[Album] Hamasaki Ayumi – LOVEppears

LOVEppears is the second album released by Hamasaki Ayumi. It was an even bigger hit than her debut and sold over 2,560,000 copies. It features some of her biggest hits and two of her million selling singles. Actually, there was a total of eight singles that were released from this album.

loveppears
Released: November 10, 1999
1. Introduction
2. Fly high
3. Trauma
4. And Then
5. immature (Album Version)
6. Boys & Girls
7. TO BE
8. End roll
9. P.S II
10. WHATEVER (Dub’s 1999 Remix)
11. too late
12. appears (Album Version)
13. monochrome
14. Interlude
15. LOVE ~refrain~
16. Who…
17. kanariya

The album opens with Introduction, which is just a trance opener. It’s a really intense way to start the album, but it does do well flowing into the next song. Fly high is easily one of the highlights from the album. Later released as a re-cut single, the song is a sparkly rock/dance hybrid. The best parts are the autotuned sections that add a fun aspect to the song. The rest of the song is bouncy and a lot fun and it’s just a solid tune in general. One of Hamasaki’s best songs that really works well with her nasally tone. Trauma was released as an A-side on her tenth single, A. It continues the dance sound of the last song and also has touches of rock in it. It really reminds me of something that Every Little Thing would have done at this time. The melody has some nice hooks in it, but I wish the music had a bit more energy to give it a push. It’s still a solid tune. And Then is the first new song and it slows things down a bit. Here we are given something a bit more intense in its vocal delivery. I really like the instrumental break that pops up from time to time because it really pushes the emotion of the song out. The chorus isn’t as strong as the verses and I think Hamasaki’s strained singing doesn’t help this that much. It’s just the melody isn’t as powerful. I do like the song though. I don’t know why immature has an “Album Version” as it was released as a B-side to her 11th single. Like the last song, this one has a dance beat but the melody is on the slower side of things. I love the verses because the powerful beat works so well with the more monotone delivery by Hamasaki. The chorus isn’t bad, but it’s just a bit underwhelming and I don’t quite like how it has a brighter quality to it when compared to the rest of the song. Boys & Girls is absolutely phenomenal. It’s a powerful upbeat dance tune that is similar to that of Fly high. The chorus is just so addicting and Hamasaki sounds great. The verses are also fast-paced and I love the cuter tone they have. The stomping beat and the flashes of synth and guitar go so far. It’s exciting, catchy and another one of my favourites from her. It was her ninth single and first million seller. TO BE is the slowest song up to this point and was released as her eighth single. It continues the synthed up pop sound of the other songs, but really brings something calmer and more emotional. I don’t think the verses are that interesting largely because Hamasaki’s voice sounds so monotone. Fortunately, the chorus has a bit more emotion to it and it really sounds great with the swirling backdrop. It’s a standout tune for me. End roll was released on her single A and keeps up the slowed down pace that started with the last song. Actually, I really love Hamasaki’s slower songs and I think this one is even better than TO BE. The song seems darker and the chorus isn’t as straining on her voice. It’s quite beautiful and is like a prototype to her later ballads. P.S II starts off in an odd way with its heavy rock opening. I was really not expecting it, but once the verse comes in, it sounds like a continuation of the ballad sound of the last song. I’m not quite a fan of the heavy beat that continues throughout the song because I’m not sure it totally blends with the ethereal melody. I think it’s an interesting idea though. And that melody is absolutely gorgeous, but could be better utilized. It’s an interesting tune with clever ideas, but not sure if it was executed as well as it could have been. WHATEVER (Dub’s 1999 Remix) was originally released as her sixth single. The song is basically an onslaught of trance and is seven minutes full of it. I don’t really like long remixes, nor remixes in general, so this was just not my cup of tea. I think it has some interesting ideas and the vocal parts are actually pretty cool, but the song is just too long for me to sit through. too late is another song from her “A” single. It brings back that rock/dance combination similar to Boys & Girls and Fly high. I don’t think this one is as strong though. It has a decent melody, but it is just overpowered by the guitar and heavy percussion. It sort leaves less impact. It has some fun ideas like the vocoder parts in the verses, but it sort of falls flat elsewhere for me. appears is actually my favourite song on the album. Released as her 11th single on the day of the album release, appears is a darker tune that took a while for me to really warm up to. I used to think it was forgettable, but it really brings some cool qualities to it. It starts off rather bare, but soon gains power with the electric guitar and beats. I really like the melody and Hamasaki’s vocals work so well in this song. She delivers on all fronts in terms of emotion. monochrome is the last of the A-sides from her “A” single and it is one that I sort of forgot about. It has a really strong percussion-based background which is a nice change. I quite like the build up into the chorus because the changes are rather subtle. The chorus is quite nice. I don’t think I like the musical arrangement all too well, but the melody is really refreshing and uplifting. I think if the music was so powerful throughout the whole song and waited for the chorus, things would have more impact. It’s still a pretty nice song. Interlude helps to bring a bit of a break, but I don’t quite get why it was needed. Sort of useless at this point. LOVE ~refrain~ is a remix of her 7th single, which was originally a duet. I quite like the R&B beat, but I don’t think this song is particularly interesting, especially compared to the other ballads on here. I think the melody is rather lackluster and isn’t memorable. I think it would have worked nicer with some a bit more dance-infused than R&B. Also, it sounds so much like a Morning Musume ballad (the song is written by Tsunku, who founded the group). Who… is the next ballad and much stronger than the last song. It keeps the synths from the other songs, but really slows things down and brings something really ethereal. I like that the chorus has a stronger percussion side to it, which really gives it a bit of punch. The melody isn’t the strongest, but it does sound melancholy and emotional. It’s a nice tune. kanariya is a hidden track and was eventually released as a re-cut single. The song also has a strong R&B edge to it and I think this would have fit better after LOVE ~refrain~. With that said, I think this song is still better than that one because it has some cool elements like how the background vocals were utilized. I don’t think Hamasaki’s voice really lends itself well to this genre though.

Overall: I was really surprised at this album and it has gone up on my list of favourite Ayu albums. I do think that it could have been cut shorter and it started to fall flat halfway through, but there are some really great songs on here. I really love that it (for the most part) decided to keep that synthy dance style throughout as it is exciting and works really well with Ayu’s vocals. There are a few duds or weaker songs every once in a while, but there are some gems, even some that I never noticed before which was a nice find. I especially recommend tracks 2, 6, 8 and 12.

B+

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[Album] Hamasaki Ayumi – A Song for xx

Hamasaki Ayumi is a Japanese superstar. Her career has already lasted 19 years and she continues to pump out music to this day. Within those years, she has become the top selling Japanese female artist and has commercially and critically acclaimed releases. A Song for ×× is the debut album released by Hamasaki. Five singles were released prior to the release of the album and helped it top the charts and sell over one million copies.

asongforxx
Released: January 1, 1999
1. Prologue
2. A Song for ××
3. Hana
4. FRIEND
5. FRIEND II
6. poker face [MV]
7. Wishing
8. YOU [MV]
9. As if…
10. POWDER SNOW
11. Trust [MV]
12. Depend on You [MV]
13. SIGNAL
14. from your letter
15. For My Dear… [MV]
16. Present

Ayumi’s debut album starts off with the Prologue, which is essentially a gentle and ethereal intro. It is quite nice and helps to build up the atmosphere of the album although it does remind me a bit of an RPG world map theme song at times. The title track starts right off the bat when the intro ends. A Song for ×× is a darker ballad and has qualities very reminiscent of the sounds from this time. It’s a bit outdated with its synthed up feel, but the nostalgia does work in its favour as the song is just a quality track. As it builds and gains some steam (largely the introduction of the pounding electric guitar), the song really gets some energy. It works perfectly well with the gorgeous melody. A strong start. Hana is a very interesting dash of energy. While the synths are continued, the song takes on a much more upbeat dance feel. It’s really quite a change and a nice one at that. I love how there is also a bit of a disco feel in the song and it is enhanced by the striking synth refrain. My only problem is that Hamasaki’s voice seems too monotone and stuffed (singing through her nose). It doesn’t really help push the chorus to what it could be. FRIEND brings us down into the midtempo zone. I definitely think her voice suits this song much more and it actually sounds quite pleasant when she isn’t straining to hit those high notes. The song itself is decent and the melody is relatively catchy. I think it is a bit generic though and while enjoyable, it doesn’t really stand out in any way. It’s a sweet song, but a bit too forgettable. Thankfully, FRIEND II turns things around. It has the same sweetness that the last one had, but this time with a more aggressive take due to the electric guitar. I love how exciting the music sounds now. However, the melody isn’t that strong and remains unforgettable again. Six songs in and we finally get to the first single. poker face was released as Hamasaki’s debut single and was a moderate hit. I do think the song is more similar to the title track than it is to the last two songs. It has a darker synthed up sound with a touch of rock. What I love most about this song is that the melody is much stronger and much catchier. This added with the synth refrain after the chorus really helps to bring some interesting twists to the song. I do think Hamasaki sounds quite nasally at times, but she works it for the most part. Wishing is probably the first straightforward ballad. The song starts off with a pretty gentle piano before gliding into the first verse. I do think Hamasaki sounds surprisingly nice here as she adds a good amount of emotion. The chorus is really quite nice vocally (considering the time), but I do think the music is a bit dull. This doesn’t really progress into something stronger later on, so the song doesn’t particularly stand out. Quite forgettable. Luckily, we hit the second single, YOU. YOU continues the downtempo feel, but executed in a lighter fashion. While the verses aren’t that memorable, the best part is definitely when the chorus opens up. It’s a quite refreshing and I enjoy how the synths really bring some life to the chorus melody. It’s a decent tune. As if… starts off sounding like a ballad, but immediately transforms into a midtempo dance tune. The melody still has traits of being a ballad, but the music is quite exciting with its powerful dance beat and guitar riffs. I really enjoy the song and the melody is quite charming, albeit a tad sad. I just wish it was a little shorter because it does feel like it drags on a bit. POWDER SNOW is probably my favourite of the album tracks on the album. It’s quite dramatic and one of the slower songs on the album. It features a very powerful percussion backdrop grouped with some striking synths. What I love most about the song is that the melody has a sadness to it that is created by its choppiness. It’s a strong tune and one of her most emotional. Trust was released as the third single from the album and is my favourite song on the album. There is something very nostalgic about the music, especially with that gorgeous synth/piano refrain. This is especially nice when it blends with the intoxicating melody during the chorus. The verses are a tad slow, but they help to create a nice contrast. While Hamasaki’s vocals are a bit high-pitched, she still keeps it listenable. The fifth single from the album, Depend on You, continues the uptempo sound. Probably the most hard-hitting song, this one has a stronger rock influence and it works really well with the synthed up background. The chorus melody is definitely the highlight of the song and it just has so much energy to it. My only criticism would be Hamasaki’s vocals which are a bit monotone and piercing. Still one of the strongest. SIGNAL keeps up the energy and continues the sound of the last song, although this one has a stronger pop influence to it. It really does have the distinct 90s sound. Unlike the last song, I do think Hamasaki’s vocals fit this song perfectly and her sweet, nasally tone works well with the flaring synths and slight disco influence. It’s a strong song and one of the best album tracks. After a barrage of upbeat tunes, from your letter calms things down with a relaxing midtempo pop tune. There are some nice aspects to the song, such as the funk elements in the instrumental and the melody. I also do enjoy Hamasaki’s vocals in the song. I don’t think it is particularly strong, but it’s a decent listen and it has a few nice surprises. For My Dear… was the fourth single from the album and is a pop ballad. To be honest, this is probably my least favourite of the singles released from the album and it’s one of the weakest songs on it. The melody is decent, but it isn’t captivating and it the high-pitched sustained notes are a bit of a drag to listen to. The music is actually quite nice, although the song itself is rather forgettable. To end the album, we have Present, which is a nice midtempo pop tune. I do enjoy the more uplifting atmosphere the song brings and the song really reminds me of something by ZARD. However, while I do like some elements of the song such as the brass instruments, the overall execution is dull. It’s too middle ground and doesn’t have any standout points to it. It’s a sweet way to end the album, but boring.

Overall: Considering this was Hamasaki’s debut album, this was a surprisingly strong piece. I was not expecting to enjoy it this much, but there are quite a few solid songs on here. I do feel like there were some weak songs that shouldn’t have been added, but considering there are 15 full songs, it’s a bit expected that some wouldn’t quite hit the mark. However, I did really enjoy a good mix of the singles and new album tracks.

B-