Opinion Prone

My opinions, let me tell them to you.

Posts Tagged ‘ music ’

Christmas Music Top 5’s

December 13, 2015 Lists Comments Off on Christmas Music Top 5’s

The other day while working, I listened to the Christmas music episode of Top Four on a whim. It’s not a podcast I usually listen to, but I was browsing through Relay FM and it caught my eye because guess what, I love Christmas music. U_U Afterwards I was compelled to compile some lists of my own Christmas music. I had no idea where to shove the list since it doesn’t really fit the content on my website or Tumblogs or anything, and then I remembered I had a blog specifically for my completely irrelevant opinions on inconsequential things, nevermind that I haven’t posted here in four years. :P


But anyway. Christmas music!

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At the beginning of August, I read an ANN article about the release of a legitimate fan remix album featuring a variety of otaku favorites. That the DJ, Pete Ellison, a.k.a., INITIAL P, bothered to get official permission to produce the album struck me the most, considering how few seem to worry about the legitimacy of selling anything fan-made, even as fanart rules are slowly sweeping through the Artist Alleys of various conventions. A week later, while I was at Anime Overload in Austin, I checked my inbox and was very surprised to find an email by Ellison asking if I would review the album. When I got home the following Tuesday, Anime Love Hardcore had already arrived on my doorstep.

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VAMP’s debut album
10th June 2009


You know, I really dislike self-entitled albums. They kind of make mentioning them in a [band]’s [album] format awkward. Moving on, despite being a fan of hyde, I was never really that interested in VAMPS. I mean, I adore hyde’s work with L’Arc~en~Ciel, and his one-time collaboration with Gackt for “orenji no taiyou” was also amazing, but his solo work leaves a lot to be desired (especially in his third solo album, Faith), and that’s what K.A.Z. had previously worked with him on. And as VAMPS’s debut US tour did not visit any city I was remotely close to, I felt even less compelled to familiar myself with the music.

Additionally, the overt-vampire references in all of this — in the band name, the album name, the label name, and pretty much all of the song names and imagery — kind of made me facepalm. I would expect it from Gackt, who only recently came out as a mere mortal and has a long history of vampire and goth sound and imagery. But, well, I guess it really isn’t that big of a surprise coming from hyde either… considering the fact that he’s acted as both a vampire and a ghost, songs like “Midnight Celebration,” various photoshoots, and a lot of his fashion and accessory choices. Well, whatever brings all the fangirls to the yard, right?

And in the end, hyde is hyde, and I knew it was only a matter of time before I eventually decided to pick this up. So here we go:

Thirty-second opening track! Starts off with some very classic horror elements — swanky TV noises in the background, creeking door, clock striking, howling, a woman moaning sensually and a scream! Classy.

Now some rockin’ guitar with a very catchy beat. hyde’s vocals start rough and excitedly, a welcome throwback to some of his older work. Lyrics are in Engrish and they are hilarious as usual, so I’m not going to try too hard to decipher what he’s saying. Melody is pretty negligent as the song progresses, but the guitars carry a steady beat, so there’s at least that to tie things together. End of the first chorus has a weird break before hyde comes back in slowly, in a lower voice. K.A.Z. (I guess?) providing some backup vocals here and there, but nothing really substantial or interesting. I think the repeated lyrics near the end are “right on time, let’s go,” but it could also be “let go.” It frustrates me sometimes that hyde has spent so long singing in English, but it rarely seems to get more understandable. Guitars fade out to the end. Not a good song, not a bad song.

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I love Engrish. I really do. As uptight as I can get about the rampant misuse of English by native or theoretically fluent speakers, I find it ridiculously endearing when obviously non-fluent foreigners try, even when they get things wrong. Or maybe especially when they get things wrong. So it always pleases me to hear musicians stumble along with their broken pronunciation and broken grammar in anime theme songs or just in general; it’s courageous of them to even attempt singing in a language they’re not all that familiar with. I mean, Tomoko Kawase supposedly has a friend write her English lyrics for her, but she still ends up with stuff like “don’t scary.” There are a lot of great songs out there with awkward grammar and “alternative” pronounced like “alter” and “native” spliced together. Maybe they’re supposing that their primarily Japanese audience won’t notice or care, but with the significant overseas popularity of anime and related media, you have to wonder if they think about how silly they might sound to native and fluent speakers of English.

This post isn’t actually about Engrish songs though. With Engrish as such a common element in so many anime themes and inserts (and indeed, Japanese music on the whole), it’s always a real surprise when you hear a song that’s in English. English! No mispronunciations. No sketchy grammar. Minimal or no accent. They’re a rare breed, but not all that difficult to find considering a number of very popular series include them. Sometimes they’re sung by native speakers and sometimes they’re still Japanese artists, but they’re always a real treat when you come across them:

8. “living inside the shell” – Steve Conte, Shanti Snyder, and Yoko Kanno (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG ED)

It’s a huge given that there’s going to be Yoko Kanno somewhere on this list. In fact, exactly half of the songs on this list are composed by Yoko Kanno, two of which are performed by Steve Conte. Few people would argue against Kanno’s astounding skills across all styles and genres of music. Blues, jazz, hip-hop, classical, orchestral, pop, folk, rock, electronic, whatever, you name it, she’s done it. Language? Japanese, Latin, Italian, French, Russian, some made up gibberish that sounds Latin-based, and of course, English. It’s hard narrowing down her extensive portfolio of works to a handful of songs, but “living inside the shell” is surely one of my favorites. SAC’s first season ending, “Lithium Flower” was also a contender, but I prefer Conte’s vocals to Scott Matthew’s and the lyrics I find better suited to the thoughtfulness of SAC’s themes. The spoken portion by Shanti Snyder also adds an eerie dimension to the mood of the piece.

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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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RURUTIA’s 6th album
27th February 2009

RURUTIA's Seirios
RURUTIA is one of only a handful of artists that I wasn’t introduced to by the “usual means,” which are 1) exposure via anime or related media and 2) direct recommendation from friends. Until recently, I was so negligent of radio and other such random discovery tools that I only learned of new English-speaking artists via AMVs, which is kind of sad? Now that I’ve found a nice plugin to read in Pandora’s outputs into my last.fm (thus, satisfying my OCD), I’ve been giving that a spin, but that really has nothing to do with RURUTIA, whom I discovered on my own a few years ago. Though her style and genre is quite a ways apart from my usual rock, pop, and alternative, the mysterious quality of her music has always drawn me in.

The echoey ambience of RURUTIA’s voice is haunting and airy, perhaps other worldly; the emotion always feels very sincere, very innocent, very hopeful. Her melodies also have a lot of classical influence, which is always a huge plus for me. Unfortunately, I’ve only heard her first couple of albums, so I’m not sure how her style might have evolved over the years. The most recent album of hers I’ve heard is Meme from 2005, and I haven’t really been keeping up with her singles either. This should be interesting then, huh?

TRACK 01: Seirios (YouTube it)
Quiet, but dramatic, piano opening with electronic distortion in the tempo. Vocals are slow and eerie… every syllable is enunciated very clearly. Chorus picks up the pace and the sound is a lot more forceful, stronger, and very desperate sounding. Her pronunciation of “Seirios” is recognizable, which is kind of surprising since she doesn’t often sing in English (if at all?). Second verse echos the first, slow and haunting. It builds very steadily and the second chorus erupts really nicely from it. Ooh, really beautiful high notes here. The emotion is really touching; the melody is really awesome. This would be great music to accompany some kind of final struggle. There is no bridge or final chorus, but the outro is a quiet (but still dramatic) piano interlude with the distortion to keep you on your toes until it fades out to silence.

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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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Review: HYDE’s HYDE

May 19, 2009 Review Comments Off on Review: HYDE’s HYDE

HYDE’s 1st compilation album
18th March, 2009

Usually my album reviews are labeled “first impressions” instead of “reviews” because I think it’s an interesting angle to compile my first thoughts on an album during my initial hearing of it; impressions of music are more prone to changing over time and a tenth hearing may very well be different from a second hearing. But that theme doesn’t really apply here as its a compilation album! HYDE’s first solo compilation album, uninspiredly entitled HYDE, contains all of his singles, as well as a few popular tracks from his four existing albums.

So that portion of his discography isn’t really isn’t something I listen to often. There are a few songs I like, sure, but the majority is kind of just “eh.” Still, compilation albums are a good way to revisit things, right? I figure, what the hell.

TRACK 01: Made in Heaven
As Faith is my least favorite HYDE album, I don’t remember this song very well at all. There’s a nice guitar opening; intro vocals are pretty typical of HYDE’s solo work, though a bit rough and forceful. This is in Engrish, but I can’t understand much beyond a word here and there. I kinda feel bad because it sounds like he’s trying so hard. The chorus doesn’t stand out much and sounds pretty awkward with the poor Engrish. It leads into the second verse with little pause; meanwhile, the music in the background isn’t very interesting as it isn’t changing up much. Most of this song blurs together for me, including the end.

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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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