[Album] Nakashima Mika – LØVE

LØVE is the second album released by Nakashima Mika. While her first solidified her status as a rising star, this album’s success was on an even bigger scale. It positioned her as one of the top artists of the early 00’s as it peaked at number one and sold well over 1.4 million copies. The singles were also very successful with all five scoring in the top five and one becoming her signature song.  The album also includes all the new songs from her first mini-album, RESISTANCE.

love
Released: November 6, 2003
1. Venus in the Dark
2. Love Addict
3. aroma
4. Yuki no Hana (雪の華; Snow Flower)
5. RESISTANCE (album version)
6. FIND THE WAY
7. marionette
8. Seppun (接吻; Kiss)
9. You send me love
10. Be in silence
11. LOVE NO CRY
12. Aishiteru (愛してる; I Love You)
13. LAST WALTZ

What a great way to blast off the album. Unlike her debut which opened with a cover of Amazing Grace, this one really showcases Nakashima’s subtle change in style with the jazz-infused pop tune, Venus in the Dark. This is one of my favourite songs from her because it has so many interesting sounds that pop up. I love how it has so much energy and really goes all out in its music with the funky bass and blaring brass. Her husky vocals also work gorgeously here.

loveaddict

Love Addict is a great follow-up to because it continues that jazz-infused pop sound. Released as the album’s second single, this song is over seven minutes in length, but the whole song is such a trip and it never feels like it drags on too long. It really feels like something heard in a jazz club with it mix of strings, trumpets and light percussion. The best part of the song is that fast-paced chorus where things take a powerful turn.

aroma was originally put on her first mini album and it is a great calmer jazz tune. I love how it really ties with the other songs, but brings a different style that includes a bit of blues as well. The chorus isn’t as catchy, but I do like the use of falsetto to bring an airier quality to the song. It’s a solid listen.

yukinohana

Yuki no Hana is the juggernaut in Nakashima’s discography. The song has been covered numerous times throughout Asia and it is easily her most recognizable track. Instead of something jazzy, we are given the first ballad and its fifth single. Its focus is mostly on the piano, strings and her voice and it is absolutely gorgeous song. Although the lyrics are rather sweet, there is a sense of sadness that the music brings and Nakashima brings the right emotion into it especially with that final stretch from the bridge to the end. It’s one of her best.

RESISTANCE was my favourite song from her first mini and I love how it is one of the more “pop” songs on the album with its sparkly synths. Although I’m not a big fan of songs that open with the chorus, it is really catchy and easy to get sucked into it again. That and the music has some great touches to it that help keep the energy up and interesting. It has grown on me a lot and I think it’s a stellar tune.

findtheway

FIND THE WAY was released as the album’s fourth single and used as an ending theme to the anime show, Gundam Seed. It’s a stunning ballad that focuses more on the slower and sweeter quality it brings. Musically, the song’s use of strings is quite heavy and really helps bring a sweeping quality into the song. There are times where the song comes off a bit dull or slow, but I do love the feeling it tries to build on. It’s a sweet ballad and fits Nakashima’s vocals wonderfully.

marionette was actually released on the first single as a B-side. It’s one of the more “pop” songs on the album and features some R&B elements as well. I don’t find the verses to be that interesting  especially as Nakashima’s vocals seem rather monotone. However, I love the chorus as the music really pushes the song forward. The funky synths work really nicely with the easy-going melody. A decent tune.

seppun

The third single, Seppun is actually a cover of an ORIGINAL LOVE song from 1993 of the same name. It’s actually my favourite song on the album and it has been the song that has grown on me the most. I use to skip this song a lot, but the relaxing reggae sound really got to me and I love how the music is still infused with some other elements to keep it cohesive with the rest of the album. It’s not the most powerful song, but the melody just slowly seeps into you and I love the vibe it gives.

You send me love is the first new song since Venus in the dark and is one of the weaker songs on the album. It’s not bad, just forgettable as the melody isn’t as impactful and the music has been done better in other songs. I do like the funky vibe that the song has with the underlying bass though.

Be in silence was released as the B-side from the album’s second single. It’s a bit different because it has a heavier guitar influence and a sultry beat that really gives some neo-soul vibes. I really love the music as it works great with the inclusion of strings. The chorus really brings everything together in a nice way while having a pretty catchy melody. I don’t think it’s A-side material, but it is definitely a great filler.

LOVE NO CRY is a new song and is the first upbeat tune in a while. I love the blast of energy it has right from the start and the song has a great pop sound with some oldschool R&B elements. The song isn’t the catchiest for me, but it is nice to hear some more fun, uplifting tunes on here.

aishiteru

Aishiteru was the album’s first single and it is a pretty pop ballad. I love how sweet the melody is and Nakashima’s voice sounds especially beautiful here. The album version changes things up a bit bringing some more musical elements into the arrangement. It has a bit more brass and a bass that gives the song a bit more energy. I like the changes as it works well on the album, but it misses that simple sweetness the original had.

LAST WALTZ finishes things off on a slower note. Originally released on her first mini, this was probably my least favourite of the new songs. However, I do still like this song. It has a great vibe to it and I enjoy the airiness of the chorus. It’s not the type to bring a lot of impact, but I love how the melody melds into the music. It’s a nice way to end things off.


Overall: This is a stellar album and one of J-Pop’s finest. I love that there is a clear sound that the album wants to show off and that even though there is a variety of genres, they are all tied in through the similar elements in the instruments and atmosphere. I do believe the first half is much stronger, but the second half does have a few strong songs as well. This is a long album and it could have been cut down a few songs, but its overall delivery is fantastic. One of my favourite J-Pop albums.

A+

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[Mini-Album] Nakashima Mika – RESISTANCE

RESISTANCE is the first mini-album released by Nakashima Mika. The title track was used as the promotional song. All the new songs were later featured on her second album, LØVE. The mini-album peaked at #1 and sold close to 200,000 copies (it was limited to 200,000 copies).

resistance
Released: November 7, 2002
1. RESISTANCE
2. HEAVEN ON EARTH (EP Version)
3. aroma
4. LAST WALTZ
5. STARS (Live Unplugged)
6. RESISTANCE (Instrumental)

RESISTANCE is a dramatic midtempo pop song. It’s a really cool track with its steady beat and splashes of synths. I actually prefer the verses over the chorus because they are calming and go well over the R&B beat and touches of piano. The chorus is still nice though and sounds better as the song progresses as the arrangement brings in some brass that really gives the song some energy. It’s a really good track and is the type of song that fits perfectly with Nakashima’s husky voice.

HEAVEN ON EARTH (EP Version) was originally featured on her debut album and another version has popped up on. I’m not complaining because this was the best album track on her debut and is one of Nakashima’s best songs. It has a cool jazzy vibe to it and is insanely catchy. I think the differences between this and the original are subtle and is largely due to the different beat they use. Sounds even better than when I reviewed it on her debut.

aroma is a calm jazzy number and it comes in at over six minutes long. I love the smooth vibe of the song and Nakashima just sounds gorgeous here. The chorus largely focuses on her falsetto, which actually sounds nicely controlled and fits the gentle nature of the song. I do like the guitar solos that come up later in the song and I don’t feel like it drags the song out too much despite the length.

LAST WALTZ brings something on the slower side of things. Even with that, the song does have some energy. Actually, what I love about Nakashima’s music at this time is that the arrangements are still so interesting and have some really clever inclusions like the strings, guitar and brass that really keep the song from getting too dull. It’s probably the weakest song on the mini-album, but it’s still a gorgeous tune.

The Live Unplugged version of STARS is an interesting addition, but it still keeps the magic of the original. Unlike the jazzier backdrop of the original, here we are only given a piano (and a bit of guitar later on). It’s just hard to hear Nakashima struggle during the end notes. Maybe she is crying, but it doesn’t lend as well on a recording.


Overall: This was a good mini-album. There are some great songs on here and all three of the new songs are of high quality. I do love the inclusion of the different versions of STARS and HEAVEN ON EARTH, but I do wish the differences with the latter were a little more extravagant. It’s an amazing song, just feels like they added it again and it could have been a done differently.

A-

[Album] Nakashima Mika – TRUE

Nakashima Mika hit it big right when she debuted. Her first single, STARS, was a big hit, scoring in the top three and selling close to 500,000 copies in total. Releasing four more singles before coming out with TRUE, Nakashima was able to score a moderate amount of hits. Her debut album top the charts, sold over one million copies, and solidified her as one of the top newcomers.

true
Released: August 28, 2002
1. AMAZING GRACE (album version) [MV]
2. WILL (album version) [MV]
3. ONE SURVIVE (album version) [MV]
4. HEAVEN ON EARTH [MV]
5. DESTINY’S LOTUS [MV]
6. Helpless Rain [MV]
7. I
8. TEARS (Konayuki ga Mau You ni…) (粉雪が舞うように….; Like How Powder Snow Dances)
9. TRUE EYES
10. CRESCENT MOON [MV]
11. JUST TRUST IN OUR LOVE (album version)
12. STARS (album version) [MV]
13. A MIRACLE FOR YOU

The album opens with AMAZING GRACE, which was actually released as a B-side to her second single. It’s an interesting way to open the album. Nakashima’s vocals are quite unique and her English isn’t too bad. There are times when her voice does sound a little awkward though and she gets an odd thickness to her voice that doesn’t quite match. The song itself is pretty simple and only features the piano. It isn’t that great, but it isn’t a total wreck. Not something I would play over though.

will

Fortunately, the album moves right into WILL, her fifth and second most successful single from the album. I love this song. It’s a pretty standard sounding ballad from Nakashima that would be replicated in the future with its prominence of soaring strings, piano and percussion. The melody is excellent though. There are times when Nakashima’s voice sounds a bit stretched out, but she does a decent job. Her voice is quite unique and has a charm to it that fits these kind of songs well.

onesurvive

ONE SURVIVE was released as her third single and changes things up from the ballad style of the last two songs. Here we get a jazz-infused pop tune with some disco elements. I really like the fast-paced feel and the inclusion of the strings-like sound really makes the song funky. My favourite portion is the chorus opening as it just has so much energy. I don’t think the melody is exceptionally nice, but it is decent. There are a few buggy parts to it though. Not the strongest song, but a nice change.

HEAVEN ON EARTH is the first song that wasn’t featured on a single prior to the release of the album. It isn’t as fast-paced as the last song, but it’s more of a midtempo pop tune. I really like it though. It’s a different kind of style and is quite cool to hear. I like the music with its nice blend of synths and beats. It’s very 2000s. I also think the melody is really catchy.

DESTINY’S LOTUS definitely continues the funky disco-inspired sound heard in ONE SURVIVE but with a bit more dance elements to it and less jazz. I think this one is actually stronger though. The melody is definitely nicer and I find the bouncy musical arrangement to actually be quite fun. There are areas that could be fixed though as there are some odd notes in the chorus that could be fixed and the chorus just rushes by so quickly. I don’t think Nakashima’s voice really works with this kind of song and she does come off rather stuffy and not totally on top of the beat. It’s a catchy song, but could use some fine tuning.

helplessrain

I know a lot of people don’t really like Helpless Rain that much, but I do like it to some extent. I love R&B, so this was a nice change to hear Nakashima sing and her voice is really beautiful in the lower registers of the verses. The problems come by the chorus as while the melody is decent, it causes Nakashima to hit some harsh high notes with her head tone. Beside those notes though, the song has some charm to it and would’ve worked really well with her had parts been fixed up.

I absolutely adore and it is probably my favourite of the album tracks. It is a laidback R&B-inspired pop tune. The thing I love most is how well the song works with Nakashima’s voice and how we get to hear her in a more comfortable range. It’s not particularly strong in terms of music, but I do like the blues elements that the song has as well. It’s really a nice change from her and fits well with the albums feel.

TEARS (Konayuki ga Mau You ni…) swings us back to a little more of a traditional pop ballad sound. There isn’t much going on with the arrangement and it is largely filled with light touches of synths that give the song a heavenly quality to it. With that said, I think this song is boring. It might have been better if the melody was catchier, but it goes on for almost seven minutes and it doesn’t really change itself up. I do like songs like this, but this is a bit too dull for me.

Luckily, TRUE EYES comes and saves the day with an explosive disco tune. I love the more lighthearted feel of the song compared to some of the other uptempo tunes as they seemed to have darker elements in their music. This one is just a lot of fun and the chorus is probably the catchiest of the uptempo tunes up to this point. Nakashima also sounds great and she isn’t straining for any notes.

crescentmoon

CRESCENT MOON continues the sound of the last song with its disco-inspired sound, although this one has a bit more funk to it. Probably my favourite of the upbeat songs, I just really adore the chorus on this one. With that said, it does lose some of its flare after being placed after TRUE EYES, as both have such similar sounds. It’s a fun listen though.

JUST TRUST IN OUR LOVE (album version) switches things up from the original single version. Here, we switch from a slower ballad to an upbeat dance tune. While it is a fun listen and I like that things were changed up a bit, there are times when the song just feels so empty. There seems to be a disconnect from the vocals and music and they don’t really blend together all that well.

stars

The most successful song on the album, STARS (album version), is my favourite song on the album and one of my favourite Nakashima songs. It’s a stunning pop ballad with some jazz influence to it. I love the musical arrangement and it’s clear that this was meant to be a big hit with its slick production and clean delivery. It’s just a powerhouse of a song. It works so well with Nakashima’s voice and she really shines during the chorus, especially when the sweeping strings, light percussion and brass instruments are added in the background. It’s just gorgeous.

A MIRACLE FOR YOU ends the album on a positive note with a gospel inspired pop ballad. Nakashima sounds exceptional on the verses and her lower register is quite breathtaking. Luckily, she swings into her higher register during the choruses and she sounds more reassured and supported here than other instances on the album. The song does go on for quite a bit, but it’s just a strong ending and Nakashima gives it her all on this one.


Overall: TRUE is a decent listen for a first album. It had a few blips and blops, but there are some really solid songs on here and the overall sound is rather cohesive. Most of the songs are still able to shine on an individual level as well. With that said, while I do think the album is good, I only think less than half of the songs are impressive. The ballads, for the most part, are quite stunning and mix so well with Nakashima’s vocals. However, while the uptempo songs are fun and help bring some variety, I don’t think they were particularly as clean in production and there are quite a few flaws in each. It’s still a fun listen in general.

B-