Archive for the 'Review' Category

Ayumi Hamasaki’s Rule [2/25/09]

So! Rule, the upcoming theme of the live action Dragon Ball Z movie, leaked in full. I must say that after efforts like “Mirrorcle World” and “STEP you,” “Rule” is surprisingly mediocre. The verses are alright, and the bridges are slick, but the choruses are pretty messy.  Ayu’s singing, or rather yelling all over the place.  Whereas I enjoyed that in “Mirrorcle World,” here it does little to improve the song. Despite featuring a refreshing change of pace in the rock instrumental (something Ayu’s been in dire need of), I can’t really recommend this song to anyone besides rock fans or Ayu lovers.

That said, I can’t wait for the other A-side on Ayu’s upcoming single.  A dancey pop tune is just what the doctor ordered!

84% B

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[Single] Acid Black Cherry – Fuyu no Maboroshi

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~Track Listing~
01. Fuyu no Maboroshi
02. Koi Ichiya

~Single Review~
Acid Black Cherry released their single, “Fuyu no Maboroshi” on January 16, 2008. Most likely, the song will snatch the group the envious number one ranking on the Oricon chart. Although the single’s sales were strong, they were quite low for a number one single; if the single had been released another week, it may not have gotten number one. That does not mean “Fuyu no Maboroshi” is not good, however.

Quite the opposite, actually: “Fuyu no Maboroshi” is hard rock expertly mixed with orchestrated strings. Although it starts slow, once the rock hits, the song does not let up. Once the rock enteres in, the result is an epic sounding piece that sounds reflective, dramatic, and emotional all at once. Despite the song being dominated by rock after the first verse and bridge, the melody shines through in the strings. The over all vocal effects and layering are quite excellent as well, fitting quite well in the discordant yet organized atmosphere. Although the production sounds older, it works well mainly because of the rock. The song may be hard rock, but it has unity, organization, vocal power, and a memorable melody. “Fuyu no Maboroshi” is exactly what J-rock should be: well-done rock that is accessible for the general public because of its pure musical strength.

“Koi Ichiya” begins with a futuristic intro that paradoxically, sounds like it has dated production. The use of keyboard and synthetic effects continue throughout the song, even when rock flows in, front and center. “Koi Ichiya” has a lot more energy than “Fuyu no Maboroshi” and while it a solid melody and decent production, the song does not have the same coherence as “Fuyu no Maboroshi.” Still, “Koi Ichiya” is quite impressive for a B-side because Acid Black Cherry mixes a variety of elements together to create good music.

As I reviewer, I must put a warning on this single; even if “Fuyu no Maboroshi” is great music, the fact remains it’s rock. If you can’t stand the thought of J-rock, you might as well pass it by. However, if you don’t mind rock, you’ll probably like “Fuyu no Maboroshi:” there’s enough to the single to make endearing besides the just plain rock.

93% A

[Single] WaT – Yume no Tochuu / Tokimeki☆doobeedoo

「夢の途中」/e2「TOKIMEKI☆DooBeeDoo」- WaT
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~Track Listing~
01. Yume no Tochuu (夢の途中)
02. Tokimeki☆doobeedoo by e2
03. Yume no Tochuu (夢の途中) (Instrument)
04 Tokimeki☆doobeedoo (Instrument)

~Single Review~
After releasing their own solo singles, the boys of WaT have gotten back together to release the rather unremarkable single, “Yume no Tochuu / Tokimeki☆doobeedoo.” The single has peaked at number two on the daily charts and should be able to make a top three position. But charting well doesn’t mean WaT’s latest is amazing.

“Yume no Tochuu” features violins, piano, guitar and a mild beat. WaT’s voices are high and sweet as ever in this mid-tempo song, but that only makes the verses drag. Their voices, along with the background music of the verses, is very insubstantial. The choruses easily solve this problem, using a wider variety of instruments besides piano and guitar, as well as through the accompaniment by background vocals. The song also features a good, endearing crescendo, but that doesn’t hide the fact that “Yume no Tochuu” sounds like mid-tempo pop all the way through that lacks real feeling.

“TOKIMEKI☆DooBeeDoo” starts out with a distinct 90s J-pop sound because of the questionable use of synthetic beat. This feeling persists through the verses, but is eliminated in the bridges and in the choruses, which add-in better effects to improve the song’s sound. “TOKIMEKI☆DooBeeDoo” is catchy, but over the top at times with its cute hooks and the use of “I love you.” Even poppier than “Yume no Tochuu,” “TOKIMEKI☆DooBeeDoo” is fast, juvenile pop with decent hooks, nothing else; considering WaT has done this style better in “Ready Go!,” “TOKIMEKI☆DooBeeDoo” cannot be recommended.

WaT is a capable duo, and perhaps both Eiji Wentz and Teppei Koike and are capable soloists as well. Here, however, they have not done well as they have creating a single that lacks their usual flair. Of course, the usual WaT sound and vocals are there, but “Yume no Tochuu / Tokimeki☆doobeedoo” lacks WaT’s usual polish. If this single is meant to foreshadow their next few singles, I’m quite afraid.

74% C

[Single] Kana Nishino – I Don’t Wanna Know

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~Track List~
01. I Don’t Wanna Know

~Single Review~
Kana Nishino, a new Sony artist will be releasing her debut single, “I” on February 20, 2008. However, preceding that release, Kana Nishino released “I Don’t Wanna Know,” an English download exclusive to iTunes US. The song is essentially the English version to “I.”

“I Don’t Wanna Know” is an interesting song that borders on discordant at times. The vocals and lyrics aren’t especially strong; Kana Nishino is hard to understand as her pronunciation is Engrish at best. This means that you can’t understand much other than the chorus and the bridge. And her vocals don’t exactly soar above the rest of the rock track, letting the words mix into the music too much at times. Those problems are not present in the Japanese version of the song, so it is the superior version. Still, the hook “I don’t wanna know” is catchy and memorable, and the instrumental’s rock guitar riff base is great. The track is synthetic, rock, and dark all at once. Over all, “I Don’t Wanna Know” is probably regular J-pop single filler, but displays a nice new sound from a debut artist.

82% B

[Single] Yuna Ito X Celine Dion – Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN~

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~Track Listing~
01. Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN~
02. Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN~ (USA Mix)
03. Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN~ (Ito Yuna Solo Version)
04. Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN~ (Instrumental)

~Single Review~
Every once in a while, there comes a release that makes it a joy to be a reviewer, letting me look forward to reviewing the song. Well, believe it or not, “Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN~” is one of those songs. The single, featuring the amazing combination of J-pop starlet Yuna Ito and experienced American (Canadian by birth) pop songstress Celine Dion, was released on January 16, 2008. The single had larger than life expectations to fit, and it is my joy to confess that yes, the two met them. They have done splendidly.

The lead version of “Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN~” is the version featured in the PV. The song features a great instrumental and vocal combination. Compared to the USA version, the instrumentals are fuller here and Celine Dion is more on the back burner. That’s not a bad thing; Celine Dion still sings the English parts of the chorus with soaring vocals, and Yuna Ito takes over for the Japanese parts. The song is split quite evenly; even though the song may be Celine Dion (it feels like a lot of her discography) the two share the spotlight here. Celine Dion even sings phonetically in Japanese, backing Yuna Ito up. That only strengthens a catchy chorus that is both memorable and emotional. Although at times over the top with full violin, guitar, drums and synthetic instrumentation, Dion’s and Ito’s vocals are over the top as well; they feel at home on this power ballad, and that comes off across. Over all, “Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN~” is catchy, despite not sounding extraordinarily special.

“Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN~ (USA Mix)” features less full instrumentation that is much more guitar based, leaving the vocals in the spotlight. Although the violins do make an entrance during the bridge, the song never attains to that J-pop feeling the original version did. That’s probably because the chorus just feels much barer without those elegant string sections at the end. That’s not to say this mix isn’t good, at moments, this mix is better than the other one; but the background vocals don’t meld as well and the chorus just isn’t as strong. The weak link in the chorus turns out to be Dion, who vocals still soar, but lack the depth they had with Ito’s full background vocals. They try to harmonize here and a gospel even enters the fray near the end, but “Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN~ (USA Mix)” just isn’t as good and as big.

The Yuna Ito solo version of “Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN~” features a new verse and bridge, all in Japanese. Ito does a good job taking up the helm of the song here without Celine to lean on. However, Ito’s voice was clearly not meant to sing the powerful notes that Celine’s does, and her voice sounds out of place when she sings Dion’s “you gave me a world to believe in.” Even though clear and pretty, Ito’s voice does have that melisma. For that reason, “Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN~ (Ito Yuna Solo Version)” sounds inferior to both other versions.

In the end, “Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN~” sounds incredible. Celine Dion heard an artist who is usually hit or miss and guided her towards a big hit.

94% A

[Single] AAA – MIRAGE

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~Track Listing~
01. MIRAGE
02. Love Candle
03. SUNSHINE (Live in Budokan 2007.09.22)
04. MIRAGE (Instrumental)
05. Love Candle (Instrumental)

~Single Review~
AAA released their 17th single “Mirage” on January 9, 2008. The single debuted at number one on the Oricon charts and sold around 25,000 copies its first week on sale. That makes “MIRAGE” AAA’s highest charting single, but it also makes it one of the lowest number one debuts ever.

I’ll start this review on a personal note, because I think it’ll help give my review better context. I’ve followed AAA since 2006 right after their debut, and I’ve been impressed with their music many times over. Then 2007 hit, and I became disenchanted with their songs. Although their earlier songs were catchy, poppy, and dancy, I’ve felt their more recent releases have failed to capture that magic. Blame it on their rushed release schedule (17 singles since 2006? That’s obscene). However, that said, “MIRAGE” does remind me why I still like AAA, even if it isn’t as superb as the energetic “BLOOD ON FIRE” or the powerful “Let It Beat!”

The intro to “MIRAGE” is prolonged, but works well preparing the listener for the instrumental stylings of the song that border on trance. Sadly, the intro isn’t anything amazing after the first few seconds of Middle Eastern sounds. The verses aren’t that special either, featuring bare solos from the members. The bridges do up the temp noticeably, which carries over to a fuller, catchy chorus. The song may have a good chorus, but even that doesn’t sound as good as many of AAA’s past releases. The song is pop, but AAA’s done better.

“Love Candle” is a ballad that works off of the voices of the guys of AAA juxtaposed against the girls in the background. AAA specializes in dance music, and when they release songs like “Chewing Gum” and “Love Candle” they mystify me. They definitely don’t have depth to their voices, or believable emotion, which really undercuts the ballad. The nice element of the song that does make it sound nice and sweet is the depth achieved through use of background vocals. Because of those background vocals, courtesy of AAA’s girls, the bridges and the chorus sound surprisingly good.

This particular Budokan live of “SUNSHINE” is good; AAA can sing live. Of course, the studio track is superior, but the live recording has energy and a responsive crowd. As such, the live of “SUNSHINE” is a must have for the die-hard AAA fans, but passable for everyone else.

Over all, “MIRAGE” feels like just another single from AAA. I sincerely wish they’d slow their release pace down and take time on production. If this single was further polished and practiced, I believe it could have been better. And yes, had it been better, it may have been able to sell even more, making it more than the lowest number one debut in Oricon’s history. One can only hop they’ll slow their release rate after the release of their best album, “ATTACK ALL AROUND.”

78% C

[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-