[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] hiro – Naked and True

Naked and True is the second album released by former SPEED member, hiro. Five singles were released prior to the album, all peaking within the top 10 (four peaking within the top 5). The album was another success, peaking at #2 and selling over 230,000 copies.

nakedandtrue
Released: August 7, 2002
1. ME AND YOU (Riding Waves)
2. Confession
3. Notice my mind
4. Day After Day
5. Seaside Holiday & The Sun
6. Naked and True
7. CRAZY
8. Your innocence
9. For a Long Night
10. Eternal Place
11. love you
12. Namida (ナミダ)
13. Mitsumeteitai (DJ Hasebe remix PART-1) (見つめていたい; I Want to Gaze at You)
14. Shiawase no Michi (Album Version) (しあわせの道; Way of Happiness)
15. ON MY WAY
16. Hana ~Subete no Hito no Kokoro ni Hana o~ (花 ~すべての人の心に花を~; Flowers ~Flowers in the Hearts of Everyone~)

Compared to her first album’s opener, ME AND YOU (Riding Waves) is something very different and one of the album’s strongest songs. It has a more dance/jazz combination going on that helps sets it apart from the other songs. The song is completely in English, which is an interesting surprise, but hiro sounds great and her piercing vocals suit the song nicely. It’s catchy, dramatic and beautiful.

confession

The album’s second single, Confession, is a bright pop tune in line with Treasure from hiro’s last album. It’s not as dramatic, but the music and general vibe is very similar. I quite these kinds of songs and hiro’s voice lends itself well to this style. It’s a bit on the generic, but that catchy chorus really makes up for it. I do wish the chorus had more punch to it, but it’s still a solid tune.

noticeyourmind

The album’s final single, Notice my mind, continues similarly to the last song, but definitely brings something more pop. I don’t think it is as strong as the last two song, but it is still a pretty catchy tune. The chorus is catchy and lighthearted, although I wish the music was more powerful. The transition is a bit weak and doesn’t quite match the shine of the melody. Another good tune.

Day After Day is more dramatic and has some R&B elements in it, which is a nice change. I like that the music sounds fuller, although there are some weird synth choices that are in the song. The chorus is a bit more “pop” in its delivery and although I wish the transition was a bit smoother, I still quite like the melody. hiro also sounds really nice throughout this song.

Seaside Holiday & The Sun is exactly what one would expect from the name, a bright, summery pop tune. I love that it is upbeat, but still has a relaxing feel to it. The chorus is very similar to a lot of the other singles on here, so I feel like it has a lot of potential to be an A-side. The only difference it really shares is the prominence of the guitar. It’s a strong album track.

Naked and True, the title track, is a change from the pretty dominant pop sound, with its heavy R&B beat. Although I do like the change of sound, I’m not sure if I am totally into this song. The music is funky, a bit over-programmed, but the melody is rather unpredictable that the hooks totally don’t stick the first time around. It is definitely a grower though.

Another change comes with CRAZY, which brings back the heavier dance elements. This is probably my least favourite song up to this point because the melody just isn’t particularly strong. I think hiro singing in falsetto sort of loses the energy. I do quite like the music though with its thumping beat. Unfortunately, there is a really weird rap that comes up halfway through that sounds out of place.

yourinnocence

Your innocence was the album’s first single and its biggest hit. It follows the pure pop sound of many other songs on the album, but it is my favourite on the album just because the melody is the strongest. The chorus is exactly what I wanted from the other songs because the music is powerful and matches strong hooks. It’s great.

For a Long Night is another album track but changes things up with its more midtempo take on things. I love the eerie synth that plays with the light beat and xylophone. The subtle R&B vibes work nicely in the verses, especially with hiro’s bright vocals. The chorus isn’t as strong and the high notes are sort of odd. However, the song is still pretty catchy and I do think it is one of the stronger album tracks.

eternalplace

Eternal Place is the album’s fourth single and the first full-fledged pop ballad on here. It starts off with just hiro and a piano but gains some instruments as it goes on. Unfortunately, this is one of my least favourite songs on the album. hiro strains through the chorus and it just doesn’t sound very pleasant. The melody is also dull and not that memorable.

loveyou

love you was the album’s third single and is the album’s next ballad. It’s not as slow as the last song, but it just doesn’t work either. I do like this one a bit more because the percussion helps to give the song some power. The melody is just not my cup of tea though. It’s a bit screechy and I don’t think hiro’s piercing vocals suit this soft song.

Namida is a change and I’m not sure if I’m really into this song either. It has a spring, laidback kind of feel. I do quite like how hiro sounds throughout this song as she softens her voice to suit its jazzier nature. It’s a nice surprise, although I don’t think I will remember this track in the long run. It is a nice change though.

Mitsumeteitai (DJ Hasebe remix PART-1) is the remix of hiro’s first solo song that was also featured on her debut album. This time, the song changes the more fast-paced, uptempo sound for something a bit slower and R&B. I think this one actually sounds better than the original just because hiro isn’t screeching her lungs out. It’s groovy and catchy, although I wish it had a bit more energy.

Shiawase no Michi (Album Version) was originally released as the B-side to her third single. It’s a gentle, acoustic pop tune and it does have its charm. hiro’s voice sounds great and she shows her control here. The song isn’t as interesting as I would have liked, but it’s a nice show of vocals.

ON MY WAY brings something fuller with its striking synths and steady beat. It stays in the mid-tempo mode for a long time and feels like it will build into something bigger, but it never does. It’s a decent tune, but feels a little lackluster compared to the other pop tunes.

Hana ~Subete no Hito no Kokoro ni Hana o~ is a bonus track and is very different from the other songs on the album because it has a stronger traditional Okinawan sound. It’s quite beautiful and I think hiro’s vocals match this song beautifully. While it isn’t that catchy, I love the atmosphere it makes as it brings a more ethereal vibe. I think this is a great ending.


Overall: This album is very similar to her first, but it is definitely stronger as the melodies are all much stronger. It keeps that pure pop sound that was prominent in her first album, but it pushes it to the next level. My only problem was that this album was just too long and needed to be cut down by a good 5 songs. I feel like once it hits track 10, things just start to go downhill. With that said, there are some great pop tunes on here and some of the best “J-Pop” songs I’ve heard.

B

[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 [MV]
3. AS TIME GOES BY [MV]
4. Love Wing
5. STEP BY STEP
6. BRILLIANT
7. Bright Daylight
8. Treasure (album ver.) [MV]
9. You Make Me Cry
10. In Season [MV]
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”) [MV]
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.

astimegoesby

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.

brightdaylight

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.

treasure

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+