Archive for the 'Single' Category

[News] Namie Amuro – New Look / Rock Steady PVs

Head on over to http://vidal.jp/ and skip the first screen, then head to the video / collaboration section. Once you’re there, you’ll be able to choose which PV you wish to watch. Once rips have been created, I will post youtube links here.

These are great PVs with great style direction; highly recommended.

New Look

Rock Steady

[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

[News / New Artist Spotlight] Kana Nishino – I (PV)

『I』西野 カナ (Nishino Kana)

The PV is particularly strong for a debut artist, with excellent effects and a dark, underwater setting. Despite a lack of choreography or dancing, the PV features a great wardrobe, great imagery and good direction: nary a moment is boring. When you mix captivating visuals with well produced sound, you come out with a a well rounded PV. “I” is a great debut, probably one of the best since JYONGRI’s “Possession.” Although Kana Nishino’s vocals aren’t particularly strong, the rock riffs and synthetic instrumentation work well with the layering to create a good song. “I” may be difficult to love first listen as it features harder, somewhat discordant rock, but the production and arrangement work well in the end.

Kana Nishino is an artist to look out for. Her debut single, “I,” will be released February 20, 2008. I’ll be sure to review the single around it’s release.

The Single Information / Cover:

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~Track Listing~
01. I
02. In Stereo
03. Just a friend

You can visit her official website here.

A big thanks to moviebuffwwc for the tracklisting and Lemonlime for the news.

[News] Stephanie – Friends PV

Stephanie certainly has rocked it up in her latest song, “Friends.” Much like her B-sides, this song depends on guitar riffs and ignores Stephanie’s whistle notes in favor of a fast paced song. Although the PV isn’t amazing, the differentiation of shots and the motion does help mix things up a bit (it is shot all in one room). Over all, not too bad at all.

Sorry about the video getting taken down. In the future, please comment if that happens.

[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

[News] Utada Hikaru – Stay Gold (HQ Version)

Yet another “Stay Gold” post?

Yes, well, if you haven’t gotten it yet, Hikki is one of my favorite singers, so I try to keep up on her newest releases / news.  Here, we have the HQ version of “Stay Gold” which really helps us hear the beautiful piano and carefully layered vocals. Only real problem in sight is that the song doesn’t have the strength to carry it out as long as it is (it feels like too many repetitions of the chorus). As such, “Stay Gold” sounds soft, making it sound more like a B-side.

In other news, “HEART STATION” hits Chaku-Uta ringtones on January 21, 2008. The song is supposed to have an older R&B feel with a mid-tempo beat.

And thanks to mimi for posting the link to the video!

[News] Utada Hikaru – Stay Gold -Radio Rip-

It’s nice to finally hear “Stay Gold” after waiting months. It’s premiere was originally in ASCIENCE hair-product commercials, but it was aired in an incomplete form.  Although this rip’s quality is low, you can hear the delicate layering, the piano, and Utada’s deep voice.  A nice soft A-side that sounds different from Utada’s other ballads, “Stay Gold” features a soft R&B edge throughout the verses.

[News] YUI – Namadairo Preview

YUI’s next single, “Namadairo” due out February 27, 2008, will be used in the drama 4 Shimai Tantei Dan. The youtube video above is our first look at the song. Right now, “Namadairo” sounds like something YUI’s released before, but still good. But before we post a full review, we’ll need to hear the whole song…

[News] HEART STATION / Stay Gold Cover Revealed

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That’s right, this is the cover for her new single, “HEART STATION / Stay Gold,” due out February 20, 2008. You should notice firsrt that the cover only has the name of one A-side on it; considering that Utada usually includes both titles (if any at all), she might execute a single design similar to “For You / Time Limit,” where she created two covers, one for each A-side. As for now, this cover is another interesting addition to the mystery behind “HEART STATION.” Sources are scarce, but we do know it’s a pop song made to “wipes away the heart’s tears” (JOSHIN / UBLOG). Considering the thunderbolt on the cover and the over all brightness of the heart among darker blue, “HEART STATION” may be one Hikki’s rarer upbeat songs. Here’s to hoping.

Look out for “Stay Gold” to hit the radio on January 8th – there should be a full, albeit LQ, version available then. And let’s not forget that Hikki has yet to reveal the tie-in for “HEART STATION.”

[Single] Akikawa Masafumi – sen no kaze ni natte

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~Tracklist~
01. sen no kaze ni natte (千の風になって)
02. sen no kaze ni natte ~Karaoke~ (千の風になって~カラオケ~)
03. ringo oiwake (リンゴ追分)

~Single Review~
“sen no kaze ni natte” is a song that gained popularity because of the moment. In a case of lucky exposure, “sen no kaze ni natte” was performed on the year end show, Kouhaku, and began to sell. Before this year end performance, “sen no kaze ni natte” sold only around 5,000 copies. Afterwards, it became the best selling single of 2007 (despite being released May 24, 2006), and went on to sell 1,122,618 copies. Akikawa Masafumi also performed “sen no kaze ni natte” at the year end shows in 2007, which is really The stretching the power of a song released in 2006. The effects of even more year-end performances have yet to be seen.

“sen no kaze ni natte” is a ballad with piano and violins. It’s very plain and spartan, so the focus is on Akikawa Masafumi’s tenor voice. The best way to describe the song to people who don’t normally listen to tenors is that he sings like a man in opera. This translates into overemphasizes, deep vocals that make the song is very hard to get into as a casual listener. The success of the song then, is probably the touching lyrics. Below is a translated excerpt:

I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.

The lyrics are bittersweet, and describe a love that can’t be felt tangibly. Perhaps that explains this song’s appeal; along with a powerful voice, this song speaks sadness while reassuring, all at once emotional. The cover also makes sense in hindsight as your love never leaves that environment. An interesting idea that has caught on with the current Japanese populace, “sen no kaze ni natte” is based off an emotion and an idea. Musically, it’s not amazing, but for the lyrics and the idea, the opera-like vocals and simple instrumentation work.

“Ringo Oiwake” is probably Akikawa Masafumi’s element; it sounds a bit over the top with his deep voice throughout the song. Nonetheless, the song is an interesting way to round out the single. Lyrically, I don’t know what he’s singing about, but from a musical stand point, there is more variety. This track is another interesting listen, if you’re willing to venture out of your safety zone for J-pop listening.

Over all, Akikawa Masafumi represents a trip of pop off the beaten path; such a non-mainstream song has captivated the Japanese public, so you know it has to have something to it. Of course, it’s not well done pop. But it is well done music, and that’s what matters. If you’re willing to try it, “sen no kaze ni natte” is worth a listen, at least to understand its widespread popularity.

90% A-

[Single] Namie Amuro – Baby Don’t Cry

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~Tracklist~
1. Baby Don’t Cry
2. Nobody
3. Baby Don’t Cry (TV MIX)
4. Nobody (TV MIX)

~Single Review~
“Baby Don’t Cry” was released on January 24, 2007, and has peaked at number three on the Oricon chart, selling 144,081 copies in total, making the single the 48th best selling single of 2007. The song, “Baby Don’t Cry,” was used in the drama “Himitsu no Hanazono.” There has been a fair amount of buzz surrounding “Baby Don’t Cry,” as its pop edge reminds some old Namie fans of her older music; it’s no wonder it became it her best selling single since 2001’s “Say the Word.”

“Baby Don’t Cry” starts out with powerful percussion, mixes in snapping then allows the pop synths to flow in as the song progresses. The background talking of Namie throughout the song helps the atmosphere maintain a pretty pop sound, as well. “Baby Don’t Cry” is definitely R&B because of the prominent beats, but still features very poppy instrumentals, much poppier than in Namie Amuro’s other recent music. The song is best defined as hip-pop, the style Namie Amuro is best known for. The combination of her vocals and the background music in the chorus is the best part of this mid-tempo song, but nothing compares to the climax and the extro. The vocals accompany the music well with layering, becoming a mixture of pop sounds. “Baby Don’t Cry” is very different from anything Namie Amuro has done as of late, but that does not mean it is bad. It is oh so very good.

“Nobody” uses the same instrumentation as “White Light,” but different, softer vocals. The background music is slightly different, but still sounds the same. It’s a much softer version with some more engrish and a forced chorus, which really hurts the song. “Nobody” is not a good B-side in any respect. It doesn’t compare to “White Light,” and it’s not even close to being as good as “Baby Don’t Cry.”

Over all, “Baby Don’t Cry” started off 2007 in one of the best ways possible. This pop single was great and reintroduced many fans to Namie Amuro’s music, which gained popularity once more in 2007. One need look no further than the break-out success of the album “PLAY.”

92% A

[Single] Crystal Kay – anata no soba de

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~Tracklist~
01. anata no soba de (あなたのそばで; Next to You)

~Single Review~
Crystal Kay released “anata no soba de” on May 16, 2007, and the single charted at 30 on the Oricon charts. This low position compared to her previous singles could be explained by the fact that this single is a stand alone single, a la Utada Hikaru’s “Be My Last.”

“anata no soba de” is mid-tempo R&B based off of a clapping rythym and keyboards coupled with vocal layering. Kuri’s vocals are smooth throughout the song, but the problem with the song is that it is capable of so much more. The chorus is capable of being so much more powerful than it is, especially considering how the bridge builds into the chorus. Instead, the chorus is slighter faster paced, poppier, and lighter. It’s well done R&B from Kay, but she could have easily made the song into an anthem by speeding it up instead of leaving it as mid-tempo.

80% B-

[Single] Crystal Kay – konna ni chikaku de…

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~Tracklist~
01. konna ni chikaku de… (こんなに近くで…; So Close…)
02. FEEL
03. konna ni chikaku de… -KZ Future Disko Remix- (こんなに近くで…; So Close…)
04. FEEL -Singo.S Remix-
05. konna ni chikaku de… -Instrumental- (こんなに近くで…; So Close…)

~Single Review~
After the mild top twenty success of her last ballad oriented single, “kitto eien ni,” Kuri took a turn back towards the pop territory inhabited by “koi ni ochitara” (by and far her most successful single). “konna ni chikaku de…” sounds familiar and new all at once as it tries to play towards “koi ni ochitara’s” sound while being upbeat in order to capitalize upon its success. “konna ni chikaku de…” did not come close to recreating the karaoke magic of “koi ni ochitara” however, and only reached number fourteen its debut week, selling about 9,000 copies.

“konna ni chikaku de…” sounds most like “koi ni ochitara;” its keyboard based and supported by strings at times, which is a really odd combination. In the end though, despite not sounding quite normal, “konna ni chikaku de…” defies explanation and is good. It’s so funky with its synth and so smooth with Crystal Kay and the violins that the song becomes great, catchy pop that doesn’t sound quite like anything else out. Add in a catchy hook and strong choral vocals and “konna ni chikaku de…” is easily a fun tune a J-pop fan can jam to any day.

“FEEL” is a mid-tempo R&B song that seems to cater to Kuri’s R&B song as “konna ni chikaku de…” is not really the R&B she usually puts out. It’s smooth, sleek, but also sometimes cumbersome sounding. The choruses sound great, but the high notes sound a bit strained which is a problem, hurting this B-side.

The remixes are filler. “Konna ni Chikaku de”‘s is on speed, and “FEEL”‘s doesn’t sound good.

In the end, this is a single carried by a stellar A-side. Kuri sometimes falls into a rut of releasing mediocre crud, but here, she succeeds at releasing one of the pop gems she’s known for.

89% B+

[Single] Crystal Kay – kitto eien ni

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~Tracklist~
1. kitto eien ni (きっと永遠に; Surely Forever)
2. As One
3. kitto eien ni -STUDIO APARTMENT REMIX-
4. As One -REMIX-
5. kitto eien ni -INSTRUMENTAL-

~Single Review~
“kitto eien ni” was released on January 17, 2007, and debuted at number 12 on the weekly charts, higher than the number 27 position of her last single, “Kirakuni / Together.” The song “kitto eien ni” was used as the ending theme to Boku wa Imouto ni Koi wo Suru (My Sister, My Love), a movie surrounding incestuous love that never should have been.

“kitto eien ni” is a strong song, the sort of ballad that Kuri’s been due to sing. It’s very smooth with the piano and soft beat backing Kay’s voice. The chorus is especially good, with powerful vocals, strings, and a stronger beat.. I especially like the ending. Perhaps the best part of this song is the growth that Crystal Kay emits; her earlier teen songs cannot compare to this song in the slightest. It’s a beautiful ballad, although in the end it feels like it lacks a little something.

“As One” is a true blue R&B ballad compared to the poppier “kitto eien ni.” It’s completely in English, as well, which suits Crystal Kay just fine. The only really negative thing to say about the mellow song is the lack of fullness in the chorus; it’s clearly not an A-side. It just feels like they could have put some background vocals in, or something. Otherwise, a strong B-side. It is not as good as the Japanese version, “STILL,” however, which was a digital release in Japan.

The remix of “AS ONE” may be worth a listen, but the remix of “kitto eien ni” is long, boring and does not fit the tone of song at all. In the end, the originals are definitely better than their remixes.

84% B

[Single] Arashi – Love so sweet

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~Tracklist~
1. Love So Sweet
2. Itsu Made Mo
3. Love So Sweet (instrumental)
4. Itsu Made Mo (instrumental
5. Fight Song (G no Arashi Theme Song) (First Pressing Bonus)

~Single Review~
Love so sweet was the theme song of Hana Yori Dango 2, rated most popular Japanese dorama of the year. The drama starred Jun of Arashi. Because of the drama’s popularity, “Love so sweet” went on to reach number one on the Oricon chart when it was released February 21, 2007, sell 429,832 copies in total, and become the fourth best selling single of 2007.

For many, “Love so sweet” can be immediately associated with the lighter moments of “Hana Yori Dango 2”, bringing up images of Tsukushi-chan and the finale. Because of that association, “Love so sweet” is an excellent song. As a stand alone track, however, it’s a mid-tempo pop track with above average vocals for a Johnny’s track. There’s use of harmonies in the chorus, but that isn’t really anything all that special, and the individual duets or solos sound quite strained at points. Of course, the fact that the song is insanely catchy bubblegum pop with excellent production helps cover that up, as does the hook “Love so sweet,” but for some reason, this song feels like it’s something important. Depth. It’s a great song for Johnny’s and Arashi lovers alike, but other people, you might want to be wary of this one.

“Itsu Made Mo” is an interesting B-side; it’s a synth based song with plenty of violins and trumpet and a beat backing Arashi up. It’s not as good as Love So Sweet, but the song is surprisingly good for a Johnny’s B-side. The crescendo near the end is a definite high point, as well as the double repetition of the choruses. The harmonies in this song are great. Over all, an excellent B-side with polish.

“Fight Song (G no Arashi Theme Song)” feels like just another song on the limited edition/first press in order to move units. It feels a bit like Ayu’s “Beautiful Fighters” without the synthetic interference in their voices and with booming instrumentation at points; that’s a downside considering the haphazard sounding nature of the crowd intermingling with the Arashi’s harmonies. I guess that fits as a fight song, but the harmonies on this song are not Arashi’s best, although it’s worth noting the individual parts are stronger than usual. And he chorus has the energy you’d expect from a fight song.

As one of the biggest singles of 2007, “Love So Sweet” had to be well-done pop. It was, and together with the biggest drama of the year, it achieved great success. Ringtone sales were high, as were physical sales. For Johnny’s Entertainment fans, boy’s band fans, and pop fans in general, “Love So Sweet” is a must listen.

88% B

[Album] Ayumi Hamasaki – GUILTY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

84% B

[single] Mizuki Nana – Meikyu Butterfly

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

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

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

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

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

85% B


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