Ayumi Hamasaki – NEXT LEVEL

April 27, 2009 at 6:43 PM | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki | 12 Comments
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The cover of the CD only edition

NEXT LEVEL is Ayumi Hamasaki’s 10th studio album and it was released on March 25, 2009. The album reached #1 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 366,013 copies.

♦ ♦ ♦

Opening the album is the ambient instrumental Bridge to the sky. Like the opening tracks on her past couple of albums, it features some lyrics. I have to say that I really like this track because it sets up the pop and electronic stylings of the album. The music also has a nice, ethereal quality to it.

The first full length track is NEXT LEVEL, which has the same ambient sound as heard in Bridge to the sky but with a focus on piano and soft beats. I was honestly expecting something more aggressive but I think this song is pleasant nonetheless. It starts off slow but at least the music speeds for the chorus and Hamasaki’s vocals become more involved. This song served as a promotional track for the album as well.

WTF, another instrumental?! We just had one! Disco-munication just seems really random to me and I still wonder why it’s even on here. Despite being kind of worthless, the instrumental’s use of 8-bit video game sounds was quite amusing. It would have been better if A) it was turned into a full length song or B) it was not even on the album at all.

After that, we go into EnergizE, an absolutely campy song that I just can’t help but like. This is a lighthearted pop track is filled with thumping beats, little blips of synth, and clapping sequences. The song is pretty catchy and it has an upbeat rhythm as well. I’ll admit that the English phrases get stuck in my head sometimes: Put your hands up together! Let me sing forever!

Sparkle is easily my favorite song on the album. What can I say? It dazzles the fuck out of me. This hot dance and electronic flavored song is exhilirating and one of Hamasaki’s most interesting songs to date. This brand of music works perfectly for her and it makes me want moooooore.

The next track kind of has an electronic sound going on as well and it’s heavy on the synth too. rollin’ has a strange arrangement and makes use of the vocoder during the verses. Hamasaki’s vocals are robotic most of the time but they become clearer when the high octane chorus comes in.

At this stage of the album, GREEN sticks out A LOT. Due to its oriental themed arrangement, it’s the most deviant song on the album in terms of overall sound. Only its placement is a problem since I think the song is great. Then again, it wouldn’t have fit in ANYWHERE so I guess this will do.

Unlike Disco-munication, the oddly titled Load of the SHUGYO seems more fitting as an interlude. I say this because the instrumental kick starts the album’s rockish phase. After the opening beats, a furious electric guitar enters.

Which brings us to identity, an awesome pop rock track. Unlike the songs on Hamasaki’s previous album GUILTY, the next couple of tracks are not super emotional and devoid of any dark atmosphere. In this case, identity is a fun and aggressive song that maintains an uptempo rhythm. The chorus is especially good since Hamasaki sings with a lot of energy.

The rockish atmosphere continues with Rule, a song that I have really grown to enjoy. I think the electric guitars are great and I just love how “in your face” the chorus is. Hamasaki’s strong vocals are also quite catchy. RULE RULE RULE~

My favorite new track off the album is definitely LOVE ‘n’ HATE. Damn, this song is HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOT. It also has a unique sound that mixes a little bit of rock, electronica, and a whole lot of FIERCE. Everything about it is quite enticing because it sounds so offbeat at first. I loved the looping stringwork in the arrangement and they mix very nicely with the thudding effects of the beats. There were other interesting parts of the song like Hamasaki’s random counting and the opening synth (which really throws you off). This is an amazing song and it should have been a single!

The last interlude on the album also happens to be the longest. Pieces of SEVEN starts off slow for about a minute but it does pick up and becomes a flurry of aggressive synth and electric guitars. As an interlude, it’s odd because it precedes the two BALLADS that end the album.

That interlude certainly didn’t help set the mood for Days, a pleasant winter ballad. It’s a very pretty song and I seriously think that Hamasaki can do no wrong when it comes to ballads. She is a classy lady after all. ;D

Ending the album in a simple fashion is Curtain call. Utilizing a lone piano, the song has a graceful demeanor to it, but I have to admit that it gets more interesting near the end. A choir comes in and starts singing and harmonizing in the background, which added a gospel vibe to the music (which was an excellent touch in my opinion). However, Hamasaki needs to tone down on the vibrato. It’s ringing in my ears! Aside from that, this song works in drawing the album to a close.

HOW DARE YOU MAKE A FUN AND CATCHY POP ALBUM, AYU!? HOW. DARE. YOU. ♥
I’m not going to lie, I really enjoyed NEXT LEVEL and I thought it was an extremely satisfying breath of fresh air. It’s a fun album, pure and simple. I don’t want to compare it to GUILTY either since it has an entirely different theme and setting so let’s just leave it at that. I pretty much liked every track on the album, which is kind of rare for an Ayu release since there’s always that one track that I absolutely loathe, but I honestly wasn’t feeling that on NEXT LEVEL. To be fair, the biggest complaint I have are the interludes. They are odd, random, and distracting. More new tracks would have been nice too. In closing…AYU HAS LEVELED UP! Please tell me you see where this is going. It’s a good album, end of story. lmao

Overall Rating

4 stars

Tracklisting

1. Bridge to the sky
2. NEXT LEVEL
3. Disco-munication
4. EnergizE
5. Sparkle
6. rollin’
7. GREEN
8. Load of the SHUGYO
9. identity
10. Rule
11. LOVE ‘n’ HATE
12. Pieces of SEVEN
13. Days
14. Curtain call

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

12 Comments »

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  1. omg 100% agree.

    All you haters can sit down. Ayumi is fierce and she always will be! So suck on that haters! ♥

    Great review, Lex!

  2. ya i thought this album was pretty cool… though i do with theere was more songs. awesome review Lex =]

  3. I really love this album by Ayu, this wasn’t the case with GUILTY so I’m really happy! And your review let me listen again to some of the songs.
    I was also surprised with the last interlude.

    Keep on writing!

  4. Haha I can’t say that I liked it as much as you, however I find it interesting to see Ayu experimenting…. nice review (:

  5. So much better than Guilty. I had a ton of fun listening to this album.

  6. the album’s awesome & you can definitely tell the mood is waaay more cheerier than GUILTY . Definitely 1 of my fave albums that has been released this year so far <3

  7. it’s a gr8 album!!! Listenint to it gives me so much joy!!! it’s pretty awesome! cool review;P

  8. I think disco-munication had to be an interlude, because if it were a full track this album would have been perfect. People would start thinking she’s god or something.

  9. i loved her new style,actually i’m looking forward to her next single already,,,i wonder when she is going to release another single?

    the techno style is pretty cool

  10. This album to me is flawless.

  11. It’s not a bad album at all, but I definitely feel it’s one of her worst. Fortunately for us, even Ayu’s worst is still pretty good. I agree though about those interludes… They really mess up the overall flow.

  12. Yes! I would like too, if discomucation was a complete song, nit just an interlude. my fave songs from next level are: days, love@hate, sparkle, curtain call and discomunication LOL
    but load of the shugyo…i had a headache, when i heard it. its too rockish for me xD
    it was a great review too! youre great! :)


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