Archive for the 'Album' Category

[Album] MISIA – EIGHTH WORLD

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~Track Listing~
01. Ishindenshin
02. ANY LOVE
03. Royal Chocolate Flush
04. November -Interlude-
05. MISSING AUTUMN
06. To Be In Love
07. Hadashi no Kisetsu
08. Chandelier
09. Hybrid Breaks -Interlude-
10. Dance Dance
11. Taiyou no Chizu
12. Soba ni Ite…
13. Kimi wa Sougen ni Nekoronde
14. Taiyou no Malaika

~BONUS Second Disk Track Listing~
01. MEGA MISIA MIX 10 10th Anniversary EDITION

~Album Review~
MISIA released her eighth original studio album, “EIGHTH WORLD” on January 9, 2007, and the album debuted at number on on the Oricon daily chart, although it most likely won’t hold that lead for the whole week.

The first track, “Ishindenshin” leads the album well as it is a mid-tempo R&B track with a great instrumental backing. The synthetic introduction to the song is great and memorable. With synthetic vocal-like recordings inserted in, as well, the intro sounds dark, something that continues to come into play throughout the song. Although the verses pretty much use only a beat, the still maintain that dark feeling that the choruses and extros only strengthen. Over all, vocals aren’t amazing, but the song is quite good, especially for a MISIA album track.

The next song, “ANY LOVE” is a slower song that feels somewhat faster paced than a pure ballad. “ANY LOVE” features R&B sounds, a catchy chorus, and a bridge which features some of MISIA’s higher notes. That combination makes “ANY LOVE” both catchy as an R&B track and pretty as a slower one. The PV for ANY LOVE, shot in Africa with children, probably best represents that duality of the mid-tempo R&B track, “ANY LOVE.” “ANY LOVE” sounded like one of her better single tracks, and it is one of the best songs on the album.

The next song, “Royal Chocolate Flush” raises the energy on the album another notch. “Royal Chocolate Flush” is pretty much a pure dance song that abandons cohesion and melody at times in favor of getting the listener into the beat and dancing. As a dance song, that’s no necessarily a bad thing, but it makes “Royal Chocolate Flush” a bit of a tough listen, especially in the verses and bridges. Even with the cohesive energy of the song, “Royal Chocolate Flush” feels a bit disparate at times without an easy to find melody throughout. For dance lovers, “Royal Chocolate Flush” should be an easy favorite, but it might baffle some others.

The next song is an interlude to ease the change in pace the album takes, which is an excellent decision considering the hard beat nature of the songs preceding “November -Interlude-.” The best way to describe “November -Interlude-” is as an low quality recording of MISIA in the studio with a live band. The effect is very interesting, but the important part is there is a beat here, but it’s not as large as “Royal Chocolate Flush”‘s was. As a transition “November -Interlude-” works well.

With the pace change introduced by the interlude, “MISSING AUTUMN” fits in well. The song has a softer beat, but edges closer towards a ballad with soft guitar rifts in the background coupled with piano and violins. Adding in the repetition of “missing” helps make the song sounds nice, however MISIA doesn’t fully live up to her huge vocals here and instead only makes it halfway there. Even if “MISSING AUTUMN” sounds nice, it doesn’t distinguish itself enough.

To follow up “MISSING AUTUMN,” MISIA introduces another soft ballad that contains verses based off of piano: “To be in Love.” The bridge of the song is especially poignant, where the violins momentarily stop. The first chorus, however, is not as good as the final few; closer to the end, MISIA gives up her vocals to put on a great display. Because of this, “To be in Love” isn’t perfect, but by the end, it shows what MISIA’s ballads are all about. She can sing, and “To be in Love” shows that.

“Hadashi no Kisetsu” is another slower song hat doesn’t really distinguish itself as well as “To be in Love.” The keyboards are a nice touch to the song that give the song a very new age lounge feeling, but the song isn’t relaxing with control of the listener’s attention. MISIA sings well, but she doesn’t captivate, which makes “Hadashi no Kisetsu” one of the albums worst songs despite somewhat pleasant instrumentals.

“Chandelier” is a jazzy track that leads in with the drums and keyboard. As more and more instrumentation comes in, the song becomes more MISIA-esque with its violins. After the bridge, the song hits its first chorus a bit anticlimactically. If “Chandelier” is anything, it’s pleasant and does well at continuing the different lounge feeling of “Hadashi no Kisetsu.” This exploration in MISIA’s music is welcome; considering the length of her discography, she needs to innovate in order to keep her listener purchasing her music. Although “Chandelier” is far from innovation, it does take MISIA a step in the right direction. The end of the song is more emotive than the rest of the of the song, and probably a lot stronger because of it. But the extro just drags out as MISIA ad-libs weakly.

Because the album changes its tone again, “Hybrid Breaks -Interlude-” was placed next. It works well at building up from the slower, softer feeling of the past tracks to the powerful, up-tempo upcoming tracks. Starting with guitar riffs, and adding in synth and keyboards, the song is excellent preparation for “Dance Dance.”

The intro of “Dance Dance” sounds like the 80s with its synthetic nature. That intro is a motif throughout the song, that spices up what may prove to be a fairly ordinary song. Without that feeling, “Dance Dance” feels too mid-tempo and too powerless for its own good. “Dance Dance” relies on the recurring intro sample throughout the song to inspire dancing, which sucks because had the song been fully tweaked, “Dance Dance” could easily be a powerful dance track.

“Taiyou no Chizu (太陽の地図)” is a soft upbeat song with a present guitar and string melody that works well with MISIA and her background vocals. The only really problem with the song? It feels a little laid back in some respects, which doesn’t really make the track stand out. The more glaring problem, then, is the Engrish throughout the song, and then when the English isn’t Engrish, it’s still not the best hook MISIA could have used. It’s a decent pop track and a decent B-side that will find its way into some listeners’ hearts.

“Soba Niite…” was originally used as the B-side for the “ANY LOVE” single. Surprisingly, the song stands up very well on its own. With power, “Soba Niite…” is one of the more memorable ballads on the song, despite being one of the barest. A pure ballad, “Soba Niite…” is a nice rest from the R&B of “EIGHTH WORLD.”

If “Soba Niite…” was a rest from R&B, then “Kimi wa Sougen ni Nekoronde” reintroduces R&B to the album (but not too harshly). The song features a soft beat that sounds like it could have bongo based, as well as piano and keyboard. Although the verses and the bridges feel very run of the mill, the choruses of “Kimi wa Sougen ni Nekoronde” are splendid because MISIA uses her light, airy high notes to give off a relaxing feel. With background vocals that help embellish the rest of the song, “Kimi wa Sougen ni Nekoronde” is able to make itself fun and catchy.

“Taiyou no Malaika” begins with a piano intro, which transitions fairly well from the past track. As MISIA’s vocals emerge, so does an organ and eventually drums and past the first chorus, strings. “Taiyou no Malaika” uses the same sounding violins as the rest of MISIA’s recent music, which really undermines the most touching points in the song. That, and the hook of the song, “Endless love” is hard to make out because of MISIA’s pronunciation. Despite those detriments, “Taiyou no Malaika” is the best ending track to the album as it sounds pretty.

The megamix of MISIA’s career could be more expertly remixed (it doesn’t begin until over a minute in) and does not feature music from all of MISIA’s career (it’s heavily weighted towards recently). Easy to dance to because it features songs in the vein of “BACK BLOCKS” and “Royal Chocolate Flush,” the megamix does have cohesion. The ending is also thematically and temporally appropriate, stating “she’s discovered a new world.” Well MISIA, since your musical debut, you have been evolving as an artist, so yes, you’ve discovered a new world of music.

“EIGHTH WORLD” is not a step up from “Ascension,” MISIA’s last album, but it doesn’t feel like a step down, either. Over all, this album is consistent, with few songs really missing the concept but also with no tracks that are pure ecstasy. The biggest source of this consistency would probably be the violins MISIA use, which oddly always sound too similar considering how often they’re used. She could easily differentiate by exploring different orchestrated sounds, different instruments, and different genres. Although part of “EIGHTH WOLRD” retreated to MISIA’s dance era of her music, she does experiment with lounge-like sounds on part of her album. Because of that, “EIGHTH WORLD” feels different from many of MISIA’s other works. It is also worth mentioning there are less new tracks than usual on “EIGHTH WORLD,” with “Royal Chocolate Flush” acting as the main problem, releasing four of this album’s songs on a single. Still, “EIGHTH WORLD” feels new and R&B. MISIA does well, but not quite well enough. If she improve her production and gives her sound a new style with an her own feeling, she should be fine.

81% B-

[Album] Yuna Ito – HEART

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~Track Listing~
01. WORKAHOLIC
02. ENDLESS STORY
03. losin’
04. Know-how
05. Precious
06. Tender is the Night
07. Fragile
08. Nobody Knows
09. Faith
10. Stay for Love
11. Truth
12. Perfume
13. Precious -wedding extended ver.- (Bonus Track)

~Album Review~
Yuna Ito released her debut album one January 24, 2007. The album was the culmination of six singles, two of which were related to Yuna Ito’s REIRA personality for the NANA movies. With mixed success with her first six singles, Yuna Ito’s possible success with “HEART” was in question. In the end, though, “HEART” went on to become a smash hit, selling 523,715 copies. Buoyed by the success of her singles, Yuna Ito captured the third best selling female original studio album effort of 2007.

“WORKAHOLIC” is the pacesetter for the album. It’s pop that sounds somewhat generic, due to the use of keyboards, a strong beat, and strings. That generic nature, alongside the feeling that this song could be playing on the radio in the 90s hinder “WORKAHOLIC”‘s strength as a pop song. However, defying explanation, “WORKAHOLIC” is probably the most enjoyable album track on “HEART.” It’s fun, fluffy, and poppy. Nothing wrong there. Although there are a few shortcomings (i.e. the hook, the instrumentation, etc.) the song comes together quite nicely in the end, starting the listener on a high note.

The string backing of “WORKAHOLIC” helps ease the transition to the sweeping ballad, “ENDLESS STORY.” “ENDLESS STORY” is just pure beauty and exhilaration as far as pop ballads go. Yuna Ito’s voice is clear and understandable, the melody is memorable, the climax is grand, and the hook is perfect. Yuna Ito’s producers hit gold with this track, really showing off her power throughout the song through a combination of layering and instrumentation. “ENDLESS STORY” is one of the reasons people bought “HEART,” and after listening to the track, it’s not hard to see why.

The follow up to “ENDLESS STORY” is the sleek R&B song, “Losin’.” Despite featuring an Engrish phrase (which is bad considering Ito is an English native speaker), the song is catchy and maintains momentum well. The synth-tinged guitar sample works well with Ito to create a track that borders on ethereal at times. “Losin'”‘s undeniable strength would be its chorus which is just so catchy, mainly due to the combination of speed, layered vocals, and the hooks featured. Over all, “Losin'” is another track where Ito can really shine.

“Know-how” is a track that is easy to pass by, as its sandwiched between “Losin'” and “Precious.” And let’s face it, that’s not a bad thing considering how plain “Know-how” sounds. Despite the brightness of Ito’s vocals lightening “Know-how” up, the track just doesn’t shine. It has no depth, little layering, and little to enjoy. Yuna Ito can handle singing backed by modern lounge type instrumentals, but this track really fails at showing off her vocals and fails at being memorable.

“Precious” is another take on the ballad by Ito, this time with a gospel sound courtesy of a full choir. Working with such a large sound, Ito’s vocals fill this track with power and sincerity. With a memorable chorus and a great sound filled with keyboards, violins, piano, and drums, “Precious” proves itself to be an excellent song in the end.

“Tender is the Night” does well maintaining the flow from the last track, but that’s about all it does. Considering the concentration of ballads on this album, it’s of utmost importance for the ballads to be different and good. “Tender is the Night” only succeeds at one of them, mainly due to the choice of instrumentation. It’s not good, mainly because Ito’s voice is not truly utilized here and the song doesn’t have the softness to explain that. The song ends up sounding a bit like a bad 90s power ballad with R&B effects thrown in to make the song contemporary, as well as a saxophone.

“Fragile” starts off with an intriguing use of violins that continues to be a motif throughout the whole song. However, that’s about the best thing about that track; despite an initial surprise bout of musical quality, the song falls on its feet. “Fragile” isn’t terrible, it just sounds like another pop R&B song that could be found in the 90s. Ito’s vocals are better here, but they’re not at their best.

Continuing the trend of 90s-esque songs, “Nobody Knows” doesn’t sound particularly good. It features the same style instrumentation as “WORKAHOLIC,” but with less style and power. Let’s put it this way: “WORKAHOLIC” wasn’t that good in the first place, but for something to imitate it and do poorly doesn’t bode well. “Nobody Knows” sounds off at points and feels worse than album filler.

The next song, “Faith,” was a single song, but it does not capture the same magic as Ito’s other ballad songs. Still, compared to the album ballads, this softer violin and piano based ballad sounds pleasant and sweet. It demonstrates Ito’s vocal prowess and also has a great melody, best exemplified by the violin intro.

“Stay For Love” has a beat similar to the verses of “Faith,” but doesn’t come together as a solid R&B song. Instead, it stays in the realm of mediocrity, never gaining strength. If the combination of Ito’s vocals and the backing track weren’t jarring, the “Stay For Love” might come across as smooth R&B, but as it stands, the song is sub-par.

“Truth” features a rockier version of a power ballad, where Ito’s voice soars against the fitting vivid backdrop. Although “Truth” failed to recreate the success of “ENDLESS STORY” that’s probably more the fault of NANA 2 than Yuna Ito. She sounds great here, and the ballad builds up with a great climax. Her voice exemplifies her characteristic clarity and power here on “Truth,” making it another great ballad from her. Although it’s another ballad, it’s strong and it’s different, which helps prevent it from repeating the themes of past tracks.

The final track, “Perfume” isn’t special. It is a sweet end in to the album lyrically, but musically it fails to impress. Of course, Ito’s vocals are on their A-game, but the production is just not there to back her up. “Perfume” feels average because like many of the other album tracks, the song lacks great production that make Ito’s vocals pop. Here, she feels like just one of many J-pop songstresses, when in reality, she is something special.

The wedding version of “Precious” simply makes the song more fitting for its primary use: as a wedding song. It’s not necessarily better, but perhaps more fitting. The song isn’t re-recorded, but instead only has its instrumentals replaced. It’s not bad, but this version of “Precious” is not better than the original.

Word to the wise, an album should not focus on the outdated sounds of a decade of the past and throw away the positive single songs that could have helped cover up that mess. Ito did not utilize “stuck on you” and “pureyes,” two upbeat pop tracks that could have easily diversified “HEART” and given it more feeling and energy. Instead, her production team decided on filling the album with only so-so tracks, with little to love. Even if the album has well polished singles, the lacking quality of the album tracks severely hurts “HEART.” In the end, in J-pop, this effort is not enough to distinguish Ito. If she doesn’t change tactics, she may never see the sales she saw with “ENDLESS STORY” – or even “Precious” – ever again. Ito’s capable, but she needs to re-evaluate her music.

70% C-

[Album] Koda Kumi – Black Cherry


~Track Listing~

01. INTRODUCTION
02. Get Up & Move!!
03. Ningyo-hime (人魚姫: Mermaid Princess)
04. Yume no Uta (夢のうた: Dream Song)
05. Tsuki to Taiyou (月と太陽: The Moon and the Sun)
06. Puppy
07. Koi no Tsubomi (恋のつぼみ: Bud of Love)
08. WON’T BE LONG ~Black Cherry Version~
09. JUICY
10. Candle Light
11. Cherry Girl
12. I’ll be there
13. Unmei (運命; Fate)
14. With your smile
15. Milk Tea (ミルクティ)
16. Twinkle (First Press Only)
17. GO WAY!! (First Press Only)
18. WON’T BE LONG ~Red Cherry Version~ (First Press Only)

~Album Review~
“Black Cherry” was released on December 20, 2006. It topped the Oricon album charts for four weeks (two of which were combined into one week of sales due to holidays). In total, “Black Cherry” did not match the success of Koda Kumi’s two previous best of albums, however, it sold 1,024,452 copies in total, something no female artist in 2006 was able to do.

“Black Cherry” starts out with an introduction and properly titled as such. This particular intro of Koda Kumi’s has a great beat like that of “BEST~Second Session~” intro, but it is not as good as its predecessor. That certainly sets the tone for the whole album. Kuu attempts to sound her best, but ends up presenting a scattered showing of her music. The intro has some engrish going on (”I ready…”) and a bit of redundancy (”one unity”), but over all, it sounds pretty sensual.

“Get Up & Move!!” flows very nicely from “INTRODUCTION” as both have a hard beat. “Get Up & Move!!” is an R&B dance track that is similar to “Get it On” and “Shake It Up,” with a sexy Indian spice in its tone. Despite a strong showing throughout the verses, and choruses, Kuu’s rap is very weak, “this is for the party people.” Despite the bridge’s and chorus’s strong hooks, the song doesn’t ultimately make the listener “get up to move” with energy. With a little more practice, Kuu could become a better rapper, but as it stands, her rap cannot be taken seriously. Her rapping is a bad aspect of an okay song.

Next up, the album moves into “Ningyo-Hime,” an interesting choice for a third track on the album. “Get Up & Move!!” certainly introduced the listener to a sexual sound continued here, but the rock riffs don’t create a ton of continuity with the last track. The prominent beats in “Get Up & Move!!” are pretty much absent in Ningyo-Hime, which sounds like rock through and through. That said, Kuu shines through here, playing to one of her strengths: versatility. Even though she’s not commonly associated with rock tracks that doesn’t mean she can’t lower her voice a few notches and rock out with flair. The choruses more than make up for the lagging verses because of their pure speed and energy. In the end, “Ningyo Hime” may not fit as a well on “Black Cherry” as it did on “4 hot wave,” but thankfully the song still manages to sound strong.

The album’s transitions continue to baffle the listener as they move into “Yume no Uta;” unless there is a thematic link between the last few songs, which is a minute possibility, the transitions have been strained at best. “Yume no Uta,” a power ballad, does not belong next to “Ningyo-Hime,” a rock song, as the listener is not prepared for such an abrupt change. Nevertheless, despite a poor transition, “Yume no Uta” is a strong ballad. Sadly, its strength is swept out from under it compared to the booming rock song before it. Considering its reliance on the over-the-top instrumentation, this doesn’t bode well for “Yume no Ua.” The situtation is as though Kuu’s instrumentals are overly broad/epic for “Yume no Uta,” and Ningyo Hime easily uncovers that. “Yume no Uta” ends well, with plenty of emotion in Kuu’s voice. Against the odds, this song still manages to somehow impress. It has power many of Kuu’s other recent ballads fail to attain because emotion is present, which helps this song stay on its feet.

Finally, a transition that makes sense! Now that makes two for five… wow. “Tsuki to Taiyou” is another ballad that feels much smaller than “Yume no Uta.” That doesn’t hurt “Tsuki to Taiyou” but instead makes it feel more like a soft love song. It is one of the better album tracks. Instead of going epic, Kuu goes for a spartan atmosphere, equipped with a guitar and some simple synthetic elements. The synthetic editing of Kuu’s voice at the beginning is an interesting lead in, to say the least. Along with some Engrish and much needed emotional vocals, the song does surprisingly well. One of its most prominent weaknesses? Repetition. For an emotional song, unless it is being poetic (a la “Be My Last,” but even so…), it is not the best tactic. However, it does help make Tsuki to Taiyou a catchier track, I suppose. It is not as memorable as “hands,” but “Tsuki to Taiyou” is another welcome addition to Kuu’s legion of ballads.

The next track, “Puppy,” is a bit of jump from “Tsuki to Taiyou,” but it’s not terribly drastic. “Puppy” is another strong album track, with a Western influence in its beat (can anyone say Rihanna’s “S.O.S.?” The beat is exactly the same, even if the instrumentals are different). It’s pretty catchy with its synthetic elements, but Kuu’s voice has seen better days. The track could definitely use some help in the production department, as it is jarring at some points, a fact that could easily be easily be fixed. However, the climax of the song is pretty good. It’s above average, but it’s still the quality of an album track.

“Koi no Tsubomi” pops up next on the album, continuing the momentum of the last track well. Mid-tempo and full of synthetic instrumentals, “Koi no Tsubomi”’s poppiness can be overbearing at times, but it’s still lovable. The song is completely Japanese and therefore Engrish free, which is a definite plus. Add in the fact that the chorus is surprisingly catchy and you have a nice care free song. Over all, the keyboards and light beats of the song characterize the beginnings of love very well. With such bright sounds and a well structured chorus with a memorable melody, “Koi no Tsubomi” will get in your head (it falls into the same boat as “Cherry Girl”). “Koi no Tsubomi” easily manages to put the album filler to shame.

“WON’T BE LONG ~Black Cherry Ver.~ gets rid of EXILE’s vocals in favor of having Kuu as the lead throughout the whole song. She does sound excellent throughout , but the fact that song is a duet is still evident. Her singing it alone with some corny rapping in the background do not hide this fact and in the end, “WON’T BE LONG” doesn’t sound as good as it could. This leaves “WON’T BE LONG” sounding lonely without EXILE. Add to that spotty instrumentals that lack the production values of some of her other tracks, and you have a desperate attempt at a dance remix. This track is bad enough to skip – this version of “WON’T BE LONG” is much too jarring to listen to and jam to.

“JUICY” is an interesting take on a modern dance R&B track. It’s mid-tempo and breathy, oozing pure sensuality. What does this all mean for “JUICY?” It means it’s good. There’s so much to love here. For example, take the line, “I’m Juicy..whoa,” which is just priceless. The song also has a chorus that incorporates mini-moans, which is an unexpected addition to say the least. Let’s not forget that “JUICY” flows effortlessly from the last track, as well, which helps strengthen the song over all. “JUICY” may not be the star of the album, but it epitomizes what this era of Kuu’s music is about. The vocals aren’t superb sadly: they’re just there and shallow. However, the Engrish of “JUICY” does prove endearing. And the short little rap isn’t half bad. All in all, “JUICY” is a mixed bag.

“Candle Light” is an abrupt change from “JUICY” where yet again, the transitions flounder. “Candle Light” just feels weak in comparison to “JUICY” and Koda Kumi’s voice sounding extremely strained does not help. Whereas in other songs Koda Kumi sounds emotional, in this song it just comes across as bad. Some have described “Candle Light” as sweet sounding, but Kuu’s voice sounds anything but sweet. She hits all the notes, but the feeling isn’t there. And her voice is just too scratchy. Another bad part of the song is the piano, which is the only instrument. The piano sounds pleasant, but it’s under-utilized by Kuu. Maybe Kuu’s just used to the guitar backing her up, but in this song, the piano undermines Kuu’s voice.

We’ve reached the high point of the album, at least energy wise. The transition sucked once more, but “Cherry Girl” is enough to cover it up and forget about “Candle Light” altogether. “Cherry Girl” is a much different type of pop than “Koi no Tsubomi” (sexy!pop vs. fluffy!pop), and does take a while to get into, but the finale is just great. Generic at times, “Cherry Girl” still manages to elevate itself above mediocrity just because of the catchy end. The choruses may not do anything early on in the song, but the manner in which the song crescendos is excellent. On another note, the guitars work really well with Kuu’s voice on this track, creating a sexy mix of rock and dance. Koda Kumi sounds great and sexy to boot. The bass helps pick up her vocals as well, contributing to the infectious nature of the song.

“I’ll Be There” was the star of “4 hot wave,” and it remains the star of “Black Cherry.” Certainly, some other single tracks give it a bit of a run for its money, but the song still overcomes even those contenders. Koda Kumi sounds remarkably comfortable in “I’ll Be There,” as though this song is what she is meant to be singing. The guitar accompanies her beautifully, the laid back feel suits Kuu’s voice well, and the English is top notch. It may be a summer track, but it’s a great listen in any season.

“Unmei” proved to be one of Koda Kumi’s most popular ringtones of 2007, probably because it was a power ballad that won over the hearts of many of her listeners. Kuu’s vocals do not work well with the traditional instrumentation found throughout most of the song, but despite it all, the song comes off as decent. She sounds like she is trying to sound epic, and she goes into her high voice. The finale is arguably the best part of the song, where the instrumentals finally match Kuu’s voice. Nevetheless, her vocals far from her best, and this portion of the song is short-lived. It’s a case of too little too late.

“With Your Smile” is another lackluster track. The Engrish is no where near endearing (smile me does is not appealing), and her lyrics have seen better days. No matter where this song is placed, it is still overshadowed by “I’ll Be There,” which feels like it did everything “With Your Smile” attempts better. This song may be strong pop-number with some good beats, but it does not have the confidence of “I’ll Be There.” In that respect, “With Your Smile” is above average album filler.

“Milk Tea” is not the track that should have ended the album; Kuu literally sounds like she’s trying to make herself sound sweet, but that does not work out well, especially considering that this song does not have typically pop instrumentation. “Milk Tea” is too short, it’s chorus isn’t terribly catchy, the laid back instrumentals could be better, and the lyrical structure is irking. Not her best. Whatever effect she aimed for, it was lost in the process of making the music.

If you have a regular edition of the album, you won’t have the following tracks to listen to. Consider yourself blessed, for none of theses extras are that impressive.

Why they chose the English Version of Twinkle to put on this album (and it’s without Show no less) is beyond baffling. The English is incomprehensible at points and the Engrish in the chorus (Twinkle twinkle can’t you see) is not catchy. This is album filler. Nothing more.

“Go Way!!” (using those double exclamation points again, eh Kuu?) is better than “Twinkle,” but even so, that isn’t saying much. It’s average J-pop, with it’s lyrics and instrumentation. It just feels bland, and as a pop track, that is a very bad quality to possess. Maybe because this track is first press exclusive it’s just filler. That is a distinct possibility.

“WON’T BE LONG ~Red Cherry ver.~” is worse than the Black Cherry version. It uses the original instrumental, which does not work when the song is sung solo. Why couldn’t they have just made one superior track and called it a day? I’m very dissappointed in these two songs.

Expectations for Kuu’s “Black Cherry” were high after releasing a slew of successful and well done singles in 2006. After the strong “BEST~second session~,” “Black Cherry” was disappointing. The single tracks are noticeably better than the album tracks by a wide margin, which makes me feel as though this album was rushed, or Kuu’s artistic capability is turning sour. This situation makes grading the album hard: her single tracks are superb, even if this album lacks consistency, unity, and an “it” factor (all which the first track tells us this album strives for…ironically). This album should come with a warning: proceed with caution. You’ll find songs you’ll like here, but you’ll also find songs that you’ll abhor. As an album then, “Black Cherry” is sub-par listening.

73% C

[Album] BoA – MADE IN TWENTY (20)

~Track Listing~
01. Lady Galaxy
02. Nanairo no Ashita ~brand new beat~
03. Winter Love
04. STILL.
05. SO REAL
06. KEY OF HEART
07. OUR LOVE ~to my parents~
08. no more make me sick
09. Revolution-code 1986-1105 Feat.RAH-D
10. Your Color
11. Prayer
12. Candle Lights
13. Gracious Days
14. LAST CHRISTMAS
15. Winter Love (Live ver.)

~Album Review~
“MADE IN TWENTY (20)” topped the Oricon charts when it was released on January 17, 2007, and the album went on to sell 348,093 copies in total.

The album starts out with “Lady Galaxy” which is a futuristic R&B track with edited background vocals that sound like they’ve been computer processed. It’s a fairly strong start to the album, although it sounds a bit repetitive and familiar at points. The bridge of the song sounds exactly like it was cut from My Humps and converted to fit this song. Regardless, this is most likely a strong dance track with some catchy portions (she says I love you in 5-6 languages, listen for Te Amo, Aishiteru, I love you…). The chorus of Lady Galaxy is also pretty catchy. However, the parts where she’s talking like it’s an airliner sounds like M-flo… Basically, this song has been done before in so many ways, which sadly foreshadowing the rest of the album. There is a difference from borrowing and recreating the magic which BoA fails to really see. However, if you’re new to this music, “Lady Galaxy” is A-grade.

The transition to “Nanairo no Ashita ~brand new beat~” isn’t terrible, although it is quite a jump; the notable similarity between the two is the background instrumentation. “Nanairo no Ashita ~brand new beat~” has a softer version of “Lady Galaxy”’s instrumentals. And that described Brand New Beat very well. It’s a strong pop track, but it’s very “watered down.” Fans have even labeled the song “Bland New Beat.” The crescendo cannot save this song from mediocrity. It certainly has a good climax, but it’s just that, good, not great. The ending isn’t anything special, either. At least the chorus is pretty catchy with the whole “Brand New Beat” thing, but that isn’t enough to make a great pop song.

And so we smoothly move into the next track after a decent ending, beginning the ballad, “Winter Love.” The same sort of problem that plagued Brand New Beat severely hurts Winter Love, that boring factor. What makes “Winter Love” better than the pack of winter ballads that was released in 2007? At least BoA’s voice is pretty darn strong, which really shines in this song, although not as much as it does in her Korean tracks. Listening to her Korean ballads then this one just puts Winter Love to shame, even the ending. “Winter Love” sounds nice, but it isn’t anything more, especially considering some of BoA’s stronger ballads. It’s there and it sounds nice. “Winter Love” does have some emotion, as well. The mixture of BoA’s voice and the string and synth instrumentation is nice, especially with the powerful drum beat.

And the soft ending leads us into the next track, “STILL.”, a piano based track with very present dance synth. It’s not the strongest out of her album tracks, and it’s just there. “Winter Love” feels like it has more style than this song, which is a bit of problem; the song just feels like it’s been done before. It’s pleasant, but just that. The tune ends up sounding too familiar. Another problem with the song is that the ending does not sound much different from the beginning; it finishes where it began which should not be happening, a song needs to grow to captivate the listener.

The transition to “SO REAL” is probably the most strained yet: although the tempo is similar, the two tracks are at opposite ends of the dance spectrum. The choruses are pretty strong and BoA’s voice sounds very good in this mature environment. However, when reaching the end of the track, that climax that you’re expecting to arrive never comes. What’s more, the beginning and the end could be run together…they sound the same. The song begs BoA’s vocals to emerge further, but there is no such luck. Just another album track in the mix in this new style of BoA’s. At least she’s growing up, and the choruses are strong.

“Key of Heart” does not sound at all like the last track creating a noticeable flow issue. “Key of Heart” is another pop song backed by violins, a beat and keyboards. It sounds like BoA pop in the end, with a nice hook: “just a key of heart.” One of the big problems with the song, however, is the lack of sufficient background vocals in the chorus. Those vocals are there in the Korean counterpart of the song powering BoA’s vocal and greatly improving the song’s sound. Here, this version sounds empty and BoA’s vocals don’t fill the track’s atmosphere well. “Key of Heart” does one up “Brand New Beat” by sounding poppier and less bland with an impressive hook, but it isn’t enough. The song is missing what it has in Korean, which just makes it above average.

More piano…does not flow well from “Key of Heart.” “OUR LOVE ~to my parents~” starts out very slowly, with BoA singing quite softly, something we haven’t heard her do yet (Winter Love was a power ballad). BoA deserves props for doing something different from the rest of the tracks, but the downside to this variety is her head voice is not that strong. However, BoA does particularly well singing the English parts of the song. The crescendo and the end are much stronger than the beginning of the song, as well, with the background music showing the difference. That’s the type of music BoA should be creating; the only real downside is the feeling that vocals are flawed at points. There are some strong beats in this song, as well as a few eighties like moments, but over all, a stronger album track.

The album transitions well into the next dancier/poppier slow track, “no more make me sick.” The chorus does fix the fact that this song sounds like it could be done a little better by someone else, although that relies on synth elements to make it sound strong. The background vocals of the chorus separate it from the rest of the song. However, once more, the climax does nothing, leaving the end right where the beginning left off. Just average.

We get dancier with whistles, heavy beats, and a rap in the next track as we head to class with “Revolution-code 1986-1105 Feat.RAH-D.” That’s all nice and good, but what’s wrong with the song? It has that hip-pop feeling, but besides rapping, doesn’t do well at emphasizing that energy. The song is notable for being dancier than Lady Galaxy, but it’s still boring. As a dance song, that’s a glaring flaw.

“Your Color” simply does not transition from the last track in any beat, tempo, instrument, vocal… “Revolution Code” does not fit with “Your Color,” at all. With that bad transition behind us, “Your Color,” like most of BoA’s songs, has a very strong chorus that fits in well with the instrumentation. Problems? “Winter Love” is done better and both utilize the same vocal technique (their choruses are quite similar, vocally, in the fact that they emphasize power). “Your Color” has different background music than Winter Love, but that doesn’t do much to separate it from “Winter Love.” “Winter Love”’s vocals are stronger, bigger, and altogether more epic. That just makes “Your Color” feel very average, even though it’s a strong song on its own. The difference in the choruses would be how high BoA goes in “Winter Love,” otherwise, they sound quite alike.

“Prayer” is another forced transition, but it makes up for it by being a strong dance track with a strong chorus. Seeing a pattern in these album tracks yet? What’s special about “Prayer?” “Prayer” is darker than the other dance album tracks we’ve seen, although once again, the ending is almost exactly the same as the beginning. The english in this song is pretty good too.

“Candle Lights” does not transition well from “Prayer,” and is not the best track on its own. But for a B-side, it’s pretty good (”Candle Lights” was the B-side for the “Winter Love” single). The guitar is decent, but this track feels similar to “Your Color” and “Winter Love.” The guitar does help differentiate the song from the pack a bit, but BoA’s vocals exacerbate the problem. The choruses are very strong and consistent, but the song experiences no growth.

The changeover to “Gracious Days” is fine, and “Gracious Days” does sound different from the Candle Light/Your Color/Winter Love triade, which is a good thing. “Gracious Days” provides a breathe of fresh air that the listener needs as they near the end of the album. So close to the end, it was an honest surprise to see a good album track marking the end. I think the choruses towards the end are a bit stronger, although it’s nothing big. At least she continues her strength in the choruses of her songs. A fitting end for the albums without CD bonuses.

The live version of “Winter Love” is pretty good, although “Last Christmas” still sounds tinny and futuristic, which is different from anything else on this album.

Over all, this album is extremely average. The good news is that BoA is clearly maturing on her album tracks, looking to moving away from the pure pop she showered on us throughout 2006. However, these new dance R&B tracks suffer from the same plight that her 2006 single tracks suffered from: they sound bland, which is a problem in dance R&B. Add in the fact that some of them sound like popular songs in the recent past, and you have a glaring problem. BoA’s vocals and her great choruses provide some solace, but this album leaves BoA’s career in question. Sure, her music has transformed into something different, but it’s nothing spectacular. Where’s the growth in ability that we should be seeing? Her Korean release with anyband showed growth, but her Japanese releases felt like more of the same mediocrity. This album is very, very average. It’s not bad, nor is it great. If you’re a BoA fan, you should like the new tracks, even though this review has been harsh.

79% C+


[Album] Namie Amuro – PLAY

610px-amuro_playdvd.jpg

~Track Listing~
01. Hide & Seek
02. Full Moon
03. CAN’T SLEEP, CAN’T EAT, I’M SICK
04. It’s all about you
05. FUNKY TOWN
06. Step With It
07. Hello
08. Should I Love Him?
09. Top Secret
10. Violet Sauce (Spicy)
11. Baby Don’t Cry
12. Pink Key

~Album Review~
Namie Amuro released “PLAY” on June 27, 2007, and it reached number one with her highest sales since her album, “GENIUS 2000.” “PLAY” stayed at number one for two consecutive weeks, as well. With a a chart life of 24 weeks, “PLAY” sold 514,560, making it the 15th best selling album of 2007.

The album hits the ground running with the infectious dance track, “Hide & Seek.” Namie Amuro is powerful and sexy here. The ambience of the song is interesting though – the verses are very sparse and Namie Amuro’s voice is heavily edited until the chorus, where heavy vocal layering and synth flow into the song. In comparison to the verses, the chorus is very full. At times it feels like marching music, but that beat is exactly what makes this song such a great dance track. “It’s time to bang bang bang” your head to “Hide & Seek;” the song is strong Hip-pop with dance flair. The only reason you might not like is if you cannot stand dance music. Otherwise, “Hide & Seek” is too good to pass up.

“Full Moon” continues the album a bit differently. The sensuous vocals continue here, transitioning well from the soft extro of “Hide & Seek.” “Full Moon” is not quite the dance powerhouse that “Hide & Seek” is, but it is an interesting, softer edge to Namie’s music. The best way to describe the chorus of the song is sexual. The background vocals intermingle male oos and aahs with Namie’s own vocal stylings, all under the “full moon.” The constant violin like sound in the background is a nice touch – this song sounds very risky and dark, as love under the full moon should be. “Full Moon” is a stylistic song that may alienate some listeners, while attracting others with its pure sex appeal. “Full Moon” definitely feels like her most sex driven song since the reggaeton-eque “WANT ME, WANT ME.”

“Can’t Sleep, Can’t Eat, I’m Sick” takes a bit of forceful turn from the sexy “Full Moon” into J. Lo “Get Right” territory. The horns have been done by Beyonce and J. Lo, but that doesn’t mean that Namie Amuro doesn’t do them well and with her trademark style. “Can’t Sleep, Can’t Eat, I’m Sick” is also very English and little Engrish. For non-Japanese speakers, that means the song is especially easy to get into. The beat is great, the horns are interesting, and the background vocals are great. Namie Amuro takes American pop and gives it her own Hip-pop spin on this 2006 track.

“It’s All About You” starts with a guitar riff and funky vocals and sounds; it sounds a bit like a broken machine might sound at first before the fast-paced clapping beat comes in. The song does not let up; the only respite are the bridges, which are slower and more relaxing compard to the over-the-top and full choruses. “It’s All About You” is made for the dance floor or to be performed; it keeps listeners attuned to the changing tempo and beat, which can be hard to find at times. This dance aspect is only one part of this experimental (in territory, not in genre) song for Namie. The song, over all, is very catchy and fun to sing along to. It has an excellent hook, and Namie performs well vocally, really putting herself behind her vocals.

“Funky Town” is a bit funky. The vocal layering is different, the beat is present, there is an interesting use of sampling and the tinking of a can at points; the song is pretty much just a beat, with a bridge that really winds up well for the full chorus. Surprisingly, the lack of instrumentation for most of the song isn’t a huge problem, mainly because of the full vocals on Namie’s part. You can follow the melody quite well because her vocals are so sweet. The coughing into the “break time” portion of the song (you have to listen to this song, it’s incredibly funky) is very different too. Over all, “Funky Town” is an interesting song to place on the album, representing one of the many incarnations of “hip-pop.”

“Step With It” transitions well from “FUNKY TOWN;” both rely on the beat instead of instrumentation for most of the song. This song is notable for using Namie Amuro’s higher register throughout the chorus, as well as particularly full background vocals, and different accompaniment. Namie Amuro has yet another man on this track, and it shakes things up quite a bit, making this dance track all the easier to “step with.” The song starts really well, lags a bit in the middle, but finishes with a great crescendo.

Just when you think “PLAY” might be losing just an ounce of momentum, Namie Amuro throws the listener another jam. With lines like “I’m real to the bone” and “because I’m so fly” how can you not love the pure style and ‘tude on this poppy hip-pop song. Once more, the beat is the most important aspect of the verses, with telephones supplying the beat (how fitting). The song relies on sampling throughout to create a great atmosphere that simulates saying “hello” on the telephone. Instrumentation comes into play during the catchy choruses, giving the song a soft but memorable melody. Another great pop track from Namie Amuro on “PLAY,” “Hello” has style that you won’t find in some of the other tracks.

Namie Amuro is well known for her ballads, so it’s no surprise that she placed one on this album. For many listeners, this felt like overkill, but the idea is definitely understood; this album is heavy hip-pop, but Namie is still Namie, and her fans still love her ballads. The love it or hate it, “Should I Love Him?” is the result. The song uses old school choir aspects to create a Namie-esque ballad. The song sounds good up to the crescendo, with good harmonies, a fine beat, and nice background vocals. But then, the song becomes gospel like with soaring vocals, a choir supporting Namie Amuro, and full instrumentation. What a climax! If you like R&B ballads, you’ll be wondering right alongside Namie Amuro if she should love him (and who does she love the best?)

“Top Secret” is a hot dance track that samples sexy synthetic sound, guitar and keyboards and uses synthetic editing of Namie’s voice to keep the listener pinned to the speaker until the speaker until the chorus, where the insanely catchy hook kicks in, accompanied by quite a few lyrics. The breathy repetition of five “top secret”s will stick in the listeners head, and the sexy melody will stick in the listener’s head. By the end of the song, you will want to know her secret and to be tested by Namie Amuro. Namie Amuro has clearly been polishing her hip-pop, and this song is no exception.

With the exception of one song so far, Namie Amuro has inundated the listener in dance music. This will have either alienated the listener, or basically make them get up and get their figurative groove on. The finale tracks of the album are markedly different from the rest of the album however; they are still hip-pop tracks with that beat we’ve come to expect from Namie, but these songs are on the rockier and poppier edge. If dance music isn’t your favorite, listen to these tracks and “Should I Love Him?” (maybe even “Hello”); but dance lovers, you too should carry onward and finish this album. It’s worth it for the hip-pop ending.

“Violet Sauce (Spicy)” is another sex driven track on the album, a recreation of the 2005 A-side “Violet Sauce.” With rock guitar and hard beat, the energy level in the song has been kicked up a notch, ditching the sleek nature for pure power. The rocky edges mixed in with expertly layered vocals, well handled production and that killer beat make “Violet Sauce (Spicy)” too good to pass up. By the end of the song, you’ll be dipping it in the sauce. Yes, well, it doesn’t take a genius to put two and two together, “Violet Sauce” is an incredibly dirty and sensual song if you look deeper than its surface. But it fulfills that role well, with sexual power thrown throughout.

With killer momentum, the listener heads into the mid-tempo track “Baby Don’t Cry,” a song that begins with the strong, deep beat which fades out. This take on hip-pop only uses the sound of snapping throughout the verses, despite the deeper beat coming back in during the bridge and chorus, which sound great because of the well done vocals. “Baby Don’t Cry” should be a sweet pop song, and the vocals hit that on the target. As if these stellar, catchy choruses weren’t enough (“baby don’t cry” is an admittably good hook), the crescendo is powerful, building, and pure ecstasy all at once. It flows effortlessly into final chorus, which leaves the listener with a pretty extro accompanied by Namie ad-libbing.

The poppy edge continues with “Pink Key” the forward looking ending track on the album. With style and pop pizazz, Namie Amuro drops an insane beat, sweet vocals, and a pleasant message amongst pop production to create the sweet “Pink Key.” The song is mid-tempo through and through, with a catchy chorus and nice bridges and verses. By now, you should realize what Namie can capitalize on in her music, mainly because of the combination of her vocals and top tier production: her finale bridge is superb. Even though it’s the end of the album, it’s time to find your way. The listener is left refreshed with “Pink Key” and wanting more.

After years in the business, Namie Amuro has become a pop machine. At times, her music may flounder a bit and lose her audience, but here on “PLAY” Namie Amuro is in top form. In only a few spots does she stray from the tried and true formula to try bold and new songs, and those strays will either be hit or miss with the audience. Frankly, the album knows it’s just a dance album and capitalizes on it to make it fun. If you’re looking for depth, look elsewhere, because this is no more than fun pop album. How could it be anything more than that with a title like “PLAY?” For pop lovers, there’s a little bit of everything on “PLAY:” from the sheer sexiness of “Full Moon,” to the subtle allure of “Violet Sauce (Spicy),” from the hard beats of “Hide & Seek” to the pop caress of “Baby Don’t Cry.” “PLAY” is just too big and too good because of the strength of the album tracks; they’re able to stand right alongside the singles and shine brightly. It’s quite astounding and quite a listen. “PLAY” was one of the best albums of 2007 and was good enough to let Namie Amuro rise back to the top tier of J-pop songstresses. You should have read enough by now.

It’s time to play.

95% A

[Album] Crystal Kay – ALL YOURS

all_yours.jpg

~Tracklist~
01. konna ni chikaku de… (こんなに近くで…; So Close…)
02. Dream World
03. Anytime
04. anata no soba de (あなたのそばで; Next to You)
05. Cherish
06. STILL
07. Butterfly’s Garden
08. kitto eien ni (きっと永遠に; Surely Forever)
09. ESCALATOR
10. Sugar Rain
11. I WANNA BE
12. Lonely girl
13. Midnight Highway
14. Last Kiss

~Album Review~
Crystal Kay followed up her trio of 2007 singles with her first number one album (first number one anything, really) on June 20, 2007. In total, the album sold 136,841 copies, which made it the 83rd best selling album of 2007.

The album starts out well with the poppy “konna ni chikaku de….” The song was the strongest out of the singles for “ALL YOURS,” and it’s the strongest song on the album quite easily. It’s funky pop mixed with sleek violins and Kuri’s smooth voice make for a great song, albeit unexpected. Such energy makes a great opening for an album, but only when it can be maintained.

“Dream World” is the strongest album track on “ALL YOURS.” See a trend already? Kuri impresses the listener with her smooth sound early on alongside excellent production, but the album begins to slip as it continues onward. What makes “Dream World” so good? It’s different from anything Crystal Kay’s done. It’s guitar based, but still feels R&B with an island beat. In the end, it sounds summery and fun with a bit of passion. The chorus is catchy, fun and easy to sing along to. The extro is also nice with a bit of ad-libing. Over all, an impressive new song from Kay.

The momentum carried by the first two tracks is utterly lost with “Anytime.” Crystal Kay drops the ball – she started out superbly but descends back into mediocrity here. “Anytime” is mid-tempo R&B with keyboards; it doesn’t sound particularly special even if it sounds nice. “Anytime” can then easily fade out of memory, especially when placed after two powerhouse tracks.

anata no sobe de” is much better than “Anytime.” Nevertheless, the song sounds liek it could have been so much greater had Crystal Kay been up to the task vocally. The song touches greatness but loses it; the bridge asks for a great chorus by increasing the tempo, and then the chorus does nothing, failing to answer the call for a fast-paced anthem. It’s not bad, but not great.

The next song starts out less R&B and more in the vein of a ballad before becoming hard R&B. “Cherish” starts out quite well, but fails to climax well, creating run of the mill pop R&B that falls into the background. Kuri is capable of creating better songs, but just falls short here.

“STILL” is the Japanese version of “As One,” which was the B-side featured on the “kitto eien ni” single. Compared to “Cherish” the song sounds much sweeter, and feels fine because Kay at least goes places vocally here. It may not be special, but here, Kay doesn’t have to be, she still sounds great.

The next song, “Butterfly’s Garden,” is built around the sampling of a raindrop. Is that enough to make a song special? Not really, it’s actually quite irksome, despite a solid ending vocally. That beat also obscures the melody, which makes “Butterfly’s Garden” hard to remember and even harder to listen to more than once.

The other ballads on the album don’t compare to “kitto eien ni,” because Kay does not perform as well on any of them. Her producers need to get their stuff in order and give Kuri the mature sound that she can now handle. Despite not being anything special in the vocal department, Kuri sings “kitto eien ni” well, giving it her style and her own type of power. If only the other slow songs on the album had the same feeling…

The production on this album is a bit spotty and different from Kuri’s usual. Exploration is definitely positive, especially considering how young Crystal Kay is. “ESCALATOR” is definitely the result of exploration, and it does some things very well, while utterly screwing up on others. Despite having a strange sample and hard to find melody, the chorus is really, really catchy and great sounding. It sounds much better than the verses, and Crystal Kay finally begins to push her tempo a bit. If Kuri polishes her music, “ESCALATOR” can easily be a strong song in the future. As it is, it’s a mixed bag.

“Sugar Rain” sounds okay, but okay isn’t good enough. It’s synth R&B with a sweet hook (how appropriate), but it doesn’t have power.

“I WANNA BE” is better than “Sugar Rain,” probably because of the vocal layering. It’s catchy, dancier and better. Again, it has to be stressed that Kuri’s music doesn’t climax well, and “I WANNA BE” is no exception.

“Lonely Girl” sounds decent, but the strange mix of instruments are a bit too funky and sound too disparate. The main culprit is the beat; sans that stray, awkward sound, the song is fine.

By this point, the album has long since lost its initial momentum. All the tracks try to do something new, which is commendable, but most of them fail at doing it well, mainly because they lack energy. “Midnight Highway” is definitely another example of this, but “Last Kiss” appears to be a jazzy step in the right direction. It may not be special, but the song at least has energy, especially for a ballad. The vocals are great. “Last Kiss” definitely is the type of album track Kuri should be aiming for.

“ALL YOURS” makes it very evident that Crystal Kay still has a great deal of growing to do. Of course, the variety here is good, especially considering how well the album transitions amongst this diversity. Nevertheless, transitions aren’t enough to cover up the fact that a lot of the album doesn’t feel complete. Crystal Kay either needs superior production or to grow vocally; right now, she’s not where she needs to be. Some of her tracks are definite gems, such as “konna ni chikaku de…” and “Dream World,” while others feel just mediocre. The album probably should have spread the good tracks more evenly, but it’s not the end of the world nor is it the album’s foremost flaw. Crystal Kay needs to continue to mature in her music, and maybe then she gain greater success than she’s currently seeing. Right now, she’s putting out good R&B, but so often, she sounds capable of putting out so much more.

79% C+

[Album] MISIA – Ascension

~Tracklist~
01. Color of Life
02. FUTURU FUNK
03. Remember Lady
04. TYO
05. Taiyou ga Kureta PRESENT (太陽がくれたプレゼント) Present from the sun
06. Stay in my Heart
07. Tsuki (月)Moon
08. SHININ’~虹色のリズム~ (SHININ’ ~Niji Iro no Rhythm~) SHININ’~Rainbow-colored rhythm~
09. Sura no Shiro (砂の城)Sand Castle
10. Angel
11. LUV PARADE
12. We are the Music
13. SONG FOR YOU
14. Hoshi no Ginka (星の銀貨)Silver star coin
15. SEA OF DREAMS

~Album Review~
“Ascension” is MISIA’s seventh original album, and it was released about three years after her last studio effort on February 7, 2007. In total, it sold 127,768 copies which meant it was the 91st best selling album of 2007. That’s a far fall from the sales of her earlier albums, but considering her sporadic release schedule and how much time has elapsed since her earlier albums, R&B songstress MISIA is doing just fine with “Ascension.”

The album starts out with the mellow “Color of Life.” It’s a mellow mid-tempo pop track with an excellent ending and final bridge. The chorus can be annoying depending on your view, although the breathy “Color of Life” in the background accompanies MISIA’s powerful vocals quite well. Either it will be repetitive or catchy. There is also the stylistic use of of French, which is sleek way to enhance the song’s modern lounge feel. “Color of Life” is a good way to start the album.

We continue a mid-tempo run, but with a deeper R&B edge on the next track, “FUTURU FUNK.” The chorus is notably repetitive, but the production on the track is well done. The distortion of voices is top notch, and the instrumentals are a definite nod to MISIA’s past work. Although the flow of the song is worse than “Royal Chocolate Flush‘s”,hard R&B lovers will find this track both catchy and danceable. Once again, the ending is great at distinguishing this song.

The tempo of the album slows as “Remember Lady” flows onward; clapping accompanies the guitar as other instruments slowly come to the forefront of the song. This song is surprisingly good. Although it is a little on the slow side, it sounds very relaxed and lounge-esque, much like Color of Life. This means that song comes off extremely pleasant, sort of like a lullaby. The repetition of “remember lady” in the chorus contributes to that ambience quite well actually. Best described as a lullaby with a touch of R&B infused with MISIA, “Remember Lady” is a different type of ballad from MISIA.

“TYO” takes the tempo up another notch and the beat back into harder R&B territory. The distortion of MISIA’s vocals sound quite good, and the additional background vocals fit in well in the atmosphere of the song. The “la la la la” of the chorus and the “oh oh oh oh” are quite catchy alongside belting out “scream.” Over all, it’s all that MISIA should create on a strong R&B song. Although “TYO” is not as strong as some of MISIA’s singles, the track is great for an album track and quite distinct.

“Taiyou ga kureta” present is slightly slower tempo than the past track, and features much poppier (and maybe even tropical) instruments. Pretty much, the unobtrusive instruments give MISIA the opportunity to show off her voice on this track. I don’t think her voice really fits in here, but oh well. Most albums are bound to have a few duds. However, if you love MISIA’s voice (she can hit a whistle note quite well) or a smooth pop mood in a song, this may appeal to you. Considering the tempo an the mood, MISIA does fit into this song. This pacing is very her, as she can shine alongside it.

“Stay in my heart” is a bit slower and more traditional as a ballad. It starts out with some excellent English from MISIA. The lengthy piano introduction is drastically different from the rest of the song, as the poppier edge and fuller instrumentation come into play. Over all, it’s a fairly impressive track. It flows quite well throughout the song, the string section backing up MISIA sounds especally good. MISIA also ends it well on this song, getting some great emotion into her voice as this song winds down. This emotion is portrayed through a bit of a rasp in MISIA’s voice throughout the extro.

“Tsuki” is more of R&B ballad than anything we’ve yet seen on this album. MISIA does these quite well, and this song is no exception whatsoever. Of course, it would be nice to see MISIA travel to unseen territory on her seventh studio effort, but the notes MISIA hits are pretty impressive, the bridge and chorus are great, and the chorus is catchy to boot. Surprisingly, MISIA has more to show off as the song finished. The only complaint here is she’s done it before, and the climax is lacking, even if it is an R&B ballad.

“SHININ’~Nijiiro no rhythm~” is poppy and repetitive. Probably moreso than any of the other tracks. It sounds a bit like Color of Life, although MISIA’s voice is a lot more pronounced in this song, which is a great thing. It really propels this song to whole other level compared to Color of Life. When the background vocals support MISIA, she is able to really shine. Vocal layering is this song’s major component, and it really gives it its power.

“Suna no Shiro” is not very memorable, despite being a frenetically paced ballad. Perhaps the difference in between the speed of MISIA’s vocals and the instrumentals is the problem. The instrumentation sounds like it leaves her behind as she slowly sings. Nevertheless, the song sounds quite pleasant and urgent for a ballad. Again, great ending on this track.

“Angel” is a soft-spoken piano-based ballad. Here again we see MISIA playing to her strength, her ballads. The absence of Engrish in the song is a breath of fresh air, and the chorus is nice. Near the ending the real emotion enters into MISIA’s voice and she belts it out, hitting those high notes all the while. It’s pretty touching by that point of the song. Slow, but not lacking power, “Angel” is a great MISIA album track.

“LUV PARADE” is probably the best song on the album, alongside “SEA OF DREAMS.” It’s an upbeat pop/R&B track with orchestrated elements. It’s catchy, it’s fun, and just wonderful over all. Originally released in the summer, “LUV PARADE” is feels summery and upbeat; it has the pop combination of synth and more traditional violins typcal of MISIA, and a great catchy chorus. The only really negative aspect of the song is it sometimes feels as though it lacks a bit of polish. Still, the chorus is just so good with MISIA and the back-up vocals, and the keyboard… This song is a great summer track and the perfect opportunity to show off MISIA’s voice. If you were to choose any song to listen to on “Ascension,” this track would be the best choice. It has a distinct begginning, middle, and end, as well as vocal and instrumental strength. Plus “LUV PARADE” is good, fun J-pop.

“We are the Music” continues the same type of pop that “LUV PARADE” started, although this song sounds much more generic. Let’s take a second to examine the lyrics; yes, “life is a music” may fit the music motif of the song, but it should be “life is a musical.” Small flaws like this lyrically error cripple the song somewhat, although MISIA does a godly job covering it up with the violin supported pop instrumentation and background vocals. Besides a mismatch in MISIA and the music near the end, this song is a solid addition to the album that is sure to have some people loving it.

“SONG FOR YOU” is the last of the acoustic ballads on this album, a definite forte that MISIA plays to her benefit. Honestly, these ballads MISIA sings begin to meld into one and another, and “SONG FOR YOU” doesn’t feel very special in any way. Again, it just acts as the perfect opportunity for MISIA to show off her voice. At least the music in this song is different from all else we’ve seen on this album, but still, the track leaves something to be desired.

“Hoshi no ginka” is a funky mid-tempo R&B track with some brass action going on alongside the prominent beats and the keyboard. This song isn’t particularly catchy, although the ending is pretty strong, thankfully.

This album has to be evaluated with the bonus track, “SEA OF DREAMS” included, because frankly, it’s an excellent end to the album. It’s one of her strongest ballads on here, which is no surprise since it was the only one released as a single. That said, the song is probably worth a listen, especially if you like choral back-up. MISIA’s voice really shines here, although her English pronunciation does not. The background voices on “SEA OF DREAMS” sound different than usual too, which really make this song stand out. Add in a larger than life finale combining MISIA’s powerhouse vocals and a choir of voices, and you have an inspirational ballad that will have you “sailing free on a sea of dreams.”

Over all, there are a few duds on this album, but most of the album tracks are at least solid, if not great additions to the album. This album has wide variety of musical stylings, plays well, has excellent vocals, and expresses so many different emotions in a plethora of ways. Compared to contemporary J-pop star releases of early 2007, MISIA did well at surpassing her other J-pop peers in music quality on her album. Although her singles do not always live up to the pop powerhouses, her album has. With that in mind, this album is above average and worth a listen. If you have never heard MISIA before, this may not be the place for you to start.. It may not be her best, or the best J-pop has to offer, but it’s a great new release for 2007. If you’re looking for the best songs on the album, those would be “LUV PARADE” and “SEA OF DREAMS.”

85% B