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First Impressions: Ayumi Hamasaki’s NEXT LEVEL

August 21, 2009 Review Comments Off on First Impressions: Ayumi Hamasaki’s NEXT LEVEL

Ayumi Hamasaki’s 11th album
25th March 2009

Ayumi Hamasaki's NEXT LEVEL
It blows my mind how quickly Ayumi Hamasaki seems to come out with new music, especially considering the number of tracks she puts onto each album, the number of remixes on each of her singles, and her slew of remix albums (holy crap, this woman loves remixes). I first became a fan around when her Memorial Address mini-album was releasing and it seems not so long ago that My Story came out in 2004. Since then, I can’t say I’ve been very good about keeping up with her releases, partially because my interest shifted to j-rock and indie for a while, but her contribution to Dragonball Evolution piqued my interest again, even if I didn’t think Ayu had any chance of saving a destined-to-be-terrible movie. “Rule” was a pretty fun single, and I thought it suited the energy of the subject matter pretty well (or, well, it suited the source material). It wasn’t super impressive, but I think it was only a matter of time before I went and checked out this album. The name NEXT LEVEL is also pretty Dragonball-ish, don’t you think?

TRACK 01: Bridge to the sky
Calming intro for all of a moment, then an uprising steady beat that grows into an ensemble of various sounds backed by a nice techno beat. Lots of sustained vocals and a gradual crescendo seem to be leading into something big. The techno gets more pronounced and then– silence. Clearly, this is an intro track for the rest of the album. Honestly, I’ve never been a huge fan of intro tracks because they’re awkward when you don’t play them with the rest of the album in album order (like when you put things on shuffle), but when you are listening to the album straight through, they’re pretty nice.

TRACK 02: NEXT LEVEL (Youtube it)
Starts off with a confident piano soon to be accompanied by keyboards and the stray guitar. Vocals start rather unimpressively and I’m kind of more interested in the background music than the lyrics or melody. Gets better as she leads into the chorus, which has some nice energy. I’m a sucker for when lyrics roll together smoothly, like there are no real breaks in between the words. Some nice keyboard and guitar in the break before the second verse. The beginning of the second verse is again less interesting, but it recovers faster this time. The melody for the chorus is definitely the best part of the song thus far, though I don’t think this is a good example of Ayumi’s vocal prowess; her voice sounds rather plain in this, honestly. Bridge and final round of choruses don’t change much — outro is the same piano, keyboard, and stray guitar, and it slowly leads to the end.

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