Stephanie – Colors of my Voice [2nd Studio Album]

July 19, 2009 at 11:43 pm (Stephanie) (, )

Stephanie_-_Color_of_my_Voice_CD

Stephanie’s 2nd album, entitled Colors of my Voice, was released on 06.17.09. Two singles, Changin’ and PRIDE ~A Part of Me,~ were released before the album.

The album opens up with 言葉なんかいらないほどに. The song starts off with a very pretty piano instrumental that catches the listener’s ear and then comes part of the chorus. Stephanie’s vocals sound nice although a little thin at points instead of their usual powerful level. Then comes the first verse and the music stays very nice and enjoyable, complimenting her vocals quite nicely. The pure instrumental section shines brightly because of the beautiful guitar. This is a great way to open up the album since it catches the ear nicely and shows Stephanie’s style.

Up next is Changin’, released prior to the album. Opening up the song is a nice piano instrumental that is sweet although slightly dull. She sounds good on the first verse and the piano lets the emotional presence of the song stay presence. Roma sounds okay although his vocals are a little rough. It kind of falls into the sound of a predictable ballad, not particularly keeping the listener’s interest.

Another single arrives with FUTURE. The song begins with Stephanie immediately giving the chorus and the abruptness is somewhat startingly. It’s nice to hear her take on a more upbeat and fun instrumental since it’s a nice change from the usual ballad instrumental. Her vocals are good as always and the feeling of freedom is expressed perfectly through them. It’s a very nice song with a different style for the listener to enjoy.

禁断の Knockout is the album’s fourth song. The song starts off with a midtempo guitar driven instrumental that has a very natural feeling to it. Stephanie’s vocals on the first verse support that atmosphere as there’s something sweet and natural about her voice here. It feels as if she’s telling a story. On the chorus, the emotions come spilling out as the instrumentation becomes more rock oriented and her vocals become powerful and emotionally charged. The final line features a slightly distorted vocal that definitely leaves a good impression. The pure instrumental section features a cool moment to focus on the slightly mystery of the instrumental before going back into more vocals. This is one of Stephanie’s strongest songs and definitely a gem on the album.

Together, a relaxing number follows. A very calming aand relaxing instrumental begins things off and it gives the image of a spring day. Then Stephanie comes in for the first verse and provides some great vocals tha have a sweet poppiness to them. It really suits the atmosphere of the song very well. The chorus features English lines like “I love you baby” and “it’s you and me together.” It’s just a nice song that is a good change from the last track.

Forever is an upbeat dance number in all English. The chorus starts things off and Stephanie’s vocals are absolutely beautiful. The following little section of pure instrumental is very interesting as it features a good dance beat some distorted vocals. On the first verse, her vocals sound good and her pronounciation is excellent. The chorus is awesome because you can tell Stephanie put her all into it, really wanting to make the listener dance along. It’s definitely one of the more interesting songs on the album and keeps the listener’s attention from start to finish.

Pride ~A Part Of Me~ is the album’s seventh song and goes back to the ballad style. The song’s opening is very pretty and definitely starts things off on the right foot. Basically the instrumentation stays pretty for the duration of the song but it’s just so long that it feels like it’s dragging on. It would have been more enjoyable if it was shortened.

KISSES is up next. It was a released as a B-side before the album and it’s very understandable why it wasn’t chosen to be an A-side. It’s just really not interesting because the instrumentation just doesn’t catch the listener’s ear.

A new track appears with キズナ. The song begins with a music box styled instrumental and then Stephanie sings the chorus. Her vocals are nice although they sound too strong for the instrumentation, overpowering the sweet softness of the music. Then the music becomes more diverse and louder so that it suits Stephanie’s vocals much better. There’s an unidentified man singing with her for some parts which is kind of strange. Nonetheless, the song is quite nice and sweet. If the vocals were softer and it stayed closer to the opening instrumental then it would have been even stronger.

The album’s semifinale is a song for you, an orchestral ballad. There is a mix of English and Japanese which switches things up nicely. It’s peaceful and relaxing sound really resonates with the listener and is one of the stronger songs on the album.

The album closes with 大好きなみんなへ。, featuring fans. It sounds very much like FUTURE although slightly less strong. It just doesn’t capture the attention particularly strongly, which makes it not the best way to close the album out.

Album Ranking: B

Stephanie’s album definitely has a few surprising curveballs that catch the listener’s attention such as 禁断の Knockout and Forever. Some of the tracks come off as a little predictable but overall it’s an enjoyable package. As usual, Stephanie’s vocals are enjoyable and portray emotion well. With more interesting instrumentals, her music will only benefit.

5 Most Memorable Tracks: 禁断の Knockout / Forever / 言葉なんかいらないほどに / キズナ / FUTURE

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Stephanie – FUTURE [7th Single]

May 15, 2009 at 11:47 pm (Stephanie) (, )

Stephanie

Stephanie’s 7th single, entitled FUTURE, was released on 04.29.09. The title track was used as the theme song to the movie High-Kick Girl.

FUTURE. The song starts off very abruptly and it almost sounds like there was supposed to be something before it. She does sound good though despite the music not being anything particularly wonderful. As the song continues, her voice is nice but the music never gains that strong point to make the audience pay attention. It’s just quite boring and never shows off Stephanie’s true power.

BREAKDOUN is the single’s B-side and does no better job of entertaining the listener. The music is boring and her vocals are nothing out of her ordinary. Honestly, the most interesting thing about the song is the way that the song is spelled.

In order to promote the single, a PV for FUTURE was made. The video is very simple and just features Stephanie wandering around town enjoying the beautiful day. Such a simple concept is nice every once in a while. She may not look very good in the video but that’s okay.

Single Ranking: C

It’s another boring single from Stephanie and it’s sad because she has a great voice. It would be nice if she was given something to make it shine.

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Stephanie featuring SRM – Pride ~A Part Of Me~ [6th Single]

January 26, 2009 at 4:30 am (Stephanie) (, )

steph

Stephanie’s 6th single, entitled Pride ~A Part Of Me,~ was released on 01.14.09. The title track was used as the theme song to the movie Pride, in which Stephanie plays leading role Shio Asami.

Pride ~A Part Of Me~ is a grandiose ballad filled with emotion. Sweetly, the piano introduces the listener to the song and immediately feelings of magic and hope arise. Stephanie then comes in with the first verse and gives vocals like she always does, which show emotion. Hikari Mitsushima has her part in the verse and her vocals are nice too although there is something about them that doesn’t connect as much. Once the chorus comes in, there is a very generic feeling about it, which comes as almost expected. Now Stephanie has great vocals but there is such a thing as oversinging. The girls didn’t need to sing the whole thing as loud as they could. Overall, this song was less than memorable. Even though the verses weren’t that bad, the chorus screams generic and it comes across as just another ballad.

Kisses is the single’s new song B-side. This song takes on an acoustic flavor as the acoustic guitar serves as the main instrument, pushing for a rawer emotional sound. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work. It’s hard to pinpoint the song’s problem but it there definitely is one.

In order to promote the single, a PV for Pride ~A Part Of Me~ was made but it certainly was nothing special. The video features scenes from the movie as well as the two girls standing in front of a white background singing. It’s true that Stephanie has never been known for her looks and let’s face it, this video will not change that perception. Hikari looks okay but nothing stellar. This video was a mess and they could have put a little effort into it.

Single Ranking: C

Unfortunately, Stephanie did not bring her strongest material forward with her first release of the year. Pride ~A Part Of Me~ sounds like another generic ballad that doesn’t stand out in the her discography. The B-side is incredibly bland and not even worth listening to. The sales from this single were very poor and to be honest, it’s no surprise after listening to the songs.

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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) ()

kingdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

06. Morning Musume – Cover You

07. Leah Dizon – Communication!!!

08. ayaka – Sing to the Sky

09. Utada Hikaru – HEART STATION

10. Tohoshinki – T

11. Perfume – GAME

12. MEG – STEP

13. Aira Mitsuki – COPY

14. AZU – AS ONE

15. melody. – Lei Aloha

16. Berryz Koubou – 5 (FIVE)

17. Arashi – Dream”A”live

18. BoA – THE FACE

19. Kuraki Mai – ONE LIFE

20. EXILE – EXILE LOVE

21. Misia – EIGHTH WORLD

22. Ito Yuna – WISH

23. NEWS – color

24. capsule – More! More! More!

25. Shimatani Hitomi – Flare

26. Stephanie – Stephanie

27. KAT-TUN – QUEEN OF THE PIRATES

28. BIG BANG – Number 1

29. AAA – CHOICE IS YOURS

30. Tiana Xiao – desTiny

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[Part Three] Artist Profiles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stephanie – Stephanie [Debut Studio Album]

August 8, 2008 at 12:03 pm (Stephanie) (, )

Stephanie’s debut album, entitled Stephanie, was released on 03.05.08. The singles released before the album are as follows: 君がいる限り, because of you, Winter Gold and フレンズ.

君がいる限り serves as the album’s opener. The song starts off with an absolutely beautiful high note and then the instrumentation serves as a sweet way to compliment her vocals. She sails her way through the first verse and when the chorus comes in, she gives some excellent vocals that show off power and emotion. From start to finish, Stephanie delivers some fantastic vocals that really move well with the song and capture the emotional presence. It’s definitely a strong way to open up the album.

フレンズ is the following track. A cool and fun instrumentation, tinted by rock sounds starts the song off and soon Stephanie comes in with some good vocals that fit with the music well. Then the chorus comes in and she continues to give vocals although there is something missing from it, which leaves the listener wanting a little more. Perhaps if the instrumentation had taken on a slightly more aggressive path then it would have stood out more. Although the music does shine on the pure instrumental section and sounds absolutely fantastic and the following couple of lines have almost a carnival-like instrumental to support them. After singing “precious memories,” the chorus comes back in strongly. By playing with a rock sound, Stephanie definitely shines on this one.

The third song is Life. Opening the song is a sweet upbeat instrumentation that soon begins to be highlighted by light rock sounds. During the first verse, Stephanie’s vocals go very well with the music and catch the listener’s attention nicely. The chorus stands out for even more vocal strength and the instrumentation becomes a little stronger. The pure instrumental section is interesting as the rock influences lighten up to focus on the pretiness of the music and the following lines are delivered with such powerful vocals that the listener can’t help but love it. Life is a great song after フレンズ because there are still rock sounds but they lighten up here and she still shines.

ANGEL GIRL, a sweet upbeat love song, is up next. The song starts off with a sparkling and light instrumental with Stephanie singing “I wanna be your girl” and her voice sounds a bit strange here but once the first verse starts, her vocals sound much better suited for the music. “For your love” and “with your love” really stand out on the chorus and is a real standout part of this song. Stephanie hits the really high notes again in this song and they fit very nicely with the sparkling instrumentation. Excluding the “I wanna be your girl” part, this song is absolutely fantastic and is a real standout number on this album.

Stephanie comes back to the sounds of rock for Fallin.’ A sleek and cool rock instrumentation takes the song off and then the first verse comes in as she sings in all English. Her vocals go very nicely with the music and she sounds very comfortable here. The chorus is a little lacking but she sounds great when she sings “down” repeatedly. The pure instrumental section is nice although it’s nothing spectacular. Overall this is a nice song but it isn’t as strong as the previous rock tracks.

Straying away from the rock sound for a pop switch, Shiny Days! is next. The opening instrumentation really sounds great and makes the listener want to smile. Her vocals during the verse are a little softer than usual but they sound nice with the music. The chorus is nice but a little boring. Her vocals strengthen and the music is nice but there is just something missing that doesn’t make it as strong as it should be. One standout part of the song is the pure instrumental section which has a little jazziness to it that sounds fantastic.

Things slow down a little bit on Smile and Turn Away. The song strongly opens up with a light rock driven instrumental and then the first verse begins with the acoustic guitar serving as the principal instrument. Her vocals sound very strong, carrying the emotion of the song perfectly. The chorus doesn’t pop instrumentally but her stronger vocals signal a slight change and the listener can pick up on it. Rock sounds come back to play on the pure instrumental section and they have a welcome home. Overall, Smile and Turn Away is a very nice song and is a good part of this album.

Beyond Myself allows Stephanie to try out the sounds of R&B. The opening distorted vocals sound a bit strange and really aren’t needed. She then comes in with the first verse and her vocals really fit the music. The chorus is a little lacking, instrumentally but her vocals sound strong, particularly when she sings “I’ll fight it all.” The verses are very nice on this song although the chorus isn’t as strong and Stephanie’s vocals compliment the music nicely so the song is okay; it isn’t an album standout.

Another ballad arrives in the form of Truth, the ninth song on the album. The songs starts off with a nice piano instrumental that has an almost haunting feeling to it. She gives some strong vocals during the first verse that carry beauty. Moments of pure instrumentation really shine and spotlight the haunting beauty of the instrumentation. Although there is no clear chorus on this song, the listener doesn’t even notice as the entrancing music combines with Stephanie’s voice to make the song enjoyable from start to finish.

Following is To.Be.Me. as Stephanie comes back to rock. The song starts off all right although the rock instrumentation doesn’t connect with the listener as well as it had in the past. Her vocals during the first verse are nice but nothing spectacular. The chorus is okay but a little boring as the instrumentation remains uninteresting and her vocals are just okay here because they don’t really move with the music. This song is probably the weakest one on the album and isn’t really worth the listen.

Winter Gold, released as a single before the album, is the album’s semifinale. The opening upbeat and fun instrumentation as well as Stephanie’s beautiful vocals make it really pop from the first moment. Then the first verse comes and she sounds great here with great vocals that move with the music. The chorus stands out as the instrumentation remains interesting and Stephanie delivers some great vocals. On the pure instrumental section, the listener is taken on a voyage through the beautiful music. Winter Gold is a great upbeat that really stands out on this album.

Closing the album is because of you. The piano serves as the song’s principal instrument and Stephanie’s vocals sound very pretty, catching emotion and beauty. As the orchestral instruments come out on the chorus, Stephanie brings strong vocals that suit the music perfectly. This is a great way to close the album, showing off a strong instrumental and Stephanie’s pretty vocals.

Album Ranking: A –

Stephanie’s debut album features a variety of sounds with consistently beautiful vocals. She shines on rock songs like フレンズ and Life; she suits the pop songs such as ANGEL GIRL and Winter Gold and delivers emotion on her ballads like 君がいる限り and because of you. Overall the album is strong and should be checked out.

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Stephanie featuring Roma Tanaka – Changin’ [5th Single]

August 5, 2008 at 11:03 am (Stephanie) (, )

Stephanie’s 5th single, entitled Changin,’ was released on 07.23.08. The title track was used as the 7th ending theme for the anime series D Gray-man.

Stephanie teams up with Roma Tanaka for the title track, Changin.’ The song begins with a nice piano instrumental before the first verse starts. Her vocals sound very nice and go with the music nicely. Roma then takes a turn and his vocals are somewhat deep but they move with the music just as well as Stephanie’s. The chorus is somewhat lacking however. Although the vocals from both are them are nice, Stephanie drowns out Roma and the instrumentation is also lacking variety. Overall it’s a nice song, although nothing spectacular.

The B-side of the single is Together. Opening the song is a nice and smooth instrumental that then picks up for a more poppy feeling. Her vocals during the first verse are enjoyable and go with the atmosphere of the song strongly. The chorus stands out for the English lyrics although it does feel a little boring and a little repetitive. It’s a nice B-side but it’s not a particularly engaging song.

In order to promote the single, a PV for Changin’ was made. The video features scenes of the two of them singing in a studio (this scene is in black & white), Roma singing in front of an absolutely beautiful view as well as Stephanie on a train, taking pictures. It’s not a great video but it fits the song.

Single Ranking: B

Stephanie’s 5th single features a duet with Roma Tanaka for Changin,’ a nice ballad that features some good vocals from the two of them. Together has a more poppy sound but it doesn’t really shine as much as previous pop songs. It’s a nice single but hopefully she’ll bring even stronger material in the future.

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