Guess who got a Tumblr…

April 5, 2012 at 9:38 PM | Posted in ~Blog Updates & Announcements | 1 Comment

This guy did. ;D

Koda Kumi – JAPONESQUE

February 4, 2012 at 9:20 AM | Posted in Koda Kumi | 3 Comments
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The cover of the CD only edition

JAPONESQUE is Koda Kumi’s 10th studio album and it was released on January 25, 2012. The album reached #1 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 93,835 copies. It was preceded by 3 singles: 4 TIMES, Ai wo Tomenaide, and Love Me Back.

♦ ♦ ♦

This is gonna be a lengthy review. I got a lot of tracks to cover! However, I will let you know beforehand that this album is good. It’s probably the closest thing to perfect that we will ever get from Koda Kumi and I say that as a long-time fan.

After the album opens with an interesting and ethnically charged intro track, we go right into So Nice which features rapper Mr.Blistah. Much like their previous collaboration Candy, this song has a strong Arabian inspired arrangement that is laced with heavy beats and guitar chords. It’s a short song but instantly sets the mood for the album.

An aggressive electric guitar kicks off Boom Boom Boys, which has become one of my favorite tracks. Kumi has always been on and off when it comes to rock songs but this is on point. Actually, all the rock songs on this album are great. For me, the chorus was the best part because the music is so in your face and Kumi packs an extra punch in her vocals.

I have to admit that V.I.P. was a guilty pleasure of mine. When I first heard it on the 4 TIMES single, I thought it was such a hot mess but at the same time I began to like it more and more with each listen. The song is slightly different on the album thanks to an atrocious rap by rapper T-Pain. It’s a short 20 second rap but still…”arigatou I’m out HOLLA”. *dead*

Kumi collaborates with American artist Omarion for the next track Slow. It has a catchy chorus but I wasn’t too fond of all the auto-tune, especially during the verses. As for Omarion’s contributions, he has a solo rap during the bridge which was tolerable and he sings the English lines with Kumi.

After all of those high-octane tracks the album begins to simmer down a little at this point. Starting with Brave, this is a decent mid-tempo ballad but with no outstanding qualities. You can just brush it off to be honest.

Everyday is better though. It’s more on the cute side which I was afraid of at first (because of the disaster that was Melting) but this turned out to be not half bad.

I like to describe IN THE AIR as a prime example of an ideal pop song. It’s very upbeat, extremely catchy, and the music production is top notch. Initially the charming pop number of the 4 TIMES single, it has grown to become one of my favorites on the album.

I was on the fence when I saw You are not alone was included on the album but this new acoustic version was a total surprise. The original was the B-side on the Ai wo Tomenaide single and I thought it was generic. I loved the acoustic revamp though! The heavy clapping beat mixed with the uplifting guitar chords made this song feel a lot more genuine, giving it a “campfire” feel.

It’s interlude time! I didn’t think this was as cool as the intro track because the sounds were random but get ready for a slew of skanky songs. ESCALATE has that heavy dance club feel that I love from Kumi and she kills it here. A very hot track indeed.

As for Love Me Back…I guess the similarities to Cherry Girl are there but not really. This song is pretty different even for Kumi. I got more of a retro TV feel from the music but it has a modern twist thanks to the synth. Still a cool song nonetheless!

No Man’s Land was another surprise. This has to be her best rock song in ages. The reason I say this is because her vocals finally match the dark tone of the music. Alongside the sinister electric guitar riffs, Kumi sings in a lower pitch for a majority of the song. The chorus is definitely the best part since she isn’t yelling or straining her voice. She sounds cool and collected.

Umm…this is a weird spot to place Ai wo Tomenaide on the album. The second single of the era, this is a refined acoustic based ballad that has grown on me. It’s just that it has no business being wedged between No Man’s Land and the next track!

Because the transition into the sexy and seductive KO-SO-KO-SO is awkwaaaard. This was my favorite track on the 4 TIMES single because it’s just plain hot. Even though it’s not a total club banger like some of the previous upbeat tracks on the album, it has an infectious melody with a chorus that is very memorable.

The next track starts with Kumi saying “You’re gonna love it~” followed by heavy synth. Lay Down continues the sensual vibe of KO-SO-KO-SO but this song is much more aggressive. The English lyrics were probably the most notable thing as well, especially that “popping bottles” line. lol

Honestly, Love Technique is the only song on the album that I don’t like. It’s another cute song and I was turned off by Kumi’s childish vocals. I thought the verses were really annoying because of that “talk-singing” thing she was doing. The chorus was okay though.

At least once Love Technique ends, it goes right into Poppin’ love cocktail in a snap. This was the lead track of the 4 TIMES single and it was my least favorite of the four back in August 2011. The song has grown on me though since it’s catchy and has a fun, summer atmosphere. I thought the rapping by TEEDA (the MC of the rock band BACK-ON) was more amusing than anything so I didn’t mind it, even though that “You looks like horny!” line still cracks me up.

The final track of the album is the thoughtful and heartwarming All for you. A simple acoustic guitar ballad, what makes this song stand out is the fact that it was recorded in one take and without any fancy studio magic. The vocals are very raw but Kumi sounds good, singing simple lyrics that were compiled from fan letters.

Koda Kumi has officially outdone herself! In terms of overall presentation and quality, JAPONESQUE is her strongest release from beginning to end. Like I said at the beginning of the review, this album is nearly perfect. It’s going to be tough to see Kumi top JAPONESQUE because it has the best combination of music genres that she’s known for and then some. For example, even though the only song that I didn’t like was Love Technique it’s still leagues ahead of other cute songs she has done from the last 3 albums. For having 19 tracks, you’re really getting the best of everything she has to offer. My main gripes go to T-Pain’s unwelcome presence in V.I.P. and the so-so mid-tempo tracks like Brave. They couldn’t find a better place to put Ai wo Tomenaide either?

Pros: An incredibly solid album. With 19 tracks, what is there not to like?
Cons: The minor things that I mentioned in the final paragraph. You can make your own minor adjustments to make this album the perfect package if you wanted to.

Overall Rating

4½ stars

Tracklisting

1. Introduction ~JAPONESQUE~
2. So Nice feat. Mr.Blistah
3. Boom Boom Boys
4. V.I.P. feat. T-Pain
5. Slow feat. Omarion
6. Brave
7. Everyday
8. IN THE AIR
9. You are not alone (Acoustic Version)
10. Interlude ~JAPONESQUE~
11. ESCALATE
12. Love Me Back
13. No Man’s Land
14. Ai wo Tomenaide (愛を止めないで)
15. KO-SO-KO-SO
16. Lay Down
17. Love Technique
18. Poppin’ love cocktail feat. TEEDA
19. All for you

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

BoA – Milestone

January 29, 2012 at 12:18 PM | Posted in BoA | Leave a comment
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Milestone is BoA’s 32nd single (1st DVD single) and it was released on December 7, 2011. Technically a DVD release with a bonus disc containing the single, it reached #4 on the Oricon Weekly DVD charts and sold 7,722 copies.

♦ ♦ ♦

Milestone is the first Japanese song by BoA that I have genuinely liked in a loooong time. After releasing such duds like her last album IDENTITY and the WOO WEEKEND single in 2010, I was beginning to lose faith (in her Japanese music at least). Luckily Milestone proves to be a shining ray of hope and a worthy song to commemorate her 10th anniversary in Japan. A simplistic ballad comprised of mostly piano, BoA’s vocals proved to be the strongest factor of the song. She sounds absolutely radiant, her voice sounding better since those 2010 releases. The only drawback is that the song is way too short and the ending very abrupt. After the final chorus at the 3 minute mark, the song just ends like that.

The B-side was originally a digital single released in December 2010. I thought I SEE ME was pretty good and a nice follow-up to Milestone. The music is more upbeat and has a jazzy sound to it.

Also included on the single is the “BEST&USA Version” of Meri Kuri, her popular Christmas ballad. I thought it was kind of strange that it was placed on here since it was already on the compilation album BEST&USA which was released almost 3 years ago. Anyway, compared to the original this version is simpler with the primary focus on the piano and BoA’s vocals once again.

Pros: I think Milestone is a beautiful song.
Cons: It doesn’t provide a sense of closure because of its sudden ending. I’m hoping for a full version if BoA releases another album.

Overall Rating

4 stars

Tracklisting

1. Milestone
2. I SEE ME
3. Meri Kuri ~BEST&USA Version~ (メリクリ)
4. Milestone -Instrumental-
5. I SEE ME -Instrumental-
6. Meri Kuri ~BEST&USA Version~ -Instrumental-

Mai Fukui – Beautiful Days

January 26, 2012 at 5:45 PM | Posted in Mai Fukui | 2 Comments
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The cover of the CD only edition

Beautiful Days is Mai Fukui’s first mini-album and it was released on December 14, 2011. The mini-album reached #11 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 9,157 copies. It was preceded by 2 singles: Ikutabi no Sakura and Yakusoku no Basho / Tatta Hitori no Mikata.

♦ ♦ ♦

Another singer I have discovered through Final Fantasy! Mai Fukui entered my radar when it was announced that she would perform the theme song for Final Fantasy XIII-2 so I was intriguied.

Speaking of which, the mini-album actually begins with that song. Yakusoku no Basho is an enchanting ballad and the first thing that grabbed my attention was her voice. Fukui has a rich and deep tone to her voice, giving it a soothing quality but she can put some power behind it as well. The verses really showcase this with the chorus and bridge featuring stronger vocals. As a Final Fantasy theme song, I think it’s wonderful and actually better than the previous theme Kimi ga Iru Kara. On a side note, Filipino singer Charice sings the English version titled New World.

At the beginning of 2011, Fukui changed her stage name from “福井舞” to “ふくい舞” (basically her last name from kanji to hiragana) and released Ikutabi no Sakura as her first single of the year. Also a ballad, this song has a simpler arrangement but still features bright piano chords. The song starts off slow but becomes more interesting near the end when a choir joins her.

I have seen Fukui labeled as a “ballad singer” but this next track proves that she can execute a great upbeat song, too. Tatta Hitori no Mikata was the other A-side coupled with Yakusoku no Basho and it’s very nice. Right from the beginning, Fukui sings with enthusiasm followed by a cheerful mix of strings, brass, and percussion. The chorus is very catchy as well.

The mini-album only has two new songs and the first one is Believe. I thought the Spanish influenced acoustics were a great touch and gave the song some flavor. Being the only other upbeat song on here, it works as a bridge between Tatta Hitori no Mikata and the next track.

The next track is an acoustic version of Ai no Uta, her debut single from 2008. I actually haven’t heard the original yet but I did like this. The calm arrangement is pleasant and Fukui sounds great. The lone acoustic guitar that accompanies her has a cool solo during the bridge as well.

Ending the mini-album is the title track Beautiful Days, a flowing ballad with gorgeous strings. I thought this song was notable for Fukui’s elongated notes and English lines during the chorus: I don’t cry anymore but I don’t smile like I did before. I loved it when she hit the high notes, too.

With only a mini-album, Mai Fukui has already left a big impression on me. I am seriously in love with her voice. It has such a graceful quality to it that really enhances her songs. I think Beautiful Days is a good entry point for those that want to try her music out (especially you’re a Final Fantasy fan like me). Yakusoku no Basho is one of the better themes that the series has delivered in my opinion. Four of the six tracks are ballads but at least they have variety in their arrangements and the inclusion of upbeat songs like Tatta Hitori no Mikata and Believe are very welcome additions.

Pros: Her voice is heavenly. *sigh*
Cons: There’s only 2 new tracks and I felt like this was a rushed release.

Overall Rating

4 stars

Tracklisting

1. Yakusoku no Basho (約束の場所)
2. Ikutabi no Sakura (いくたびの櫻)
3. Tatta Hitori no Mikata (たったひとりの味方)
4. Believe
5. Ai no Uta (Acoustic Ver.) (アイのうた)
6. Beautiful Days

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

Tohoshinki – TONE

January 24, 2012 at 7:27 PM | Posted in Tohoshinki | Leave a comment
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The cover of the CD+DVD type B edition

TONE is Tohoshinki’s 5th Japanese studio album and it was released on September 28, 2011. The album reached #1 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 307,154 copies. It was preceded by 2 singles: Why? [Keep Your Head Down] and Superstar. This is also the group’s first Japanese album as a duo with just Yunho and Changmin.

♦ ♦ ♦

I always knew about Tohoshinki but never really paid attention to them. However, this was the album that made me a fan.

That being said, I never liked this group back when there when there was 5 of them. I honestly wasn’t. You could even say that I was a ~hater~ because I thought they ruined Koda Kumi’s LAST ANGEL back in the day (read the review LMAO). I also listened to BEST SELECTION 2010 to try them out and I only liked 2 or so songs. So why are things different now? I’m more open minded of course! ;DD It was probably curiosity more than anything but I do know that I really like Yunho and Changmin as a duo. Now onto the review!

The album begins with Introduction ~magenta~, a gorgeous opening ballad that is structured like a lullaby. It’s only a minute and a half long and it doesn’t really set the mood for what’s to come but it’s pretty so whatever. The lyrics are more fitting though.

B.U.T (BE-AU-TY) is my workout jam! I love the beats at the beginning and alongside the fast-paced singing by Yunho and Changmin. This an upbeat dance track and it’s chock-full of energy. Hell, I even like “dung dung dung” part in the chorus. XD This song served as one of the album’s promotional tracks.

The next track also has a slick dance vibe but with more electro-pop and house influences. I Think U Know is pretty catchy thanks to its chorus that is sung by Yunho (I think??). The instrumental sequences were actually my favorite part though since the synth and heavy beats come together.

Duet seems to be a fan favorite and I can see why. Yunho and Changmin certainly have the upbeat songs on point but what about when they try something a little slower? Thankfully, this song is very nice. It has a mellow R&B sound even though there’s a little too much going on during the chorus. I think I prefer the winter version.

I thought Thank you my girl was an interesting track. It samples a popular piece of classical music (I don’t know the name of it but I have certainly heard it before) and incorporates it into the synth-laden arrangement. You hear it in full effect during the chorus when Yunho and Changmin start singing alongside it and their voices bounce back and forth.

Out of all the new tracks, Telephone was the least memorable for me. The music has a calm acoustic sound and virtually stays pretty chill throughout the entire song. It’s not bad or anything but requires multiple listens to finally grab you.

Now that Telephone is out of the way, it’s time to bring in Back to Tomorrow. This was definitely a standout track and I like to think of it as a super dramatic version of Duet. The arrangement is a suspenseful mix of strings and piano and I really liked the buildup that leads into a strong chorus.

Here it is, my favorite track on the album! Why? [Keep Your Head Down] is the Japanese version of Wae (Keep Your Head Down), the duo’s comeback song in Korea, and it is so awesome. I mean, I can’t believe I missed out on this. The song is just relentless and full of intensity thanks to a constant beat and energetic vocals (especially near the end).

The next track is also a Japanese remake of a song off their latest Korean album and was originally the B-side on the Why? [Keep Your Head Down] single. MAXIMUM is extremely upbeat with an emphasis on faster paced vocals. I’m glad it’s on the album.

Unfortunately, I consider the next two tracks to be the album’s low point. The Superstar single makes its appearance starting with the B-side I Don’t Know. Besides the beat it’s nothing special but at least it’s not as bad as the upcoming A-side.

I mean seriously, how did Superstar get released as a single? LOL It’s arguably the worst song on the album. The autotune, the line about shouting like an eagle (or is it eel girl?), and bunch of other silly things make this song a dud.

It’s over, bbz! Now we can enjoy the rest of the album in peace because the next couple of tracks are good. The main gripe I’ve seen about Shiawaseiro no Hana was its length (it’s almost 7 minutes long) but I actually think it’s a really well-done ballad. The elegant arrangment has enough going on to keep you listening and the vocals are spot-on.

The tracklisting now branches off into different directions depending on the edition. The red CD+DVD type A edition ends with Easy Mind, a cheery and positive song. The whistling portions still kind of annoy me but the catchy chorus makes up for it.

The blue CD+DVD type B edition ends with Weep and I preferred this song over Easy Mind. Contrary to the title, this is not a sad song but actually quite the opposite. Once again, the chorus stands out and it’s pretty infectious. There’s also a nice adlibbing section near the end.

On the yellow CD only edition, Easy Mind and Weep are both included PLUS one more song! It’s a new version of the group’s 2nd Japanese single Somebody To Love. I vaguely remember this track when I listened to BEST SELECTION 2010 but I honestly can’t do a comparison with this new version that features only Yunho and Changmin. It definitely sounds a little outdated compared to the rest of the album but I thought it was still nice.

So there you have it. I have become a Tohoshinki fan…I’m still not sure how it happened but I totally love these two now. Tohoshinki as a 5 member group did nothing for me so I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed this album. It’s very solid and shows what Yunho and Changmin are capable as a duo. TONE brings it all to the table in my opinion. Most of the upbeat songs are incredible, the mid-tempo tracks and ballads are nicely done, plus they can even pull off a pleasant pop song or two as heard in those final tracks. On the downside, I Don’t Know and Superstar are pretty bad and Telephone is just there. lol I also think Yunho and Changmin just need to perfect their craft as a duo because TONE is already a good indication of their talent. They did say that they wanted more male fans, too. ;D

Pros: An addicting album. I’ve been jamming to it for the past couple of weeks. I know I’m super late! XD
Cons: Those flop tracks that I already pointed out and I can already hear the old school fans telling me that “I’ve missed out”.

Overall Rating

4 stars

Tracklisting (CD only edition)

1. Introduction ~magenta~
2. B.U.T (BE-AU-TY)
3. I Think U Know
4. Duet
5. Thank you my girl
6. Telephone
7. Back to Tomorrow
8. Why? [Keep Your Head Down]
9. MAXIMUM
10. I Don’t Know
11. Superstar
12. Shiawaseiro no Hana (シアワセ色の花)
13. Easy Mind
14. Weep
15. Somebody To Love -2011 Version-

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

Mai Kuraki – OVER THE RAINBOW

January 19, 2012 at 7:34 PM | Posted in Mai Kuraki | 2 Comments
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The cover of the CD+DVD edition

OVER THE RAINBOW is Mai Kuraki’s 10th studio album and it was released on January 11, 2012. The album reached #2 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 29,618 copies. It was preceded by 4 singles: 1000 Mankai no Kiss, Mou Ichido, Your Best Friend, and Strong Heart (a DVD single).

Gorgeous! Mai-K’s covers seem to keep getting better with each release. Maybe she fired her old GIZA graphic artists. XD

♦ ♦ ♦

Mai Kuraki is still going strong and her latest release OVER THE RAINBOW proves to be a winner. Honestly, this album has grown on me a lot and I really like it now. Alongside her usual songwriters and producers like Aika Ohno and Akihito Tokunaga, the album features songs written by Giorgio Cancemi. If you’re not familiar with his work he is most famous for creating some of Kana Nishino’s biggest hits like Best Friend and Aitakute Aitakute.

The album opens with Strong Heart which was the latest single as well as a DVD single. Written by Cancemi, the music has that light R&B / pop sound that he’s known for and it goes well with Kuraki’s voice. It’s a good way to start things off and it goes right into the cool and sleek synth of another day*another world. This song presents a new sound for Kuraki since it’s aggressive and relies more on the production value (much like the song FUTURE KISS off her previous album).

Then we have a new version of Sayonara wa Mada Iwanai de, the B-side from the 1000 Mankai no Kiss single. I thought it was decent when I heard it on the single but there are some notable tweaks on the album version. For example, the arrangement seems to have a fuller sound with stronger beats (the original sounded empty and dated to me in this regard) and the adlibbing vocals are a little more layered, too.

Stay the same is the first of the album’s two promotional tracks. This was honestly the only song on the album that I didn’t like because the music sounded childish and Kuraki’s vocals followed suit. She has never really pulled off “cute” before so this doesn’t work for her. Then again, the song does have a tie-in with Sanrio Company, the makers of Hello Kitty. XD

After that is Your Best Friend, the first song that Cancemi wrote for Kuraki as well as the 3rd single of the era. At this stage of the album, the music slows down and ballads start to come in so this song makes for a good transition. We’re not exactly in ballad territory yet but we’re getting there. Anyway, Your Best Friend is pretty and flows wonderfully.

Get ready for some ballads! Mou Ichido was the 2nd single of the era and banned in China for some reason. XD Out of the 3 consecutive ballads, this one is definitely the most dramatic. The stringwork and piano chords invoke a feel of sadness and Kuraki’s vocals radiate with the music.

Oh lordy this next track is sooooo nice. Brave your heart is an uplifting ballad and a collaboration with Chinese singer/actor Alex Ru. He sings in Japanese and has a nice voice, especially when he performs his solo lines. The chorus features them singing together and overall I thought this song was great. It was also the album’s other promotional track.

I was surprised that Sun will shine on u was written by Cancemi because of its simple arrangement. Compared to the other songs he wrote for the album, it’s a nice change since this song is mostly piano and strings without the added fluff he normally does. I must say that Kuraki sounds lovely as well with the chorus being my favorite part.

The album begins to pick up the pace again with the inspiring song Love one another. This was originally a digital release with the proceeds going to charities for victims of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. I think the earthy tribal sound going on in the music was unique for Kuraki and various vocal layering was a nice touch. Her long-time collaborator Michael Africk wrote this song and provides minimal background vocals.

Originally the B-side from the Your Best Friend single, step by step comes in with Mai-K shouting “Let’s go!” and upbeat strings. This was one of the better B-sides released during this era so it’s a good addition to the album.

The next track is perhaps my favorite on the album. I instantly liked 1000 Mankai no Kiss right after the first listen because of its dynamic arrangement. It disguises itself as a ballad at the beginning but progressively becomes more upbeat and the rhythm speeds up when the 2nd verse arrives.

It’s always been a tradition for most of Kuraki’s albums to end with a bright, upbeat track and we get that with La La La*La. The music has a slight Latino influence to it and features acoustic guitar with the familiar beats that the musical sytle is known for. Kuraki is no stranger to the genre either. The bridge stands out for its use of synth though.

This might not be a popular opinion amongst Mai-K fans but I preferred OVER THE RAINBOW over her last album FUTURE KISS. To me, FUTURE KISS only had a couple of memorable songs and was kind of disjointed at some parts because of the variety it had. OVER THE RAINBOW trumps it in terms of production value and presentation. All the songs are nicely done with the ones written by Giorgio Cancemi being a breath of fresh air. The only problem that I had with his songs was that Kuraki seemed to struggle to sing those high notes. Normally, she’s spot-on but in these songs she ends up sounding shrilly and almost piercing when she gets around to singing in those upper registers. I think it’s because of her naturally deep voice and she’s wearing it thin. Minor adjustments can fix stuff like that though.

Pros: The flow is great and the music doesn’t sound outdated. I think she’s finally gotten out of her rut!
Cons: Just those little vocal issues. Stay the same is my least favorite track, too.

Overall Rating

4½ stars

Tracklisting

1. Strong Heart
2. another day*another world
3. Sayonara wa Mada Iwanai de ~album ver.~ (さよならは まだ言わないで)
4. Stay the same
5. Your Best Friend
6. Mou Ichido (もう一度)
7. Brave your heart
8. Sun will shine on u
9. Love one another
10. step by step
11. 1000 Mankai no Kiss (1000万回のキス)
12. La La La*La (ラララ*ラ)

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

JUJU – YOU

September 6, 2011 at 5:42 PM | Posted in JUJU | 1 Comment
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YOU is JUJU’s 4th studio album and it was released on July 13, 2011. The album reached #1 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 272,454 copies. It features songs from the singles Trust In You, Kono Yoru wo Tomete yo, Sayonara no Kawari ni / Negai, and Mata Ashita….

I swear she has some of the best single and album covers ever. So simple and classy~

♦ ♦ ♦

The people who think this album is boring need to be punched in the face, tbh. It is true that YOU is packed with ballads but so what? When an album is so well produced and arranged such as this one, you’ll want to keep listening. Sure, some of the material that JUJU covers (like jazz for instance) might not be for everyone but you can build a bridge and get over it, right? ;D

The album starts with Kono Yoru wo Tomete yo, which has become one of her biggest hits peaking at #10 on Oricon as well as dominating the digital charts. It’s a sorrowful mid-tempo song with an extremely pretty arrangement. I really like this song now and it makes a for a good opening since it sets up the overall mature tone of the album.

Sayonara no Kawari ni has become one of my favorite songs from her EVER because it really stands out in her discography. The music is an amazing mish-mash of electronic synth and R&B blended with stronger than usual vocals from JUJU. She’s really belting it on this track, especially when the powerful chorus comes around. I highly recommend this track because it is tremendous.

The first new track is Tsuyogari, a dynamic ballad with a beautiful band arrangement. JUJU once again displays strong vocals in the chorus to really make this track shine. It’s probably my favorite out of the new tracks as well.

Here’s a jazzy song for you! Jazz is one of my guilty pleasures and JUJU does it so well. If is also one of the sporadic upbeat tracks on this album and it’s nicely done thanks to upbeat piano, drums, and electric guitar.

Negai is another ballad and like Tsuyogari, it has a big band arrangement. I didn’t really care for this song back when it was coupled with Sayonara no Kawari ni on its respective double A-side single because it got overshadowed by that track. It does stand better on its own here though.

JUJU mixes it up a little bit with Voice, a bright song with a prominent string arrangement. There’s a gradual buildup featuring a simple dance beat before the first chorus shows up and that’s when the music begins to shine by combining these elements. You don’t get a lot of upbeat material on this album but when you do, it’s good. This is a prime example. 

This next track verges on being upbeat but mostly maintains a mid-tempo rhythm. Love again also has a light jazz sound with some R&B beats mixed in. Overall, it’s a pleasant song and was originally the B-side on the Mata Ashita… single.

Memories is probably the most R&B inspired track on the album. The beats are rather strong and constant together with JUJU’s stern vocals. There’s also some English phrases in the chorus like I can’t get you off my mind and How can I forget the love with you?.

At this point, the album enters into full blown mid-tempo and ballad territory, but I’m not complaning yet. lol Anyway, I love Piece Of Our Days! This song is so pretty and serene. It utilizes light electric guitar and piano to create a calming and romantic atmosphere. The bridge is also wonderful. This song was originally a B-side on the Kono Yoru wo Tomete yo single.

Trust In You was the first single of the era and it was released after her 3rd album (the self-titled JUJU) but before Request. A prime example of the mid-tempo R&B pop craze that is still sweeping Japan, this song is fortunately not about cellphones. XD

The beginning of the next track is gorgeous. Mata Ashita… was the final single of the era and also proved to be a big digital hit. A progressive ballad like some of the tracks at the start of the album, this song is really nice and keeps you interested. I wish I could say the same thing about the last two tracks…

This is where things begin to slow down and almost to a screeching halt! I’m just exaggerating but a lot of fans have expressed their dislike of ANTIQUE simply because it’s too long. Being over 7 minutes long and with such a laid back acoustic arrangement, I have to somewhat agree. The main reason is because the music doesn’t change and stays relatively quiet for most of that 7 minutes.

Sharing the namesake of the album, the final track YOU provides for a nice ending. When I first heard it, I was afraid that it was going to be like ANTIQUE but fortunately the music does pick up and more instruments come in. JUJU’s vocals are a lot better here as well. Recently, this song was released as a recut single with a new arrangement and coupled with a cover of rock band GLAY’s 90s hit BELOVED. Yay?

In the end, I was very satisfied with this album. I don’t think a majority of it is boring but I’ll never get into ANTIQUE because it has nothing going for it but that’s the only blaring exception. If you want sophisticated and extremely polished music then JUJU is for you. Like I said at the beginning of this review, this album is full of top notch material and it’s put together well. If you compare it to her last studio album, YOU is not as varied but at the same time it doesn’t have a monotonous feel.

Pros: The first half of the album is perfect to me. Sayonara no Kawari ni is definitely one of the best songs of 2011.
Cons: Those last 2 tracks… *shakes fist* 

 BASICALLY…YOU stands out compared to other mainstream releases this year.

Overall Rating

4½ stars

Tracklisting

1. Kono Yoru wo Tomete yo (この夜を止めてよ)
2. Sayonara no Kawari ni (さよならの代わりに)
3. Tsuyogari (つよがり)
4. If
5. Negai (願い)
6. Voice
7. Love again
8. Memories
9. Piece Of Our Days
10. Trust In You
11. Mata Ashita… (また明日…)
12. ANTIQUE
13. YOU

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

Utada Hikaru – Utada Hikaru SINGLE COLLECTION VOL.2 (Disc 2)

August 21, 2011 at 1:49 PM | Posted in Utada Hikaru | 2 Comments
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Utada Hikaru SINGLE COLLECTION VOL.2 is Utada Hikaru’s 2nd compilation album and it was released on November 24, 2010. The album reached #1 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 441,267 copies.

I know the cover is just a bunch of stars but I’ve grown to like it. Did Utada ever mention the meaning behind it?

♦ ♦ ♦

Reminder: This is primarily a review of the album’s 2nd disc which contains the 5 new songs. I will briefly cover the 1st disc though.

Now you’re probably asking, “Lex, why are you reviewing this?” Well…I always wanted to do a review of the 2nd disc and and I love her. XD What else can I say?

Utada sure likes to make us fans wait. During the end of 2010, she finally starts doing music activities again but only to announce that she will go on indefinite hiatus. *dead* Oh well, onto the review!

The 1st disc of the album is the actual single collection. It features every A-side starting from 2004′s Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro all the way up to 2008′s Prisoner Of Love with the tracklisting in reverse order (so Prisoner Of Love is the first track). As a nice bonus, the really cool PLANiTb Acoustica Mix of Beautiful World is included as well.

If I was Utada, I would have released the 2nd disc as its own mini-album or something. lol It starts of with Arashi no Megami, a song dedicated to her mother. I was really surprised by this song when I first heard it. It’s quite the opposite of most of the music that comprises the 1st disc. An organic pop ballad, the music is mainly piano and percussion and it sounds really pretty. I also have to mention that Utada’s vocals sound a lot better than before, too. Contrary to popular opinion, this is actually my personal favorite of the 5 new songs (the next two tracks seem to be fan favorites from what I’ve observed).

You can’t blame them though. Show Me Love (Not A Dream) is pretty awesome. It starts off quietly but quickly gains momentum as electric guitars come in and Utada’s vocals become a lot stronger. I get major Passion vibes from this song since it has a similar sweeping, ethereal quality. Even though I love Arashi no Megami, this song would’ve made for a better single release in my opinion.

I’m sure everybody remembers Goodbye Happiness! The quirky PV is what sold me because it’s really cute but alone as a song it’s still quite good. The music is reminiscent of the light electronic sounds of both the ULTRA BLUE and HEART STATION albums. I also liked the bouncy dance atmosphere.

The next track is the only one that I don’t care for. Hymne à l’amour ~Ai no Anthem~ was the first song to be released and it has been met with mixed reception. It’s a cover of a French song and Utada actually sings in French in the beginning but later switches to Japanese. As for the music…I can give points to Utada for trying the jazz lounge sound because it sort of works for her. The arrangement is kind of monotonous minus that cool breakdown sequence (you know the one ;D). She has a tendency to draw out the endings of her songs but she overdoes it this time. The ending instrumental is so long that it makes the track clock in at 6 and a half minutes.

Ending this short collection of new songs is Can’t Wait ‘Til Christmas. A simple piano ballad, Utada’s vocals really radiate on this track. Besides sounding gorgeous, I think the chorus is catchy! I’m already ah loving you. ♥

So there you have it! The 2nd disc of Utada Hikaru SINGLE COLLECTION VOL.2 is a nice little assortment of songs and compliments the A-sides of the 1st disc quite well. Utada presents some new sounds as well as some nostalgia so you get the best of both worlds. Hopefully her hiatus won’t last too long and she’ll be back in full form. Wishful thinking, I know…

Pros: Pretty much FLAWLESS. Utada never disappoints when she delivers the goods!
Cons: Being only 5 songs, it leaves you wanting more. With some crucial tweaks, Hymne à l’amour ~Ai no Anthem~ could have been better as well.

BASICALLY…wahhh I miss Utada! *crying rivers of tears* lmao

Overall Rating

4½ stars

Tracklisting (Disc 2)

1. Arashi no Megami (嵐の女神)
2. Show Me Love (Not A Dream)
3. Goodbye Happiness
4. Hymne à l’amour ~Ai no Anthem~ (Hymne à l’amour ~愛のアンセム~)
5. Can’t Wait ‘Til Christmas

Kana Nishino – Thank you, Love

August 18, 2011 at 7:00 PM | Posted in Kana Nishino | 1 Comment
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The cover of the regular edition

Thank you, Love is Kana Nishino’s 3rd album and it was released on June 22, 2011. The album reached #1 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 307,183 copies. It was preceded by 4 singles: if, Kimitte, Distance, and Esperanza.

The duck lips are back! I’m not digging the hippie look either. It doesn’t suit her.

♦ ♦ ♦

I got to hand it to Kana Nishino for staying consistent after the release of to LOVE. This album era featured some of her best singles so far so I was looking forward to what she would bring to the table with her 3rd album titled Thank you, Love. Much like the last album, Thank you, Love has a pleasant summer vibe but it’s even more evident here since there is noticeably less “aitakute”. LOL

The album begins with the extremely pretty introduction track *Prologue* ~Sunrise~ which goes into the leading single Esperanza. As much as I enjoy this song and appreciate Nishino for trying out a Latino acoustic sound, the similarities to Motto… are above obvious. The structure of the song almost mirrors that of Motto… from beginning to end but maybe that’s why I like it so much. XD Still, you can’t hide this from me, Kana!

Then we have the bouncy party song Clap Clap!!. The big thing about this album is that it’s mostly comprised of upbeat songs which is a nice change from all the mid-tempo stuff she’s been doing. After that is Together, a feel-good song with a happy-go-lucky atmosphere. It sounds like a parade during the chorus when that brass kicks in.

Distance, the 3rd single off the album, still remains as the standout track here. It has a ambient dance sound but it’s not like one of her aggressive club-banger B-sides. That’s okay though since the song is unique in its own right. The B-side I’ll be there (from the if single) follows and even though it’s not the B-side that I would have personally put on this album, I still like it. It’s a pretty song but I would have put Beautiful or beloved to shake things up.

The first full-blown ballad on the album is Flower. I don’t really remember it though since it gets quickly overshadowed by Every Boy Every Girl. I have to admit that this song is full of character and energy. It’s bound to get you moving.

I don’t really remember Where are you? since it’s clumped in-between better tracks. It’s still nice to hear somewhat upbeat material though. Anyway, I wanna talk about if instead. XD It’s a GREAT song and being the first single of the era, it set the standard for the rest of the singles that followed. Compared to the to LOVE singles, this song has a different vibe to it. The music is more uplifting and progressive with strong vocals from Nishino as well.

Hmmm…what should I say about Alright? I’m pretty sure you’re trying to read my mind but I’m not going to say that it’s just alright! lol To me, this song sounds a lot like if but more upbeat. The music is vibrant for sure and the chorus stands out. It’s more than alright, to be honest!

We’re getting close to the end of the album and here we are with 2 really nice ballads. First is Kimitte, a lovely song that proved to be the most popular A-side of the era sales-wise. It’s really pretty and the next track Wishing compliments it really well. Remember back on to LOVE she was all “cellphones and aitakute” at this point? None of that is here. In terms of the lyrics, these songs feel more genuine, especially when you listen to the chorus of Wishing.

Closing the album is *Epilogue* ~Thank you, Love~ which is a reprise of the prologue. The pleasant island sound comes back along with the looping “Thank you, Love” vocals that I love. It also features Nishino talking in English thanking her friends and family for their support and LOVE (of course!) Haha. It’s cute though.

I have to give props to Nishino for showing some growth and maturity in Thank you, Love. In an interview for the album, she said that the album reflects a different mindset compared to the likes of LOVE one. and to LOVE and if you care about lyrics, you can notice it here. On the down side, the music isn’t that much different with the exception of Esperanza and maybe Distance so you don’t really see any development in that department unfortunately. All in all, I enjoyed the album for what it was worth and pretty much every song is likable in some way. I hope Nishino continues to explore that untapped potential she has because it’s definitely there.

Pros: This is a fun album and her most colorful work to date.
Cons: Like to LOVE, some of the new tracks don’t stand out until you really give them a good listen.

BASICALLY…noooo, thank you, Kana. Thank you. ;D

Overall Rating

4 stars

Tracklisting

1. *Prologue* ~Sunrise~
2. Esperanza
3. Clap Clap!!
4. Together
5. Distance
6. I’ll be there
7. Flower
8. Every Boy Every Girl
9. Where are you?
10. if
11. Alright
12. Kimitte (君って)
13. Wishing
14. *Epilogue* ~Thank you, Love~

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

Hello everyone!

July 4, 2011 at 12:55 PM | Posted in ~Blog Updates & Announcements | 6 Comments

I’m happy to report that Beyond the Sea is officially back in business! After a couple of months of getting situated with my new military life and job at my first duty station, I feel comfortable enough to begin reviewing again. I just reviewed 2 albums (Love songs and Dejavu) in the past couple of days and let’s just say that I missed it. =O

Here are some little things though:

  • Reviews will most likely come on the weekends when I’m off duty. I’m still busy after duty hours on weekdays since I’m studying my career development courses and doing PT but weekends I’m totally open.
  • The “upcoming reviews” page is GONE. I’m going to review whatever I feel like now but you’ll be able to see the next review on the right side of the page.
  • I’ll be switching back and forth between my old (track-by-track) and new (summarizing) review styles. Depending on the type of release it is, I’ll decide which style is better.

That’s pretty much it! Now I have to make a new banner for this blog…the old Ken Hirai one is depressing me. lol

- Lex

P.S. Thanks for all the welcome back comments. You guys are so nice. =D

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