[Album] hiro – Watashi no Okinawa

Watashi no Okinawa is the third album released by hiro. It was her first solo album release in 11 years. It is a cover album that features songs by Okinawan artists and folk songs. It was a moderate success, peaking at #13 on the charts. One single was released prior to the album.

watashinookinawa

Released: August 14, 2013
1. Shima Uta (島唄; Island Song)
2. Nature Sound
3. Watashi no Okinawa (私のオキナワ; My Okinawa)
4. Kaigara (貝殻; Shell)
5. Tinsagunu Hana (album ver.) (てぃんさぐぬ花; A Sweet Flower)
6. Shimanchunu Takara (島人ぬ宝; Treasure of Our Island Home)
7. Mirukumunari (ミルクムナリ)
8. Stay With Me
9. Halo (delofamilia) (ハロ)
10. Kokoro no Uta ~Aisuruno ga Heta Dakara~ (心の詩 ~愛するのが下手だから~; Heart Song ~Love is Poor~)
11. Warabigami (piano ver.) (童神; Child Spirit)
12. Hana (花; Flower)

Shima Uta opens the album on a relaxing note. The song starts off as a gentle acoustic-focused tune, but soon starts to gain a bit of power. I wasn’t expecting much at first, but I do feel like the inclusion of the percussion really helps to liven the song up and it really gives it some strength in the chorus. The melody is quite beautiful as well. Compared to her first two albums, hiro sounds much more mature here and it fits wonderfully with the song. This is a great opener.

Nature Sound brings a bit more of a melancholic sound and is the album’s first cover. I do like that the song has a more pop/rock quality to it and keeps things more mainstream while still adding a few elements here and there of the Okinawan style. I wish the music had a bit more punch to it, but it’s still a pretty good song as the melody is pretty catchy and hiro sounds great. The only part that comes off is weird is the rap that comes up in the second half of the song as hiro can’t quite do this well.

Bringing back a more lighthearted sound, we get Watashi no Okinawa, the title track. I like that it has a summery brightness to it that works with its light pop/rock influence. I really like how the Okinawan elements start to come in during the chorus as it really brings an interesting switch. It’s not the catchiest tune, but it’s still solid and quite charming.

Kaigara brings us another cover, but this time in the form of a ballad. It’s a really sweet sounding song and I quite like how the instruments all work together. The Okinawan influence isn’t at the forefront this time, but tied nicely into the background. The chorus isn’t particularly memorable in melody, but the arrangement really helps give the song a bit of punch. It’s quite sweet.

Tinsagunu Hana (album ver.) is another slower song, but this time we get some children’s choir to help give the song some push. It’s not a song that I would normally go for, but there is a really touching quality about it from its gentle arrangement to its short vocal sections. It isn’t a long song, but it still feels quite beautiful. It was originally released as the B-side to the album’s single.

I think Shimanchunu Takara has been done numerous times by other Okinawan artists as well. It has a really bright and prominent Okinawa twist. It is a surprisingly long song but has a great vibe to it. The verses are fun, while the chorus has the kind of sound that is easy to sing along to. I do wish the music fit a bit better with the vocal arrangement because there does seem a bit of a disconnect, but it is a pretty nice tune.

We finally get a more upbeat song in the form of Mirukumunari, which has some strong traditional Okinawan and Japanese sounds. It starts off in a really cool way with its chanting. I don’t really know what to think. I wasn’t expecting it to be catchy, but the chants melody is actually really fun to listen to.

Stay With Me returns us to a more contemporary style with its gentle pop/rock sound. It actually reminds me of something that Hamasaki Ayumi might have done in the 2000’s due to the use of strings and light percussion. The chorus has quite a simple hook, but it actually works well here. hiro also sounds good and she shows a lot of control over her singing. Charming song.

Halo (delofamilia) opens in a weird way and has quite a strange sound. Not sure what to think really of its intro. However, things start to sound better once hiro starts to sing. The chorus is where things start to get a bit weirder as the song has a light R&B beat that comes popping in. Unfortunately, I feel like the melody doesn’t quite take advantage of this and it isn’t that memorable. The best part does come right after the chorus though as there is a more pop sounding section that brings a more melodic change. It is an interesting song, but the weakest at this point.

The next song has quite a long name, but it is quite beautiful. Kokoro no Uta ~Aisuruno ga Heta Dakara~ is a gentle ballad that brings in some sounds from nature and has a dreamier quality to it. It isn’t the most exciting song, but it has a really gorgeous quality to it with its subtle Okinawan elements and emotional melody. hiro does a great job as her voice fits the song really well. My only issue comes in the second half of the song where a light beat comes in and makes parts feel a bit offbeat.

warabigami

Warabigami (piano ver.) comes rolling in and it is really beautiful. This song has also been covered numerous times by different artists. Even though this song focuses on the piano, I don’t find it to get boring. The melody is quite sweet and there is a tenderness to it that really fits the arrangement and makes everything even more emotional. I can understand why this was the album’s only single as it is a stand out piece.

Finishing the album is Hana, which was used as a promotional track for the album. It is another song that has a stronger Okinawan flair to it. The majority of the song has a light pop sound, but the music definitely brings in some of that much needed influence to give it a punch. The melody is a bit lacking unfortunately and while the arrangement is nice, the song is a bit forgettable. I enjoy hiro’s vocal performance though.


Overall: This is easily hiro’s best album to date. I was actually expecting it to be quite boring and while the album is on the slower side of things, many of the songs were of high quality even if they weren’t my cup of tea. I felt like hiro was really in her element here and while her piercing vocals were exciting in her first two albums, she has really showed her maturity here. I loved the Okinawan flavour that was brought into a lot of the songs as well.

B+

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[Album] Utada Hikaru – ULTRA BLUE

ULTRA BLUE is the fourth Japanese album released by Utada Hikaru. It was her first album after her venture into the American market and her first Japanese studio album in four years. The album proved to be a hit, although it did sell significantly less than her past releases. It peaked at #1 on the Oricon charts and sold over 910,000 copies. Five singles were released prior to the album, with the earliest released in 2003. Every single peaked within the top five and three were number one hits.

ultrablue

Released: June 14, 2006
1. This Is Love
2. Keep Tryin’
3. BLUE
4. Nichiyou no Asa (日曜の朝; Sunday Morning)
5. Making Love
6. Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro (誰かの願いが叶うころ; When Someone’s Wish Comes True)
7. COLORS
8. One Night Magic
9. Kairo (海路; Sea Route)
10. WINGS
11. Be My last
12. Eclipse (interlude)
13. Passion

The album opens with the promotional single, This Is Love, which is absolute great song. This pretty much shows the continuation of Utada’s sound since her last album with its synthed-up pop sound. The music is largely focused on synths with a fast-paced beat, but it’s everything tied with that dreamy, yet intense melody that just makes the whole song work. It sounds like a futuristic piece and it is absolutely great. What a way to start things off.

keeptryin

Popping in next is fifth single, Keep Tryin’. This one slows things down, but it still has the same dreamy pop sound with its focus on synths. I didn’t really get into this song that much before, but it has only been the last few years where I can see its appeal. The verses are pretty calming, but it soon builds things up in the pre-chorus. The opening line of the chorus is probably my favourite part of the song as it just has so much punch to it and it is really catchy. Another stellar tune.

BLUE is probably my favourite song on the album. It continues the sound of the last two songs, but brings a more dramatic tone. The verses are pretty gentle and focus more on the piano and Utada’s voice. However, the chorus is an absolute juggernaut and is effortlessly beautiful. The melody has so many dynamic points to it, where every line gradually builds more intense, which works wonderfully with Utada’s voice. I love this song.

I hadn’t listened to Nichiyou no Asa that much, but there are some really great qualities to it. It brings a bit of that older R&B vibe that Utada used to have, but tried to bring a few of her later sound’s elements into it. It’s actually a Christmas song, which is a bit of an odd surprise, but there are points in that with the bounciness of the piano. It’s a nice way to blend a usual holiday song with a general sound that is not as obviously Christmas. I can see myself listening to it more.

Making Love brings us back to that full-fledged ethereal pop sound and I’m pleasantly surprised. This is another song I didn’t pay much attention to, but it’s a pretty solid tune. It doesn’t quite have the same kind of power the other ones had, but there is a softness to the melody that I really love and that lends itself well to the sparkling music. There is a bit of an odd point in the second half of the song that sort ruins the flow, but the rest of the song is quite beautiful.

darekanonegaigakanaukoro

One of the album’s oldest songs comes in next. Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro is the album’s first full-fledged ballads and it focuses mostly on Utada, a piano and the strings. It sort of sticks out from the other songs on the album because it is more organic in its arrangement, but I think it is a crushingly beautiful song. There is a feeling of sadness that blankets over the whole song and it makes the melody even more emotional. Utada does a beautiful job bringing this feeling out.

colors

The album’s first single and the oldest song on here makes an entry. COLORS is one of my favourite Utada songs and despite its older release date, its sound still works surprisingly well here as it has a more intense dreamy pop sound. The verses are pretty dynamic, but its the punch of the chorus that gets me every time. The music twists and turns in ways that lends itself so well to that intense melody.

One Night Magic features Yamada Masashi and starts off with an almost 80’s element to its music, but it soon builds into something more ethereal and slightly more latin. The song makes me think of ‘traveling’ from her last album. The chorus is a cool blend between different melodies that helps to create a swirling quality to the song and the build-up to it is a transition of different sounds and tempos. I think the song didn’t really need Yamada Masashi as he just does some repetitive hooks here and there, but this is a pretty cool song anyways.

Kairo is another ballad, but this time it fits more with the rest of the album. It has some traditional elements in the music that helps set it apart as well. That and the dramatic use of strings really gives a different kind of quality. It has a bit of an unorthodox structure, but I quite like that it brings something different. It’s still a pretty beautiful song. Not one I would really revisit often as it lacks a strong melody, but the arrangement is great.

The next song, WINGS, was originally released as the B-side to the album’s fifth single. I really love how this song starts off because the arrangement is quite beautiful and works with Utada’s singing. There are some R&B influences here and there in the song, which is a nice change up, especially once the first minute of the song passes. It’s a really calming song and while the chorus isn’t particularly catchy, it does a great job of creating a soothing mood.

bemylast

Be My Last was released as the album’s third single and it brings something a little different with its more acoustically-focused arrangement. At first, I wasn’t quite sure about this song and while I do think it is the weakest of the singles, it is still a pretty solid song. The verses are boring, but once the intensity goes up for the chorus, I really start to enjoy it again. It’s a pretty melancholic song and Utada’s piercing vocals fit the song nicely.

Not quite sure if I enjoy Eclipse (Interlude) that much. It has a bit of a jazzier electronic sound, which is interesting but feels like a weird place to put it.

passion

Passion was used as the theme song to Kingdom Hearts II and I think I like this one way more than its Predecessor, Hikari. It really intensifies that ethereal pop sound by bringing a whole different mix of sounds. There is a bit of rock and a bit of traditional tribal elements that help to make the song stand out. I would say the most intense point is that bridge which does a wonderful job of flowing right into the end of the song where things get to its best. Gorgeous ending.


Overall: This is probably my favourite Japanese album because I just love every song. Each song on here is something I would repeat again and there is just such a high-quality feeling about its whole delivery. The singles are phenomenal, but there are also some gorgeous album tracks. Not everything has the strongest melody, but there seems to be more focus in each of the songs and each songs tells a story. Phenomenal.

A+

[Album] Goto Maki – 3rd Station

3rd Station is the third album released by Goto Maki. It was her first album to chart outside the top ten and it only sold 32,000 copies. The three singles were relatively successful, with all charting within the top ten, but they weren’t able to replicate the successes of her past singles.

3rdstation

Released: February 23, 2005
1. Ekizo no DISCO (エキゾなDISCO; Exotic Disco)
2. Sayonara “Tomodachi ni wa Naritakunai no” (さよなら「友達にはなりたくないの」; Goodbye “Don’t Want To Be Friends”)
3. Yokohama Shinkirou (横浜蜃気楼; Yokohama Mirage)
4. Singapore Transit (シンガポールトランシット)
5. Rairai! “Shinfuu” (来来!「幸福」; Welcome! “Happiness”)
6. Watarasebashi (渡良瀬橋; Watarase Bridge)
7. Positive Genki! (ポジティブ元気!; Positive Energy!)
8. Sayonara no LOVE SONG (サヨナラの LOVE SONG; Goodbye Love Song)
9. Renai Sentai Shitsu Ranger (Goto Version) (恋愛戦隊シツレーンジャ (後藤Version); Love Squadron Ranger)
10. Station (ステーション)
11. 19sai no Hitorigoto (19歳のひとり言; The Monologue of a 19 Year Old)

I wasn’t really expecting what I got with Ekizo no DISCO. This is much different from her past songs because it is much more in the sexy zone. The music is a bit crazy with its pounding beat, flying synths and breathy vocals. I feel like it would have been better if Goto didn’t sing it in this way though because it sort detracts from the melody and leaves a weird contrast between it and the heavy arrangement. It’s a fun opener, but not quite my cup of tea.

sayonaratomodachiniwanaritakunaino

The transition into Sayonara “Tomodachi ni wa Naritakunai no” is a weird one as this one is one of her more mature and serious sounding songs. It’s definitely slower, but it isn’t quite in ballad territory and I love how nice her vocals sound here. The verses are particularly nice and there is a slow but strong build-up into the chorus, which definitely has more tension and emotion to it. It’s also quite catchy. Probably one of my favourite Goto songs and easily her best H!P single.

yokohamashinkirou

Yokohama Shinkirou is such a weird change with its pop/rock power. I’m not sure if I like this single that much, but I do like the energy that it has. There is a lot of strength in the arrangement with its mix of synths, guitar and percussion, but it is in the melody that things sort of lose its effect as it is quite repetitive and a bit out of control. It’s still a solid tune.

Singapore Transit is yet another change in sound as here we are given something a bit lighthearted and sweeter. This mid-tempo pop tune starts off a little boring for me as the verses aren’t particularly memorable. However, the chorus is so much better. There is a bit of unpredictability in the melody and it helps to create a more interesting sound. It’s not that bad of a song.

I was expecting Rairai! “Shinfuu” to be a crazy song and it is. Actually, I find it a bit odd that this song is included. It’s just really out there and sounds more like a song for a kids show and not something that would fit on here. Certainly Goto has done songs like this before, but not quite to this extent. It’s definitely a fun song and has a pretty catchy chorus, but the music just flashes by and there isn’t much to grasp on. Just a bit much for me.

Watarasebashi is a cover of a song by Moritaka Chisato and was already covered by label-mate, Matsuura Aya. This is a pretty gentle ballad and it’s quite beautiful. I think Goto’s vocals match this song wonderfully and while the song doesn’t have the most interesting arrangement, the melody is actually pretty nice to listen to. Not her strongest ballad, but definitely a solid cover.

Positive Genki! is probably my least favourite song on here. I’m fine with fun and upbeat pop/rock tunes, but the riffs here are just really tiring and they last throughout the entire song. It’s just overpowers the rest of the song. The chorus isn’t that catchy either and it can barely get through this song.

sayonaranolovesong

The album’s first single comes in the form of a classic love ballad. Sayonara no LOVE SONG used to be one of my favourite songs by Goto because I always felt it was quite beautiful. There are some really stunning parts to it, but I feel like it doesn’t quite hit the spot I want. There are some really charming parts to its arrangement like the light guitar and percussion. However, while the song is sweet, it just ends up a bit dull in general.

Renai Sentai Shitsu Ranger (Goto Version) is a solo version of a song by sub-unit, Nochiura Natsumi, which featured Goto in it. This is an upbeat pop tune with some rock elements to it, but I don’t quite like this version. I used to like this song a lot, but this one is just lacking a bit. The music is just very noisy and the melody isn’t that catchy either. It is better sung as a sub-unit.

The title track, Station, is a really cool pop tune that I was waiting for. After a few lackluster songs, here we are given something more mature and a bit more dance-focused. I love the beat and I feel like it swirls around with the synths. This also feels like a better match for Goto’s voice. The song isn’t as catchy as I want it to be as the melody is a bit repetitive, but it works nicely with the powerful music.

19sai no Hitorigoto ends things on a more dramatic and touching note. The song is a ballad, but it has a bit more power to it when compared to the other ballads on here. The arrangement is definitely pushed forward by the heavy percussion and I really like it. The melody gets a bit lost as Goto’s voice is a bit too soft for this kind of song, but it is still a nice tune.


Overall: This album is a little stronger than her second one, so at least there is some sort of improvement. My biggest complaint with the album would probably the lack of focus there is. There were so many changes in style and sound between each track that it felt like there was no cohesion at all and was just a jumble of songs. This could be good if the songs were stronger, but here, quite a few were just lackluster and lacking in clear focus within the songs themselves.

B-

[Album] Amuro Namie – GENIUS 2000

GENIUS 2000 is the third album released by Amuro Namie. It was her first studio album in almost three years and was her first after her marriage, pregnancy hiatus and mother’s death. The album signaled a change in Amuro’s sound as she started to dabble in hip-hop and R&B with Dallas Austin and less in the Komuro Tetsuya dance sound of the mid to late 90’s. The album proved to be another success, peaking at #1 and selling over 800,000, although it was a significant decline from her last. All four singles were relatively successful, with each peaking within the top five.

genius2000

Released: January 26, 2000
1. Make the Connection Complete
2. LOVE 2000
3. RESPECT the POWER OF LOVE
4. LEAVIN’ for LAS VEGAS
5. SOMETHING ‘BOUT THE KISS
6. I HAVE NEVER SEEN
7. STILL IN LOVE
8. MI CORAZÓN (TE’AMOUR)
9. YOU ARE THE ONE
10. KISS-THE-RIDE
11. THINGS I COLLECTED
12. NEXT TO YOU
13. ASKING WHY
14. GIVE IT A TRY
15. LOG OFF

The album opens with the intro, Make the Connection Complete. It’s pretty much a crazy computerized intro that is a bit creepy but does a good job of transitioning into the next song.

love2000

LOVE 2000 is a really weird song, but it is one of the most interesting songs in Amuro’s discography. It has a robotic electronic sound to it but also has a plethora of different synthesizers in it that give it a very dramatic quality. This arrangement tied with the gospel-like background vocals makes the song almost haunting. The song starts off pretty straightforward in its structure, but there are so many layers that come popping in. It’s a bit messy at times, but it’s a cool starter and was the album’s final single.

respectthepoweroflove

RESPECT the POWER OF LOVE is one of my favourite Amuro songs. Released as a single on the day that her mother was murdered, the song has a haunting sadness to it and I think it is one of her most emotional tunes. Still with that classic Komuro Tetsuya sound, it has a powerful and uplifting dance quality to it that is backed by a heavy electric guitar. It makes me think of an upbeat version of her ballad, CAN YOU CELEBRATE? as it has similar instruments and a gospel tinge to it. Great tune.

LEAVIN’ for LAS VEGAS is the album’s first album track and it really shows that change in sound with its heavy R&B influence. It starts off pretty cool as Amuro’s lower register works great with that pounding beat. The chorus is a bit of a mess though. I like that it tries to blend the melody with the harmonies in a weird swerving blend, but I can’t hear anything that’s going on. The actual melody also doesn’t have a lot of energy to it so it gets a bit boring after a while. Not a horrible song, just needed a little more of a push.

somethingboutthekiss

The album’s third single is the first that really showcased her transition. SOMETHING ‘BOUT THE KISS is similar to the last song as it has a heavy R&B beat and really sounds like something from the early 00’s in the U.S. Fortunately, this song is much stronger than the last song, but it still doesn’t quite hit the spot as a single. The arrangement does come off a little empty and it feels like it needs a little more energy to lift it up. It’s catchy though.

ihaveneverseen

Despite being the album’s oldest track, this is actually my favourite of the songs. I HAVE NEVER SEEN gets a bit of a flack from fans as it isn’t seen as quite up to par to her other Komuro-era songs. However, I absolutely love the emotion behind the song. The song is so powerful and I quite like how it leaves you on the edge of tension. The melody doesn’t particular flow well, but I love the rawness that Amuro brings with her voice.

STILL IN LOVE is probably the most lighthearted tune up to this point, which is a nice change from the heavy beats and pounding guitars of the previous songs. The song has a light R&B sound, but it is the most “pop” of the newer songs. It’s not as in-your-face, but I actually like this song. It has a sweetness to it that is heard throughout the song and the chorus is actually pretty catchy.

MI CORAZÓN (TE’AMOUR) is absolute fire and one of my favourite Amuro album tracks. It differs from all the other songs on here because it blends latin sounds with dance. That Spanish guitar really brings a different edge and helps the verses. While the chorus is more pop in its delivery, I love it. The arrangement is full and just continuously swirling while the melody is simple and works wonderfully with the harmonies. It’s such a cool track and brings what was missing from some of the other tracks, energy.

YOU ARE THE ONE features singer IMAJIN and was originally released as B-side on one of the singles. It’s a pretty powerful R&B ballad, but I’m not quite sold on this one. The song just sounds poorly produced and the music just feels like a blurry mess. Amuro’s vocals are decent, but she does strain quite a bit and I’m not a big fan of IMAJIN’s parts because I feel like their two parts just don’t mesh. The melody wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t overpowered either.

With some neo-soul elements, KISS-AND-RIDE was something I was not expecting coming into this album. I do find Amuro’s distorted vocals to be a little odd here considering this is one of the more organic songs on here, but the actual song itself is pretty interesting. I just wish it pushed things a little more. The structure is a bit odd as the chorus isn’t quite obvious, so I feel like the whole song blurs together. It unfortunately ends off a little flat for me.

THINGS I COLLECTED is a nice and slow R&B ballad. Although R&B is my favourite genre, these kinds of songs can be a hit-or-miss depending if the chorus is interesting. The song does have some promise with Amuro singing in her lower register. Unfortunately, I feel like the melody gets a bit shaky and uncertain. The chorus isn’t terrible, but it just ends up lulling me to sleep. It’s just too long as well.

NEXT TO YOU finally brings us something a little more upbeat and it’s a great early 00’s R&B tune. This totally sounds like something that would’ve been released in America if it was in English. It has a funky arrangement and a really catchy chorus. It’s not the most refined track, but at least it has some much needed energy and melody. It does get a little repetitive though.

ASKING WHY was also released as a B-side, but it is one of the stronger songs in the second half of the album. I do find it starts off a little lackluster and doesn’t quite bring the needed energy. Luckily, when the chorus comes around, the beat comes pounding in and the sweetness of the melody really helps propel the song forward. It’s a very cute song and even though the Komuro influence is in there, it comes off a little different.

GIVE IT A TRY tries to end things on a sweeter note that references back to her early days in sound. It reminds me a little of SWEET 19 BLUES with the nostalgic quality. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite hit the mark and there are too many moments where the songs goes up and down and transitions into a weird sound. It’s not a terrible song, but it just ends up a little lackluster.

Finishing things off with an outro there is LOG OFF. It’s a pretty interesting way to close things and I actually quite like it.


Overall: This album is usually at the bottom of a lot of Amuro fans’ lists for her best albums. I don’t think it is any worse than her first two studio albums as it has some really high points and then some really low ones. I find the dual sound of R&B and Komuro-pop to be a bit of an odd combination as they don’t mesh as well and many of the Dallas Austin tunes ended up being a bit flat. With that said, this album could have easily been cut down by quite a few songs, especially in the second half. I actually enjoyed a lot of songs and there are a few favourites on here for me. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it this much.

B

[Mini-Album] Abe Natsumi – 25 ~Vingt Cinq~

25 ~Vingt Cinq~ is the first mini-album released by Abe Natsumi. The title refers to the age she was when the mini was released. The mini failed to capture the success of her previous albums, with it peaking at #21 and selling around 13,000 copies. There were two singles released for the album, both peaking within the top ten of the charts and outselling the mini itself.

25abenatsumi

Released: March 14, 2007
1. Itoshiki Hito (愛しき人; Beloved Person)
2. Sweet Holic (スイートホリック)
3. Otona e no Elevator (大人へのエレベーター; Elevator to Adulthood)
4. 25 ~Vingt Cinq~ (25 〜ヴァンサンク〜)
5. Kuchibiru de Tomete (くちびるで止めて; Stop at My Lips)
6. Gesshoku no Hikari (月色の光; Moonlight)
7. Amasugita Kajitsu (甘すぎた果実; Fruit that is Too Sweet)

The album opens on a positive note with Itoshiki Hito, which is a bubbly and bright pop song. Considering it is from 2007, it still feels a bit outdated sounding and ends up reminding of something from ZARD in the 1990’s. It’s not a bad song though and actually has a really nice and full arrangement that really works well with Abe’s vocals. I do find her voice is get a bit overpowered at times and I wish the chorus was a little more memorable, but it’s a solid opening.

sweetholic

The album’s first single is Sweet Holic, which is another bright pop song. I wasn’t particularly interested in this song at first, but it actually has a really sweet and catchy chorus. The verses aren’t that great to me as they sort of just rumble along. I think some of the problem comes with the music that just sounds a bit awkward at times and a bit too programmed. Luckily, the chorus saves things.

Otona e no Elevator is another uptempo pop song, but this time with a bit of an acoustic swing. I wasn’t expecting too much from this song, but it actually surprised me quite a bit. The verses aren’t that memorable, but the chorus has a great quality to it that makes me think of the countryside. My only problem would be that Abe’s vocals do sound a little thin here.

25 ~Vingt Cinq~ is the album’s first slow song. It’s definitely not on the exciting side, but it isn’t bad. The chorus is sort of dragged out and I think the gentleness of the music really works wonderfully with Abe’s voice. She sings it quite beautifully. I just wish the music had a bit more power to it as it goes on because it keeps at the same level for its entirety and it feels like it will build to something bigger.

Kuchibiru de Tomete is a great surprise as it has some punch to it. It has a stronger latin vibe to it, which I was not expecting. I find the verses to be a lot of fun, but I did wish the chorus was a little better. It’s catchy, but it brings some synths in that sort of take the song into a stronger “pop” category and it loses its edge. Still a nice tune though.

Another ballad comes in with Gesshoku no Hikari, but this time we get something with a bit of traditional Japanese spice. This is easily one of Abe’s best songs in her whole discography. The music is absolutely gorgeous and works wonderfully to catapult the melody in the chorus. The verses are also surprisingly solid and help to bring a nice contrast to the fuller chorus. Stunning.

amasugitakajitsu

The album’s second single comes sliding in right at the end and it’s one of her best songs. Amasugita Kajitsu takes the latin sound of Kuchibiru de Tomete and amps it up by ten. It has a sensual quality to it that isn’t really seen in most of Abe’s music. The chorus sort of zooms by with its fast-paced melody and hooks, but it still leaves a strong impact. It’s exciting and catchy. I love it.


Overall: This was a huge surprise for me. Considering Abe’s first two albums were quite weak and featured decent singles but lackluster album tracks, I was really surprised by the quality of the album tracks here. The singles were still strong, especially the second one, but I ended up loving one of the songs and really enjoying many others. There are no weak songs on this mini.

A

[Album] Otsuka Ai – LOVE COOK

LOVE COOK is the third album released by Otsuka Ai. The album ended up being her most successful, peaking at number one and selling over 835,000 copies. All three of the singles were successful, with two peaking at number one and selling over 300,000 copies each.

lovecook
Released: December 14, 2005
1. 5:09am
2. Haneari Tamago (羽ありたまご; Winged Egg)
3. Biidama (ビー玉; Marble)
4. SMILY
5. U-Boat (U-ボート)
6. Neko ni Fuusen (ネコに風船; A Cat And A Balloon)
7. Cherish
8. Ramen 3-bun Cooking (ラーメン3分クッキング, Cooking 3-min. Ramen)
9. Tokyo Midnight (東京ミッドナイト)
10. Planetarium (プラネタリウム)
11. Birthday Song
12. LOVE MUSIC

5:09am opens the album and it does so in a really interesting way. It starts off really soft with some light synths and Otsuka’s voice before slowly getting some percussion. It’s quite gorgeous. Then halfway through it explodes and turns into a blaring pop/rock tune that has a flailing guitar, blasting synths and more emotional vocals before returning into its quiet self only thirty seconds after. It’s such an interesting track and it is phenomenal.

In my opinion, Otsuka Ai’s best songs are ballads. Haneari Tamago is just that and it really pulls in a lot of other styles she’s done before. This one has a bit of a country vibe to it with its light guitar and strings, but there is something absolutely touching about it all. The melody is so beautiful and Otsuka’s voice just resonates here. I would say this is my favourite of all her songs.

biidama

Biidama was released as the second A-side to the album’s first single and its a bright pop tune with some rock elements. It’s not as intense as some of her other pop tunes, but I feel like it doesn’t quite have the same energy. I do like the music and there’s a charm to it, but I feel like the melody isn’t as memorable, even though it is quite cute. Not bad, although it is my least favourite of the A-sides.

smily

SMILY was paired with Biidama in the first single and is the more exciting of the two. This kind of song calls back the sounds of Happy Days and Sakuranbo with its over-the-top pop/rock style. I don’t think it has the same charms as those two songs, but it’s still a fun song and I quite enjoy the main cuteness factor. It’s the perfect song for the summer season with its bright and carefree sound.

U-Boat is another fun and upbeat pop/rock song that is very similar to the last song. I don’t think Otsuka’s vocals are as grating, which is a plus, but the chorus just isn’t as catchy as the last song. It’s still a cute song and I love how it doesn’t really take itself seriously. The rocking guitars and bouncing percussion really creates an exciting sound.

nekonifuusen

I feel like out of all the singles, Neko ni Fuusen usually got the most flack, which I’m surprised about. Maybe it was because it was stuck between the massive successes of the first and third singles, but it is my favourite of the A-sides. It slows the album down a bit and we get an acoustically driven pop/rock tune. It’s absolutely charming and I love the chorus. Otsuka’s voice is really nice even if she goes a bit more on the “cute” scale and she pulls this song off really well.

Cherish was originally released on a tribute album for the manga, NANA. If you know anything about that film and anime series, then you know this song will have some powerful rock influences and it totally does. The chorus goes full on rock. It’s a pretty dark sounding song, but the verses are gentle and then everything just gets pumped up for the chorus where the heavy electric guitar and percussion come flying in. I wish the melody was a little stronger, but the overall song is great.

Ramen 3-bun Cooking is that one song on every Otsuka album…It’s a crazy tune and I’m not quite sure what to think about it. It’s a really fun song and has some really catchy parts to it, but I don’t think I can really revisit this song that much because it is just too messy and all over the place.

Tokyo Midnight is probably my least favourite song on the album up to this point. It is a fun pop tune with ska influences, which is usually something I enjoy. However, I just don’t find it particularly catchy and it just comes off as a bit forgettable in this album. It isn’t horrible and has a decent chorus, but it doesn’t stand out.

planetarium

Planetarium was released as the album’s final single and it was a huge hit due to its tie-in. Even without its tie-in, it’s a juggernaut of a song and is one of Otsuka’s best ballads. It reminds me a bit of Kingyo Hanabi with its slow build-up for the verses, but unlike that song, the chorus is definitely more powerful with its strong percussion, touches of guitar and flute. It’s really stunning and this is one of her best vocal performances as well.

I don’t quite know what to think of Birthday Song. It has some country-vibes to it, but it just doesn’t hit the mark. It’s not a bad song, just not that strong. The chorus is basically made up of “Happy Birthday to you”, which gets a bit jarring after a while and it isn’t particularly catchy. I feel like this song would have worked better if the chorus was changed up as the verses aren’t bad.

LOVE MUSIC ends the album on a slower note, but I think it’s the weakest of the ballads. It has a nice arrangement, but it sort of lacks a strong melody and the music just remains at this decent pace but doesn’t quite push anything. Of course, Otsuka’s voice is really charming, so she does work with what she’s got. The song does get a bit better as it goes on.


Overall: This album keeps up the quality that her other albums had, although I do find this one to be the weakest of the lot. There are some really amazing songs on here and they help carry the album, but there are some weaker ones as well. I feel like she tried to play around more with her sound, but it only worked in some areas. It’s still a pretty solid album.

A-

[Album] Kato Miliyah – TOKYO STAR

TOKYO STAR is the third album released by Kato Miliyah. It proved to be another success, peaking at number 4 and selling over 207,000 copies. There were three singles released prior to the album, with all scoring within the top 20. Two of the songs became some of her biggest hits and both went double platinum digitally.

tokyostar
Released: April 2, 2008
1. LALALA
2. 19 Memories
3. Better days -sweet love side-
4. You Go Your Way
5. Kiss
6. Love is…
7. Saigo no I LOVE YOU (最後のI Love You; The Last I Love You)
8. Just Wanna Have Fun
9. TOUGH
10. Young Lady
11. Sayonara (サヨナラ; Farewell)
12. U gatta understand
13. Ai wa Kawarazu (愛は変わらず; Love Is Unchanged)
14. FUTURECHECKA
15. Tokyo Star

lalala

The album starts off with its biggest hit and one half of its second single, LALALA, which features Shonannokaze’s Wakadanna. I actually wasn’t expecting a song like this as the verses are acoustic and a departure from the other singles that Kato has done before. I find the verses quite forgettable, but once the chorus comes in, things start to get better. The melody is much better and more memorable and is the type of song that can be easily sung to. I’m not a fan of Wakadanna’s rap though and I think it doesn’t fit the song. Besides that, it’s a decent opener.

19memories

The album’s next big hit comes rolling in after with 19 Memories. It samples Amuro Namie’s song, “SWEET 19 BLUES”, which is a favourite of mine. I really like how things were incorporated here as the rest of the song really takes its influence and updates the sound. It has a drawn out R&B/pop sound with some gospel elements in the vocal arrangement. I do find that the song really needs the sample for its hook, but there are some nice parts in the melody that do stand out. No surprise it was the final single.

Better days -sweet love side- brings back Kato’s usual light R&B sound and it works nicely here. I don’t think the melody is as impacting as I want it to be, but it still has a nice energy to it that works well` with the beat. I also think Kato makes one of her best vocal performances here and she doesn’t have too many weird runs or notes. It’s a sweet song.

You Go Your Way is an interesting change as we are given something more country/pop with an R&B beat. It’s not something I hear often, but it’s not a bad song. The melody is a bit flat and doesn’t quite hit the mark at first, but it is the type of song that gets better with every listen. I feel like I wasn’t quite liking it at first, but it has its charms.

Kiss starts off in a great way with its stomping beat and sensual R&B vibes. Unfortunately, that’s where the great things stop. The verses don’t really have much energy to them and while the chorus is a bit faster and better, the way the vocals were edited make it sound too quiet and it gets overpowered by the music. It feels like if the music matched the vocal arrangement more, this would have been a great song.

loveis

The album’s first single, Love is…, is the album’s first ballad. I’m not a big fan of Kato’s ballads because I’m not a huge fan of her voice on these songs as she tends to over exaggerate words. This also features that, which is unfortunate because the music is actually quite beautiful. It has a acoustic vibe to it that is supported by strings in the chorus. I do feel like it gets better as it progresses though and the ending is quite nice.

Saigo no I LOVE YOU is a great sadder sounding R&B tune and I love the acoustic touches here because it works wonderfully with the melody. Kato also sounds great in the verses. The chorus isn’t particularly catchy, but everything flows together really well and the harmonies really add a nice layer to the melody. This is my favourite song on the album and it is easy to see why it was used as a promo song for the album.

Just Wanna Have Fun is the album’s first dance song and it’s a needed addition as there hasn’t been anything as upbeat as this song yet. I love the touches of R&B in the vocal arrangement and it still feels like a Kato song. The chorus’ arrangement is simplified a bit and doesn’t feature too many instruments, but it surprisingly does what its supposed to do and is still quite catchy. Good tune!

TOUGH continues the upbeat attitude and brings another powerful tune. This one has an even heavier beat and a pretty cool synth-line that plays throughout the song. Unfortunately, I wish the chorus was a little less messy. The beat and other sounds all boggle together into one and it overpowers the melody, which is actually pretty catchy. It’s a bit of a hot mess.

Young Lady brings us back to R&B and we are given something more lighthearted. This is a total filler track, but not in a good way. The verses feel totally off and Kato’s voice comes off flat at times. Even when the chorus comes in, it feels like there is a huge disconnect between the music and vocals. It just doesn’t match up and it makes me unable to finish listening to the song.

Sayonara is another ballad but starts off in a way that focuses on the piano first. A beat doesn’t really come in until halfway through, although I do wish it left it out. It doesn’t ruin the song, and gets better in the final chorus, but I think it would have been better as a simple piano ballad. Still one of her better ballads.

U gatta understand has a great mix of R&B and traditional-styled music. She did it on her last album with Cry no more and she is doing it again here. I love the beat with the sensuality of the vocals and Kato really pulls this kind of song off well. I only wish the melody was a bit more in the forefront of the chorus as it gets overpowered, but it still creates a nice blended kind of sound. One of the album’s best tracks.

Ai wa Kawarazu starts off sounding like it will be a pop/rock tune. Actually, the verses sort of bore me and I have a hard time getting through them as they take a while to get through. The chorus isn’t bad, but it’s a bit boring as well. I like there is a difference in the music, but the melody just sort of goes along. Not a bad song, just not for me.

The second half of the second single, FUTURECHECKA is an upbeat R&B and hip-hop tune. Once again there are some guest rappers, but they don’t really interest me, except the female rapper. She really brings the needed energy the song needs. My biggest problem is that the singing parts are just really uneventful and lack the punch that the raps give. That and the raps are so long that we are only given a bit of singing. The song is just too long and feels a bit empty.

The title track, Tokyo Star, finishes the album up and ends it with a bang. An R&B song with some rock elements, it definitely brings an interesting mix. With that said, the music just doesn’t quite feel as complete as I would like. It feels like the chorus is missing something to cover the parts between the heavy guitar and Kato’s voice just isn’t powerful enough to carry the song. It is a cool idea, but sort of lacks in the execution.


Overall: This is a pretty average album. It has some really great songs, but there are also a lot of mediocre and weak songs to offset that as well. I do like that it sounds as though Kato started to diverge from her usual R&B tunes, although I feel like she does those kinds of songs best. With that said, I do find there are some really great album tracks on here and the best song was actually a newer one.

B