Mai Fukui – Beautiful Days

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

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

♦ ♦ ♦

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall Rating

4 stars

Tracklisting

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

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

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Crystal Kay – FLASH

June 28, 2010 at 9:46 PM | Posted in Crystal Kay | 5 Comments
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The cover of the limited edition

FLASH is Crystal Kay’s 2nd mini-album and it was released on June 16, 2010. The mini-album reached #29 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 3,197 copies.

I’m not a fan of the hair because it’s very Bride of Frankenstein. lol

♦ ♦ ♦

Remember that “premium disc” on BEST of CRYSTAL KAY? We got our first glimpse of Crystal Kay experimenting with some electronic based tracks like Over and Over and Step by Step. On this mini-album, she does a little more of that and then some. After the crazy Intro -Genesis- (it sounds like the end of the world in music form), the title track FLASH comes in with heavy synth and aggressive vocals. The song shows off her sexy side as well (OMG have you seen the PV? It’s hooooot). Following that is Victoria which has a similar sound. I don’t know who this Victoria is but she’s a ~super sexy lady~.

That’s it for the super hot tracks because Never say goodbye is a much tamer song. It’s still on the upbeat side but the synth is reduced to little bips mixed with a nice dance beat. The mini-album then transitions into 2 ballads. The first is a cover of Michael Jackson’s Happy (one of his early Motown songs) and I really liked her take on the song. Since it’s a just a simple piano arrangement, her voice resonates. I pray has an acoustic R&B sound and it’s nicely done. Ending the mini-album is a pretty Outro that features strings and simple adlibbing.

Contrary to some opinions, I didn’t find FLASH to be boring. I know that everyone has been raving about the title track and Victoria but I thought the rest of the mini-album was great, too. Never say goodbye is catchy and the ballads are interesting so I thought this was a pretty well-rounded release. Being a mini-album, it’s to the point and concise but still shows some range. I also like that Crystal Kay is trying out different sounds because she does pull it off.

Pros: I liked every song and the song FLASH is hot hot hot.
Cons: NADA. This isn’t Shining. XD

BASICALLY…CK worked it! I’m anticipating her next release.

Overall Rating

4½ stars

Tracklisting

1. Intro -Genesis-
2. FLASH
3. Victoria
4. Never say goodbye
5. Happy
6. I pray
7. Outro

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

SWEET BLACK feat. MAKI GOTO – SWEET BLACK

September 28, 2009 at 5:58 PM | Posted in Maki Goto | 1 Comment
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SWEET BLACK is Maki Goto’s first mini-album and it was released on September 16, 2009. The mini-album reached #26 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 5,530 copies. It’s also her first physical release since transferring to avex.

I like the cover but I could do without her weird facial expression. What is she, a Disney princess? That headdress thing isn’t working either. lol

♦ ♦ ♦

You know I like me some avex whores so I was really glad when Maki Goto swtiched to the rhythm zone sublabel after leaving the Hello!Project. However, that was last year and I have been dying for new material. Prior to this release, she began working under the “SWEET BLACK Project”, which is a collaboration between several media outlets. That was when she started releasing digital singles under the stage name “SWEET BLACK feat. MAKI GOTO” (those singles were Fly away, Lady-Rise, and with…).

Despite only having 8 tracks, SWEET BLACK certainly has variety. From electronic, R&B, pop, and even reggaeton, the mini-album has a wide array of different styles. To me, it’s a good way for Maki Goto to show off her true capabilities as an artist. Even though her voice hasn’t changed that much since her last album How to use SEXY, there was definitely an overhaul in the music department. She’s now working with different producers instead of just Tsunku so I thought many of the songs featured a higher production value than almost all of her Hello!Project material.

For example, we hear Goto singing more mainstream songs in this mini-album. From the heavy electronic influences in Plastic Lover to the distinct reggaeton sound of Queen Bee with BIGGA RAIJI, Goto impressed me. Even though I have a love/hate relationship with Queen Bee because of BIGGA RAIJI’s excrutiating rapping, the song gets props for being one of catchiest tracks on the mini-album. If you want a better collaboration with a rapper who’s voice is actually tolerable, listen to Mine with KEN THE 390 instead. It’s perhaps my favorite song. Other noteworthy tracks include Fly away and the rockish Lady-Rise.
It’s not all upbeat stuff though, which I thought was perfectly fine. TEAR DROPS with KG and with… represent the slower paced songs and they’re both nice. TEAR DROPS with KG is the better song though since it was a good collaboration.

In the end, I thought SWEET BLACK was a great collection of songs that showcase the “new” Maki Goto. I don’t think any of the songs are bad even though the rapping in Queen Bee just slays me. It gives me a lot of hope for Goto’s future releases as an avex artist because she has potential and this mini-album can possibly be a taste of what she can really pull off. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed. =x

Pros: There are some really hot songs on here. *fans off*
Cons: BIGGA RAIJI! FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU-

BASICALLY…you’re officially an avex bitch, Miss Goto! ^^

Overall Rating

4 stars

Tracklisting

1. Queen Bee with BIGGA RAIJI
2. Lady-Rise
3. Candy
4. TEAR DROPS with KG
5. Mine with KEN THE 390
6. Fly away
7. Plastic Lover
8. with…

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

Eri Nobuchika – hands

July 5, 2009 at 11:18 PM | Posted in Eri Nobuchika | Leave a comment
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hands is Eri Nobuchika’s 1st mini-album and it was released on June 3, 2009. The mini-album failed to make an appearance on the Oricon Weekly Charts.

♦ ♦ ♦

We can all celebrate that Eri Nobuchika is finally back but let’s take a look at the new material that she has given us. After such a long wait, my expectations were pretty high.

The first track also happens to be my personal favorite on this mini-album. Instantly starting with Nobuchika’s radiant vocals, Melody is a good representation of what her new musical style is like. Showcasing a mellow and more organic based sound, this song is very pleasant to the ears. It’s good to know that Nobuchika’s voice is still in top form after all these years too.

At least she is still dabbling a little bit in jazz! Like some of the simpler tracks on her debut album, Kimi Nanda is relaxing but still has a catchy hook. You hear this hook as a lyric in the chorus but also through the playful piano chords and background vocals. It tends to get repeated a lot near the end as well.

The next track has some variety in its arrangement. In Tashika na Mono, there is an uptempo beat next to the ambient organ and acoustic guitar. This song is also more enthusiastic than the last 2 tracks so at least we aren’t getting an entire mini-album filled with laid back material.

I wasn’t sure what to make of calling you. The song is offbeat since it has a constant, shuffling percussion rhythm alongside a steady piano. Nobuchika’s vocals remain pretty steadfast and seem unaware of what is going in the music. Everything just seemed to clash but the music didn’t sound all that messy to me. In addition, this is one of the more unique songs on the mini-album.

A soft acoustic ballad follows. I honestly get folkish country music vibes from Seseragi and it’s probably because of that specific string plucking. Anyway, I didn’t think this song was anything special. Imagine Hidamari (the last track on her debut album) but slightly better.

Adding upon that folky sound heard in the previous track is Tsunagu Mirai. It’s also calm and acoustic based but with added instruments; the strings being the most welcome addition. At best, this was another pleasant song.

Here is something radically different! Featuring an Hispanic inspired arrangement, STEP comes in with upbeat acoustic guitar, constant clapping, and a wild flute. Think of it as Voice but without the electronic elements. That being said, this is the most energetic song on the mini-album and it shows Nobuchika with a little more flair in her vocals. I was quite fond of the adlibbing too.

Ending the mini-album is DEEP BLUE, another mellow song. I liked the relaxing piano but that was pretty much it. The transition from the verses to the chorus seemed disjointed and the vocals sounded a little off at times. I just wasn’t feeling this track and ironically like on her debut album, it closes with a dud.

WHOO-HOO! ERI NOBUCHIKA IS BACK! LET’S PARTY! =DDD
Now that we got that out of the way, it’s time for the hangover! First of all, hands is not a bad mini-album. It’s smooth, collected, but also quite boring at times. For those of us who have been fans of Nobuchika since the very beginning, we know about the amazing music she did back when she was produced by Shinichi Osawa (I still think nobuchikaeri is one of the best J-pop albums EVER). That’s over and done with, but I would like to see her doing electronic based songs again since she really shined while performing them. With hands, she has taken a simpler, more organic approach to music. The song themselves are nice to listen to, but they are missing a certain spark and energy. Perhaps she will step it up with her next release? I certainly hope so.

Overall Rating

3½ stars

Tracklisting

1. Melody
2. Kimi Nanda (きみなんだ)
3. Tashika na Mono (タシカナモノ)
4. calling you
5. Seseragi (せせらぎ)
6. Tsunagu Mirai (つなぐみらい)
7. STEP
8. DEEP BLUE

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

wyolica – Balcony

February 24, 2009 at 8:30 AM | Posted in wyolica | 6 Comments
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Balcony is wyolica’s 4th album and it was released on February 4, 2009. The album reached #85 on the Oricon Weekly Charts.

♦ ♦ ♦

Opening the album is Hoshi, the song which also served as the main promotional track. Like many of wyolica’s songs, the music is a mix of relaxing guitar with light beats added in. Fortunately, this formula still works wonders for the duo because this is a nice song and azumi’s vocals are pleasant as well.

The next track is more progressive and features an uptempo sound. I liked the beat in Kaleidoscope along with the faster paced acoustics, but the chorus is definitely the best part of the song. azumi displays strong vocals next to those gritty guitar chords and I think she sounds great when she puts a little bit power behind her normally docile voice.

Apparently, Koibumi is a really old song that the duo recorded back in 2004 and it was used as the theme song for the movie Koibumi Biyori too. The song has never appeared on any of their releases until now and in the form of a new album version. This is the first ballad of the album and it is beautiful. I like that strings come in after the first chorus and they are gorgeous, giving the music that extra feeling of sadness.

wyolica also has songs that feature a blues influence and I could sense that in Saiai no Hito. This is a depressing song because of its use of somber acoustics and strings, but I have to admit that the chorus is very pretty, especially with azumi’s elevated vocals. The music does get a little more interesting with a steady drum beat too. 

The next two tracks feature the album’s most upbeat songs. in the rain provides a nice pace of change since it has an upbeat R&B sound. I liked the beats in this song since they were constant but also added to the positive attitude of the music.

By far the most cheerful song on the album is SUN SUN EYES, a cute track with a groovy rhythm. The music has a bouncy sound to it thanks to the use of brass mixed with percussion. The bridge features a short, yet nicely done flute solo too. I really liked azumi’s vocals in this song and it’s good to hear the more “fun” side of her voice.

The final track also happens to be my favorite. Anata Shikai Inai is GORGEOUS. The duo worked with YoYo from the hip-hop group SOFFet for this wonderful jazz ballad. The arrangement is simple enough but I think it’s so well done because it’s effective in creating a relaxing, yet melancholy atmosphere. The drum beats and background vocals that come later on just add to that. This was the perfect song to end this album.

First of all, I am so glad that wyolica is back! I am also glad that they are still doing the kind of music that they do best. Balcony is a perfect representation of the duo’s older material with some new sounds added here and there. I pretty much enjoyed every song on the mini-album and I wasn’t disappointed in the least bit, especially since this is their first release in almost five years. Even after all this time, the duo still presents a unique and fresh sound too. I highly recommend it!

Overall Rating

4½ stars

Tracklisting

1. Hoshi (星)
2. Kaleidoscope (カレイドスコープ)
3. Koibumi -Album Ver.- (恋文)
4. Saiai no Hito (最愛の人)
5. in the rain
6. SUN SUN EYES
7. Anata Shika Inai (あなたしかいない)

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

BONNIE PINK – CHAIN

December 13, 2008 at 9:00 PM | Posted in BONNIE PINK | 5 Comments
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CHAIN is BONNIE PINK’s first mini-album and it was released on November 26, 2008. The mini-album reached #41 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 5,715 copies.

♦ ♦ ♦

Starting things off for this Christmas themed mini-album is the only original song on it. It’s been a while since BONNIE PINK has done some jazzy songs and CHAIN combines traditional Christmas song elements with a jazz band arrangement. It’s quite different from her rock and pop songs but I thought she did a good job with the overall composition. The music is pretty mellow and calm for the most part, but there are nice segments featuring elevated brass and percussion. In the end, it’s a song that’s perfect for the Christmas season!

The other songs on the mini-album are covers of modern Christmas classics. Her cover of Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime happens to be my favorite out of all of them as well. BONNIE PINK does a charming rendition of the song and I liked the rhythmic drums and upbeat brass of the music.

The next song is a cover of I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. I never liked this song to begin with so I have the sames feelings for BONNIE PINK’s version. It’s upbeat, has a lot of jingle bells, and other stuff. I honestly don’t care about it. NEXT SONG PLEASE~

Here’s a Christmas classic that’s a lot better. Her cover of Let It Snow is very pleasant and has a great 1940s swing sound to it. What I liked the most about the music was the brass and bass guitar, especially during the nice instrumental sections.

An alternative version of CHAIN appears as track 5. The Birth Cry version features a simpler sound with mainly just piano and jingle bells but it includes the organ as well. If anything, the organ makes the song sound more religious than festive. I prefer the original version by a considerable amount.

Ending the mini-album is a cover of The Christmas Song. BONNIE PINK’s version is done with light electric guitar chords but it’s kind of boring with only just that. There could have been more to make things more interesting at least. Hell, BoA made a better version of this song! LOL

For a small collection of Christmas songs, CHAIN isn’t bad. Six tracks is a kind of small for a mini-album though and this release could have easily been labeled as a “large single” (7 to 8 tracks is the ideal size for a mini-album IMO). I had the same problem with Crystal Kay’s mini-album Shining since that only included 5 tracks. At least CHAIN is way better than Shining as far as Christmas mini-albums go. The title track is good and some of the covers are well done, so this mini-album was alright.

Overall Rating 

3½ stars

Tracklisting

1. CHAIN
2. Wonderful Christmastime
3. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
4. Let It Snow
5. CHAIN ~The Birth Cry~
6. The Christmas Song

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

KOKIA – Fairy Dance ~KOKIA meets Ireland~

October 14, 2008 at 8:02 PM | Posted in KOKIA | 8 Comments
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Fairy Dance ~KOKIA meets Ireland~ is KOKIA’s 7th album and it was released on September 24, 2008. The album reached #67 on the Oricon Weekly Charts sold 2,715 copies. All of the songs on here feature arrangements inspired by Irish folk music and she performs some classic folk songs as well.

♦ ♦ ♦

The first track, Lydia~Fairy Dance, showcases KOKIA performing in traditional Irish sean nós style. This means that there are no lyrics and just gorgeous, ornamental vocalizations. She mostly sings within in her higher register, another common characteristic of Irish folk songs. Accompanied by mostly gentle strings and drums, the music eventually gains momentum and later adds a playful flute.

The next track originally appeared on The VOICE and it has been given a new Irish flavored arrangement. song of pocchong~Shizuku no Uta was my least favorite song on that album but I liked the changes here in this new version. The flute in the background is a new addition to the music and there is an extended instrumental sequence that features an upbeat fiddle as well. KOKIA sings the lyrics at a faster pace too. Actually, it’s more like ‘gibberish’ because this song doesn’t have any real lyrics.

Now the album transitions into its first Japanese song, the first of only three. Kanashikute Yarikirenai is my favorite song on here and I find it to be a really peaceful and relaxing listen. It opens very quietly with guitar but follows it up with some very pretty strings and a prominent flute. KOKIA’s vocals are lovely and perfectly match the serene atmosphere of the music.

Included on the album are covers of three Irish/Celtic folk songs. The first one to appear is Black is the colour, the only song that is completely in English. The original title is actually Black is the Colour (of My True Love’s Hair). There are many lyrical versions of this song and it has been covered by a ton of artists, but KOKIA’s version is sung from the male perspective. Instead of ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘her’ is sung. Here’s an example:

I love my love and well she knows, I love the ground whereon she goes. I wish the day soon would come when she and I will be as one.

Soshuu Yakyoku is an interesting song because it features Japanese lyrics that are performed in an Irish manner. It is performed mostly through rhythmic and elongated high notes while bouncy woodwinds play during the instrumentals.

It was pretty cool to hear KOKIA sing in the Irish language with her cover of Suil a Run (Walk My Love). This bittersweet folk song features both English and Irish lyrics and is primarily an acoustic track with the occasional flute every now and then. The chorus is in Irish and KOKIA sounds really good singing the lyrics.

Here is another pretty song that is also quite festive. Sono Mama de ~be as you are~ starts off slow but gets upbeat when the woodwinds and accordion come in. The most notable thing about the song is the ending when KOKIA starts adlibbing and the instruments are at their most lively.

The final track is Taimse Im’ chodhadh (I Sleep), an Irish folk song based on an old poem. It is performed completely in Irish and I was impressed with KOKIA’s vocals because she sings the lyrics very well. The music consists of only the uilleann pipes (or Irish bagpipes) and there is an instrumental section during the middle of the song. In my opinion, this was a great way to end the album.

Fairy Dance ~KOKIA meets Ireland~ was absolutely fascinating from beginning to end. I really liked the Irish theme of this album and KOKIA continues to show her incredible versatility and innovation as a vocalist. The folk songs she performs are really interesting and the new original tracks are well done, too. I’m now convinced that she can do just about anything and with her upcoming Christmas album coming in early November, let’s see what she has in store.

Overall Rating

4½ stars

Tracklisting

1. Lydia~Fairy Dance
2. song of pocchong~Shizuku no Uta (song of pocchong~雫の歌)
3. Kanashikute Yarikirenai (悲しくてやりきれない)
4. Black is the colour
5. Soshuu Yakyoku (蘇州夜曲)
6. Suil a Run
7. Sono Mama de ~be as you are~ (そのままで ~be as you are~)
8. Taimse Im’ chodhadh

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

Crystal Kay – Shining

December 14, 2007 at 3:06 PM | Posted in Crystal Kay | Leave a comment
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Shining is Crystal Kay’s 1st mini-album and it was released on November 28, 2007. The mini-album reached #21 on the Oricon Weekly Single Charts and sold 6,050 copies.

 ♦ ♦ ♦ 

Shining is the main track off this Christmas themed mini-album. The song is nothing short of typical and terribly bland. The music is very pop with acoustics and mild beats, but it lacks any interesting hooks to bring in the listener in. The chorus is also very uninspiring. I don’t mind that Crystal Kay keeps on drifting towards the pop route, but this song is boring. If you want an awesome pop song from her, listen to Koi ni Ochitara or the material from her latest album ALL YOURS.

The next track is pretty much the same song as before, but in ballad form. Let’s say that you slow Shining down, add a flowing string arrangement, and make the beats a little bit stronger. The result would be Snowflake, and fortunately, this song is better. It’s still typical, but definitely more memorable than Shining.

The 3rd track is by far the worst on the mini-album. Happy 045 Xmas just oozes with unoriginality and corny lyrics. Sure, it’s a “Christmas party” song that’s supposed to be fun, jingle bells and all, but it teeters on the edge of being extremely generic and unforgettable. This song was originally a digital release that could be purchased from Crystal Kay’s official website (which basically means that it’s pure filler material on this mini-album).

It’s too bad that the best song on here is an OLD track originally released back in December 2003. Her cover of Natalie Cole’s No More Blue Christmas’ was the bonus track on her English album NATURAL and it’s been slapped on here for the mini-album’s Christmas theme. I love her vocals on this track and she does great justice to the original.

Closing this thing up is the JAZZTRONIK remix of Shining. I will admit that the remix is A LOT more interesting because of the jazzy piano chords. The beats are faster as well, but that’s pretty much it. It’s an improvement over the original, which did nothing for me.

Thank goodness Shining is an only a mini-album, even though it’s pratically just a glorified single, because it contains some of the most disappointing and bland material that Crystal Kay has released to date. Honestly, the vocals are great as usual, but the music is less than stimulating and it feels like recycled pop. No More Blue Christmas’ is the only song worth listening to, but it’s a cover AND an old track from 2003. This “mini-album” just seemed so unncessary and rushed upon further inspection. I believe that this could have been a great release, but poor execution and the lack of original material proved otherwise.

Overall Rating

2 stars

Tracklisting

1. Shining
2. Snowflake
3. Happy 045 Xmas
4. No More Blue Christmas’
5. Shining -JAZZTRONIK REMIX-

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