Archive for December, 2007

[Album] FUNKY MONKEY BABYS – FUNKY MONKEY BABYS 2

『ファンキーモンキーベイビーズ2』FUNKY MONKEY BABYS
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~Tracklist~
01. MOONINGU SHOTTO (モーニングショット)
02. Lovin’ Life
03. Chippoke na Yuuki (ちっぽけな勇気; Tiny Courage)
04. Daijoubu Da Yo (大丈夫だよ)
05. Mou Kimi ga Inai (もう君がいない; You’re Not Here Anymore)
06. LAST HUG
07. Naitte Waratte Yume wo Miteta (泣いて笑って夢を見てた)
08. My Home
09. Yubikiri Gen Man (指きりげんまん)
10. Tenshi to Akuma (天使と悪魔; Angel And Devil)
11. Chou I Love You (超I Love You)

~Album Review~
“FUNKY MONKEY BABYS 2,” released on December 12, 2007, is FUNKY MONKEY BABYS second studio album and first major album. The album debuted at number five on the Oricon charts, selling 59,429 copies its first week. Without a pre-album digital hit, the album experienced only moderate sales, in contrast to the break-out success of two of their singles.

“MOONINGU SHOTTO” is a poppier take on FUNKY MONKEY BABYS, which is an appropriate way to begin their album. The listen gets to take in their distinctive vocals, beat, and over all sound in a more familiar pop environment. The energy on the track is explosive as usual, and the backing music is great.

“Lovin’ Life” is a softer take on FUNKY MONKEY BABYS; it’s their essence embodies in ballad form. A violin and occasional acoustic guitar do well with powerful layered lead vocals. The song is undeniably catchy, with good hooks throughout. “Lovin’ Life” will stick with the listener mainly because it’s so memorable on so many levels.

“Chippoke na Yuuki” is mid-tempo, and continues with strong choruses carrying the song. The verses are Spartan in comparison to the choruses, which sound much fuller, vocally and instrumentally. The strength of the song lies in the repetition of hooks throughout the song; even though the vocals change, from rap to singing, the song still sounds similar. One of the better tracks on the album.

“Daijoubu Da Yo” feels like a ballad that’s been turned more island sounding. That’s the best way to describe it; the background of the song is soft pop. The crescendo of the song is nothing to write home about – but the ending of the choruses are done well, with a string of “la la”’s backed by what sounds like children.

“Mou Kimi ga Inai” is a very strong ballad for FUNKY MONKEY BABYS. They play to their undeniable strength , their sheer numbers, to harmonize during the choruses. Juxtaposed against solo verses, this does well in the song. Also notable are very strong instrumentals that follow this trend quite well. The song ends well, too, making “Mou Kimi ga Inai” a very pleasant listen.

The tracks preceeding “LAST HUG” have all had a redeeming quality that made them strong. “LAST HUG” simply doesn’t have that, and fails to impress. The harmonies present in other songs become discordance, and the polished instrumentals turn into a poppy mess. It sounds like mid-tempo pop, but “LAST HUG” fails at sounding right for FUNKY MONKEY BABYS.

“Naitte Waratte Yume wo Miteta” is mid-tempo pop that FUNKY MONKEY BABYS does well. The group harmonizes well on the chorus and creates clear, catchy choruses. Sadly, the climax of the song isn’t very strong.

“My Home” works off of acoutisc guitar, harmonies, and all of that backed by the repetition of “My Home.” There’s not necessarily anything wrong, but the song doesn’t really soung good until the layering of the final chorus. At that pont, the power attained is too little, too late.

“Yubikiri Gen Man” lacks the vocal layering and harmonies of other FUNKY MONKEY BABY tracks. For the most part, it just doesn’t sound like a cohesive song. Over all, that’s the same problem with “Tenshi to Akuma.” Too much rapping and too many gimmicks equate to a really poor album track, that only really turns around late in the song.

“Chou I Love You “ is a great way to end the FUNKY MONKEY BABYS 2 album. The song is one of the most energetic and happiest, which definitely provides a jumping point for the rest of their music in the future. FUNKY MONKEY BABYS end with one of their strengths: an acoustic track tinged with their distinctive sound.

FUNKY MONKEY BABYS gained success because they sounded novel and different. No one in J-pop has that exact same feel as they do, and listeners hadn’t really seen it done before. Without good looks, the band worked solely off of musical quality, finding variety by changing tempos. However, after listening to the album, it becomes evident that this may not be enough to keep listeners coming back. If FUNKY MONKEY BABYS can bring more diverse sounds and more vocal power along with catchy beats, they can create a hit album. Right here they have the makings of one, they just need to polish their game.

89% B+

[Album] Kobukuro – 5296

『5296』コブクロ
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~Tracklist~
01. Aoku Yasashiku (蒼く 優しく)
02. Coin (コイン)
03. Tsubomi (蕾)
04. Donna Sora Demo (どんな空でも)
05. Kimi to Iu Na no Tsubasa (君という名の翼)
06. WHITE DAYS
07. Kimiiro (君色)
08. Suimen no Chou (水面の蝶)
09. Kaze no Naka wo (風の中を)
10. Gekkou (月光)
11. Kazamidori (風見鶏)
12. Diary
13. Fragile mind

~Album Review~
Kobukuro released their sixth major label album, “5296,” on December 19, 2007. The album debuted at number two, selling 100,000 copies in one day. This album’s chart trajectory may be worthy of keeping watch on; it should be interesting to see how this album’s chart life is. Already, first week sales suggest “5296” will be a staple of the top twenty for many weeks to come.

“Aoku Yasashiku” is an interesting start to the album; it sounds very Kobukuro through and through, but it fails to play to their strong points. What the listener hears in this song is acoustic guitar, violins, and vulnerable vocals that push Kobukuro to the limit. The song sounds emotive, but misses the powerful melodic power of some of their of their other ballads, including “Tsubomi.”

“Coin” sounds much happier than “Aoku Yasahiku.” “Coin Song” is mid-tempo acoustic pop. There is an organ backing the guitar throughout the song; the beauty lies in the simplicity of the song, which lacks background vocals. This song is music, essentially. The harmonica in the extro is a nice touch to this lounge-feeling track.

“Tsubomi” is one of the strongest tracks on the album. The intro alone is beautiful; it sounds like orgel. Most likely, it is keyboards introducing the melody to the song. When lead vocals enter, the song changes to only a guitar backing; the bridge changes into a duet alongside violins and simple beat. The chorus is particularly strong, and the melody of the intro returns, this time with the passion of Kobukoro singing along.

“Donna Sora Demo” is a pretty song that uses a background choir of ordinary voices in the ending portions of the song to set itself apart. As such, this song picks up momentum and energy as the song progresses, becoming a big song that doesn’t end with Kobukuro’s normal grace. Over all, the song has a nice hook, making it a strong album track.

“Kimi to Iu Na no Tsubasa” is another single track, featuring on “ALL SINGLES BEST.” The song is upbeat and passionate. It has some elements of pop to it, but barely. Over all, the piano and the violins sound fast-paced, and lead in to a powerhous chorus. “Kimi to Iu Na no Tsubasa” is a great upbeat song that still has that emotion Kobukuro is known for, but speeds up their music in a great way.

“WHITE DAYS” is another ballad; at this point, it’s starting to become overkill considering the strong tracks that the album has. Thankfully, this song is still strong and more piano based (as opposed to guitar) compared to the last few tracks, but musically it’s not terribly difference. Lyrically (an aspect I don’t have time to research) this song is probably much different.

“Kimiiro” begins with guitar riffs before switching back to more traditional Kobukuro fare. The song is mid-tempo acoustic; it features an interesting basis for its beat, as well as harder guitar. “Kimiiro” is a break from the onslaught of ballads, but not much else.

“Suimen no Chou” marks a power transition for Kobukuro; they finally leave behind acoustic pop rock and head into faster, harder rock (it’s by no means heavy). There’s guitar riffs, Kobukuro’s vocals, and a good drum beat. From “Suimen no Chou,” it looks like Kobukuro could put out some more faster rock – it’s good.

“Kaze no Naka wo” feels kind of country-tinged. It’s definitely giving the album variety with what sounds most like a banjo. Perhaps the best element of the song is the joy in it, something Kobukuro doesn’t often capitilize on. There’s also the English “Hey now!” throughout the song, along with harmonica. This song may have American country roots, but Kobukuro owns it.

The transition to the next song, “Gekkou,” is somewhat forced, but not horribly (the tempo is at least kept going). “Gekkou” is rock once more, but it sounds much more raw than “Suimen no Chou.” It’s not bad; it has a great crescendo and chorus, but it just doesn’t feel well-produced.

“Kazamidori” feels quite familiar, which really makes it fall into the background on an album filled with ballads. It’s nice, but the instrumentation, vocals and sound have been done before. Nevertheless, the extro of the song is beautiful.

“Diary” seems to encompass the rest of the album quite well. It has pop synthetic elements, more classical elements such as violin, and contemporary acoustic guitar. It’s mid-tempo and nice, over all.

“Fragile Mind” is probably the best album track of all. It combines the rock seen in mid-album tracks with the emotion of “Tsubomi,” creating a passionate, forward looking ending to a great album. What more is there to ask for?

Kobukuro has been at the height of their game ever since the release of “SAKURA.” More recently, their album, “ALL SINGLES BEST,” has become one of the best selling Japanese albums of the new millennia in Japan. With such success, it was imperative to maintain their momentum with “5296.” Not only did Kobukuro have to create a great album (expectations have been high), but they had to mix older feelings and elements found throughout their discography with something new. In the end, Kobukuro largely succeeded on this album. The album is very acoustic, maybe too acoustic. Essentially, if Kobukuro messed up on the album, they only did so minimally. The only other error would be not all tracks came all that close to greatness; some do, others don’t. Otherwise, “5296” is an album that is largely able to transcend its genre. In other words, it’s worth a listen.

94% A
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[Album] Ayumi Hamasaki – GUILTY

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~Tracklist~
1. Mirror
2. (don’t) Leave me alone
3. talkin’ 2 myself
4. decision
5. GUILTY
6. fated
7. Together When…
8. Marionette -prelude-
9. Marionette
10. The Judgement Day
11. glitter
12. MY ALL
13. reBiRTH
14. untitled ~for her~

~Album Review~
Ayumi Hamasaki released her ninth studio album, “GUILTY,” on January 1, 2008. With such a long discography, Ayu’s main job on this album was creating modern, relevant J-pop that sounded different from her earlier music, but did not alienate her earlier listeners.

“Mirror” is the intro for the album. It’s a great note to start the album off on. It starts out with synthetic elements and a jovial keyboard that eventually succumbs to guitar riffs. The riffs accompany a change in Ayu’s voice, a darkness and power that make this track a great listen even if it is short.

“(don’t) Leave me alone” is electronica tinged pop rock. The song has a very distinct flavor, probably most similar to Ayu’s “my name’s WOMEN.” When drawing that comparison between the songs, however, it becomes apparent that “my name’s WOMEN” is superior. Nevertheless, the production of “(don’t) Leave me alone” is solid, and the track sounds great with a chorus that is much fuller than the verses. The crescendo of the song, however, does not have the power Ayu’s songs normally have. For many, this distinct style has made the track a favorite. However, this style must contend with lack of vocal power, especially noticeable during the chorus, in the “(don’t) Leave me alone. The song comes out as sleek rock, but feels like it somehow just missed achieving greatness.

“talkin’ 2 myself” is rockier, edgier, and possibly better than “(don’t) Leave me alone.” Again, the comparison between the two comes down to style versus power. In “talkin’ 2 myself,” the melody of the chorus is much more memorable, and the intermingling of guitar riffs and keyboard effects create a very dark, enjoyable atmosphere. Ayu is very in tune with the instrumentals on this track, which is a definite strength. As the backing of the track grows in speed and intensity, so does Ayu. “talkin’ 2 myself” easily becomes the best rock song on the album because of its pure power and well-done production.

“decision” is another rock song, the B-side to “talkin’ 2 myself” on the single. It’s only suiting, then, that the two songs find themselves next to each other. It’s also fitting that “decision” is the weaker of the two tracks; they’re both rock, and despite a nice effort and nice vocals, the production and power in “decision” aren’t enough to compete with “talkin’ 2 myself.” Here, “decision” is still rock, but it doesn’t feel nearly as polished as “talkin’ 2 myself.” The violins and rock are nice, and Ayu does great singing, especially towards the end, but it’s not enough to make “decision” stand out.

“GUILTY” takes about 48 seconds to begin, and that feels much too long. The instrumentation at the beginning is pretty and builds to the vocals, but the line between beauty and boredom was crossed; the beginning could very well lull you into a slumber. With that long of an intro, the expectation becomes that this song will explode in intensity. Despite a pretty melody and piano element, the song never achieves greatness because it doesn’t climax well, thereby failing to meet the expectations set by the song itself. The song begins and ends as one. The song feels somewhat emotive, but cannot compare to “Together When…” The chorus on “GUILTY” sounds great, but just doesn’t have that much power.

If one track had to be pointed to as the worst song of the album, it may be “fated.” It’s just there as a ballad, which is not something listeners can often say about Ayu’s music. Her music always has that extra “umph” to it, but here on “fated” the music is just so-so, and there is no emotional climax. In the end, the problem with “fated” is that it is just average; average vocals, average lyrics, average intensity and average quality. One thing the song does well, however, is lead into “Together When…”

“Together When…” was an excellent choice for a pre-album digital release. The song is easily the best song Ayu has put out this year, putting her other songs to shame. The song grows well, seamlessly transitioning from a pretty, calm verse, to a powerful, large chorus. The verse itself has well-done lyrics that are both catchy and memorable. That combination, along with an elegant melody, make “Together When…” a top-notch ballad and the star of “GUILTY.” The ending is impressive, as well: as Ayu repeats her choruses twice, she contrasts a soft, emotive whisper with powerful, sorrowful vocals to create a great climax that leads into a great extro. If there was any doubt, it’s cleared up here: Ayu still has that capability to write great lyrics and put out great music.

“Marionette -prelude-” leads the listener right into the next track, “Marionette.” “Marionette” features interesting synthetic instrumentation that revolves around a piano backing. The feeling created is that the music flows as the song progresses. Almost like a stream of flowing water gaining momentum, the song transforms into a rock chorus. The rock of “Marionette” really gives it a lot of power and emotion that contrasts well with the eerie keyboards that both begin and end the track. A different song from Ayu that has style and depth.

If there was a short song that could have been made full-length to improve “GUILTY,” it would be “The Judgement Day” which has a techno beat and electronica feeling all at once. The power and feeling of the track are energetic and catchy. It’s a shame that style was never capitalized on this album, it could have really made a difference and improved “GUILTY.” Instead, the album took an emotional, rock edge, which Ayu has done before.

“glitter” transitions well from “The Judgement Day,” and serves as a great, happy pop rest from the rock on the rest of the album. The song features synthetic keyboard-based background instrumentation, a central beat, and layered background vocals that come together to create a larger than life song. The song is quite summery with its cheer, but doesn’t quite live up to the greatness of previous summer songs, including “BLUE BIRD.”

“My All” is mid-tempo pop that appears to be on the album because, well, there was too much rock. As pop, the song is light and fluffy and just plain catchy. It has a great beat and a good melody to boot. Nothing to complain about here – it’s just mid-tempo, and it might have felt better if it was upbeat. Still, it’s nice to hear something new and pop-centric from Ayu after “glitter.” The vocals are fine here, and the extro is just a bunch of “la la”s. “My All” is guilty pleasure, as it should be.

The tone of the album shift with “reBiRTH,” which transitions into “untitled ~for her~.” “untitled ~for her~” is a soft ballad that begins with violins, and features fairly spartan verses juxtaposed against rockier choruses backed by piano and violins. Over all, this is probably one of the better album tracks on the album; it’s done well and sounds well produced, with background vocals and instrumentation that take the song to the next level.

If you were holding out for the best Ayu album in a long time, then “GUILTY” will be a huge disappointment. It is not of high caliber, especially when compared to albums like “Duty” and “I am…” As such, “GUILTY” falls into the tier of albums occupied by “MY STORY,” making this album her worst since 2005. That doesn’t mean “GUILTY” is bad, it just means it isn’t breath-taking. The problem lies in the rock of the album coupled with weaker album tracks. Most of the album, the songs are there but not impressive, not powerful. When Ayu is on during the course of the album, she is on, putting out some her best music in quite some time. It’s just a shame to see good tracks mixed in with rubbish. Nevertheless, “GUILTY” has redeeming songs that do appeal to a variety of listeners. Often on the album, however, songs that some like completely alienate other fans. Still, for Ayu fans and J-pop fans alike, “GUILTY” is worth a listen, for even if the music isn’t Ayu’s best, it’s still a guilty pleasure to listen to one of J-pop’s best.

84% B

[single] Mizuki Nana – Meikyu Butterfly

Character song release from “Shugo Chara,” the latest release from “Rozen Maiden” hit-makers Peach Pit.
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~Tracklist~
01. Meikyu Butterfly
02. Blue Moon
03. Meikyu Butterfly (Vocal off)
04. Blue Moon (Vocal off)

~Single Review~
Mizuki Nana released “Meikyu Butterfly” on December 19, 2007.

Most of Mizuki Nana’s releases are well polished with great, instrumentals that are well produced, especially for anime and a seiyuu singer. Here in “Meikyu Butterfly” the song is still well done for the most part, although it lacks some of her traditional power. That power change works well, as it is backed by a piano during the first part of the song. The song builds well, becoming very techno sounding towards the end, which is a fairly complete shift from the beginning. For anime fans especially, the son is worth a listen.

“Blue Moon” is a ballad B-side with piano, some percussion, guitar, windchimes, and keyboards. Over all, the song never really attains the power of the last song. It’s beauty isn’t enough to excuse this fact, either; “Blue Moon” ends being solid, but not as anything special.

“Meikyu Butterfly” is the polished anime music we’ve come to expect from Nana Mizuki. It should be worth a listen to fans, but compared to some of her other songs, its not quite as well done.

85% B

[Single] YUKI – Wonder Line

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~Tracklist~
01. Wonder Line
02. Wonder Line (Night Swimming Mix)
03. Biscuit (2007.10.06 Live@Osaka-Jo Hall)

~Single Review~
YUKI released, “Wonder Line” on December 12, 2007. Both “Wonder Line” and “Wonder Line (Night Swimming Mix) were used in FOMA N905i CMs. Upon release, “Wonder Line” peaked at number four on the Oricon weekly chart, selling 23,147 in its first week on the charts.

“Wonder Line” is an interesting song with variety. YUKI’s vocals are very different, even when compared to her J-pop peers. Her voice is high and particularly nasal. Nevertheless, she controls that nasality fairly well in this song, which makes a world of difference in the chorus. It’s catchy and upbeat, with the hook “wonder line.” The surreal instrumentation, orchestrated backing, and strong beat really create an excellent J-pop in the end. YUKI’s experience shines through on this track. The only downside to the song would be that YUKI’s voice is a bit high, and the extro is a bit long. But if you can take those “bits,” “Wonder Line” is a good song.

The “Night Swimming Mix” of “Wonder Line” is much more real in it’s instrumentation, opting for mainly strings and piano and a soft bongo beat. The song sounds very pretty, but doesn’t have the power of the original mix of the “Wonder Line.”

“Biscuit” is more of rock song mixed with piano and violins here. Live, YUKI’s voice gains a welcome bit of depth, and the music feels as if it fills the room. YUKI is a musician and that shines through on “Biscuit” as she performs wonderfully. A nice way to round out a wonder of a single.

Considering YUKI’s music can be too stylistic and nasal to listen to, “Wonder Line” is a welcome step towards the mainstream for YUKI.

89% B+

[Single] The Brilliant Green – Enemy

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~Tracklist~
01. Enemy
02. angel song ~Eve no Hitomi~ (acoustic version)
03. Enemy (original instrumental)

~Single Review~
The Brilliant Green released “Enemy” on December 12, 2007. The single peaked at number 21 on the Oricon weekly chart, selling 5,804 copies its first week on sale.

“Enemy’s” best trait is the haunting quality it has throughout the song. The song does well mixing rock with other elements, including an organ in the final bridge. However, that good production does not cover up the vocal weakness in the song. The song may feel haunting, but the vocals sound weak, and at times, strained.

If the vocals were better, the acoustic version of “angel song” may have sounded better. As is, it’s certainly a decent track, but without the haunting rock of “Enemy,” the song is easily forgettable.

79% C+

[Single] Makihara Noriyuki – Akai Mafura/Ogenki de!

「赤いマフラー」槇原敬之 
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~Tracklist~
01. Akai Mafura (赤いマフラー)
02. Ogenki de! (お元気で!)
03. Akai Mafura (Backing Track)
04. Ogenki de! (Backing Track)

~Single Review~
Makihara Noriyuki closes out his seventeenth year in the Japanese music industry with the single, “Akai Mafura/Ogenki de!,” released December 12, 2007. This single did not match the success of “GREEN DAYS,” only reaching 33 on the Oricon weekly chart when it was released.

“Akai Mufler” is an excellent wintry song with a great variety of instrumentation, from violins to interesting sampled percussion. The track has a nice sound, which makes the song a very pleasant listen.

“Ogenki de!” uses more synth to create a positive song that just sounds happy. The song dings and uses keyboards, but works well mainly because of the mellow vocals. A fun song that isn’t too cutesy by any means. Nary a moment is bland due to the variety in synthetic editing throughout the song.

This single is not as strong as “GREEN DAYS,” but it’s still surprisingly good and well done. If you’re looking for songs that just sound positive, this is the stuff for you. The plus is that Makihara Noriyuki sounds happy without singing in falsetto.

85% B