[Album] hiro – BRILLIANT

hiro was one of the two lead vocalists in famous girl group, SPEED. As the face of the group, it wasn’t unexpected to see her go full-time solo after the girl group went on hiatus. BRILLIANT is hiro’s debut album and included three singles.

brilliant
Released: January 31, 2001
1. Intro ~Going to the Future~
2. Sweet Love
3. AS TIME GOES BY
4. Love Wing
5. STEP BY STEP
6. BRILLIANT
7. Bright Daylight
8. Treasure (album ver.)
9. You Make Me Cry
10. In Season
11. Give It to Myself
12. Brand-New Smile for Me
13. Mitsumeteitai (見つめていたい; ”I Want to Gaze at You”)
14. Delicious
15. LOOK BACK ON THE TIME
16. Close My Eyes

Intro ~Going to the Future~ pretty much features some cool background talking over an oldschool Hip-Hop beat. It’s quite fun and does a good job flowing right into Sweet Love. Sweet Love is totally inspired by Anita Baker’s Sweet Love (or sampled, I’m not sure). The chorus’ music really takes from the 80’s soul ballad, although it’s changed around to give it a more midtempo pop/R&B flair. It’s quite nice. I do like hiro keeps her voice in her comfort zone and she doesn’t try to strain the high notes. It’s a pretty smooth listen. AS TIME GOES BY starts off sounding like a SPEED song, but the melody is a bit different from their usual material, although it could mask itself as one. It’s a little expected considering this was her first single and it released during her time in the group. The song has a strong pop/R&B vibe and it is a nice continuation from the last song as this one is a bit more light-hearted. I don’t totally love the melody, but it is decent and I like how nice hiro’s vocals sound. Decent. Love Wing sort of ditches the R&B elements and brings us a pretty straightforward pop song that could be some anime theme song. It’s a bit generic sounding for the time, but this is the type of style I really enjoyed back in the day. The verses do a nice build up and sound quite mysterious with the heavy beat, synths and guitar. However, the chorus is a bit of a letdown. I don’t think it is as grand as it could be and the melody is a bit messy. STEP BY STEP brings a bit of the R&B back with its funky beat. However, I’m not a huge fan of the transition into the chorus. It goes from something with a bit of attitude to something that has a much brighter pop sound. This can be fine, but I think it does sound a bit disjointed and the chorus isn’t as strong as I would want to make up for it. The song does have some cool brass elements though. BRILLIANT is the first song that could be called a ballad. Although it is slow, it does retain the bright pop sound that many of the other songs have. I really love the music to this song with its relaxing sound, which is emphasized by the strings. The melody isn’t bad and I do like the chorus quite a bit. However, the verses do drag on a bit. Still nice. Bright Daylight was hiro’s second single. It starts off sounding like a ballad, but then swings into an explosive pop tune with a strong brass and guitar base. I do like the energy the song has, but the overall song does come off a bit generic in terms of its melody. It doesn’t really stand out and relies mainly on the funky music. It’s a bit weak and forgettable besides that. Luckily, the gorgeous Treasure comes popping in. The third single and the best song on the album, Treasure is absolutely stunning. The music mainly relies on the array of sparkling synths to bring a feeling of mystery and journey. The melody is really catchy as well and fits perfectly with the arrangement. It’s a bit generic in its sound (for its time), but it is so well executed. You Make Me Cry starts off sounding like an R&B song. The beat is much heavier and more bass heavy than many other songs. However, I do like the nice contrast it has with the light piano and flowing melody. The chorus is a bit weak as it turns the song into a more straightforward pop tune and the music just doesn’t hold up to the intensity of the melody. I do like it, but I wish it had a bit more power to the music. In Season was used as a promotional song for the album. It has a bit of funk in the music with the touches of cool bass lines and percussion. The melody is definitely more pop and it is quite nice. I don’t think it’s as intoxicating, but I feel like in this era, it could have worked as a single. I feel like this is one is also quite nice since the music nor the melody overpowers one another. It meshes well. Give it to Me is a nice change since the arrangement has more dance elements. I love the faster beat and the colorful synths that pop up. The song starts off a bit funky, but the chorus does bring some fun disco vibes. My problem is the weird “dududus” that pop up after the chorus, which don’t fit. That and the melody could be catchier. Brand-New Smile for Me is nice, but at this point, the song feels like it just loses itself in the album. The music has a cool electric riff and refrain going on, but the melody is a bit dry and doesn’t really stand out too much. It’s a nice tune and probably would be solid on its own, but gets blended in. Mitsumeteitai was hiro’s first solo song back in 1998 and was included in the group’s eighth single. I do like the more aggressive sound it has and it is probably the most vocally aggressive one, which matches the heavy sounds of the song. The melody is decent, but my main problem is that hiro is singing like she is in SPEED. The rest of the album, she is pretty calm and keeps in her comfort zone, but this time she is belting it out, but it borders screaming. Doesn’t really match the more straightforward pop sound. Delicious was released as a B-side on her first single. It’s one of the slower songs on the album and keeps the lighthearted pop sound. I do like its more relaxed sound, especially compared to the last song and hiro sounds more mature here. With that said, the melody does get quite boring. It’s too much fluff, but not enough power. I do like the cool harmonica that pops in though. I like LOOK BACK ON THE TIME. It once again has that more straightforward sound and is a bit more oldschool sounding, but the melody seems a bit more streamlined. With that said, it does blend in a bit too much at times. It’s a decent filler. Finally to end the album we have another ballad. Close My Eyes has some nice aspects to it like the gorgeous guitar and the strong percussion, but the song is just super forgettable. It’s like a slowed down version of another song on this album.

Overall: My main gripe with this album is that it is too long and not effective. There are some decent songs, but really only one that stands above the others (Treasure). The main issue is that everything has this straightforward J-Pop sound. I love that style, but not a whole album where the majority of the songs end up sounding the same because the melodies are weak or when there is a bit of diversity, the choruses throw us right back to that sound. It’s not a horrible album, but a bit disappointing.

C+

[Album] Utada Hikaru – Distance

DISTANCE is the second album released by Utada Hikaru. The album included four singles and was released with high anticipation. It sold over 4.4 million copies and is one of the highest selling albums in Japan.

distance
Released: March 28, 2001
1. Wait & See ~Risk~ (リスク)
2. Can You Keep a Secret?
3. Distance
4. Sunglasses (サングラス)
5. Drama (ドラマ)
6. Eternally
7. Addicted to You (Up-in-Heaven Mix)
8. For You
9. Kettobase! (蹴っ飛ばせ!)
10. Parody
11. Time Limit (タイム・リミット)
12. Kotoba ni Naranai Kimochi (言葉にならない気持ち)
13. Hayatochi-Remix (早とちリミックス)

Wait & See ~Risk~ was released as the album’s second single. It continues the R&B sound that was present in Utada’s last album, but in a more aggressive and faster way with its dance-pop . I enjoy how the beat is a bit lighter and it matches the fast paced feel of the choruses. The melody is really catchy, but I do find Utada’s vocals are a bit weak at times and she does incredibly shaky at times. It’s a fun tune, but it does drag on a bit too long by the end. Musically, fourth single, Can You Keep a Secret, pretty much continues from where the last song left off, although I would say it isn’t as aggressive as the last song. I do prefer the melody in this one because it’s much catchier. Utada still sounds a bit shaky, but there are times when she sounds more assured, which are the highlights of the song. I also enjoy the bridge where Utada speaks instead. It’s a fun addition. DISTANCE continues the pop/R&B sound, but here we have a nice lighthearted, mid-tempo style. I do feel like the music could be a bit better as there are times where it sounds incredibly pop and a bit too bubbly for me, especially with the touch of piano in the background (it’s fine in the instrumental breaks though). The melody is really nice though, especially in the chorus, which works very well with Utada’s vocals. Pretty good title track! Up to this point, Sunglasses is the most relaxed sounding song. I love the smooth R&B sound this one has and the beat is quite nice, although quite a bit similar to the other songs. I like the chorus melody and I especially love the use of the breathy vocals, but I don’t think it’s as catchy as I want. However, the cool synth that pops up during the instrumental break is really cool. Not bad. Drama is a total switch. Here, we have something with a rock sound to it. It’s totally different from the last songs and I wouldn’t mind, but it sounds so messy. I do not like the whiny sounding chorus with the overly aggressive music. It gets drowned out and Utada’s vocals just don’t sound that good. Eternally is definitely better. Brought back to the R&B sound, here with have the first ballad. It’s not bad, but this song isn’t really quite my tastes and that’s largely because of Utada’s vocals. Her singing is so  whiny and sort of ruins the melody. The music is also a bit dull with its dragged on beat. Thank god there is Addicted to You (Up-in-Heaven Mix). Released as the first single, it is easily one of my favourite songs on the album. It has a much stronger R&B sound than many of the songs and sounds similar to the material from her first album. The beat is nice and the music doesn’t do too much, unlike some of the other singles. It’s pretty bare, but effective. I love the chorus as well and Utada sounds much more confident here. For You cools things down again with a darker R&B tune. I know not as many people enjoy this one as much as her other singles, but it’s one of my favourites. I love the darker sound and the little touches of synths is really cool. That and the guitar in the chorus just makes the chorus. The vocals are much smoother and Utada sounds like she is in her comfort zone. It’s cool. Kettobase! was released as a B-side from the Can You Keep a Secret single and it brings us back to the rock sounds, although with a bit of an electronic edge. The verses are pretty cool and I like the electric guitar and the vocals. The chorus is really weird though. The lyrics are super odd with the “I Want Your Baby“. The music is interesting, but I don’t think I completely buy this song. Parody was used to promote the album with Sunglasses. However, unlike that song, I don’t think this one is as streamlined and executed as nicely. I do like the bouncy sound of the chorus, but the melody just doesn’t fit with it. There are some really cool elements to the music, but it doesn’t entirely fit together. Average. One of the strongest songs on the album, Time Limit brings a light-hearted mix into the game and I love it. As the second half of the third single with For You, Time Limit has similar elements to that song, but in a lighter way. The chorus is simple, melodic and effective. It works as a good base for Utada to add some nice adlibs. My favourite part of the song is definitely the bridge, where there is a bit of a transition and a nice display of vocals. It’s the best song on the album. Kotoba ni Naranai Kimochi is a midtempo R&B ballad and it’s not bad. I do like the relaxing and mysterious sounding music, but I get a bit bored with the melody. It isn’t as strong as I want and it sort of drags on a bit longer than I would hope. I feel like it doesn’t get stuck in my head and it doesn’t really make much impact in general. The HAYATOCHI-REMIX is a remix of Hayotochiri from her Wait & See ~Risk~ single. I don’t quite remember how the original sounded, but this one has a nice R&B beat to it and the melody fits much better here. I do like the ideas used in the music like the cleaner percussion and the cool piano riffs. It’s not bad.

Overall: I wasn’t overly impressed with this album. I feel like it had some cool ideas, but the production just isn’t as clean as I would hope and some of the songs do sound a bit outdated now. With that said, the album tracks were quite weak and the album was saved by the singles, which were all quite good. It’s not a bad album, just a bit of a letdown.

B

[Mini-Album] Rainbow – INNOCENT

INNOCENT is the third mini-album released by girl group Rainbow. Black Swan was used as the promotional track.

innocent
Released: February 23, 2015
1. Bad Boys Cry (나쁜 남자가 운다)
2. Black Swan
3. Mr. Lee
4. PIERROT
5. Privacy
6. A Little Bit More (조금 더)

The mini opens with Bad Boys Cry, which is something I did not expect from Rainbow. It’s a ballad, but here we are given a soulful R&B tune. I love the beat and the piano in the song is fantastic. The transition from the calmer verses to the more explosive choruses is also nicely done and helps to elevate the song. The girl’s sound great as well. I just wish the music in the chorus was a little cleaner sounding. Black Swan was the promotional song and the reception wasn’t as great as their other songs. I don’t quite understand why as this is a fantastic tune. I love the darker tones it has and the synths are absolutely intoxicating, especially the underlying one in the chorus. And that beat is just pulsating. I do like how the choruses are significantly longer than the verses. It feels like there isn’t much of a break. The melody is insanely catchy. It’s a bit drawn out, but there are some really strong hooks. Mr. Lee is a bit calmer, but it still has a great beat and a nice 80’s quality about it. I do find the transition from the verses into the chorus a bit difficult to distinguish, but it keeps the same rhythm throughout the song, which is nice. The vocals are definitely airier and the girls do sound great in this style. Another stellar tune. At first, I was a bit unsure of PIERROT. It is probably the most lighthearted song at this point with its high-pitched synths and vocals. The verses are a bit odd with the mix of singing and rapping and do an strange transition into the calmer pre-chorus. However, the transition into the chorus is both jarring and cleverly done. The chorus is quite short, but it does its job effectively. Excellent. Privacy has a really cool funky bass line. It definitely gives the song a bit of a funk feel. I really love the 80’s sound of this song though. From the airy vocals to the funky synths and guitar, everything is just executed so nicely. I do feel the chorus would benefit more if the voices were fuller, but it’s still a solid tune. A Little Bit More brings us to the slowest song on the album. It’s a sensual pop/R&B ballad and I love it. The verses are a bit dull, but the opening hook of the chorus is really intoxicating. The vocals are also really well done and the girls continue that airy singing that is present in many of the other songs. However, Hyunyoung’s ending belts really bring the song up.

Overall: Wow! Wow! This is definitely Rainbow’s strongest release yet. Every song is of such high quality and pretty sure most of them could be solid promotional songs. I really like how there is a cohesive sound to the album as the songs are generally darker compared to their last releases.

A+

[Mini-Album] Song Ji Eun – Bobby Doll

Bobby Doll is Song Ji Eun’s second mini-album. The title track was used as the promotional song.

bobbydoll
Released: September 20, 2016
1. I Wanna Fall in Love
2. Bobby Doll (바비돌)
3. Off the Record
4. Oasis (오아시스)
5. It’s Okay (괜찮아요)
6. Bobby Doll (Inst.)

I Wanna Fall in Love is a bouncy pop tune with some R&B elements to it. The chorus is quite repetitive, but it is still very catchy and the music sounds great. The beat is quite strong and there is this underlying piano that makes it a little bit more lighthearted. Ji Eun also sounds fantastic. I also enjoy how the song just doesn’t seem to give the listener a break. Great starter. Bobby Doll is fantastic. It keeps the upbeat nature of her last promo song, but infuses it with the darker sound that she tends to release. It’s probably her sexiest title track as well. My favourite parts are the pre-choruses where she does a bit of rapping as well. The choruses are especially catchy and I love the wicked guitar in the background that blends with the odd beat and touch of piano. The use of the background vocals is also excellent. Off the Record is a slow, relaxing acoustic ballad. While these can sometimes be a bit boring, the melody is very nice and Ji Eun sounds really good. Her sweet tone fits the song very well. I also like how the song adds a bit of percussion by the end, so it isn’t entirely one note. Beautiful. I love Oasis. It brings back that slightly darker sound that Ji Eun does best. It’s like Bobby Doll’s midtempo sister. The beat is fantastic and there is a bit of funk in the chorus due to the nice guitar. The chorus is a bit repetitive, but it is done in a well-executed manner. It’s catchy and fits so well with the smooth music. It’s Okay is probably the most lighthearted song on the mini. I like how jumpy the beat is and it works really well with the touches of brass that pop up. It’s a bit jazzier than the other songs. I’m not totally buying the hooks in the chorus, but they are still moderately catchy and the music sounds fantastic. Not bad and a good ending.

Overall: I only expect the best from Ji Eun and she once again delivers. This is another fantastic mini-album. I love how there is variety in her songs, but she always seems to pick some great songs. They all have good melodies and the music is often full and well-produced. Great.

A+

[Digital Single] BLACKPINK – SQUARE ONE

BLACKPINK debuted in 2016 and was YG’s first debuted girl group in seven years. In a way, they were seen as a way to replace 2NE1. While they haven’t released a lot of material, their songs have been quite popular. SQUARE ONE is the group’s debut digital single and both tracks were promoted.

squareone.jpg
Released: August 8, 2016
1. Whistle (휘파람)
2. BOOMBAYAH (붐바야)

Whistle is the slower of the two songs with its midtempo hip-hop/R&B sound. The song’s foundation is a heavy beat, with some odd synths, snapping and percussion that overlays. Also, a sick whistle refrain. The interesting thing is that the song remains in such a calm way for the majority of it, but it does get some energy when the pre-chorus comes in before it heads back to that relaxed sound. It’s quite cool and a bit unexpected. The melody is also insanely catchy and is something that gets stuck in your head. BOOMBAYAH is the more upbeat one with its upbeat hip-hop/dance sound. The song is very reminiscent of 2NE1’s sound, which is both a good and bad thing. It’s a strong tune, but I do feel the song does come off a bit outdated sounding. I love the music and how much energy it has, especially the transition from the rising pre-chorus into the stomping chorus. I’m not the biggest fan of the second half of the chorus, but there are some really fun aspects to the song.

Overall: Both songs are of high quality, although I do believe Whistle is the stronger of the two due to its intoxicating chorus melody. BOOMBAYAH is great, but it does feel a bit outdated. Still a solid release.

A+

[Digital Single] PLEDIS Girlz (PRISTIN) – WE

PLEDIS Girlz were the temporary name for PRISTIN before they debuted early this year. Many of the girls in the group were featured on the show, Produce 101, but this release only features 8 out of the 10 (two were busy promoting in I.O.I). WE is the group’s first digital single.

we
Released: June 26, 2016
1. WE
2. WE (Inst.)

WE is phenomenal. This was one of my favourite songs of 2016 and it’s not surprise. The song is pretty bubblegum pop, but doesn’t swing too far into the “cute” territory. The music is great with the heavy pop beats and the soaring synths in the background. I really love the strong percussion, but it’s the strings that really help take the song to the next level. While the verses are quite short, each member is still featured and the charming, melodic chorus helps to bring a sense of unison to the song. That and Seungyeon belting it out at the end really gives me some nostalgic feelings. It reminds me a bit of Into the New World by Girls’ Generation.

Overall: Great, great, great. This track is just such a solid tune and everything seems to be executed in such a clean and high-quality style. While the song isn’t something entirely new, it’s just done in such a well-done way.

A+

[Album] Goto Maki – Makking GOLD 1

When Goto Maki joined Morning Musume in 1999, she was the youngest member as well as seen as the “ace”. Her inclusion sparked a huge rise in popularity for the group and soon after they released their mega-hit, Love Machine. In 2001, Goto started a solo career and after her graduation in 2002, she released her debut album. Makking GOLD 1 is her debut album and includes her first four singles.

makkinggold1
Released: February 5, 2003
1. Ai no Bakarayou (愛のバカやろう; Love’s Fool)
2. Te wo Nigitte Arukitai (手を握って歩きたい; I Want to Hold Hands and Walk)
3. Ai tte Donna ×××? (愛ってどんな×××?; What Kind of ___ is Love?)
4. Afurechau…BE IN LOVE (A Passionate Mix) (溢れちゃう…BE IN LOVE; Gonna Overflow…Be in Love)
5. Date Chuuihou (デート注意報; Date Warning)
6. SHALL WE LOVE? (Goto Version)
7. Yaruki! IT’S EASY (やる気! IT’S EASY; Enthusiasm! It’s Easy)
8. Moriagaru Shikanai Desho! (盛り上がるしかないでしょ!; Nothing to Do But Get Pumped!)
9. Hareta Hi no Marine (晴れた日のマリーン; Sunny Day’s Marine)
10. Akai Nikkichou (Goto Version) (赤い日記帳; Red Diary)
11. Te wo Nigitte Arukitai (Album Version) (手を握って歩きたい)

Ai no Bakarayou was released as Goto’s debut single and it is a catchy number. I don’t quite know how to describe it, but it’s a pulsating pop tune with some Middle Eastern elements to it. It’s a bit cheesy with its odd synths, but this is what is expected from Hello!Project songs. The melody is quite catchy and Goto sounds quite good singing, especially in the verses (well, she is much better than when she started). It’s fun. Te wo Nigitte Arukitai was released as Goto’s third single and it takes a total swing as a more straightforward pop song. I do think this one is on the peppier side of things and comes across a bit like a children’s song, especially with the children singing the background vocals. I do like the exciting beat and the sparkly synths, but the melody is quite grating. Not really my style. Ai tte Donna ×××? brings us to a more mature sound with its upbeat pop/R&B sound. I really like the beat to this one, but I feel like the production is quite cheesy sounding. Everything sounds so programmed and kiddish, but I guess that fits Goto’s age at the time (17). I do like the melody and the second half of the chorus is really catchy. I’m pleasantly surprised by this one. Afurechau…BE IN LOVE (A Passionate Mix) was released as the album’s second single. This one continues the sound of the last song with its heavy R&B beats. The verses are quite nice, but my problem is during the chorus. The melody is sort of annoying and Goto’s vocals are quite high-pitched sounding and I don’t think it really work well with the melody. It’s a bit of a letdown, but I do like the music. Date Chuuihou is a bit change with its stronger rock elements. I really like how the song starts off, but I am not liking the verses. I really feel the melody doesn’t quite work with the music and Goto sometimes over-exaggerates her vocals, which makes it a bit too much for this style song. I like the music, but the melody is a bit weak. SHALL WE LOVE? was originally released as a Gomattou song (a subunit including Goto). I’ve always liked this song because the music is definitely more mature with its heavy R&B beats and funky synths. I do find this version to be a bit empty as it only features Goto and it loses the nice contrast of three different voices. It’s still a good song though. Yaruki! IT’S EASY is the last single on the album. I find this one, we leave the more mature sound and head back to something a bit more bubblegum pop with a touch of nostalgia. It’s quite cute and reminds of Japanese music in the 90’s. While I’m not the biggest fan of the melody (even if it is a bit catchy), the music is great. Moriagaru Shikanai Desho! is definitely more pop/rock and I’m not sure if I’m feeling this song. It’s quite cool since it’s the most aggressive song with its fast-paced guitar riffs during the verses, but I don’t quite like the transition into the chorus, since it goes into a more pop route. I wish it was more aggressive throughout. Hareta Hi no Marine brings us back to that sparkly pop sound. Goto’s vocals are definitely much sweeter here and really fits the song. The beat is quite nice since it is very fast-paced and a bit 80’s. However, I do not like chorus. The melody is really flat and quite forgettable. A bit boring. Akai Nikkichou is one of my favourite J-Pop songs (it’s on my top 500 J-Pop list!) with its more dramatic pop sound. In the original, Goto was the weakest singer, but you can definitely tell how much she has improved since that time. She is able to carry the song by herself, although I’m a bit confused with the editing as sometimes she sounds really nasally (like herself) and then at other times, she doesn’t. Not as strong as the original (Danielle brings it), but it’s still great. Te wo Nigitte Arukitai (Album Version) is different from the original. Instead of the childish pop music, we are given a jazzier rendition at the start before we get into the big brass sounds. I wish the entire song was done in the jazzier style, but the execution is definitely much cleaner.

Overall: The problem I had with this album is that while it had some good songs, there was no stellar pieces and there were quite a few duds that were either too crazy or just forgettable. I feel like quite a big part of this has to do with production as the music itself is just a bit too kiddish for me to take the songs as seriously as I want to. There are some nice songs on here though.

C