Opinion Prone

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Posts Tagged ‘ jpop ’

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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First Impressions: Yuna Ito’s Dream

July 11, 2009 Review Comments Off on First Impressions: Yuna Ito’s Dream

Yuna Ito’s 3rd album
27th May 2009

Yuna Ito's 3rd album: Dream
Sometimes I wish artists would come up with more interesting album names, but I guess this goes in perfect step with Yuna Ito’s previous two albums, Heart and Wish. Three singles were released ahead of Dream, but I’ve only heard “trust you” because it is one of my favorite theme songs ever. The second track, “今でも会いたいよ…” (“Ima demo aitaiyo…”),  is apparently an answer song to “今でもずっと” (“Ima demo zutto”) by Spontania feat. Yuna Ito, which I took the liberty of YouTubing before listening to this album, but that’s hardly enough to get a good impression of the duet pair and I doubt the fact that the second track here is an answer song will mean much to me. I’m more interested in finding out whether “love you,” “trust you,” and “miss you” will have any melodic or thematic relation to each other because that would be pretty awesome.

Anyway! First impressions, go~!

TRACK 01: love you
Very upbeat percussion intro! Vocals start off similarly perky and it doesn’t sound anything like “trust you,” lol. The melody sounds a bit haphazard and the transitions between Japanese and English don’t sound as smooth as they could be. The percussion is really repetitive and distracting, actually, and doesn’t fit every well with the vocals. The “I love you”s sound way casual and subsequently less meaningful. I really wish the percussion would let up — the drums are all over the place, there’s random bits of piano, and the cymbols kind of reset my train of thought every several measures. I’m having a really hard time distinguishing verses from chorus, which I only recognize from the haphazard “I love you”s. Bridge (?) slows down a bit, though the percussion doesn’t really let up. “I know you make me love you” just sounds incredibly awkward and Engrishy, which doesn’t fit since Yuna Ito’s English is generally very good. Song ends by fading away, kind of lame. Not a great way to start the album.

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I Kill My Heart

Tommy Heavenly6‘s 3rd album
29th April 2009

Tommy heavenly6 is my favorite of Tomoko Kawase’s projects, followed by the brilliant green. I’m not all that fond of Tommy february6, though it kind of reminds me a bit of Nana Kitade. Sadly, all of Tomoko’s projects were recently dropped by Sony, along with a few other artists like Sowelu. Doesn’t make any sense to me considering the popularity of her numerous anime tie-ins (“Pray” for Gintama, “Paper Moon” for SOUL EATER, “Unlimited Sky” for Gundam 00), but whatever… business is business? Sowelu just signed with Avex, but no word on Tomoko yet as far as I know. I don’t really doubt that she has a lot of options though. Regardless, this album was the latest and last released by Sony in late April. I only just got my hands on it, but here we go~.

TRACK 01: Wait For Me There (YouTube it)
Distorted, kinda dark sorta intro. Vocals start plainly, but it picks up nicely — has a good beat. Some pretty awkward sounding Engrish, but Tomoko’s voice is confident and smooth. Sometimes I like to just pretend that she isn’t butchering a language she doesn’t know that well. The words become less important than the sound and the emotion, and this song has a very relaxed, feel-good mood to be. Did she just say, “Let’s have some tea”? Some interesting vocal overlaps in the bridge, though I don’t think this is her best example of harmony. Song ends as smoothly and plainly as it starts. All around not a bad go, but not all that interesting either.

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This Is The One

UTADA’s 3rd English album
14th March, 2009
(Japanese release)

I was a bit skeptical about this album. I wasn’t all that fond of Utada’s previous English album, Exodus, because I found a lot of the lyrics to be really awkward (“You’re easy breezy, and I’m Japanesey”?). In general, I’m much more fond of her older stuff than her newer stuff… I didn’t like her most recent Japanese album, Heart Station, all that much either. I didn’t listen to the “Come Back to Me” single when it came out, so I was walking into this album blind more or less. Here are my first impressions during my first run through of the album:

TRACK 01: On and On (YouTube it)
Very upbeat opening; I like the guys yelling in the background in addition to Utada’s voice, which is gorgeous. Steady beat continues into main melody, and it’s very energizing in that you-gotta-tap-your-feet-and-move-your-body kinda way. Awesome transition into the chorus via a sudden silence in the background, same with the transition into the second chorus. This song definitely has a very American feel to it, which I almost find surprising because I didn’t think Exodus was very American at all. I really love all the layers of voices in this — the guy in the background just keeps going and going, then there’s Utada’s voice, and at the bridge and end, there’s a second layer of Utada’s voice; it’s a very nice combination of sounds. What a great way to start the album!

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TV Cuts VS Full Versions

February 19, 2009 Editorial 6 Comments

A few weeks ago, “trust you” by Yuna Ito debuted as Gundam 00 S2‘s second ending theme. I’ve always considered Yuna Ito to be a good artist — her voice is very pretty and most of her melodies are nice to listen to. I liked the work she did for the two live action NANA movies, but I had yet to hear a song of hers that really struck me as being amazing. “trust you” was definitely a first love kind of thing, though I do think that the context of 00’s ending animation, as well as the themes of the series itself, helped a lot with that. It’s a very thoughtful package; both the song and the animation have a nostalgic, peaceful, and contemplative feel to them. It’s the best kind of ending theme: one that makes you reflect on the series in a serious kind of way. It’s especially appropriate for Gundam, even if I don’t really think 00 specifically deserves something so appropriate.

I found myself listening to the song pretty often and counting the days until the single’s release. That’s the wonderful marketing ploy of it all. Anime themes are always singles, and they always debut on air a month or two before the single’s due to release. That’s a month or two that you have to sit around with a minute to minute and a half teaser of a beautiful song. It drove me nuts. I actually really love the TV cut version of “trust you” though; it’s easy to tell where things are abbreviated, but I thought it was pieced together very well. It’s obvious that the intro is probably longer and it feels like the first verse extends directly into final chorus.

Well, the single’s still not due out until March 4th, but the PV released a day or two ago, so I got ahold of a PV rip. Finally! A full length version of the song! …Why doesn’t it sound as nearly good as the TV Cut?

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Christmas Gift

Kokia’s 8th album
12th November, 2008

I’ve not heard much about Kokia… most likely because I haven’t seen all too many series she’s done music for. She did a song for Origin: Spirits of the Past, but it must not have left a very big impression on me because I can’t remember it at all. In any case, I was looking for Christmasy music and came across this album, so I figure I’d give it a shot. I love my Christmas music, and I love my j-pop, so this has to be good, right? Here are my thoughts from an hour of just sitting and listening to music:

TRACK 01: Amazing Grace (YouTube it)
Kokia’s voice starts off eerie and soft, but it really does have a beautiful quality to it. Her notes are high and very sustained — her trademark ability, apparently — giving it an even more surreal quality. There’s a soft echo in the back, almost like a canon, but it fades out too quickly… oh, wait, there it is again after a brief silence. It still fades in and out, but it’s really interesting sounding when it’s there. Beautiful violin solo, keeps the mood nicely. It’s creepy, but it’s pretty soothing too. Good music for a quiet evening.

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Japanese Music You Aren’t Listening to but Should

December 1, 2008 Recommendations Comments Off on Japanese Music You Aren’t Listening to but Should

A majority of the music I listen to these days happen to be Japanese. Back in the day, my selection was limited to what I heard in anime opening and ending themes, as well as insert songs and the occasional character image song. These days, though a fair selection of my library have performed an anime song or two, there are quite a bit that haven’t. And I’ve been fortunate enough to have gotten my hands on new, fresh-off-the-press artists too. So I like sharing, ’cause sharing is caring, and because it really surprises me that some of these artists aren’t better known because they certainly deserve the attention! Three artists in particular I’ve been a fan of for a while, and it continues to puzzle me that not many people I know listen to them regularly.

First up is ONE OK ROCK, a rock band formed in 2006 with a pretty modern and Western-influenced style. They usually sing in Japanese but are partial to incorporating a fair bit of English into their lyrics. The English is heavily accented, but once you figure out what they’re saying, it usually makes sense, so in that regard, it isn’t exactly Engrish. Their general style and some of their subject matter reminds me a bit of ELLEGARDEN also, but they’re hardly a clone; in particular, their vocalists’ voices have very different edges to them. Taka’s vocal range is also a bit more varied, I think; he tackles a good range of notes and has some pretty nice falsettos (I’m a sucker for falsettos, yes?). They’re a really energetic bunch all around and have a lot of energy. They’re something good to listen to when you’re working or in a good mood.

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