Archive for December 12th, 2007

[Single] V6 – way of life


01. way of life
02. Risk (risuku or リスク)
03. You know?

~Single Review~
V6 released “way of life,” their 36th single, on December 12, 2007. The song is the ending theme for the drama SP. The single debuted at number one on the Oricon daily chart, and should remain there for the week.

“way of life” is a departure from V6’s traditional strength of fast-paced, catchy pop. “way of life” is still pop, yes, but it is much slower. V6 uses their harmonies to carry the song throughout the dark atmosphere of strings, piano, and synthetic elements. The choruses are powerful, but far from powerfully catchy. The song is very pretty and dark with a very memorable melody, but the fact remains that V6 is trying to be something they’re not. That really comes through on this track, and on the many versions of their cover art. It’s a step up from “Jasmine” on their last single, but not their best.

“Risk” is a powerful pop track with strong techno flavor. It doesn’t have the traditional hook of V6’s lead A-sides, and it much too techno to be the pop they’re expected to put out. However, the track is very dark like “way of life” and has a lot more of the energy their fans like to see. The choruses aren’t extraordinary, but over all, it’s one of their better B-sides in a long time.

“You Know?” is too rocky for V6. Their voices are overpowered by the rock and don’t have the style to handle being on a rock track. It doesn’t sound right. Essentially, it’s a weak filler for the single that really pales when compared to the other tracks.

Both “risk” and “way of life” are good tracks from V6 that are probably worth a listen for boy band fans. They’re both different fare for V6, which is nice for the rest of the listeners of J-pop. It’s a nice single, but it’s not quite amazing. It’s just missing something. That intangible thing is what keeps “Risk” and “way of life” from being extraordinary, although both have the potential to be it.

88% B




01. What Is Love
02. I Believe
03. Beautiful
04. Hibiki
05. Kimi Ga Iru Kara
06. Make Love
08. Sora Kara Ochitekuru JAZZ
09. love
10. sayonara
11. Kawaranai Mono
12. Toki No Kakera
13. Touch The Sky feat. Bach Logic (CD+2DVD-Only Bonus)
14. 24karats -type EX- (Sowelu, EXILE, DOBERMAN INC) (CD+2DVD-Only Bonus)
15. Lovers Again -Orchestra Version- (CD-Only Bonus)

~Album Review~
EXILE released their sixth album, “EXILE LOVE” on December 12, 2007. Their album achieved astounding first day sales – the second highest recorded since daily sales indicators were added in February of 2007. Their firs day sales of 210,000 are second to only Mr. Children’s first day sales for HOME.

The album starts out strongly with a great sounding track, “What is Love.” It features vocals the fade in and out amongst the fast strings and synth sounds. It’s not until the first chorus where EXILE’s R&B comes front and center. Even then, the instrumentation is one of the tracks strengths. On the other hand, the song’s use of “What is L O V E?” doesn’t sound very good, mainly because of the trouble in pronunciation of the word. It’s quite detrimental to the track, despite excellent English elsewhere. Considering its the hook of the song, good pronunciation should have been emphasized. The extro more than makes up for the chorus, with EXILE’s lead vocals accompanied by frenetic strings. Over all, a solid introduction to the album.

“I Believe” was released as a winter single preceding the release of the this album. It doesn’t have the great production and layering of the previous track, but it’s still of good quality. The song is pretty low-key, with decent vocals that don’t really push the envelope. The melody is probably the track’s strengths, but the instrumentation doesn’t help carry that strength across to the listener very well, nor do the lead vocals. As a single, “I Believe” was lacking, and if you’ve heard it before, it can easily be skipped without hurting your listening experience.

“Beautiful” makes a good transition from “I Believe;” the song is mid-tempo R&B with a so-so hook. The track doesn’t sound very impressive in the verses at all. In fact, the verses are very spartan, which does not accompany weak lead vocals well. However, the chorus cues the start of a fuller instrumentation that helps lift the song up. The crescendo is also a great part of the song, but the extro sounds plain awful and Engrishy. “Beautiful” is the weakest of the first three tracks, but it’s a far cry from terrible.

“Hibiki” is the B-side to the “SUMMER TIME LOVE” single; it’s a ballad powered by violins and an R&B beat. It’s a typical ballad filler for a J-pop album. However, this song is weak compared to many of EXILE’s other album tracks, mainly because of the lack of full layering of background vocals. Background vocals are present, but they’re not out in full force. The end effect is a mild ballad the ends up feeling bland. EXILE is capable of better, so this track really falls into the background of the album.

“Kimi Ga Iru Kara” is a B-side from wintry “I Believe” single, and the song ends up sounding wintry as well. “Kimi Ga Iru Kara” has a better variety of instrumentation than “Hibiki,” but is not as good as “I Believe.” These three songs feel so close in nature, and are very slow; it’s hard to recommend listening to all of them. “I Believe” is probably the best choice to listen to, the other two aren’t quite up to par for EXILE.

The album has lost a lot of its initial momentum by this point, as well as a sizable fraction of its starting quality. “Make Love” forces an awkward transition to a dance track that edits the vocals to a large extent. The album gains back momentum, but the track really isn’t that good. It feels over powered. It has a good hook chorus and great vocals, but the synth instrumentation is too much. The song ends up feeling like an extended interlude. In context of the album, the song may be listenable, but the track would have trouble standing alone.

“SUMMER TIME LOVE” is the best song on the album, and the best single released during this era of EXILE. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, you’re probably wondering why I dared make such a statement. I’m sure many people will have a variety of favorites from the album, but this song has the most power, a great hook that lacks detrimental Engrish, excellent instrumentation, a semi-present beat that doesn’t overpower the song, and a fabulous chorus. The song sounds full and upbeat, which are two of EXILE’s strengths. The crescendo and the final chorus are simply cherries on top of the thickly layered icing; the song not only starts out strong, but finishes with a large bang. Unless you can only listen to EXILE’s ballads, SUMMER TIME LOVE is a must listen.

“Sora Kara Ochitekuru JAZZ” slows the album back down to mid-tempo from the last powerhouse track. This song is definitely jazzy, it feels a lot different from many of the album’s other tracks mainly because it lacks a powerful R&B beat. However, jazz is most definitely not EXILE’s strength. The lead singer does pull off the song nicely, but the song can’t help but feel a little sparse and bland compared to other album tracks.

“love” is the album’s full blown mid-tempo R&B ballad. How to describe the flaw with this track? It’s almost intangible; the song sounds fine, but it feels like it could have easily been so much more than just fine. At times, it feels like the vocals and the instrumentation are on the verge of surprising the listener, but there is no surprise in store. The track sounds very typical of EXILE. Considering that they’ve done better ballads, this song really isn’t worth a listen outside of the album.

“sayonara” is, well, you guessed it… ANOTHER BALLAD! By this point the album has inundated the listener in ballads. The best ballad, “I Believe” wasn’t even that good, but nevertheless, EXILE is trying to cater to their fans, who they believe love their ballads. “sayonara” sounds too soft compared to the other ballads, despite at least sounding different. Rule of thumb: EXILE does pop, not acoustic. The vocals aren’t strong enough for acoustic songs, and lack true personality. That means “sayonara” really does not sit well with the rest of the album.

“Kawaranai Mono” is another ballad. I’ve said all I want to say about EXILE’s ballads. At this point, they’ve beaten out all interest the listener has in their ballads. This is really hurting the variety of their album. I can understand an emphasis on ballads on an album about love, but this is over kill. The goal of pop music is to reach out to a variety of listeners in order to attain a large fanbase, and this album is not doing so at all. It’s floundering, in fact.

“Toki No Kakera” is at least upbeat, but as the B-side on “24karats -type EX-,” it is not amazing. The production is noticeably lacking in this mid-tempo track, and the vocals don’t sound perfected. The song is just okay.

“Touch The Sky feat. Bach Logic” is a bonus track, and rightfully so. It’s too R&B and too out of place among EXILE’s other tracks. It’s certainly variety, but it’s variety that’s created at expense of the quality of the music. It’s not really pop at all.

“24karats -type EX-” is dancey and dark with diverse vocals, rapping, and interesting instrumentation. It’s a great way to round out the CD + 2DVD version of the album because it ends the album with power, on a high note. Sowelu gives the track flavor that really helps give the album flavor.

Now, here is where EXILE’s album-selling gimmick comes into play. One album version had two extra songs and the DVDs. However, the other version has the fan favorite and recent heavy download seller, “Lovers Again.” This orchestra version of “Lovers Again” has quite probably helped EXILE move a significantly greater number of albums. It’s that popular. And the song is probably worth your listen in its latest reincarnation.

After listening to the album in its entirety, you may realize how much you have just listened to TAKAHIRO’s lead vocals. The pure concentration of his voice on this album is staggering. He’s leading the song’s, and pretty much unabashedly backing himself up. The problem with this is that his voice, although pretty, soothing, and great for R&B, does not have a great deal of power or range. True, this album strives to differentiate the tracks and give them unique renditions of TAKAHIRO’s vocals by changing up the pace, but oftentimes, this fails. Some tracks, such as “SUMMER TIME LOVE” are excellently produced, and transcend this inherent flaw, while others simply succumb, falling into the abyss of EXILE’s many, many songs in its discography. These vocals are the one main flaw worth noting on this album (other than the flooding of ballads). Over all, it’s a step up from their last studio effort and a decent J-pop release.

84% B

[Single] BoA – LOSE YOUR MIND feat.Yutaka Furukawa from DOPING PANDA


01. LOSE YOUR MIND feat.Yutaka Furukawa from DOPING PANDA
02. Smile again
03. LOSE YOUR MIND (instrumental)
04. Smile again (instrumental)

~Single Review~
BoA released her 25th Japanese single, “LOSE YOUR MIND,” on December 12, 2007, where it debuted on the Oricon daily charts at number six. The song was used in the Japanese drama, “Doyo Wide Gekijo.”

“LOSE YOUR MIND” has excellent pop production. It starts out with BoA ad-libbing in a relatively controlled manner with a great guitar riff and infectious beat that carries over into the power driven chorus, which has to wind down just to re-enter another verse. The chorus is very catchy, with the memorable hook, “Lose your mind,” but by the second chorus, the repetition of the hook becomes repetitive, shifting the song from great pop to good pop. There’s just too little variety in the song, as the beginning sounds no different from the beginning. And let’s face it, the repetition in the song, if put on repeat for long enough, could make you “lose your mind” too! That repetition really cuts away any chance of playing and enjoying the track more than a few times. Better than a lot of her other recent efforts, but not as good as her last single, or last Korean single with AnyBand.

“Smile Again” fills that cherished position of winter ballad for BoA, this year I guess. Considering it’s a B-side, it’s not all that bad, but compared to her other winter ballads, it’s not very powerful. Especially since it’s coupled with such a powerful song, Smile Again feels a bit weak. It’s got a decent hook, but it just feels blander and less polished than BoA’s other songs. “Smile Again” does show that BoA can sing ballads, well, however.

The instrumentals are pretty good; “Smile Again”‘s is easily ignored, but “Lose My Mind”‘s is interesting to listen to because of the complexity of the instrumentation.

BoA has a great deal of untapped vocal power that she dare not use in this single. Had she used her voice to mix both of these songs up a bit, this single could have easily been improved by leaps and bounds. As it stands, her voice and production team are still very polished, but not the best.

83% B

[Single] Kaori Natori – subete ga aru basho


1. subete ga aru basho (すべてがある場所)
2. tenki u sugire ba (天気雨すぎれば)

~Single Review~
First off, I’ve searched high and low for large cover art, this is the largest one I was able to find. Such is life. Secondly… this single was released December 5, 2007 and failed to chart within the Oricon top thirty.

“subete ga aru basho” is a sweeping ballad that mainly features a piano backed by elegant strings and accompanied by synth elements that give the track a very cosmic sound, especially throughout the verses. The song has a very pleasant, memorable melody, but Kaori Natori’s voice does not do the song justice. She sounds strained throughout the chorus and the crescendo of the song, really working to hit that note. This strain comes across as unprofessional, demonstrating what sounds like lack of vocal training, and hurts the song in the end. Her voice doesn’t sound very emotive. It sounds like she’s struggling and singing nasally.

“tenki u sugire ba” features less nasal vocals, which helps the mid-tempo, happy track a bit. Still, despite nice strings, the song definitely lacks the power to be anything more than a B-side. It’s nice, but the chorus is nothing special.

Over all, Kaori Natori ensures this single will be forgotten in the snows of winter. There’s little redeeming value of this single, and I can’t really recommend a listen.

73% C

[Single] Hirano Aya – MonStAR


01. MonStAR
02. Love Song
03. MonStAR (Instrumental)
04. Love Song (Instrumental)

~Single Review~
Hirano Aya’s “MonStAR” was released December 5, 2007, and peaked at number 11 on the Oricon single chart, selling 10,542 copies its first week. It is her sixth single.

“MonStAR” starts out as a decent pop rock track with nice flavor to spice up the track and differentiate it from the pack of J-pop songs. However, after the first so-so verse, the bridge and chorus sound very, very childish, which hurt the song in the end. “Twinkle, twinkle little monstar” is not an okay hook for the chorus, especially when it accompanies a bit of a downgrade in your music’s production. The chorus could have easily been replaced with a better hook / less childish sound, but instead Hirano Aya puts this out, when the rest of the song sounds fine. A nice song with an awful chorus.

“Love Song” doesn’t sound very special; it’s a slower, pop-rock track with present guitar riffs and synth elements. The chorus is less childish this time around and does have an okay hook, but the melody is sadly less memorable. The track lacks power and ultimately, deserves its position as a B-side to the sporadic MonStAR.

Over all, a below average single that has potential despite weak vocals. The production elements are there to use Hirano Aya’s voice well, the track just never comes through. Hirano Aya just becomes one of many in a league of bland J-pop songstresses. Oh well.

71 % C-

[Single] Ayase Haruka – hikoukigumo


01. hikoukigumo (飛行機雲)
02. chiisana kujira (小さなクジラ)
03. hikoukigumo (飛行機雲) (Instrumental)
04. chiisana kujira (小さなクジラ) (Instrumental)

~Single Review~
Ayase Haruka released “hikoukigumo” on December 5, 2007. The single topped out at number 23 on the Oricon charts, selling 6,858 copies its first week.

“hikoukigumo” is very poppy and synthetic, to the point where they probably altered Ayase Haruka’s voice to a large extent. She sounds pleasant on the track, but never strong. That is really what this track is: pleasant. The piano is happy, the beat is uptempo, the bridge is a build-up, and the chorus is exuberant. This track is good, but never great. The ending is only slightly stronger than the rest of the song, and Ayase Haruka’s voice is nothing special, despite good production. If you like Ai Otsuka and wished she was less rocky and more pop-oriented, this song may be for you. Otherwise, it’s just J-pop.

“chiisana kujira” is a slow B-side that falls into the background on this single. An average B-side that doesn’t try to shake up its instrumentation at all, rounding out a very average single. I really can’t see putting this song on repeat…

74% C

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