Ayumi Hamasaki – Love songs

July 2, 2011 at 1:22 PM | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki | 4 Comments
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The cover of the CD only edition

Love songs is Ayumi Hamasaki’s 12th studio album and it was released on December 22, 2010. The album reached #1 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 272,653 copies. It was preceded by 3 singles: MOON / blossom, crossroad, and the triple A-side single L.

This cover is a lot better than the other two. I don’t know…it seems more genuine and she’s not doing the duck lips.

♦ ♦ ♦

The album begins with Love song which has a gorgeous opening sequence. There are electric guitars but they’re mainly in the background since strings, piano, and acoustic guitar are the main instruments during the vocal segments. While I think the music is wonderful, Hamasaki’s vocals really keep me from enjoying the song. She sounds so…rough. I guess it was supposed to show off the “raw emotion” of her voice but I didn’t like it.

Then we have crossroad, the first A-side of this era to be produced by Tetsuya Komuro. This is probably my least favorite of all the A-sides but that’s simply because I didn’t think it was very memorable. At least the music, along with Ayu’s vocals, were nice.

I didn’t like MOON at first back when it was released as a single but it sounds more fitting on the album. The instrumental sections with the electric guitars were my favorite parts of the song, especially when those haunting riffs appear during the bridge.

When I first heard sending mail, I was blown away. Ayu has never done a song quite as brazen as this. It features an awesome buildup into a powerful chorus that never lets up. I liked the orchestral setting of the music as well, especially when it all comes crashing down at the end (in a good way, of course). As of now, it’s my favorite song on the album.

I’ve always liked Last angel and I thought it was the standout track back on the L single. To me, the music is very “old school” Ayu because of its trance and eurobeat influences. The LOVEppears album really comes into mind when I listen to this song.

insomnia is the first interlude and it’s just kind of there. I didn’t really care for it but it does give you an idea of what the next track sounds like.

I thought Like a doll was another unique offering from Hamasaki. Like sending mail, she hasn’t done anything quite like it. It starts off pretty normal with piano then transitions into a strange mix of beats, rhythmic synth, and background vocals chanting “like a doll”. Mix in the piano with all of that and you got yourself a pretty good song.

And another interlude! But we should be used to that, am I right? Aria is actually kind of pretty, well half of it is. The single violin at the beginning is nice but then it gets all chaotic at the end which ruins it.

The transition into blossom is kind of sloppy, too. I can’t really say much about this song except it’s like a much calmer version of MOON. I just remember Ayu fanboys being angry over the PV because it features Jejung from Tohoshinki and not her. XD

Ugh…Thank U could have been good except for one big problem. “LA LA LA LAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA~~~~” The adlibbing that pretty much takes up half of the the song is TERRIBLE! The music is nice and has a pleasant dance vibe but the vocals are just so bad. Can I just have an instrumental version instead?

I loooove Sweet Season. It’s such a heartwarming song. I really liked the organic band arrangement and you can thank legendary singer/songwriter Noriyuki Makihara for that. The chorus is really catchy, too.

The final interlude is titled overture and it’s probably the most appropriate out of the three. I say that because it takes the album into a completely different direction. I like to call it the ~epic ballad phase~.

The next three tracks are indeed grandiose and feature sweeping orchestral arrangements. do it again is notable for its English phrases that she repeats and repeats and repeats. The dramatic buildup that appears inbetween these English segments are pretty good though.

November isn’t as orchestral but features strong percussion and light electric guitar riffs. There are some random instruments too that I can’t quite put my finger on but they don’t detract from anything.

To me, Virgin Road is the official album closer and it does a good job in doing that. The arrangement is very well done and I really liked the strings. Now let’s cover the bonus tracks!

Depending on the version, you get either get the studio version or a live version of SEVEN DAYS WAR (originally the B-side on the crossroad single) as a bonus track. It’s a cover of the TK NETWORK song but in a calmer, ballad format. The studio version is nice but the live…I’ll just say it’s rough. However, it is indeed LIVE and Hamasaki sounds all emotional and stuff since it was one of the final performances of that concert…I think. You can’t blame her for that I guess.

All right! I’m not the huge Ayu fan that I used to be but honestly, this album has given me a little more faith in her. In terms of music, Love songs is great and features some of the best arrangements I have heard from her. It was an even bigger shock to me when I discovered that Tetsuya Komuro was behind most of the material (minus the interludes, the only songs that he didn’t compose were MOON, blossom, and Sweet Season). I know I’m super late on that fact. XD It’s just that when I think of Tetsuya Komuro, I imagine outdated 90s Jpop and cheap sounding dance tunes. The big thing that I noticed about the album is that it mainly focuses on pop songs and ballads instead of the overwrought rock material she’s been churning out in the past couple of years.

Pros: Musically, it’s one of her best albums. You can’t go wrong there.
Cons: The vocals on certain songs could have been better. She either sounds good or she doesn’t. Trust me on that, bbz.

BASICALLY…put in a love song, Ayu! A step up over Rock’n’Roll Circus.

Overall Rating

4 stars

Tracklisting

1. Love song
2. crossroad
3. MOON
4. sending mail
5. Last angel
6. insomnia
7. Like a doll
8. Aria
9. blossom
10. Thank U
11. Sweet Season
12. overture
13. do it again
14. November
15. Virgin Road
16. SEVEN DAYS WAR [CD only & regular press CD+DVD bonus track] 
      SEVEN DAYS WAR (Live at Yoyogi on Oct.11.2010)
      [CD+DVD/micro SD+USB first press bonus track]

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

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Ayumi Hamasaki – Rock’n’Roll Circus

April 22, 2010 at 2:59 PM | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki | 23 Comments
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The cover of the CD+DVD edition

Rock’n’Roll Circus is Ayumi Hamasaki’s 11th album and it was released on April14, 2010. The album reached #1 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 205,058 copies.

What a tacky cover…and her eyes are HUGE.

♦ ♦ ♦

The latest Japanese artist to hop on the circus bandwagon, Ayumi Hamasaki’s Rock’n’Roll Circus is, for the most part, a pretty decent album. My fandom has died down over the past year but don’t get me wrong, I will always like her. During this era, Hamasaki’s music hasn’t impressed me since the single Rule / Sparkle.

The 2 singles leading up to Rock’n’Roll Circus were basically carbon copies of much better past songs (Sunrise ~LOVE is ALL~ and You were… being the biggest offenders). It’s better if you ignore the A-sides because they don’t represent the album at all. I still have a soft spot for BALLAD though. However, Ayu did have some tricks up her sleeve for the promotional tracks. There’s 4 of them which is the most she’s ever done for an album.

The central track of the album has to be Microphone, a hard-hitting rock song that utilizes organs and heavy drums. Don’t look back was interesting because of the Middle Eastern influences and I liked the catchy chorus. My favorite song on the album was Sexy little things, the only song to really fit the “circus” part of the title. It’s quirky, different, and incredibly infectious. There’s also Lady Dynamite, a dance-ish track with electric guitars. It’s too bad that Hamasaki didn’t release any of these songs as singles because they’re all quite good and way better than the actual A-sides.

As for the other new tracks, they’re only okay. count down and Last Links sounded like bad leftovers from GUILTY but meaning of Love was actually kind of pretty. The vocals were iffy but at least it’s better than You were… and Sunset ~LOVE is ALL~. I do like how the album closes with an extended version of RED LINE ~for TA~. After the chanting of Ayu’s minions, the song ends with acapella singing. Anything’s better than Curtain call, right?

An Ayu album isn’t complete without an interlude or two (or four). Luckily, there’s only a short intro track and two interludes, making this one of her longer albums as well. THE introduction was pointless but montage was pretty damn amazing. It’s so creepy and unsettling but the transition into Don’t look back was off. The last interlude is Jump! and I thought was really annoying. The only thing it accomplishes is switching gears from the dark rock tracks and ballads of the beginning of the album to more upbeat pop songs.

Overall, I was underwhelmed. Nothing really stood out besides the 4 promotional tracks (I had the same feeling with Koda Kumi’s UNIVERSE). I was surprised at how much slower paced stuff dominated Rock’n’Roll Circus, too. Upon further inspection, half of the album is composed of ballads or something similar. To add insult to injury, she clumps these slower songs together (tracks 3-6 specifically). I definitely enjoyed the upbeat songs like Microphone, Lady Dynamite, and Sexy little things more. Also, the album is sloppy at times and the interludes are oddly placed. For example, montage would have made a better opening track. The Ayu stans can crucify me for this but I thought NEXT LEVEL was better. At least she tried to be different on that album but on Rock’n’Roll Circus, we get treated with the same ol’ same ol’.

Pros: Ayu does what she does best…and Sexy little things is awesome. ♥
Cons: Too many ballads. The album is not that exciting after multiple listens.

BASICALLY…this album is kind of like GUILTY but weaker. ;D

Overall Rating

3½ stars

Tracklisting

1. THE introduction
2. Microphone
3. count down
4. Sunset ~LOVE is ALL~
5. BALLAD
6. Last Links
7. montage
8. Don’t look back
9. Jump!
10. Lady Dynamite
11. Sexy little things
12. Sunrise ~LOVE is ALL~
13. meaning of Love
14. You were…
15. RED LINE ~for TA~ [album version]

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

Ayumi Hamasaki – You were… / BALLAD

January 8, 2010 at 11:28 AM | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki | 9 Comments
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The cover of the CD+DVD edition (type A)

You were… / BALLAD is Ayumi Hamasaki’s 47th single and it was released on December 29, 2009. The single reached #1 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 111,554 copies.

The covers are gorgeous. She’s looking good and pissing off PETA at the same time. Rock that fur, Ayu. lol

♦ ♦ ♦

I’ve heard You were… before. Her last single abused the summer pop song theme and this time the winter ballad gets a beating. I think the song is decent but it really sounds like a copy of past winter ballads. It’s like Days, CAROLS, and a bunch of other songs got condensed into one. On the plus side, I did like the powerful chorus.
The CD+DVD type A and CD only editions come with an extra “music box mix” that I didn’t care for. It’s boring.

Remember Hamasaki’s oriental tinged song GREEN? Well, if it became a ballad…then it would be BALLAD (lame pun, I know). This song is fantastic though. I personally loved the song’s regal, yet gentle atmosphere. The strings are lovely and the extra acoustics and erhu are great too. As for Hamasaki’s vocals, she sounds a lot better here too.

The 3rd track is dedicated to her fanclub. Isn’t that thoughtful? RED LINE ~for TA~ has grown on me a little but even then, it’s just kind of “there”. The music is upbeat and features electric guitars with Ayu’s minions chanting in the background.

I’m not done yet. XD *sigh*
There’s also an orchestral version of Sunset ~LOVE is ALL~ that appears on the CD+DVD type B and CD only editions. It’s not that great despite the music sounding really pretty. I blame Hamasaki’s bland vocals.

Pros: BALLAD BALLAD BALLAD!
Cons: Everything else is “meh”.

BASICALLY…there’s no winter ballad mega-mash-up-mix? ;D

Overall Rating

3½ stars

Tracklisting (CD only edition)

1. You were… (Original mix)
2. BALLAD (Original mix)
3. RED LINE ~for TA~ (Original mix)
4. You were… (Music Box mix -retake version-)
5. Sunset ~LOVE is ALL~ (Orchestra version)
6. You were… (Original mix -Instrumental-)
7. BALLAD (Original mix -Instrumental-)
8. RED LINE ~for TA~ (Original mix -Instrumental-)

Note: I posted this edition’s tracklisting because it contains all 8 tracks. The 2 CD+DVD editions have 7.

Ayumi Hamasaki – Sunrise / Sunset ~LOVE is ALL~

August 26, 2009 at 12:15 PM | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki | 9 Comments
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The cover of the CD only edition

Sunrise / Sunset ~LOVE is ALL~ is Ayumi Hamasaki’s 46th single and it was released on August 12, 2009. The single reached #1 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 90,713 copies. The first track was used as the theme song for the drama Dandy Daddy?.

There is something very off about both of the covers…oh wait, I got it. Ayu looks like a damn monkey. A badly photoshopped monkey.

♦ ♦ ♦

From the very beginning, this single made me think of Koda Kumi’s Yume no Uta / Futari de… since it features 2 songs that share the same basic melody but have vastly different arrangements and lyrics. Unlike the Kumi single, one song is an upbeat summer track while the other is a sweeping ballad.

It sounds like the electronic influences of Hamasaki’s last album NEXT LEVEL make an appearance in Sunrise ~LOVE is ALL~. Initially, I was expecting the song to be another “typical Ayu summer tune” but I was mildly surprised. The sparkling synth and beats make it a little different. I feel like the song was designed to get stuck in your head because the chorus is extremely catchy. There’s no denying that. It doesn’t help that Ayu’s minions are chanting “motto ooki na koe de, motto ooki na ai wo” at certain intervals as well. I surrender, okay? I really like it now. XD

Then we have the ballad Sunset ~LOVE is ALL~, which I thought was quite relaxing thanks to the flowing strings and piano. As you would expect, everything has been toned down to create a gentle and bubbly atmosphere. Personally, I prefer Sunrise by a longshot though.

Also on the single is a giant mash up mix that includes 5 songs. fairyland, arguably the most unique of these songs, appears first and it’s followed by glitter and BLUE BIRD. This portion of the mash up is the most interesting because those songs blend into each other so well. That’s how eerily similar they are. It ends with Greatful days and July 1st, 2 older songs that I never really cared for. Sure, it’s a nice bonus on the single, but it really just proves that all of Hamasaki’s summer themed tracks sound the same.

Pros: I thought this single was fun. Predictable at times, but fun.
Cons: Apart from the awful covers, the mash up mix is just an 8 minute song. What’s next; a winter ballad mash up? (Actually, I would like that. LOL)

BASICALLY…motto ooki na koe de, motto ooki na ai wo =D

Overall Rating

3½ stars

Tracklisting

1. Sunrise ~LOVE is ALL~ (Original mix)
2. Sunset ~LOVE is ALL ~ (Original mix)
3. “fairyland-glitter-BLUE BIRD-Greatful days-July 1st” Mega-Mash-Up-Mix
4. Sunrise ~LOVE is ALL~ (Original mix -Instrumental-)
5. Sunset ~LOVE is ALL~ (Original mix -Instrumental-)

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!

Ayumi Hamasaki – Rule / Sparkle

March 6, 2009 at 8:39 PM | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki | 10 Comments
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The cover of the CD+DVD edition

Rule / Sparkle is Ayumi Hamasaki’s 45th single and it was released on February 25, 2008. The single reached #1 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 130,816 copies. The first track was used as the theme song for the movie Dragonball Evolution.

♦ ♦ ♦

I got to admit that Rule is a pretty cool song after a couple of listens. It’s a rock oriented track but not like the more “serious” stuff that was on GUILTY. The music does have that edgy and hard-hitting sound to it, but the mood is less, how should I put it…DRAB. The entire song came off as a little awkward at first, especially with the strange verses that feature muffled vocals, but the chorus is definitely a highlight since it’s pretty catchy.

When someone asked me to describe Sparkle, I said “OMG HOT AND SLUTTY FIERCE POP ♥♥♥”. Putting my love for this song aside, it is honestly one of Hamasaki’s hottest and most eye-popping tracks in a long time. Even though I like Rule, this song totally blows it out of the water because of one big reason: it’s different. Hamasaki should do more electronic dance tracks like this because it works well with her voice and this type of music is better suited for her overall. I’m hoping that her new album NEXT LEVEL will feature similarly executed tracks.

All versions of the single include 2 remixes of Rule but unfortunately, I didn’t really like either of them. The 80kidz’s “No More Rule” mix is filled with loud synth riffs that drown out the vocals with Hamasaki’s disembodied voice repeating “RULE RULE RULE” over and over in the background. Trust me bbz, it gets annoying after a while. The Remo-con “tech dance” remix is almost as annoying because of its constant, yet really messy beats as well.

That’s why you should ditch the CD+DVD edition and check out CD only editions A and B instead! I’ll start with the remixes of Days that appear on version A.

  • The 8-bits of tears YMCK remix is insanely cute and I loved how YMCK changed the song into something that sounds like old school video game background music. I thought it was quite innovative and I’m definitely interested in hearing more remixes from them.
  • You know that I love me some orchestral music so I was pleased to see Days get that treatment. The acoustic orchestra version is more interesting than original as far as I’m concerned. It’s quite beautiful too.

Finally, let’s look over the remixes of GREEN that are featured on version B.

  • The CMJK Spring Storm mix is not bad and I liked that it’s not a complete mess compared to the Rule remixes. The electronic sound of the remix certainly gives the song a neurotic mood with its use of electronic guitar and deep synth riffs.
  • The song also has an acoustic orchestra version and I thought the strings were interesting this time around. They are a little more hectic to match the arrangement but it’s all good.

Overall Rating

4½ stars

Tracklisting

CD only edition (Type A)
1. Rule (Original mix)
2. Sparkle (Original mix)
3. Days (8-bits of tears YMCK remix)
4. Days (Acoustic Orchestra version)
5. Rule (80kidz’s “No More Rule” mix)
6. Rule (Remo-con “tech dance” remix)
7. Rule (Original mix -Instrumental-)
8. Sparkle (Original mix -Instrumental-)

CD only edition (Type B)
1. Rule (Original mix)
2. Sparkle (Original mix)
3. GREEN (CMJK Spring Storm mix)
4. GREEN (Acoustic Orchestra version)
5. Rule (80kidz’s “No More Rule” mix)
6. Rule (Remo-con “tech dance” remix)
7. Rule (Original mix -Instrumental-)
8. Sparkle (Original mix -Instrumental-)

Ayumi Hamasaki – Days / GREEN

January 10, 2009 at 10:36 PM | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki | 6 Comments
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Tracklisting
Days / GREEN version
1. Days (Original mix)
2. GREEN (Original mix)
3. LOVE ~Destiny~ (10th Anniversary version)
4. Days (Original mix -Instrumental-)
5. GREEN (Original mix -Instrumental-)
6. LOVE ~Destiny~
    (10th Anniversary version -Instrumental-)

GREEN / Days version
1. GREEN (Original mix)
2. Days (Original mix)
3. TO BE (10th Anniversary version)
4. GREEN (Original mix -Instrumental-)
5. Days (Original mix -Instrumental-)
6. TO BE
    (10th Anniversary version -Instrumental-)

This is Ayumi Hamasaki’s 44th single and it was released on December 17, 2008. The single reached #1 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 190,891 copies.

I swear there isn’t an Ayumi Hamasaki ballad that I DON’T like because I was instantly feeling Days on the first listen. The song is a typical pop ballad and even though there is nothing particularly special about it, I still think it’s quite nice. The music has a calm and pristine quality that’s perfect for the winter season as well. I enjoyed the chorus the most because it’s pretty catchy and Hamasaki’s vocals are great.

The other track is far more interesting in terms of overall presentation. GREEN is somewhat unique compared to Hamasaki’s recent rock oriented material and it’s refreshing. There is a prominent Oriental influence in the fast paced arrangement thanks to the use of Eastern styled acoustics and percussion. It was awesome to hear her perform something different and she sounded radiant while doing it. At first, I preferred Days, but this song has a been growing on me a lot and now I enjoy both songs equally.

Hooray for more 10th anniversary versions! This time, the songs were originally released back in 1999. Just like on her last single, depending on the version you got, there is a different tracklisting and 10th anniversary version. I’m glad to say that the new version of LOVE ~Destiny~, her 7th single, is superb. While I thought the original was nice, her vocals from back then really kept me from liking it. The song sounds much better with Hamasaki’s improved vocals and the revamped arrangement that features gorgeous strings.

TO BE, her 8th single, was one of the few early Hamasaki songs that I actually liked so I was glad to see it get touched up. As heard in the new version of LOVE ~Destiny~, her vocals are stronger so that’s a big plus. The music is pretty much the same though, minus some minor tweaks and so on.

Overall Rating

4½ stars

Ayumi Hamasaki – Mirrorcle World

April 16, 2008 at 8:13 PM | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki | 11 Comments
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Tracklisting
YOU version
1. Mirrorcle World (Original mix)
2. Life (Original mix)
3. YOU (10th Anniversary version)
4. Mirrocle World (Original mix -Instrumental-)
5. Life (Original mix -Instrumental-)
6. YOU
    (10th Anniversary version -Instrumental-)

Depend on you version
1. Mirrorcle World (Original mix)
2. Life (Original mix)
3. Depend on you (10th Anniversary version)
4. Mirrorcle World (Original mix -Instrumental-)
5. Life (Original mix -Instrumental-)
6. Depend on you
    (10th Anniversary version -Instrumental-)

This is Ayumi Hamasaki’s 43rd single and it was released on April 8, 2008, exactly 10 years after her debut single poker face (it also commemorates her 10th anniversary as a major label artist). The single reached #1 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 193,016 copies.

I’ll get to the point. Mirror, the high octane introduction track on Ayumi Hamasaki’s latest album GUILTY got PIMPED! The full-length result is the stunning roller coaster ride known as Mirrorcle World. Opening with cinematic strings, the song slowly creeps into the distorted dial-tone sound that began the original Mirror. The song sounds even better than I remembered, especially during the very aggressive chorus where there are heavy bursts of electric guitar and drums. Many things have been added on to give the song a more epic feel. This ranges from its extended introduction to the really dramatic bridge and then some. With all the extra stuff that’s going on, Mirrocle World still manages to cleanly end the exact same way as the original did. Now THIS is how you make a recut single!

The only “new” track on the single is the B-side, a more mellow tune titled Life. The song is a pretty standard rockish track from Hamasaki and there’s nothing really incriminating about it. It’s actually quite underwhelming compared to her previous B-sides too. This is a nice song, but an unmemorable one at that.

The single was released with 2 different tracklistings and depending on the version, you get a different 10th anniversary version of a classic Hamasaki song from 1998. These versions are completely redone and feature new vocals. I’ll start with YOU, her 2nd single. Instead of the familiar synth loop that opens the original, it’s replaced with a prominent electric guitar. Despite sounding more “modern”, the 10th anniversary version doesn’t stray far from the original in terms of overall production.

The other song is her 5th single Depend on you. I found this 10th anniversary version to be better than the one of YOU because there are some really nice changes. It utilizes a nice pop rock sound with some electronic influences here and there. This becomes even more evident at the end where it features a synthed up guitar solo.

Overall Rating

4 stars

Ayumi Hamasaki – GUILTY

January 10, 2008 at 8:17 PM | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki | 1 Comment
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The cover of the CD+DVD edition

GUILTY is Ayumi Hamasaki’s 9th album and it was released on January 1, 2008. The album reached #2 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 568,288 copies.

♦ ♦ ♦

Opening the album is the short introductory track Mirror. The mix of fast percussion, chimes, and low key strings are really interesting and they gradually build up to the explosive second half of the track. Electric guitar and thumping drums suddenly blaze through alongside elevated vocals but fade away as quickly as they came in.

The transition into don’t (Leave me alone) is good and flows into an edgy synth line with Hamasaki singing in a lower key. The song is mainly composed of synth but it blends in with an underlying electric guitar. She is slowly coming out of her comfort zone with this song as it is a pretty unique track. It’s also a precursor to the “darker”, more serious tone of the album.

Without a doubt one of the most aggressive songs on the album, talkin’ 2 myself slowly comes in and unexpectedly erupts with quick riffs and dark strings. I still really like this song and it fits into the album very well.

talkin’ 2 myself’s B-side, decision, follows right after. It makes sense to place it right after talkin’ 2 myself because it shares a similar structure from beginning to end, but features stronger riffs and a more powerful chorus. Hamasaki really belts it out at the end with all those “yeahs” too.

Track 5 is my favorite song on the album because it shows the more vulnurable side of Hamasaki. GUILTY is really something else because of the unique electric guitar accompanied by distant piano and drums. The riffs sound very dark and gritty, almost borrowing elements from alternative grunge rock. The song never gets out of control and Hamasaki’s vocals are not strained. The disembodied voice talking in English during the chorus was a strange, yet welcome addition as well.

fated is a great follow-up song to GUILTY since it has the same style, but in a more friendly pop form. The music is still on the depressing side and this is just the beginning of the direction the album takes. This was definitely the better song on the glitter / fated single in my opinion.

Okay, Together When… isn’t exactly new, but I don’t review digital singles so I did a sigh relief when it was included on the album. This song is AMAZING and one of the best emotionally driven ballads Hamasaki has done in a very long time. The song is full of emotion and showcases a great example of how pace and tempo can add to that. The lyrics are really sad and just make everything seem more melancholy.

The next track is the perfect way to set up for what’s to come. Marionette -prelude- is CREEPY. The music is deceptively simple, but oh so effective. It sounds like it came from a survival horror game or something because it certainly builds up an atmosphere. From the music box like chimes to the sound of old rusting clockwork, it gets you ready for the next track.

The prelude was awesome, but how’s the actual song? Marionette does not disappoint and is a huge elaboration of what the prelude offered. It’s the most epic and grandiose song on the album and it includes a more complex arrangement, sweeping strings, and blaring riffs. The dynamics range from the soft chimes at the beginning to the rock orchestra of the chorus. A lot of different and constrasting things were packed into this song and it works brilliantly in the end.

The Judgement Day sounds kind of scary, huh? It’s not as unsettling as the prelude to Marionette, but there are some good moments. I thought the organ was perfect for this interlude and I loved how they got faster and faster when the pace of the music changed to a dance like atmosphere. The funny thing about this interlude is that it leads to the 2 HAPPY tracks of the album.

This is where glitter enters the stage, but it sounds a lot better on the album after that cool interlude. I used to dislike this song A LOT, but it has grown on me and it is a nice change after all those depressing songs, despite being out of place. The summer sound of previous pop songs is definitely there with a catchy chorus to go along with it.

MY ALL is also an upbeat, summer type of song that opens with a bright electric guitar. Just like glitter, this song has a light-hearted and cheery pop sound but I didn’t find it all that memorable. It just sounds nice, but lacks a catchy hook like the previous track.

Well, here’s another interlude. reBiRTH has an ambient opening but I did find the music to be really pretty. Everything just seems to flow beautifully during the middle portion of the interlude where the piano and strings come together.

The album’s final track is a very important song to Hamasaki. The entire album was dedicated to her deceased friend, but untitled ~for her~ was written especially for this friend. The song is very heartfelt with its pop arrangement and it attempts to close the album on a lighter, yet still bittersweet note. I thought Hamasaki accomplished this because the music is a little upbeat side but everything else is just plain somber. She definitely got her message across, that’s for sure.

GUILTY has gotten a lot of criticism by people who think it sounds like everything else Ayumi Hamasaki has done, and they are sort of right. She might be up to her old tricks again, but it’s never sounded so damn good. The album contains her most emotional and serious material to date; each track containing excellent lyrics and so on. Unlike her previous album Secret (which was poor in the construction department), the transitions are smoother and the interludes are better as well. The songs of GUILTY feel more put together and you could tell that Hamasaki put a lot of thought and work into this album because the overall production value is excellent. I guess you could say I’m guilty for enjoying this album. =O

Overall Rating

4½ stars

Tracklisting

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

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

Ayumi Hamasaki – talkin’ 2 myself

October 3, 2007 at 8:08 PM | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki | Leave a comment
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Tracklisting
1. talkin’ 2 myself “Original mix”
2. decision “Original mix”
3. fated “Orchestra version”
4. talkin’ 2 myself “Original mix -Instrumental-”
5. decision “Original mix -Instrumental-”

This is Ayumi Hamasaki’s 42nd single and it was released on September 19, 2007. The single reached #1 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 110,628 copies.

talkin’ 2 myself is such a drastic improvement over Ayumi Hamasaki’s previous single glitter / fated. The song opens with blaring, quick electric guitar chords and low key strings that instantly set the dark and unsettling mood of this track. Hamasaki’s vocals lower pitched vocals blend in with the music quite nicely and it gives her voice extra power as well, especially during the fast paced chorus. When it comes to the composition, this is easily one of the best I have heard from her.

The B-side, decision, follows the same style as talkin’ 2 myself since it begins rather softly and then explodes into a rockish frenzy that quiets down when the first verse arrives. Once again, Hamasaki displays more powerful vocals during the chorus. The song’s structure and darker atmosphere is similar to that of the A-side.

The 3rd track is a beautifully orchestrated version of fated. This was definitely the better track on the glitter / fated single and to hear it performed by only a string section is amazing. The strings give the song a whole new level of emotion. This is much better than the original version in my opinion.

Overall Rating

4½ stars

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