliments the rock instrumentation perfectly. Life is a good B-side to the single and while it is not as strong as Mirrorcle World, it’s a very nice song.

Included on one version of the single is the re-recorded version of YOU entitled YOU (10th Anniversary version). On the other version is the re-recorded version of Depend on you entitled Depend on you (10th Anniversary version). Ayu has definitely come a long way from her first album so rereording these two tracks is a perfect way to celebrate the long journey filled with happiness, tears, loss and heart. Her vocals sound great on both recordings but its particularly on the re-recorded version of Depend on you where they shine. Ayu did a great job on both songs and should be proud.

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 The PV for Mirrorcle World was shot in Paris and is one of the best PVs of the year to date. The opening features a group of spies searching for Ayu using technology to communicate. Ayu’s first scene in the video is similar to her walking performance in her (don’t) Leave me alone PV but with longer hair and a beret to compliment it well. This Ayu represents such a state of confidence and strength as she walks. Another scene features Ayu in lingerie, representing her physical side and her body, which she contemplates abandoning [as seen in the lyrics]. With a black background behind her, Ayu wears white feathers on her nails and they are adorned in her hair as well. Represented in only face shots, these scenes represent her mind as she considers all of the various questions that she asks. Wearing a enormous red dress represents Ayu’s mysterious side, signaled as she leaves behind a white handkerchief that one of the spies picks up. The final Ayu is seen locked inside a telephone booth as she confronts the spies. Before Ayu makes her final exit into the car, she delivers a smug smile to the the spies and escapes into the night.

Single Ranking: B +

Ayumi’s 43rd sinle, entitled Mirrorcle World, is the first single after the release of her 9th studio album GUILTY. The title track makes a smooth transition from the last album era by being an extended version of the album’s introductory track, Mirror. The song loses no steam from its predecessor and is definitely one to remember. The B-side, Life, is a nice rock track that shows off Ayu’s vocals. In order to celebrate her 10th anniversary, two songs (YOU and Depend on you) were chosen to be re-recorded and the vocals this time around are even better than before. Ayu looks to have an amazing 10th anniversary if she can keep such quality releases.

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Hamasaki Ayumi – GUILTY [9th Studio Album]

January 14, 2008 at 6:08 am (Hamasaki Ayumi) (, )

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Hamasaki Ayumi’s 9th studio album, entitled GUITLY, was released on 01.01.08. A strong point of the album is that all of the emotions of the different songs are clearly displayed and Ayumi went through a lot recording this album. She separated from her boyfriend of 7 years; a very close friend of hers passed away; and she even announced that she had lost hearing in her left ear but will continue making music until it takes away her right ear. Three singles were released before the album. The physical singles: glitter / fated as well as talkin’ 2 myself and digital single: Together When… The album features four interludes so that only leaves 10 full songs and 5 new songs but the album offers a lot emotionally and personally and Ayumi has clearly put her all into this album. The most distinctive sound on the album is its rock flavor.

The album opens up with the introductory track entitled Mirror. The interesting thing about the song is that it’s as if different styles were put together and arranged so that there would be a smooth flow between them. The song begins with a soft pop beat and holds an imagery that runs throughout the album, the image of dolls. There is an image of toy soldiers that comes to mind when listening to the beginning.  Mirror then dives into an edgier upbeat pop sound with rock tints in the beat. After this sound, the song finishes in a slower tempo that could belong to a midtempo / ballad. Overall Mirror is enjoyable and the arrangement of the different sounds prevents the song from sounding choppy.

(don’t) Leave me alone is the second song on the album and definitely a memorable one. It is my both my favorite rock song and my one of my three favorite album songs. The song opens up similar to 1 LOVE (from her 8th studio album, Secret) with pure rock instrumentation and dives into the hot song. The most addictive part of the song is when only the instrumentation is heard since the guitar playing is very well done and sets the perfect atmosphere. It also serves a bridge between the verses and from the chorus. The song ends in an interesting way as she sings “leave me alone now…but don’t leave me alone.” Her vocals are soft and the music stops for a moment to bring the focus on her words. After, the same guitar line repeats and brings the song to a strong close.

The third track, talkin’ 2 myself, is a powerful rock anthem centering on the notion of “creation after destruction.” Ayu uses a lower vocal register than usual in order to fit with the darker instrumentation. I love the pure instrumental section as it reaches a climax effect, melting into the powerful final chorus. This is a very memorable song and the lyrics match the instrumentation perfectly. After reviewing the song on the talkin’ 2 myself single, I think it sounds even stronger in the album, especially coming right after (don’t) Leave me alone.

decision is the fourth track on the album and fits perfectly after talkin’ 2 myself. Using the theme of self-acceptance in this rock ballad, Ayumi creates a powerful and unforgettable song. The verses take more of a ballad approach and the booming rock sound comes in during the hook and jumps to the forefront during the chorus. Ayu’s vocals are particularly strong during the chorus while being hushed during the verses as to draw attention to the words that she sings. After reviewing the song on the talkin’ 2 myself single, I can say it sounds even stronger in the context of the album.

The album’s title track, GUILTY, is the 5th track on the album and unfortunately, it isn’t as memorable as hoped. In my opinion, Ayumi’s title tracks from her previous two albums [(miss)understood and Secret] were both very strong songs but my problem with GUILTY is that it’s a nice song but doesn’t have any part that jumps out. It has a nice instrumentation with bells playing a small role and even an eerie voice in the background saying “guilty or not guilty.” The opening of the song holds the imagery of a desolate industrial wasteland so the opening really sets the track up for a great continuing. The verses and nice and soft and even the hook and chorus have a nice dark feel to them. So the song maintains a very similar sound without vocals being strengthened in order to put emphasis on certain points. It’s a nice listen but I think the arrangement of the song was too simplistic.

fated is the 6th track on the album and although the song is an emotional rock ballad, the song doesn’t me as well with the other rock songs on the album. fated is the personal story of love, drawing on the obvious theme of fate / destiny. The lyrics really are powerful and tell a story so while the emotion is clearly there, the instrumentation is very basic and doesn’t really jump out while listening to it. It’s a nice song but perhaps it should have been shorter as it’s the longest song on the album. I’ve had my ups and downs with this song and although it sounded okay on the glitter / fated single, it sounds a bit more awkward in the contet of the album. However it is a nice transition from rock to ballads.

Together When… is a beautiful heart-touching ballad and the 7th track on the album. Ayumi emotionally sings about wanting to say “thank you” and “I love you” but being unable to so in the future, when she is “reborn,” she will go on a journey to find that person. The instrumental to the song combined with Ayumi’s emotional vocals create the perfect atmosphere fitting with the lyrics. The chorus and the following lines are the most unforgettable parts of the song while the verses serve as bridges between the emotional choruses. The emotion on this song jumps right at you at first listen and is definitely one of Ayumi’s most beautiful and tearful ballads.

Marionette – prelude – is the 8th track on my album and an interlude into the next track, Marionette. This prelude is very pretty and has the imagery of dolls wrapped inside the instrumentation. To me, the element of loneliness is present and it’s as if a doll was wandering in a dark mansion and the sound of clocks only adds to the eeriness. It’s a wonderful interlude that ends perfectly and blends right into the next track.

Marionette is the 9th track and is another one of my three favorite album tracks. The opening to the track bares a similarity to the theme song of Sailor Moon. The striking thing about the song is that the verses belong to a beautiful ballad but the chorus really stands out with slight rock influences. Her vocals during the verses are soft, providing to a sorrowful atmosphere keeping in connection to the theme of being controlled like a puppet (a marionette) and when the chorus strikes, it’s almost as if that control is broken and Ayumi is free. I personally love the instrumentation section as it gives the song a climax effect because right after, both the vocals and instrumentation are soft. Following, is the striking chorus, drawing attention to the words. Due to the song’s rock influences, the ballad is enhanced, creating a memorable song.

The Judgement Day is the 10th track and the third interlude on the album. Ayumi only sings “la la la la” throughout the song, which sets the tone for the song. The interlude begins slower and softer with the organ sounding loud and proud, creating an eerie feeling with the slight hint of the element of loneliness.  However it then crosses over into a more uptempo version with more of a dance feel to it. The interlude ends in a similar way to the beginning with the organ taking more of a dominant role in expressing emotion even without words.

glitter is the 11th track on the album and is an upbeat pop song about the love and happiness. For me, this is Ayumi’s best summer song and still sounds great in the context of the album. The song uses cute English phrases such “yes believe in love” to add to the summer breeziness of the song. I love the pure instrumental section of the song as it also creates a climax effect alongside Ayu’s slightly distorted vocals. After reviewing the song on the glitter / fated single, I can say it hasn’t lost any of its summer flavor.

MY ALL is the 12th track on the album and is another one of my three favorite album tracks. It bears a similarity to Replace from her 6th studio, MY STORY. An upbeat pop song, MY ALL is one of the two happy songs on the album (alongside glitter). The lyrics to the song speak on the joy of love and come from Ayumi’s heart, as expressed through the atmosphere of the song. The verses are quite relaxed in comparison to the rest of the song and the instrumental begins elevating in volume during the hook, serving as a bridge into the catchier and even happier chorus. The guitar used in the instrumental has a sparkling effect which is used especially during the chorus, creating a fun and breezy atmosphere for the song. With the rest of the album speaking of other themes that don’t center on happiness, MY ALL provides a nice change of pace and is an amazing song to complement the album.

reBiRTH is the 13th track and the final interlude on the album. When the track begins, there is an other-worldly element to this interlude that evokes feelings of loneliness and mystery. Then the interlude changes directions slightly and melts into a soft-sounding song with a winter element in it. This section of the song is very reminiscent of LABYRINTH from her 8th studio album, Secret. The interlude ends somewhat similar to how it began with that same other-worldly feeling. It’s very interesting how Ayumi’s interludes are able to effortlessly change direction and bring out different emotions while still maintaining a cohesiveness that connects those feelings.

untitled ~for her~ is the final track on the album and was written for a close friend of Ayu’s who recently passed away. With all of the emotions that Ayu encountered while writing this song, the display of all of them certainly came out on the song. Through the instrumentation, there is an element of hope present. Ayu’s vocals are softer and at some points, it feels as if the instrumental is a bit too loud for her vocals during the verses but during the chorus, her vocals are strengthened and show so much emotion, that there is a definite reliability to the song. This song bears a slight resemblance of criminal [from her 6th studio album, MY STORY]. This was an emotional and personal song to end the album on, really signifying the trying process for Ayumi to create this album.

In order to promote the album, two more PVs were made and they were made to promote two of the best songs on the album, in my opinion. One of the PVs was made for Marionette and the imagery in the PV really connects with the lyrics of the song. It features Ayu and her male dancers as marionettes on a music box. There is an eerie element to the PV, which is especially seen in the eyes of all of them. The darkness of the PV really brings home the message of the song. The other PV was made for (don’t) Leave me alone and this one is more simplistic and involves many colors. Ayumi walks through the hallways of what appears to be a crystal palace, running into various female dancers. Each time Ayu passes a dancer, her tie changes color to match the color of the outfit of the dancer. There is some choreography in the video which is a nice revisit from the talkin’ 2 myself PV.  Although it was simple, I really enjoyed the PV and believe the tie that changes color represents changing one’s self for someone. However in the end, the tie returns to its original color and Ayu is herself again. Both PVs were very well done and did a good job of representing their respective songs.

GUILTY is Ayumi’s 9th album and uses different themes and sounds in order to create a very personal album. Using three primary genres / song approaches, the album maintains a good flow between tracks. The beginning of the album or the “rock section” consists of mostly single tracks. Talkin’ 2 myself and decision were great releases and sound even better in the context of the album. fated sounds nice but doesn’t sound as great as I hoped it would in the context of the album, surrounded by other rock tracks. The two new rock songs were on opposite ends of the spectrum for me. While GUILTY was a bit disappointing (especially for the title track), (don’t) Leave me alone was incredible and one of the best (if not the best) album track and song on the album. The album also offers two pop songs, which are placed together as tracks 11 and 12. glitter still sounds like a great summer song with a great instrumental and MY ALL is an amazing pop song that caught my ears at first listen and remains one of the best songs on the album. The ballads on the album really provide a personal look into Ayumi’s mind. Together When… is a beautiful ballad with touching lyrics and fits perfectly in the context of this album. Marionette emerged as one of my favorite songs on the album and with the theme of control, the lyrics are amazing. untitled ~for her~ definitely is a beautiful song that has a beautiful story to go along with it. The lyrics are personal and the instrumentation suggests a feeling of hope. There are four interludes on the album, which takes away from the number of full songs on the album but luckily they are all well done. Marionette – prelude – is a wonderful introduction to Marionette; The Judgement Day plays with an organ based instrumentation and sounds great; reBiRTH has an out-of-this-world charm that enhances the interlude and the opening track, Mirror, could have stood alone as a full song. Overall, the album has its high points and low points (GUILTY and fated; 4 interludes – number not quality) but because the high points heavily outweigh the low, the album emerges as a cohesive and strong assembly of tracks from the heart.

Album Ranking: A

 

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