Ai Otsuka – Zokkondition / LUCKY☆STAR

April 12, 2010 at 8:55 PM | Posted in Ai Otsuka | 3 Comments
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Zokkondition / LUCKY☆STAR (ゾッ婚ディション/LUCKY☆STAR) is Ai Otsuka’s 20th single and it was released on April 7, 2010. The single reached #6 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 11,980 copies.

I’m not liking the platinum blonde on her…and she looks like G-Dragon. D:

♦ ♦ ♦

Um…welcome back, Ai? Well, I don’t really like Zokkondition. The song is actually kind of annoying and it reminded me of Is, that icky track from her LOVE is BEST album. It has a quirky pop rock sound, which I normally like from her, but this time I was disappointed. Her vocals are off as well.

The 2nd A-side is much better. Originally released as a digital single in February, LUCKY☆STAR features light guitar riffs with synthetic beeps and chimes. Unlike the half-assed Zokkondition, I actually heard some effort in the arrangement. Nice work on this track, Ai.

Pros: LUCKY☆STAR is pretty good.
Cons: Bye Bye + Do☆Positive + crap = Zokkondition. </3

BASICALLY…a supbar release. The first A-side could have been way better.

Overall Rating

3 stars

Tracklisting

1. Zokkondition (ゾッ婚ディション)
2. LUCKY☆STAR
3. Zokkondition (Instrumental)
4. LUCKY☆STAR (Instrumental)

Ai Otsuka – Bye Bye

March 10, 2009 at 8:49 PM | Posted in Ai Otsuka | 8 Comments
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Tracklisting
1. Bye Bye (バイバイ)
2. Bye Bye (Instrumental)

This is Ai Otsuka’s 19th single and it was released on February 25, 2009. The single reached #8 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 17,485 copies.

UGH, RECUT SINGLES. I dread when J-pop artists release them these days because you hardly get anything new. Her first recut single, Kuroge Wagyuu Joshio Tanyaki 680 Yen, featured a completely new version of the original song plus 2 B-sides. You don’t get that or anything else in that matter with Bye Bye, a song that first appeared as track 3 on her latest album LOVE LETTER. I think this rustic pop rock song is alright, but it’s definitely not worth a single release especially when the album had better tracks. Oh well, what can you do? At least the promo pictures are cute! =D

A random thought: Otsuka should make a new version of Shachihata with actual lyrics and release THAT as a single. I would approve!

Overall Rating

3 stars

Ai Otsuka – LOVE LETTER

January 17, 2009 at 9:24 PM | Posted in Ai Otsuka | 6 Comments
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The cover of the CD+DVD edition

LOVE LETTER is Ai Otsuka’s 5th album and it was released on December 17, 2008. The album reached #3 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 179,174 copies.

♦ ♦ ♦

On Ai Otsuka’s previous albums, the opening track is normally an upbeat song but it looks like that trend has broken with the title track LOVE LETTER. The song is a piano ballad and quite a simple one as well. I thought it was kind of weird for her to open the album with such a slow song but I guess that was the point. Anyway, I don’t think it’s anything special but at least Otsuka’s vocals are nice.

For me, the album really starts with the extremely bouncy Rocket Sneaker. There are a good amount of upbeat songs on the album, but this one is definitely the best. The fast paced music is great and I loved the mix of electric guitar and piano.

Like Rocket Sneaker, most of the upbeat songs follow a more band oriented arrangement. Bye Bye is a bright and rockish song that compliments Otsuka’s vocals pretty well. The music is heavy on the guitars and drums as well. At the end of February, this song will be released as a recut single because of its tie-in with Asahi Beer.

Kurage, Nagareboshi is by far my favorite song on the album. It’s a beautiful summer ballad that’s performed very well and I just love how epic it is. The music is dramatic and has a calm, natural sound thanks to the strings and piano. Otsuka hasn’t had a ballad this grandiose since Planetarium so good job on her part.

A slew of new tracks are up next and they start with the ballad Ningyou. I gotta say that this song is pretty and it’s like LOVE LETTER, but a million times better too. The strings really make this song shine and I like that brief segment where the music speeds up when Otsuka’s vocals get stronger. I wish the song was longer though because it’s quite enchanting.

The next track has a laid back psychedelic sound but that’s what I like about it. Kimi Fechi is pleasant to the ears as well. It’s a relaxing song that features soothing electric guitars next to gentle drums and chimes. 

Opening with a cheery acoustic guitar, Creamy & Spicy has an lively atmosphere that doesn’t let up. The arrangement features rhythmic drums and electric guitar later on too. The only thing about the song that bugs me is when she shrieks the “creamy & spicy” line during the chorus though.

Here’s another pop rock song and it was one of the three tracks used to promote the album (360° and Ai being the other two). Do☆Positive is the most aggressive of these songs because of its swift arrangement alongside Otsuka’s energetic vocals. I like that she put some character into her voice to make things more fun and it gives the song some personality.

Now we have a song that is pretty far out. 360° has a spacy, yet ambient sound that includes fantasic piano chords and various synthetic beats. Otsuka’s vocals have been filtered with a cool layer effect as well. Even though she repeats the same line over and over again for the chorus, I find it pretty catchy and memorable.

The biggest surprise on the album is definitely Shachihata. Not only has Otsuka created a classic 1930s big band and brass driven track, her vocals are radically different. The voice you hear in this song sounds nothing like her because she’s singing at a far lower pitch than ever before. Even though she is doing nothing but adlibbing, I was enjoying every second of it. I was very impressed with this song and even more so since Otsuka composed it.

The album begins to slow down in pace with the next track. I still think One×Time is quite nice and I like its laid back arrangement. The gentle strings are great and they’re my favorite aspect of the song, especially during the catchy chorus.

Pocket was Otsuka’s take on the winter ballad and even though the song as a whole is kind of average compared to her other ballads, it is performed very well. The 2nd half of the song is the best part because the arrangment picks up and Otsuka’s vocals become more vibrant.

The final track on an Ai Otsuka album never fails to disappoint because she always wraps things up with a heartwarming ballad of some sort. This song, simply titled Ai, does exactly that. It’s a very sweet song and Otsuka sings with complete sincerity, especially near the end with the adlibbing sequence. I really like that part since you hear children providing the background vocals too.

While I think LOVE LETTER is good, I have to be honest and say that it is one of Ai Otsuka’s weaker albums as well. The album contains her most mature sounding material to date, but most of the songs end up being too reserved and mild at the same time. I don’t know how to put this without being overly negative, but a large portion of LOVE LETTER is missing the fun factor and replay value of previous albums. I’m aiming this criticism only at the new tracks though because I was expecting more out of them. On the plus side, Otsuka has crafted a thoughtful album with a wide array of pleasant pop songs. It’ll probably just take more time to grow on me in the long run.

Overall Rating

4 stars

Tracklisting

1. LOVE LETTER
2. Rocket Sneaker (ロケットスニーカー)
3. Bye Bye (バイバイ)
4. Kurage, Nagareboshi (クラゲ、流れ星)
5. Ningyou (人形)
6. Kimi Fechi (君フェチ)
7. Creamy & Spicy
8. Do☆Positive (ド☆ポジティヴ)
9. 360°
10. Shachihata (シヤチハタ)
11. One×Time
12. Pocket (ポケット)
13. Ai (愛)

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

Ai Otsuka – Kurage, Nagareboshi

September 26, 2008 at 2:59 PM | Posted in Ai Otsuka | 6 Comments
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Tracklisting
1. Kurage, Nagareboshi (クラゲ、流れ星)
2. H2O
3. Ame no Tsubu, Waltz ~LOVE MUSiC~
    (雨の粒、ワルツ ~LOVE MUSiC~)
4. Kurage, Nagareboshi (Instrumental)
5. H2O (Instrumental)

This is Ai Otsuka’s 18th single and it was released on September 10, 2008. The single reached #4 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 39,901 copies.

To celebrate her 5th anniversary in the music industry, Ai Otsuka released Kurage, Nagareboshi, a dramatic ballad to signal the end of the summer. It takes elements from her past ballads like Kingyo Hanabi and Planetarium and it’s a perfect example of her excellent songwriting skills. It’s a very heartfelt song that is supported by a vibrant and organic arrangement as well. The piano and acoustics flow very well as the music progresses and becomes stronger, especially for the gorgeous bridge sequence.

The first B-side, H2O, is on the rockish side but it maintains that cute Ai Otsuka charm. Featuring mostly electric guitar riffs and the clamoring of tambourines, this is a fun and carefree song. However, it doesn’t really begin to shine until the chorus appears after the really long opening verse.

The other B-side is more of a gentle ambient track. Ame no Tsubu, Waltz ~LOVE MUSiC~ has a beautiful and fluid sound because of the flowing strings and piano. I instantly recognized why LOVE MUSiC (the final track from the LOVE COOK album) is in the title because the chorus borrows lyrics from that song. The chorus is my favorite aspect of this song too. Not only is it very pretty, but it’s also catchy.

Overall Rating

4½ stars

Ai Otsuka – Rocket Sneaker / One×Time

June 18, 2008 at 8:59 AM | Posted in Ai Otsuka | 5 Comments
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Tracklisting
1. Rocket Sneaker (ロケットスニーカー)
2. One×Time
3. Sora to Kujira (空とくじら)
4. Rocket Sneaker (Instrumental)
5. One×Time (Instrumental)

This is Ai Otsuka’s 17th single and it was released on May 21, 2008. The single reached #4 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 42,152 copies. The first track was used as the ending theme song for the drama Sanma no Manma.

I liked how Rocket Sneaker was a new approach to Ai Otsuka’s upbeat songs. The song is not too crazy or laid back, it’s just right and it works brilliantly. The music has a whimsical, yet assertive sound through its mixture of fast paced piano chords and electric guitar riffs. The same goes for the Otsuka’s fun vocals. For me, this was the best song on the single and a nice improvement over the songs from her previous single Pocket.

The second A-side is like a more mellow version of Rocket Sneaker. One×Time shares similar qualities, including a fluffy arrangement, but it is stronger when it comes to the strings and acoustics. In the end, this song compliments the previous track quite well.

The coupling track, Sora to Kujira, starts off boring and I didn’t find it all that interesting until the end. It’s a simple acoustic guitar song that eventually picks up with drums and electric riffs, but Otsuka has done better. The second half of the song makes up for the boring first half, but that’s not enough to save it.

Overall Rating

4 stars

Ai Otsuka – Pocket

November 23, 2007 at 1:06 PM | Posted in Ai Otsuka | 1 Comment
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Tracklisting
1. Pocket (ポケット)
2. Ticket (チケット)
3. LIFE – LOVE CiRCLE
4. Pocket (Instrumental)
5. Ticket (Instrumental)

This is Ai Otsuka 16th single and it was released on November 7, 2007. The single reached #5 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 61,003 copies.

Pocket is a pleasant piano and string based ballad, but it’s a little on the ordinary side when it comes to the verses and its introduction. However, the song really begins to shine when the chorus arrives and electric guitar chords kick in along with Ai Otsuka’s elevating vocals. She really does give an exceptional performance in the song and it is evident since there are no backing vocals at all.

The next track is an upbeat and cheery track that still maintains a calm atmosphere. Ticket also uses strings and the electric guitar, but in a more uplifting fashion. It’s at the same level as the A-side in terms of quality, if not better.

Track 3 is…strange. LIFE – LOVE CiRCLE is Ai Otsuka’s first song to feature lyrics that are almost entirely in English. With the exception of the maru ai (”love circle”) line, you’ve pretty much got an English song right here. The music is your typical rockish type of song and it sounds similar to her summer hit PEACH. The lyrics are pretty repetitive as she repeats phrases over and over in cute, but heavily accented English. At least she tried, and it’s not all that bad to be perfectly honest.

Overall Rating 

3½ stars

Ai Otsuka – LOVE PiECE

October 8, 2007 at 7:33 PM | Posted in Ai Otsuka | 1 Comment
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LOVE PiECE is Ai Otsuka’s 4th album and it was released on September 26, 2007. The album reached #1 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 376,115 copies.

♦ ♦ ♦

The very energetic Mirai Taxi opens the album with a nice synth line. The song also has a nice rockish sound to it that blends in very well. The chorus features distorted vocals followed by Ai Otsuka’s unaffected vocals.

Yumekui follows right after and features an even stronger rock sound with more progressive chords. Otsuka’s vocals actually compliment this song really well, especially during the chorus.

The next track, Mackerel’s canned food, is a more cheerful song. It’s very upbeat with a steady percussion beat and Otsuka’s vocals are very playful throughout the entire song. The chorus is a little on the silly side with its lyrics, but it’s very catchy.

Track 4 is PEACH, a song that has grown on me a considerable amount since it was released as a single. I think the chorus is very infectious and the best part of the song. Otsuka’s vocals don’t sound as good like in the previous tracks though. 

The album slows down and takes on a somber tone with the next track, Kumuriuta. It opens with gentle vocals and acoustic guitar followed by some piano. The chorus is just plain gorgeous and it really shows that ballads are Otsuka’s strongest asset.

I absolutely loved Hoshi no Tango. It’s an extremely pretty mid tempo song with relaxing piano and acoustic guitar chords. Otsuka’s vocals are at their best as well. The only gripe that I have about this song is its length. Being under 3 minutes, it’s way too short for this exceptional track.

All I have to say about the next track is HOLY CRAP. Katorisenkou takes the “crazy Ai Otsuka song” to a new extreme with its mindless KA KA KA KA chorus and grungy vocal sytle from Otsuka. The screeching electric guitars are awesome and add to the already present insanity of the song. In the end I LOVED IT since I have always been a fan of Otsuka’s “drug induced” songs, or whatever you want to call them.

I loved how the ending of Katorisenkou flowed right into the opening riffs of Frienger. Despite being the oldest track on the album, I have always enjoyed it and it still sounds fresh to my ears.

Continuing the album’s trend of overly upbeat songs is CHU-LIP. This song has a stronger brass arrangement and along with a catchy chorus and quirky vocals, it’s another high quality track.

HEART is a wonderful, relaxing song that just flows with style and precision. The gentle electric guitar chords and beats are great and Otsuka’s vocals are just radiant.

I thought Renai Shashin was the perfect way to end the album because it’s such a heartfelt song. The lyrics are sincere even though they’re constantly repeated (in the chorus at least), and the music is very nice. The light beats together with the sweeping strings and piano make for one extremely pretty pop ballad.

LOVE PiECE is definitely Ai Otsuka’s most mature album to date. Unlike her past works, this album flows extremely well from beginning to end and each track compliments the one that followed it. I also thought there wasn’t a single bad song on the album as well, something that her last album LOVE COOK didn’t accomplish. In conclusion, LOVE PiECE is definitely an enjoyable listen that mixes her fun, upbeat tracks and her signature love ballads all in one very neat and solid package.

Overall Rating

5 stars

Tracklisting

1. Mirai Taxi (未来タクシー)
2. Yumekui (ユメクイ)
3. Mackerel’s canned food
4. PEACH
5. Kumuriuta (クムリウタ)
6. Hoshi no Tango (星のタンゴ)
7. Katorisenkou (蚊取線香)
8. Frienger (フレンジャー)
9. CHU-LIP
10. HEART
11. Renai Shashin (恋愛写真)

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

Ai Otsuka – PEACH / HEART

August 2, 2007 at 7:30 PM | Posted in Ai Otsuka | Leave a comment
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Tracklisting
1. PEACH
2. HEART
3. Renai Shashin -Haru- (恋愛写真 -春-)
4. PEACH (Instrumental)
5. HEART (Instrumental)

This is Ai Otsuka’s 15th single and it was released on July 25, 2007. The single reached #1 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 168,904 copies. The first track was used as the theme song for the drama Hanazakari no Kimitachi e ~Ikemen♂Paradise~.

There has definitely been a more mature sound in Ai Otsuka’s songs lately and it is really evident with the two A-sides on this single. PEACH is a very fun song that never verges into overly cutesy pop territory. The electric guitars are great and they really compliment the upbeat summer sound of the song. The only part of the song that bugged me was the bridge because Otsuka’s vocals got a little out of control.

I was really surprised with the other A-side, HEART. It’s a wonderful mid-tempo track that has a catchy chorus. The song also features the best vocals I have heard from Otsuka in a long time. I liked this song more than PEACH by a steep margin.

I absolutely loved the new version of Renai Shashin on the single. The haru or ’spring’ version of the song focuses more on the piano arrangement of the original and it adds stronger orchestral strings as well. The biggest change of this version is the completely revamped bridge. Instead of an instrumental solo, a new stanza of lyrics was added. It flows into the chorus very well and I was pleased with the ending result.

Overall Rating

4 stars

Ai Otsuka – CHU-LIP

March 10, 2007 at 7:28 PM | Posted in Ai Otsuka | Leave a comment
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Tracklisting
1. CHU-LIP
2. Kimi ni Kaeru. (キミにカエル。)
3. CHU-LIP (Instrumental)
4. Kimi no Kaeru. (Instrumental)

This is Ai Otsuka’s 14th single and it was released on February 21, 2007. The single reached #3 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 120,779 copies. The title track was used as the theme song for the drama Kirakira Kenshuu I.

Here it is folks, the triumphant return of the classic, upbeat Ai Otsuka song. CHU-LIP is a fun song that uses a lot of brass and very catchy vocals during the chorus. Even though it’s not as crazy as songs like SMILY or Sakuranbo, it does show a mature side of her and doesn’t go on the verge of being TOO cute, if you know what I mean.

I have always been a fan of Otsuka’s more mellow B-sides and Kimi ni Kaeru. is a another great example of this. Otsuka’s vocals are calm and controlled and she reaches the high notes of the chorus extremely well. I really liked the mix of acoustic guitar with the fingersnap sounds in the music too.

Overall Rating

4 stars

Ai Otsuka – Renai Shashin

December 20, 2006 at 7:25 PM | Posted in Ai Otsuka | Leave a comment
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Tracklisting
1. Renai Shashin (恋愛写真)
2. Hanikami Jane (ハニカミジェーン)
3. Haneari Tamago (Live version) (羽ありたまご)
4. Renai Shashin (Instrumental)
5. Hanikami Jane (Instrumental)

This is Ai Otsuka’s 13th single and it was released on October 25, 2006. The single reached #2 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 147,975 copies. The title track was used as the theme song for the movie Tada, Kimi wo Aishiteru.

I think Renai Shashin is a really pretty song that combines piano and strings with excellent vocals from Otsuka. The most recognizable thing about the song is the chorus because of she repeats the phrase tada, kimi wo aishiteru 3 times. That phrase IS the entire chorus plus an extra line at the end. It’s very simple but done rather well.

The B-side is just as good as the previous track in my opinion. Hanikami Jane opens with a marching band drum solo and then explodes into the familiar pop sound that Otsuka is well known for.

The 3rd track is a Live version of Haneari Tamago, a song from her LOVE COOK album. This song was performed at her LOVE IS BORN ~3rd Anniversary 2006~ concert. The live version features only an accompanying piano and Otsuka sings very well live. Her voice is actually a little deeper too.

Overall Rating

4½ stars

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