ayaka – Minna Sora no Shita

August 1, 2009 at 5:17 PM | Posted in ayaka | 5 Comments
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Minna Sora no Shita (みんな空の下) is ayaka’s 12th single and it was released on July 8, 2009. The single reached #4 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 31,305 copies.

♦ ♦ ♦

I’M GOING TO MISS YOU, AYAKA. =(
Minna Sora no Shita is her last single before her extended hiatus and she definitely made it something to remember. This song is gorgeous and I find it quite mesmerizing. Her previous single had a more reserved sound, but ayaka steps it up this time around. The music sounds more immense and grand thanks to graceful strings and stronger percussion. Plus, compliment that with her amazing vocals and everything just comes full circle. I love the chorus the most because it’s not only beautiful, but catchy and memorable as well. A wonderful song from beginning to end.

Like much of her album tracks, the B-side showcases the cheery, upbeat side of ayaka’s music. Arigatou. is filled with bouncy brass and piano so the music is very lively. The same can be said about the tempo since there is a consistent drum beat. In the end, the overall atmosphere of the song is guaranteed to raise the spirits of those who listen to it.

Included on the single is a live version of Koi Kogarete Mita Yume, the touching ballad from her previous single. Performed at the Nippon Budokan, ayaka is only accompanied by a lone piano as she sings. It’s perfect just like her other live performances but this one is special since everything sounds more raw and intimate.

Overall Rating

5 stars

Tracklisting

1. Minna Sora no Shita (みんな空の下)
2. Arigatou. (ありがとう。)
3. Koi Kogarete Mita Yume <2009/4/22 Nippon Budokan Live ver.>
    (恋焦がれて見た夢 <2009/4/22 日本武道館 Live ver.>)
4. Minna Sora no Shita <Instrumental>
5. Arigatou. <Instrumental>

ayaka – Yume wo Mikata ni / Koi Kogarete Mita Yume

May 12, 2009 at 7:35 AM | Posted in ayaka | 2 Comments
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The cover of the limited editon

Yume wo Mikata ni / Koi Kogarete Mita Yume (夢を味方に/恋焦がれて見た夢) is ayaka’s 11th single and it was released on April 22, 2009. The single reached #6 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 48,430 copies.

♦ ♦ ♦

Yay! ayaka is back for the time being so enjoy it while you can. Everyone knows what’s been going on with her lately so I won’t sweat the details. Anyway, let’s focus on this single. I really like Yume wo Mikata ni now, despite my first impressions of it. At first, I thought the song was nice, but nothing extremely special. After listening to it some more, I’ve become quite fond of this relatively calm, laid back tune. The music has a heartwarming atmosphere that is characterized by fluffy piano chords and light percussion. ayaka sounds great as usual and the background vocals add to the song’s soulful demeanor. It also helps that the chorus is catchy and has a memorable hook.

The other A-side is a lovely ballad that showcases a smooth, harmonious mood. Koi Kogarete Mita Yume is a really pretty song that features a serene and undeniably uplifting arrangement. It’s mostly strings and percussion (with a little woodwinds here and there) so the music stays reserved, minus the elevated bridge. Background vocals appear and ayaka’s voice becomes a lot stronger. I like both of the songs on this single equally so don’t make me have to choose a favorite!

A nice bonus on the single is an awesome live version of Kimi ga Iru Kara, which was one of my favorite tracks EVER off the Sing to the Sky album. ayaka always delivers amazing lives as heard on her previous singles, but this time in the form of an upbeat song. You can go ahead and insert an ~adjective~ here to describe how great this live performance was. lol
The bitch is PERFECT. The End.

Overall Rating

 4½ stars

Tracklisting

1. Yume wo Mikata ni (夢を味方に)
2. Koi Kogarete Mita Yume (恋焦がれて見た夢)
3. Kimi ga Iru Kara <2009/2/13 Fan Club Live ver.> (君がいるから)
4. Yume wo Mikata <Instrumental>
5. Koi Kogarete Mita Yume <Instrumental>

ayaka × Kobukuro – Anata to

October 12, 2008 at 5:27 PM | Posted in ayaka | 2 Comments
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Tracklisting
1. Anata to (あなたと)
2. Anata to (Instrumental)

This is ayaka and Kobukuro’s 2nd collaboration single and it was released on September 24, 2008. The single reached #2 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 147,083 copies.

ayaka and Kobukuro are back with another collaboration single and this time they have really outdone themselves. I thought their first collaboration WINDING ROAD was good but Anata to wipes the floor with it. Instead of an upbeat song, the trio perform a ballad. A gorgeous and extremely heartwarming ballad I might add. The music is pretty as expected but what I find so beautiful about this song are the vocals. The verses feature great solo sections from each person but their harmonizations during the chorus are perfect. The same goes for the bridge and I was glad that there was no over the top adlibbing like in WINDING ROAD either. So…best collaboration of the year? You bet!

Overall Rating

5 stars

ayaka – Sing to the Sky

July 18, 2008 at 3:20 PM | Posted in ayaka | 15 Comments
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Sing to the Sky is ayaka’s 2nd album and it was released on June 25, 2008. The album reached #2 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 575,626 copies.

♦ ♦ ♦

Beginning with a “1,2!” intro, the album opens with a inspirational track. Featuring some small hints of gospel, POWER OF MUSIC is a cheerful tune filled with upbeat piano chords, blaring brass, and soulful vocals. You could tell that ayaka and the band in the studio were having fun while recording this song. During the clapping sequence of the bridge, cheering can be heard in the background. Even though the music is a little on the laid back side, this is a great way to start things off.

Another upbeat track follows and it’s the wonderful Ai wo Utaou. The mix of strings and electric guitar is great and I really liked the powerful chorus. On the Te wo Tsunagou / Ai wo Utaou single, I thought that this was the better song since I found it more interesting.

I guess you could say that this is the album’s pivotal track. Sky is a pleasant song but what stood out for me was the vibrant chorus. It begins with ayaka belting out Fly to the sky  followed by strong vocals. The acoustic pop arrangement is pretty average compared to what’s on the rest of the album though.

The gorgeous acoustic ballad Jewelry day is next and I still haven’t gotten tired of it. This is such a sad song and it’s built on top of a very heartfelt vocal performance. Further into the song, the strings come in and just emphasize on the raw emotion of ayaka’s voice. The ending always gets to me with its beautiful string ensemble.

A cute, bouncy number is up next. Good Night Baby has a nice rhythm and drum beat, but it stays pretty calm for the most part. It’s not until the ending when ayaka’s power vocals show up and the electric guitars begin to elevate. Being barely over 3 minutes long, this is a short and sweet song.

The next track isn’t exactly new. It’s actually kind of old but I didn’t review it because it’s a digital single and you know me. Anyways, For today was released back on November 14, 2007 and it’s an extremely upbeat pop rock song. It’s like a high octane version of her 3rd single Real voice but with even more powerful vocals. ayaka just belts it out in her lower register throughout the entire song while being accompanied by thumping drums and screeching riffs. It’s fun, but it took me multiple listens to start liking it.

Here is a song that I’m still iffy about. Why has grown on me a little, but I still find it kind of boring. The somber lyrics and ayaka’s vocals are great, but the music is what gives me mixed feelings. It’s not a ballad nor is it upbeat, but rather stuck inbetween. I will say that the song does take a turn for the better towards the end when the adlibbing sequence occurs.

Gold Star does show a more edgy side of ayaka on this album. Her vocals are more aggressive and the electric guitars definitely take the spot as the lead instrument. What makes this song better than Meiro (the B-side from the Okaeri single), which was also dominantly rockish in nature, is that it’s way more upbeat. The faster paced music of Gold Star is better suited for her voice.

Now the album slows down a bit for the next 3 tracks. This phase begins with the very charming Mahoustukai no Shiwaza, a piano based song. I loved the gentle, yet playful piano chords and ayaka’s vocals go with the flow. Because the song is short like Good Night Baby, it acts like an interlude between Gold Star and Te wo Tsunagou, which are two radically different songs.

It took me a while to really start appreciating Te wo Tsunagou. Even though I still wish the first half of the song could be more interesting, ayaka’s vocals are fantastic. When the bridge arrives, the tempo changes a fairly good amount with the addition of electric guitars and drums. The final chorus is amazing though.

The next track is pretty interesting because it borrows some elements from blues and jazz. Ai mo Uso mo Shinjitsu has ayaka singing in her lower register again and she sounds surprisingly good. The verses are calm and smooth, but the chorus has those incredible power vocals. I also liked the bridge with its use of upbeat guitar chords.

I honestly love the arrangement of CLAP & LOVE because of the awesome combination of clapping beats, vocoder, and deep electric guitar. I also love ayaka’s husky vocal performance and insanely catchy adlibbing sequences. I think the music is quite offbeat compared to the rest of the album because it lacks any kind of percussion instrument and the clapping is what keeps the beat instead. Add the background vocals and frequent riffs and you now have something unique but very good at the same time.

Okay, so I already think that all the new tracks on this album are good, but ayaka delivers one of her best upbeat songs to date with Kimi ga Iru Kara. It’s also my favorite of the new tracks too. Right from the beginning there’s a flurry of guitar riffs and strings and I was hooked. The chorus is definitely what makes this song shine and I loved how uplifting it was. It’s bound to put a smile on your face.

Now we have the heartwarming Okaeri, the last single released before the album. This is such a sweet song and ayaka gives a gentle, yet assertive vocal performance. I’ve gotten over the bagpipes, but it would have been nice if they WEREN’T there (they seemed sort of unnecessary to me). That’s just a minor detail because I absolutely love this song.

Before the bonus tracks, Konya mo Hoshi ni Dakarete… makes for a beautiful ending to this album. There’s not enough words to describe how gorgeous this piano ballad is. Everything is so well done but what I liked the most about this song are the English lyrics that ayaka sings in the form of stunning high notes. She sings the lines What I need now is you and You made me what I am with such grace and feeling, especially at the end. As far as I’m concerned, this was the perfect final track for the album.

Now let’s move on to the 2 bonus tracks! The first one is ayaka’s hit collaboration with Kobukuro, WINDING ROAD. Her and the 2 members of Kobukuro make such great harmonies during the chorus and also during their respective solo parts. The only part that bugged me was the bridge because everyone goes a little overboard with the adlibbing. Other than that, this was a great collaboration and I can’t wait for their next one titled Anata to which is out in late September.

The 2nd bonus track is the English version of I believe, her debut single. She has sung full English songs before at concerts, but this is currently her only one to be recorded in the studio. Her pronunciation is easy to understand at certain parts, but difficult during others. I think the song sounds good in English and the lyrics are nice for the most part.

Sing to the Sky MIGHT be my favorite album of the year so far. It’s a big improvement over her debut album First Message, especially when it comes to the new tracks. I also felt that Sing to the Sky had more variety as well. The only problem that I noticed with the album was with the placement of certain tracks. The flow is sometimes choppy in some areas and songs like CLAP & LOVE and Jewelry day could have been better placed. However, that’s an extremely small nuisance when you compare it to the grand scheme of things. I thought every new track was executed very well and I even enjoyed the songs that I didn’t like back when they were singles. If you liked her debut album, then you are definitely going to love this one.

Overall Rating

5 stars

Tracklisting

1. POWER OF MUSIC
2. Ai wo Utaou (愛を歌おう)
3. Sky
4. Jewelry day
5. Good Night Baby (グンナイベイビー)
6. For today
7. Why
8. Gold Star (ゴールドスター)
9. Mahoutsukai no Shiwaza (魔法使いのしわざ)
10. Te wo Tsunagou (手をつなごう)
11. Ai mo Uso mo Shinjitsu (愛も嘘も真実)
12. CLAP & LOVE
13. Kimi ga Iru Kara (君がいるから)
14. Okaeri (おかえり)
15. Konya mo Hoshi ni Dakarete… (今夜も星に抱かれて・・・)
16. WINDING ROAD / ayaka × Kobukuro
17. I believe <English ver.>

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

ayaka – Okaeri

May 30, 2008 at 9:14 PM | Posted in ayaka | 6 Comments
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Okaeri (おかえり) is ayaka’s 9th single and it was released on May 14, 2008. The single reached #6 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 45,648 copies. The title track was used as the theme song for the drama Zettai Kareshi.

♦ ♦ ♦

Here is another high quality track from ayaka! Okaeri is just plain gorgeous and one of her best songs to date. The bagpipes did kind of bother me at first, but I quickly got over them since they get overpowered by the drums and strings and they appear infrequently anyway. ayaka’s vocals are more laid back compared to previous songs, however, she shows great control and a gentler demeanor within her voice (when it comes to her A-sides at least). Even though this song doesn’t have the power vocals like we would normally expect from her, she still performs it quite beautifully.

The B-side is a rockish track with more assertive vocals. In Meiro, ayaka’s vocals sound rougher than usual when she sings with her lower register, especially during the chorus. Because of these rougher vocals, her voice sounds sloppy, which is the song’s main flaw. I did like the upbeat, yet edgy mix of electric guitar and drums though.

Also included on the single is a flawless live version of Te wo Tsunagou. I’m still not really a fan of this song since it takes too long to get good, but I can’t deny how well it was performed. Now I really want a recorded live version of Jewelry day or Okaeri now.

Overall Rating

4 stars

Tracklisting

1. Okaeri (おかえり)
2. Meiro (迷路)
3. Te wo Tsunagou <2007/12/20 Nippon Budokan Live ver.>
    (手をつなごう <2007/12/20 日本武道館 Live ver.>)
4. Okaeri <Instrumental>
5. Meiro <Instrumental>

ayaka – Te wo Tsunagou / Ai wo Utaou

March 18, 2008 at 7:01 PM | Posted in ayaka | 5 Comments
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Tracklisting
1. Te wo Tsunagou (手をつなごう)
2. Ai wo Utaou (愛を歌おう)
3. Mikazuki
    <2007/12/20 Nippon Budokan Live ver.>
   (三日月 <2007/12/20 日本武道館 Live ver.>)
4. Te wo Tsunagou <Instrumental>
5. Ai wo Utaou <Instrumental>

This is ayaka’s 8th single and it was released on March 5, 2008. The single reached #7 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 41,971 copies. The first track was used as the theme song for the movie Doraemon Nobita to Midori no Kyojinden.

Te wo Tsunagou was a slow burner for me. Initially, I thought the song wasn’t really all that special but it has grown on me on a little bit. This is probably because nothing really happens until the bridge where the music gets progressively louder and more interesting when thumping drums and electric guitar enter. Before that, it’s mainly just simple acoustics. The one thing that remains consistently good are ayaka’s powerful vocals. I’ve got no complaints there.

The 2nd track, Ai wo Utaou, is a lot more exciting to say the least. Take the 2nd half of Te wo Tsunagou, make it more upbeat with some piano, and you’ve got this song. This isn’t a bad thing at all because I found this song to be a lot better. The mix of uplifting lyrics and an overall catchy melody make this an inspiring track that’s bound to make you feel good.

Oh ayaka, why are you such an impeccable live performer? This live version of Mikazuki performed at the Nippon Budokan just blew me away. It’s PERFECT and I applaud her for such an excellent job.

Overall Rating

4 stars

ayaka – CLAP & LOVE / Why

September 18, 2007 at 2:24 PM | Posted in ayaka | Leave a comment
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Tracklisting
CLAP & LOVE / Why (normal) edition
1. CLAP & LOVE
2. Why
3. Peace loving people <Live ver.>
4. CLAP & LOVE <Instrumental>
5. Why <Instrumental>

Why / CLAP & LOVE (CD+DVD) edition
1. Why
2. CLAP & LOVE
3. Peace loving people <Live ver.>
4. Why <Instrumental>
5. CLAP & LOVE <Instrumental>

This is ayaka’s 7th single and the normal edition was released on September 5, 2007 while the CD+DVD edition was released a week later on September 12th. The single reached #5 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 67,157 copies. CLAP & LOVE was used as theme song for the drama Jigoku no Sata mo Yome Shidai, while Why was the theme song for the Square Enix video game CRISIS CORE -FINAL FANTASY VII-.

On the normal edition of the single, CLAP & LOVE is the first track. The most surprising thing about this song is ayaka’s lower pitched vocals. I know that her voice is naturally ‘husky’, but it’s even huskier in this song. I did like that it does make her voice sound more soulful though. As for the music, it’s very poppy and it mixes clapping sounds with upbeat electric guitar. The song’s use of the vocoder to create an artificial voice at the beginning and end is also a very cool addition.

On the limited CD+DVD edition, you get Why as the first track. I guess my expectations for this song were a little too high since it was the theme song to a Final Fantasy game. The song sounded very average and bland compared to CLAP & LOVE. However, ayaka still delivers an excellent vocal performance.  

On both editions, there is a live version of Peace loving people, the B-side from the Real voice single. This song has somewhat become a staple at ayaka concerts because she always performs it near the end and always does a little talk before singing it. She also talks during the instrumentals of the song and you can hear the audience clapping in the background. That’s exactly what you get in this fantastic live.

Overall Rating 

3½ stars

ayaka – Jewelry day

July 20, 2007 at 2:30 PM | Posted in ayaka | Leave a comment
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Tracklisting
1. Jewelry day
2. I’m alone
3. Start to 0 (Love) <Acoustic Ver.>
4. Jewelry day <Instrumental>

This is ayaka’s 6th single and it was released on July 4, 2007. The single reached #2 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 73,290 copies. The title track was used as the theme song for the movie Last Love.

Despite the criticism that Jewelry day has received by others, I think it’s a beautiful song. Sure, the guitar and string arrangements are very simple, but the song itself definitely focuses more on the sad lyrics and ayaka’s vocals, which are FANTASTIC. Along with Mikazuki, this is one of her most emotional driven songs to date. The thing I loved the most about the song was its ending. The acoustic guitar is completely replaced by a full blown string ensemble and it sent shivers down my spine the first time I heard it.

The B-side is the more upbeat I’m alone. Even though it is more upbeat, it still has the melancholy atmosphere that Jewelry day had. This is an extremely well done B-side and definitely one of her best (along with the awesome Yume no Kakera from her debut single I believe).

The next track is an acoustic version of Start to 0 (Love), the first track from her debut album First Message. I personally loved the original and the acoustic version doesn’t disappoint. There are a few small problems here and there, but it’s pretty much just a slower paced, simplified take on the original.

Overall Rating

5 stars

ayaka × Kobukuro – WINDING ROAD

March 19, 2007 at 2:34 PM | Posted in ayaka | Leave a comment
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Tracklisting
1. WINDING ROAD
2. WINDING ROAD (Instrumental)

This is a duet single between ayaka and Kobukuro (a popular folk band on the same label as her) and it was released on February 28, 2007. The single reached #2 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 352,790 copies.

WINDING ROAD features one of the best acapella sequences I have ever heard in a song. ayaka and the two male vocalists of the band Kobukuro sing so well together and their individual solo performances during the verses are wonderful as well. Although I thought they went a little over the top with the freestyling vocals during the bridge, especially when Shunsuke Kuroda of Kobukuro does that falsetto of his. As for the music, this is a really upbeat song that combines brass, percussion, and piano. For being a duet song, it’s very good and uplifting and I would love to see ayaka perform a solo version in the future.

Overall Rating

4 stars

ayaka – First Message

February 17, 2007 at 4:47 PM | Posted in ayaka | Leave a comment
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First Message is ayaka’s debut album and it was released on November 1, 2006. The album reached #1 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 1,184,718 copies.

♦ ♦ ♦

ayaka is more well known for her ballads, but this album contains only 2 ballads (I believe and Mikazuki) and the rest are pop / rock songs with the occasional slow acoustic track. The first of these songs is Start to 0 (Love), probably my favorite out of all of them. It’s a very carefree song with a catchy chorus. ayaka’s vocals are amazing and I love how she can change the quality of her voice to match the style of the song.

The next track is Real voice, ayaka’s 3rd single. This song is only above average compared to the rest of the singles but it’s still pretty good.

Track 3 is the studio recording of Sha la la (the live version was released first on the melody ~SOUNDS REAL~ single) and it opens with old fashioned piano chords with low pitched vocals from ayaka. The high notes during the vocals are great and I love the ’sha la la’ sequence during the bridge.

Track 4 first appeared as the B-side on the melody ~SOUNDS REAL~ single. Blue Days is a slower-paced acoustic guitar based song. Once again, ayaka does an amazing job reaching those high notes during the chorus.

Track 5 is ayaka’s debut single and the song that put her in the spotlight. I believe is a dramatic ballad with a sweeping string arrangement.

The next 3 tracks are all upbeat pop songs and the first one is Stay with me. This song is pretty good and the trend continues with melody, ayaka’s 2nd single. That song is followed by Kimi no Power to Otona no Furi, another personal favorite of mine. All of these songs are done very well but there isn’t really a distinct difference between them.

Track 9 plays as a short intermission on the album. Eien no Monogatari is only a 2 minute long acoustic song but despite its length, it features impressive vocals.

I did find track 10 to be a little different from the rest of the new songs on the album. Toki wo Modoshite has a darker atmosphere and the chorus has more aggressive vocals. I also liked the strong brass in the background.

Tracks 11 and 12 are also upbeat pop / rock songs. The bridge of 1・2・3・4 is great because of the distorted vocals and Story has an extremely infectious chorus and its overall mood is very light-hearted.

Track 13 was only average for me. Lailalai is pretty short but I liked the bridge and ayaka’s use of the phrase ‘lailalai‘ that echoes every now and then is very catchy.

ayaka definitely saved the best for last with Mikazuki, her 4th single and the main reason why this album has sold so well. What else is there to say? It’s a very beautiful song and ayaka gives one of her best vocal performances in it.

The final track on the album is the simple yet effective message. It features no music but a short verse of ayaka singing acapella. I think it’s the perfect way to end the album after Mikazuki.

First Message definitely didn’t disappoint in my opinion. Sure, most of the new songs sound similar but it doesn’t matter if they’re all crafted exceptionally well, which is the case for this album. I enjoyed every song, especially the ballads, and this has got to be one of the best debut albums out right now. I highly recommend it if you like high quality music with a lot of heart and soul.

Overall Rating

4 stars

Tracklisting

1. Start to 0 (Love)
2. Real voice
3. Sha la la
4. Blue Days (ブルーデイズ)
5. I believe
6. Stay with me
7. melody
8. Kimi no Power to Otona no Furi (君のパワーと大人のフリ)
9. Eien no Monogatari (永遠の物語)
10. Toki wo Modoshite (時を戻して)
11. 1・2・3・4
12. Story
13. Lailalai (ライラライ)
14. Mikazuki (三日月)
15. message

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

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