Archive for the '*REVIEWS' Category

MiChi: PROMiSE

PROMiSE, MiChi1. PROMiSE

2. HEy GirL

3. Sk8er Boi

4. Fuck You And Your Money (ED BANGER ALL STARS remix)

PROMiSE is MiChi’s debut single, released on October 22nd, 2008. It reached #12 on Oricon and has sold 24 783 copies.

PROMiSE definitely goes into my list of best debut singles. I’m not exactly sure where to classify this song, but I’d call it synth pop-rock with the distinct British punk element, which makes MiChi one of the more extravagant J-Pop artists out there. The overwhelming feeling I get from MiChi’s songs is the happiness, despite the fact that I don’t think PROMiSE is that happy a song. The song is insanely addictive, and I think MiChi’s voice is noteworthy.

As much as I think PROMiSE is a good song, HEy GirL beats it, even if just barely. I can hear some island influences, but what’s prominent is the really catchy chorus, which totally makes up for the lack of perk found in the verses.

MiChi’s cover of Avril Lavigne’s Sk8er Boi is interesting… but I have to admit I was never a fan of Avril Lavigne in the first place, so I’m not exactly thrilled by it being present on the single. But if looked at objectively, MiChi’s cover is quite worthy and good MiChi-style interpretation of the song.

Finally comes a remix of a track which appeared on MiChi’s mini-album, MiChi MadNesS. The original was quite nice, but you immediately notice the difference between the more punk stuff featured on her mini-album and the stuff she’s doing now. As usual, the remix has a few flaws, but it’s a nice addition to the single.

Utada: Come Back to Me

Come Back to Me, Utada1. Come Back to Me

Come Back to Me is Utada’s fourth English single, released on February 9th, 2009. It reached #28 on Billboard’s Japan Hot 100 Singles.

If you were looking for a catapult ride back to First Love, Come Back to Me is exactly that. The only difference is that I actually like this song. I’m not one to like R&B, but I absolutely love this song. Utada bias? Perhaps. But I am definitely fond of this song. It may the most mainstream song Utada ever wrote, it may be nothing quite like Easy Breezy, Exodus ’04 and You make me want to be a man, it remains better than half of the songs on EXODUS. I’m surprised it failed to chart, but with the only promotion being her MySpace site, things are clearer. Although she may have better chance than with her previous English album if she continues with this type of song. Come Back to Me is a mellow R&B ballad that jumps out of a classical piano piece played both at the beginning and at ending. The lyrics are substandard for Utada Hikaru, but I guess they’ll do for an American-style song. All this song needs is more exposure, and I’m sure it would’ve been really popular.

FLOW: #5

#5, FLOW

WORLD END

HEAVENLY STARS

PULSE

SNOW FLAKE – Kioku no Koshuu – (Album Version)

ANTHEM

BRAND-NEW DAY

Akai Siren

Antares

MUSIC

WORD OF THE VOICE

Butterfly

Rakuen Tengoku (Bonus Track)

*****

Songs in bold are previously released singles. Songs in blue (with a link) have already been reviewed. Those songs will, however, be reviewed in context of the album once more.

*****

#5 is FLOW’s sixth album, released on January 28th, 2009. It reached #19 on Oricon. The title refers to the end of their fifth year in the music business.

With the three singles released in this era being a chain, I was expecting them to follow each other, but apparently that was only for the PVs. Nonetheless, the ambience of WORLD END, despite such a depressive name, is perfect to open the album. I think this was the best A-Side of the era, even though SNOW FLAKE – Kioku no Koshiuu – is pretty close to that, and the mix of aggressive guitars and calming sequences make a unique song.

HEAVENLY STARS is somewhat a more aggressive version of the previous song; but the vocals, distinctly apart while usually the two vocalists tend to blend their voice together or sing one sequence after the other, make this song little of an enjoyment. This is a train ride to FLOW’s past work, when their music was more optimistic and, well, immature.

Next comes PULSE, the aggressive second A-Side on the last single of the era. I’ve come to like it a lot more, even though the chorus still annoys me a little bi, but the aggressive guitar riffs at the end of the chorus tend to just let the entire song collapse. Otherwise, the verses are nice and calming, but not enough to make up for the rest of the song.

I liked SNOW FLAKE – Kioku no Koshiuu – (the persistence of memories) when I first heard it, but, much like a lot of the songs on this album, I’ve come to like it even more after a few listens. After the two more powerful singles, this song finally introduced a ballad into the era. It’s very well made and the strings are very nice. The combination of the two vocalists’ voices is at its peak here, and I think it’s FLOW’s most powerful attribute in general. The Album Version extends it a little bit, although I see very little difference.

ANTHEM is one of my favorite new tracks on the album. This song is pretty much a direct confrontation to the overall, more sad, tone of the previous song. The verses could have been better, the problem being the same as with HEAVENLY STARS, the vocals are distinctly apart, but the chorus flows nicely and gives me a feeling of hope and bliss.

The next track is another ride back to FLOW’s earlier stuff, although I think they executed it a lot better than HEAVENLY STARS. BRAND-NEW DAY is another very positive song. The pattern is similar to the previous track, and it has the same problems: the verses could have required some help, but the chorus is catchy.

Akai Siren (red siren) is the more hardcore song on this album, and also one of the worse songs on it. The verses are pretty boring, and the chorus really does nothing for me. It’s one of those songs that has a lot of potential but doesn’t draw that forward.

Next comes a highly contrasting song: Antares is a bizarre mixture of several traditional music styles, one of them is definitely Spain, which is noticeable by the vocals. It’s another of my favorites on this album, in part because it’s one of FLOW’s most unique songs ever.

MUSIC is quite similar to Akai Siren in that it’s quite aggressive, and in this case we have something even worse than Akai Siren. I really think FLOW should stick with songs that are more low-key than this like WORLD END or WORD OF THE VOICE, because it’s what they do best. When they go all-out, it creates pretty annoying songs that hard to sit through.

WORD OF THE VOICE now seems like the worst single of the era, but that’s not that bad considering the other two were amazing. It’s a perfect example of what FLOW are good at and this is a song that I find very easy to listen to because it’s very soothing despite being so instrumentally powerful.

The last song on the album is Butterfly, a song that reminds me a lot of punk bands here in the West. It’s a great way to end the album because it has this feeling of “closing the curtains”, “end of the story”. And here again, we have a song that is powerful but soothing.

The bonus track is little to fret over, because it’s the ridiculously circus-like Rakuen Tengoku (Eden Paradise). It reminds me of Okuru Kotoba (their debut single) in the worst possible of ways and frankly, this song is just a little bonus added to make the CD+DVD version seem a little bit special.

I found #5 to be very enjoyable, in various ways. For one, I think it’s FLOW’s best album to date, as well as their most mature work. It’s a fun album that skips from more nostalgic tracks like SNOW FLAKE – Kioku no Koshuu – and WORD OF THE VOICE to songs that are more on the happy side, like Butterfly and ANTHEM. With the exception of the two more hardcore tracks on this album, Akai Siren and MUSIC, all the new tracks offer something enjoyable even if only a little bit, and I hope that FLOW continues to create stuff like this. It’s not perfect, but I still recommend listening this album to anyone who enjoys rock, even in the slightest bit.

alan: Gunjou no Tani

Gunjou no Tani, alan1. Gunjou no Tani

2. Gunjou no Tani Acoustic Version

Gunjou no Tani is alan’s eighth single, released on February 4th, 2009. Like Shiawase no Kane (bells of happiness), it is a tribute single to the victims of the Sichuan Earthquake last year, although this single is a major, physical release, while the previous tribute single had been a digital download.

I was relieved enough when we got to the end of the five elemental singles series, but I’m even more relieved that we’ve finally gotten to the last single of the Voice of EARTH era. And it’s about time. Gunjou no Tani (ultramarine valley) is quite a departure from anything alan has ever done, but it’s pretty close to Kaze no Tegami. What I found remarkable about this single were the combination of the lyrics and almost jig-like song pattern. The idea that the alan we’ve seen in her previous songs is not as stern as she may have let off with her string of powerful ballads; the fact that she in fact a free spirit, and that she does, to a certain extent, regret going to Japan and wishes to go back to her homeland, which is what this song is all about. It’s a fun, honest song, and her vocals during the chorus really bring up this feeling of wanting to return home. As for a comparison to her previous songs; you may find this weird, and some (many?) will disagree on this subject with me, but I think Gunjou no Tani is on the same level as Ashita e no Sanka and RED CLIFF – Shin, Sen –, and when I first heard this song, I thought it was even better.

Much like the orchestral version of her debut single found on RED CLIFF – Shin, Sen –, the Acoustic Version of Gunjou no Tani is disappointing, if only a bit. My main qualm with this song would be that the vocals don’t sound quite as good as they did in the original and the feeling of yearning for home is almost completely gone. But the biggest delight for me was that we finally get to hear alan playing the er-hu in more elaborate and, most importantly, longer parts. It’s interesting, though, how much stronger the folk element is. Not exactly what I was expecting, but it will do to give this single five stars.

Koda Kumi: TRICK

Trick, Koda Kumi

Introduction for TRICK

TABOO

show girl

Your Love

stay with me

This is not a love song

Driving

Bling Bling Bling (feat. AK-69)

That Ain’t Cool (feat. Fergie)

Hurry Up!

Moon Crying

JUST THE WAY YOU ARE

Joyful

Ai no Kotoba

Venus (Bonus Track)

*****

Songs in bold are previously released singles. Songs in blue (with a link) have already been reviewed. Those songs will, however, be reviewed in context of the album once more.

*****

TRICK is Koda Kumi’s seventh album, released on January 28th, 2009. It reached #1 on Oricon. I wonder if she knows the “fitting” connotation to the title of her album…

INTRODUCTION FOR TRICK is meant to blow your brains out so that you don’t realize all the mistakes that are made after the first three tracks of this album. It’s a powerful, aggressive track, and I’m sort of in the middle about this track because it’s catchy but all the power put into the beats tends to ruin the whole.

The transition from INTRODUCTION FOR TRICK to TABOO is a little less than smooth, although that’s easy to forget considering this is the hottest song of 2008 and one of the best Koda Kumi songs ever. It’s infectious, entrancing, and Koda’s vocal performance is quite amazing. Along with the previous track and the next track, TABOO‘s purpose at the beginning of the album is to overwhelm you so much that you’ll have a stroke which will have serious repercussions on your musical taste and you won’t notice the major blemishes other tracks do to this album.

While I wasn’t too fond of it when I first heard it, the cuteness and just the plain catchiness of the chorus have made me love show girl. Somewhat of a self-parody, show girl is nothing particularly new, but Koda Kumi performs very well on it. The chorus sounds glamorous and the verses seem to highlight the personal life or the mistakes stars sometimes make (amniotic fluid, anyone?). And the line bounce me and dance me makes me laugh.

Before we get to another great song which is supposed to erase the bad stuff on this album, Koda serves us two distasteful ballads, the first being Your Love. Compared to the next one, Your Love is absolutely nothing original and there’s no emotion in it, which makes this song a complete flop.

stay with me‘s only positive attribute would be the warm feeling I get from it. Otherwise, as I explained in my review of the single, I think that Koda really doesn’t control her voice very well in this song because it ends up sounding too powerful and sort of overpowers the beauty of an otherwise perfectly average ballad.

So, now we’re back to the good songs. This is not a love song definitely isn’t a love song with its powerful beats and its aggressive character. It still bears the Kuu sexiness, although I like the fact that she doesn’t drive it too far. It’s a really addictive song that’s definitely worth the time; even though it’s under three and a half minutes.

Driving is the best album song, by far. While the beginning didn’t exactly turn me on, the chorus blew me away. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I suppose it’s the fun atmosphere and the adventure of the chorus that makes me like this song, besides the fact that it’s absolutely and completely amazing.

Ugh. Bling Bling Bling pisses me off. Musically, it’s worth absolutely nothing. There are barely any instruments, instead there are confusing lines of synth in the very back, and really out-of-place R&B beats. I guess you could say that this song is rap; and I loathe rap.

I’ve gotten over my gripes with That Ain’t Cool and I can now enjoy the song a lot more. The verses still annoy me a little bit, but the chorus is quite amusing. I just think that Koda’s lines sound really bad.

We get another pretty hardcore track this time, Hurry Up!, which features guitars and reminds me a lot of some of the punk stuff we have in North America during the verses. But don’t get me wrong; I may like punk and pop-rock, I still think this song is a blemish to the face of the album.

I don’t know about placing Hurry Up! before Moon Crying, which is probably the only ballad I can actually listen to without dying of boredom before the end of the song. I guess the only excuse for its placement would be the next song.

The second promotional track on this album, JUST THE WAY YOU ARE, is quite good, and second only to Driving. The strings and the R&B beats create an interesting texture, and Koda’s vocals are quite nice.

Joyful is way too… well, joyful, for me to like it. The guitars are OK, but the feel of this song just doesn’t catch me. It sounds like one of the better H!P pop songs, but because Koda Kumi is a the queen of prostitutes and not the queen of H!P, I can’t exactly call this song “good”.

Ai no Kotoba (words of love) closes the album in a bad way. It may be a ballad, but (I’m not going to go through the same routine again, you know how I feel about Koda ballads). It’s acceptable as a closing song, but I think she could’ve done better.

Koda Kumi’s cover of Venus is quite good… until she says “venus”. Beside the fact her Engrish makes this song a joke, I think she did quite well for the overall presentation of the song and she’s got the right tone for it.

Alright, TRICK was better than Kingdom… but that wasn’t that hard a feat, was it? Frankly, this album has too many flaws for it to be enjoyable, despite the few excellent songs that were here and there. She really has to deal with her ballads, because they’re a bad joke, and hurt the ranking of her album. There are three major blemishes to this album: Your Love, the lame ballad which killed me, Bling Bling Bling, the horrible rap song, and finally Joyful, which was too joyful. The album had its good songs, I won’t deny it; it’s just that they’re overshadowed by all of the bad filler tracks. It’s a mind-numbingly boring album in the overall, and I’m quite disappointed.

Kaori Mochida: Ame no Waltz

Ame no Waltz, Kaori Mochida1. Ame no Waltz (feat. SAKEROCK)

2. Drop

3. Kokoro

Ame no Waltz is Kaori Mochida’s debut single as a solo artist, released on January 28th, 2009.

The first thing I noticed, regrettably, about Ame no Waltz (rain waltz), was the childish attitude the song had. When I first heard it, I was completely underwhelmed. I was expecting much, much more from someone whose career spans now over twelve years, and especially coming from a member of ELT. It may have taken a bit of listening to, but in the end it’s quite an enjoyable track, and Kaori’s voice really fits the song. I wouldn’t exactly call it catchy, but this is a song I won’t be pressing “next” on when it comes up in shuffle.

Drops has one distinctive feature, and that’s the “These Boots are Made for Walking” guitar in the back, giving the song a Southern American sound. It’s a bizarre track, but it’s quite nice. The verses may be subpar, but the chorus is quite exciting and fun. For a B-Side, this song is quite good.

Lastly we have Kokoro (heart), an acoustic ballad. This song will definitely get skipped, because it’s really boring. I have nothing against slow burners, in fact they’re my favorite type of song, but when the song doesn’t even pick up, then it’s really boring. You keep waiting for something to happen, and then the song just ends. Thank God this wasn’t the only B-Side on this single!

Urata Naoya: TURN OVER

TURN OVER, Urata Naoya

1. Intro

2. TURN OVER

3. Baby Bang! feat. SPHERE

4. I think I’m in love

5. Ecstasy feat. YUKALI

6. Too Late

7. HOT LIKE FIRE

8. voice of mind

9. anything about sex

10. Starting all over

11. Like a tatoo

12. White lie

*****

Songs in bold are previously released singles. Songs in blue (with a link) have already been reviewed. Those songs will, however, be reviewed in context of the album once more.

*****

TURN OVER is Naoya Urata’s debut album, released on January 28th, 2009. It reached #19 on Oricon. No singles were released prior to the release of this album, which is rather awkward for an avex debut. Naoya is a member of avex group AAA and was formerly a dancer for Ayumi Hamasaki.

Intro is definitely one of the most bizarre opening sequences to an album. It features a heartbeat, and a man with a deep, almost scary voice reading a sort of prologue. It’s not exactly pleasing to the ear, but it’s only an intro, and it does its job.

I’ll already tell you here that I think that this album is in many ways a tribute to several Motown artists, even though all the tracks sound overwhelmingly modern. And the title track, TURN OVER, reminds me a lot of Stevie Wonder songs like Sir Duke and other stuff on Songs in the Key of Life and Innervisions. It’s a catchy, low-key and mellow beat-centered song (like most of the stuff on this album) and it instantly became my favorite track on the album.

What really sparked my interest in Urata was (definitely) not his AAA career, but rather the promotional track and the PV accompanying it. Baby Bang!‘s only flaw, and the one that puts it behind TURN OVER, is the collaboration with rap artist SPHERE who sort of cuts into the middle of the song. Other than that, this is probably the dirtiest song on this album and its insanely catchy. As for the Motown reference, I see Michael Jackson in this song, in particular the vocals and the “yeah” at the end of SPHERE’s rapping.

The first flaw on this album is the rap/hip-hop ballad I think I’m in love. It has the potential to be good, but somehow it fails to do it. I like Urata’s vocals in general, but here I find them rather bland and slightly awkward. It’s not a bad song, and is worth sitting through if you’re going to listen to the album as a whole, but I wouldn’t skip it if I put on shuffle.

The second collaboration is Ecstasy feat. YUKALI (one of the two members of HALCALI). It’s nowhere near Baby Bang! feat. SPHERE, but it’s not all that bad. The particularity of this song, one will notice immediately, is the register Urata sings in, probably something like two octaves lower than the helium-injected voice we’ve heard so far. It does share one thing with Baby Bang!, though, and that would be the lustful intentions that are breathed in through the vocals.

Too Late is another ballad, but this time it succeeds. It’s another Michael Jackson-like song, but with the needed amount of rap and hip-hop to make it sound a lot more modern than it really is. This song is completely crazy, though, in terms of arrangement and we jump from chorus to verse to slightly more upbeat verse to an actual chorus and there’s a bridge in there somewhere.

HOT LIKE FIRE isn’t exactly quite as hot as I wouldv’e wanted it to be. A regrettable rap song which is terribly boring and forgettable and just sounds completely out of sound with its thin instrumental line. If you were looking for the worst song on the album…

After HOT LIKE FIRE, I wasn’t expecting a gentle ballad like voice of mind. I wasn’t quite sure to expect with that title, but I was pleasantly surprised with a totally Motown ballad. Urata performs very well in it; a complete change from the helium voice. And also definitely one of the best tracks on this album.

I was expecting something even hotter than Baby Bang! feat. SPHERE for anything about sex (most suggestive title ever?), but we get another ballad, this time a lot more modern-sounding (but the Motown element is still in there). This one’s an R&B ballad and I enjoyed it a lot, in particular the catchy chorus.

Starting all over is another relatively surprising track, and a powerful and memorable one at that. The almost vocals during the chorus are definitely Michael Jackson-inspired, but the rest of the song is just as enjoyable. Perhaps the beats were a little too strong, but it’s one of the album’s pillars.

Like a tatoo better be an intentional typo or they’ve got something seriously wrong. But otherwise, this is another really catchy track, and our first really fast-paced one in a while. After Baby Bang! and TURN OVER, this is one of the best album tracks. (And another really obvious track to Michael Jackson.)

The last track is White lie, and it’s a pretty disappointing way to end the album after the amazing start he gave us. The chorus may be quite good, the verses are pretty mundane. It has the potential to be a great song, but it wasn’t pushed far enough.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and diversity of TURN OVER. Except for two or three tracks, every song offered a pleasant listen and stayed grouped while maintaining a certain degree of individuality. I was well prepared to be disappointed by this album, but now I’m more than just happy to have given this album a listen. I’ll say it again, this album is full of Motown elements, which make a lot of the tracks on this album absolute gold for me, because before I converted to J-Pop and J-Rock, Motown music was my second-favorite after Alternative. Definitely give this album a listen.