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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Album Ranking: B –

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

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Utada Hikaru (Utada) – Come Back To Me [PV Review]

February 28, 2009 at 9:05 pm (Utada Hikaru) (, )

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In order to promote Hikki’s new American single, Come Back To Me, a PV was made. Although a little bit after the single release, a video is better late than never.

It’s a pretty simple video but it’s that simpleness that matches the song perfectly. She looks absolutely gorgeous when she’s sitting and playing the piano. The hair, the dress, it’s all working in her favor. I wish I could say the same about her look with her hair up. Initially I thought it was somebody else…like a mother or something. She looks way too old and the dress isn’t that great either. I’m assuming that the person playing her boyfriend is some sort of model since he definitely looks like one, so I guess that’s a plus for the video. If I were to play the ranking game with this PV and the PV for Easy Breezy, the PV for Easy Breezy would definitely win. There’s something more likeable and fun about that video that catches my eye but this one isn’t by any means bad.

PV Ranking: B

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Utada Hikaru (Utada) – Come Back to Me [7th English Single]

February 14, 2009 at 9:29 pm (Utada Hikaru) (, )

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Utada Hikaru’s 7th English single, entitled Come Back to Me, was released on 02.10.09. This is Hikki’s 1st single from her upcoming English Album, This Is The One.

Come Back to Me is a more mainstream approach than her previous English songs. The song starts off wonderfully with a string of piano notes that immediately entices the listeners’ ears. It really signals a great song and suddenly the first verse comes in and it sounds nothing like that previous instrumentation, which is really a shame. Nonetheless, Hikki’s vocals are very nice here although the instrumentation just sounds so generically American. That “come back” right before the chorus is a standout and she hits her higher notes very strongly. With the chorus being so repetitive, it’s not that great but it somehow gets stuck in the listener’s head. The lyrics tell a sorrowful story so that’s a very good point of the song. On the second verse, the vocals have their iffy points such as when she sings “I’ll admit I cheated.” There is something about the combination of the instrumentation and Hikki’s vocals that really work on the third verse. It’s a bit generic but that might spell more success for Hikki in the States.

Single Ranking: B

Come Back to Me does a good job of showing Hikki can do a more mainstream effort but I’m hoping her album shows more of her creativity because that’s what makes her such a great artist.

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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) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

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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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Utada Hikaru – Prisoner Of Love [21st Single]

May 22, 2008 at 8:40 pm (Utada Hikaru) (, )

Utada Hikaru’s 21st single, entitled Prisoner Of Love, was released on 05.21.08. Due to its tie-in with Japanese dorama Last Friends, the single became a re-cut single from her latest album HEART STATION. The single features both the original version of the song as well as Prisoner Of Love -Quiet Version.-

Prisoner Of Love was featured on HEART STATION and the same song was featured as the title song of the single. The song opens up with Hikki singing “I’m a prisoner of love” before the first verse starts. Hikki’s vocals combined with the beautiful music combine to really bring the emotional quality behind the lyrics shining through. The hook begins to introduce new instruments that come stronger in the chorus and is one of the best parts of the song. The chorus shows off Hikki’s voice, which sounds beautiful here and really makes the song pop. The third verse is sung deeper and the transition from that verse into the final choruses is wonderful. The song finishes strongly as she repeats some lines, primarily in English. Prisoner Of Love was one of the strongest songs on HEART STATION and the choice to release it as a single was a wise one.

The single also features Prisoner Of Love ~Quiet Version.~ There is an instrumental focus which gives the song more of an orchestral feeling to it. This version isn’t that different from the original and one element that the original possessed was its strong emotional connection, which doesn’t come across as strongly on this one. The piano is certainly lovely but the original version is far superior.

In order to promote the new single, a PV for Prisoner Of Love was made. It bears a certain similarity to the PV for Flavor Of Life -Ballad Version- only better. Scenes from the video include Hikki recording the song in a red shirt as well as Hikki in the process of writing and recording the song.

Single Ranking: B +

Hikki’s 21st single, Prisoner Of Love, was released on 05.21.08. As a re-cut single from HEART STATION, the single features both the original version of Prisoner Of Love as well as a quiet version. The quiet version centers on the piano to put more of a spotlight on Hikki’s vocals. The single is definitely nice but it would have been even nicer if some sort of B-side was included.

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Utada Hikaru – HEART STATION [6th Studio Album]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Album Ranking: A +

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

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Utada Hikaru – HEART STATION / Stay Gold [20th Single]

February 18, 2008 at 9:35 pm (Utada Hikaru) (, )

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Utada Hikaru’s 20th single, HEART STATION / Stay Gold, was released on 02.20.08. The single is another double A-side single (following the release of her last single, Beautiful World / Kiss & Cry). HEART STATION was used as the Recochoku 2008 Download Service CM song while Stay Gold was the 2007 Ascience song.

The first track on the single, HEART STATION, is one of Hikki’s strongest songs ever. The song opens up somewhat similarly to Keep Tryin’ but with an ethereal flavor to it. The whole atmosphere of the song is somewhat sorrowful and plays with the metaphor of a radio station that tunes into the frequencies of the heart (“heart station”).  The verses are wonderful as the vocals are smooth and blend perfectly with the music. The chorus features notes more in the upper register and Hikki hits them perfectly. Her voice hits it really clearly as she draws out the ending notes of “I love you,” “I miss you” and other notes of that nature. Supporting Hikki’s notes is the instrumentation, which directs the song to these notes. Following the first chorus, Hikki speaks in English and is a nice addition to overall feel to the song. The song ends with Hikki repeating “heart station” with great vocals. HEART STATION is definitely one of Hikki’s best and she brought true strength with an ethereal sound.

Stay Gold, the other A-side, is a piano driven ballad. Drawing influence from a Stevie Wonder song of the same name and a Robert Frost poem entitled “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” the song is beautifully written. The opening instrumentation introduces the overall sorrowful atmosphere perfectly and melts straight into the chorus. The chorus is easily the strongest part of the song with beautiful vocals that are somewhat breathy but are powerful enough to work in the context of the song. The verses have Hikki singing in a lower key and the instrumentation makes a rather large change in order to compliment her vocals better. As the verses transition into the chorus, the instrumentation begins to return to its regular glory. The song ends on a lovely note as she breathily sings “my darling.” Stay Gold serves as an excellent contrast to HEART STATION and showcases Hikki’s strengths in terms of vocals and lyrics.

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For this double A-side single, a PV for HEART STATION was created. Hikki hasn’t had a “proper” PV for this album yet so the PV was a very nice surprise. The opening is amazing as the camera goes through what appears to be a vortex until we are able to see it’s Hikki’s eye. The rest of the PV is simple as it consists of Hikki sitting on a train with headphones are. Presumably she is listening to “heart station” as she sings. The camera angles add to the feel of the song with shots from her perspective as well as another’s (unidentified). Having the other passengers turn into silhouettes also shows creativity and true artistic direction.

Single Ranking: A +

Hikki’s 20th single, HEART STATION / Stay Gold, features two very strong tracks. HEART STATION features Hikki’s current ethereal style with great vocals and a clear atmosphere. Stay Gold, a piano ballad, features beautifully written lyrics and breathy but strong vocals. As the lead in for her new album of the same name, HEART STATION is one to be remembered as is Stay Gold.

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