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Archive for February, 2008

SINGLE REVIEW: Shota Shimizu- HOME

Shota Shimizu- HOME

Shota Shimizu is a new artist, having just debuted on the twentieth of this month, but was having so much success with his debut that I decided to check him out. I saw his performance on Music Station yesterday which was absolutely amazing, and I decided that I would begin reviewing him. With a voice like that, I’m willing to trust that he’s not going to suddenly suck on his next single. Here’s Shota Shimizu’s ‘HOME’.

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HOME opens up with sweet piano and violins that create a heartfelt and gentle atmosphere. Theres a dash of chimes and the percussion appears. Definitely and R&B artist. The music of the song remains relatively constant throughout, the gentle piano making appearances only in instrumental breaks and at the poles of the song. It’s always there under a layer of percussion, but it’s only the focus of the song in a few select places. I did like the blending of the beat and piano, though. It creates a very interesting contrast; ballad-esque, but more upbeat because of the speed of the percussion. I hear some vocal one parallels to the guys of GReeeeN, but overall his performance is much more solid than any of them. The most impressive part of this song is Shimizu’s vocal range, which is showcased wonderfully in the chorus. He can safely go quite high, which is something that a lot of artists struggle with. His execution is deliberate and very well done. He obviously has a combination of natural talent and intense practice, professional or otherwise. I like the direction of the composition, though it doesn’t have a lot of progression until near the very end. I liked the evolution of the song’s sound. My only problem was that Shimizu’s power note felt kind of lack-luster. His vocal tone is nice, but I’m still not sure about his ability to pull off long and powerful single notes. As a whole his delivery is solid, but that note left much to be desired. He makes up for it at the end with the simple vocalizations, but there’s still something about his power notes that seems incomplete and lacking. Either way, I am incredibly impressed with this debut single, and I can see completely why he’s having so much success.

Vocal Performance Grade: A — Musical Performance Grade: A+ — Composition Grade: A+

Overall Grade: A+

I liked the synthetic musical introduction to MUSIC feat. BOY-KEN, but unfortunately the song was ruined by BOY-KEN. It’s really sad considering that Shota’s vocals are gorgeous, but the featured artist is trying way too hard to be a hardcore rapper, and it sounds awful. He sounds like a pit-bull with bowel irritation, and he makes the song absolutely dreadful. The plus side is that Shota’s delivery here is possibly even better than it was in the previous track. The music is pretty boring throughout being that it’s all just the same synth and percussion repeating itself. I can’t stress enough how idiotic this collaboration is. There’s a chance that it’s even worse than Kono Uta wo…….. by K x ET-KING. I can’t imagine that Shimizu listened to this song and was like ‘Yeah! I love this!’. You’d have to be completely stupid. The song had a lot going for it outside of the collaboration, but it was just destroyed. I can’t really pick out the composition because half of it is spoken [badly]. Shimizu’s runs were good, but the rest was absolute crap. This was a huge mistake and would completely change my mind about buying the single. This song isn’t even worth listening to unless you want to be annoyed. Or laugh.

Vocal Performance Grade: D+ — Musical Performance Grade: C- — Composition Grade: C-

Overall Grade: D-

We’re finally treated with a ballad in the form of Miss You. The song begins with soft vocals, great piano chords, and a beautiful melody. They are soon accompanied by similarly faint percussion. The song has a wonderful progression, and I’m pleasantly surprised with this B-Side. The only issue I have is that his power notes still feel a bit weak, even though his average delivery is incredible. He has a fantastic voice, and this song just further supports that. There isn’t a single part where I don’t enjoy is performance, it’s just that he doesn’t do any of that note holding that you see frequently in ballads. He manages to sound sad and desirous, which works out well for the idea of the song. I like the contrast of the verses and chorus because it makes the song less boring. The composition has fantastic direction which leads to a great climax. The background ‘ooh’ing was a great effect because it really helped build the atmosphere. This song is just as good as the A-Side, which is amazing considering how much I liked it.

Vocal Performance Grade: A+ — Musical Performance Grade: A — Composition Grade: A+

Overall Grade: A+

SINGLE GRADE: A-

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[Single] YUI’s ‘Namidairo’

SINGLE REVIEW: YUI- Namidairo

YUI- Namidairo

This is another single I’ve long been waiting for. YUI released a live DVD about a month ago which threw off her release schedule. This single will mark the third since her last album, which means that there’s a new album coming soon(ish). Well, I don’t want to wait any longer, YUI’s ‘Namidairo’.

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I absolutely love the musical aspect of Namidairo, because it is similar to old YUI works but with a new sound. The song starts off with nothing but acoustic guitar, and only adds in violin during the intro and chorus. Whining electric guitar also makes a gentle background appearance, which adds a beautiful atmosphere to the ballad. When I first listened to this song, I thought that her vocals sounded a bit dead, but that’s disappeared by now. Her voice sounds a bit deeper, but I can still feel her emotions while singing. YUI isn’t the strongest singer in the world, but she’s a great story teller. Although she doesn’t know how to hold out her notes with vibrato, it’s obvious that she doesn’t have to. Her vocal performance is solid and engaging without all the professionalism. This song is better than YUI’s past two singles by leaps and bounds. Although I liked both previous singles, YUI’s traditional acoustic guitar style is by far my favorite, and she returns to that in this song. Her rock-vibe is fine with me, but I will always have a predilection to her older sound. I’m impressed by YUI’s ability to compose tracks with such great flow, and Namidairo is the perfect example of matching verses and chorus. Yuna Ito could learn a few things from her. This song is exactly what I was looking for, and it will be on repeat for many weeks.

Vocal Performance Grade: A — Musical Performance Grade: A+ — Composition Grade: A+

Overall Grade: A+

The B-Side of this so far fantastic single is a song called I wanna be…. I love the happy intro and continuation of acoustic and natural sounding instrumentation throughout the single. This song reminds me of her really old works because it features nothing but guitar and percussion. Lately YUI has been hopping on the violin train, which is fine, but I’m glad that she doesn’t need them to make a good song. Also, her English is definitely improving, finally. I wanna be doesn’t have a thick accent making it difficult to understand; in fact it sounds very native. It might just be that those words are fairly easy for a Japanese person, but either way YUI’s thankfully using correct English. Overall, this is a very pure track that doesn’t feature much of anything. But in a good way. I like the happiness aspect, and this is definitely a worthy B-Side. People have said it’s boring, but I really don’t think so. It might be void of thick and layered instruments, but it is certainly not boring. The composition is progressive, the vocals are strong, and the guitar chords are sweet. This song is just as good as the previous, and in many ways much more catchy. This song only has one flaw, which is that YUI gets pitchy sometimes, though it’s rare and not all that noticeable if you’re not searching for it.

Vocal Performance Grade: A- — Musical Performance Grade: A+ — Composition Grade: A+

Overall Grade: A+

SINGLE GRADE: A+

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SINGLE REVIEW: misono- Mugen Kigen

misono- Mugen Kigen

I stand by my opinion that misono’s last single was dreadful, despite the fact I got criticism for it. I do not think misono is a weak artist, but I still think that Juunin Toiro was possibly the worst song I heard in 2007. I liked Zasetsu Chiten, so I really don’t understand why people think I’m just hating on misono. I gave that song an A-!! The fact is that her last single was vocally heinous, and there was simply no recovering from it. I’m hoping for improvement in this song, but I don’t know what to expect yet, so I guess we’ll find out.

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The lead track on the single is Mugen Kigen, which (praise god) is an enormous vocal improvement over her last A-Side. I do not believe that misono’s voice is very powerful, but her tone is engaging and, if used correctly, she can pull off a song quite well. Her voices is slightly flimsy when it comes to power notes, but she would be good at creating a melancholic atmosphere due to her somewhat whiny delivery. She sounds like she’s crying most of the time, though it is attractive usually. Musically the song is made up of repetitive percussion and fairly gentle guitar riffs. Actually, they aren’t all that gentle, but the fact that they sort of made them fade in to the background takes away the fierce edge they would have if they were presented more loudly. I can’t say that this song has anything particularly interesting about it, though I like the very last note. There isn’t much of a build up, and it doesn’t peak anywhere. It kind of just drags on without a lot of direction or momentum. I don’t know. There’s some nice guitar, and I enjoy misono’s vocal performance for the most part. I guess nothing just really jumps out at me.

Vocal Performance Grade: B+ — Musical Performance Grade: B — Composition Grade: B-

Overall Grade: B

Next up is Last Song, which begins with nicely played and gentle acoustic chords followed by shockingly pleasant vocals from misono that are quite remeniscent of Koda Kumi’s past works. I like the verses, but overall the song is a tad bit boring. The songs major flaw is repetitive composition. For once, misono gives a vocal performance worthy of being recorded. Instead of just bearing with her vocals I actually enjoyed them. The tonal imperfections made the song more personable, and it actually ended up working out well. misono’s voice works out well in ballads, though there were a few or more sour notes. I was glad they didn’t try to complicate the track with thick instrumentation. There are a few points where I wish misono had worked a bit harder to end the note right, but, again, I’m impressed overall with her execution. It’s a bit less whiny and more solid than usual. I hope misono leaves the rock vibe behind and moves maybe in a more pop-ish direction, focusing on a mainstream sound. I guess we’ll find out how she develops with her coming album.

Vocal Performance Grade: A- — Musical Performance Grade: A — Composition Grade: A-

Overall Grade: A-

SINGLE GRADE: B+

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SINGLE REVIEW: Arashi- Step and Go

Arashi- Step and Go

I didn’t mind Arashi’s last single, but I really wasn’t blown away by it. It’s fun to watch Arashi on TV since they are all great characters, and I’ve been able to do it alot lately due to heavy promotion of Step and Go. They’ve been on every show week after week, so I’m guessing this single is going to sell well. However, you can’t judge quality by sales. Let’s see how they did; Arashi’s ‘Step and Go’.

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Step and Go starts off with Arashi… saying they’re gonna Step and Go!! Whoo…! No, I actually do like the energy in this song. The percussion and sparse synth work well together, and though the upbeat nature is typical boy band, they pull it off. The melody in this track is so much catchier than that of Happiness. They’ve been advertising this as a ‘graduation song’, but I don’t really see what they’re graduating from. This song, though considerably better, isn’t that different from their average pop. I actually enjoyed the rap segment because of the short breaks of actual singing. It relieved my annoyance that they weren’t singing. Plus they were at least talking fast to the point I was impressed. I like the squeaky synth featured in this track, but I just wish it was a bit more present instead of just in the intro and instrumental breaks. This song is much more my taste than Happiness‘ blandness. As expected it features grammatically correct but odd and awkward English. I’ve learned to ignore that. The composition is good, but there are a few boring moments that I wish they had fixed up a bit. Oh well, I’m just happy that I’m not asleep half way through. Their vocals are well done, though I still don’t hear any gorgeous power notes. I’m waiting for an impressive ballad. I think that they could pull it off. Maybe.

Vocal Performance Grade: A- — Musical Performance Grade: A — Composition Grade: A-

Overall Grade: A-

I hate the world sometimes. Fuyu wo Dakishimete was gorgeous for four seconds until the percussion came in and averaged it up. The song begins with gentle acoustic guitar that almost instantly expands into a big fluffy pop song. Well, overall it’s not too bad. The melody and composition are nice, but I’ve had enough pop. Vocals are also nice, but again I’m done with this upbeat happiness, I’d really like a break. The strings, brass, piano chords, and percussion create a full background, but it’s all a waste when theres nothing really unique or engaging about the track. Sure it all has the potential to be engaging, but it’s just not. I don’t know, I guess this song will appeal to some, but I can’t find the light in this song. I’m being drowned in repetitiveness. It has all the ingredients, it’s just didn’t turn out right.

Vocal Performance Grade: B+ — Musical Performance Grade: B+ — Composition Grade: B

Overall Grade: B-

SINGLE GRADE: B+

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SINGLE REVIEW: Kana Nishino- I

Kana Nishino- I

I already reviewed Nishino’s pre-debut digital single I don’t wanna know, and I was definitely intrigued by her tone and performance. I’m hoping that she doesn’t disappoint on in her debut, which is the Japanese version of her pre-debut. Well, here’s Kana Nishino’s ‘I’.

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Obviously the melody and arrangement of I are familiar to me because they are the same as the English version, but what is new is the flow. I am much more impressed with the Japanese version because of how much better it flows than the English version. Not only that, but I can actually understand it completely this time. There are a couple points where the Japanese sounds cramped, but for the most part this is a big improvement over the other version. She is obviously better at singing in her home language. There are still occasional pitchy spots, but it is a step up from the slight disarray of the previous song. As far as music I generally prefer Japanese to English anyways because it’s so much more consistent. The music is still that ethereal synth with a somewhat amateur drum performance, but it somehow doesn’t stick out as awfully in this version. The drums almost seem a bit quieter, though I don’t think that’s the case. It may just be that the production quality of her real debut is much higher than that of her English demo/pre-debut track.

Vocal Performance Grade: A- — Musical Performance Grade: B+ Composition Grade: A-

Overall Grade: A-

Even better than the first track is In Stereo which, though in English, is a great serving of unique. In contrast to the YUI-esque performance of the previous track, Nishino has an almost Alanis Morissette manner of execution. It might actually be partially due to her accent, but I do hear distinct tone parallels. Though the song doesn’t make complete grammatical sense, I can at least understand each word being said. I’m genuinely impressed with her dive into this unique territory, and her sexy vocal performance comes as quite a shock. The quick sandy beats and rough guitar riffs really work out nicely along with a unique melody and laid back atmosphere. Nishino’s vocal performance is much stronger than that of the previous song, and she has virtually no pitch problems throughout the entire thing, which is also somewhat surprising considering her considerable difficulty with I. As far as composition, In Stereo is quite genius. Soft but catchy melodies play throughout the verses, and then an easy-to-follow but edgy chorus. I like the way they transition between parts of the song by simply going silent for a moment, because it is very effective.

Vocal Performance Grade: A — Musical Performance Grade: A — Composition Grade: A+

Overall Grade: A

Finally a ballad in the form of Just a Friend, which opens with light strings quickly backed by soft R&B-ish beats. Thankfully we are once more given a Japanese dish, because I still think she makes more sense in her own language. Because of how high Nishino’s register is, her voice is very childish-sounding, which makes this song difficult to take for what it is. The verses are gorgeous because she goes lower and there’s less musical interference. This song showcases a surprisingly tender execution style that finally develops it’s own distinct styles. I finally don’t have a comparison for her vocals, which I’m glad for. Towards the end she has a few pitch problems, but it creates a pretty and raw atmosphere. The imperfections make the song more personal, and in general I’m glad they’re there. I can’t be certain whether she did it on purpose, but the vocal performance was perfect for the song. This was a very strong debut single and really showed off three sides of Nishino’s artistry brilliantly. I’m glad that she managed to pull off all three songs, and I wish her success with this single.

Vocal Performance Grade: A — Musical Performance Grade: A- — Composition Grade: A-

Overall Grade: A-

SINGLE GRADE: A-

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SINGLE REVIEW: Ken Hirai- Canvas/Kimi wa Su・Te・Ki

Ken Hirai- Canvas/Kimi wa Su・Te・Ki

My god, this single is way overdue. Ken decided to wait half a year before releasing another single (I guess that’s his way…), so everyone has just been sitting idle going to back to questioning his sexuality… poor Ken. Either way, does it really matter? If his homosexuality is going to make you stop listening to his music then you’re pretty close-minded. I don’t think I’d like Ken nearly as much if he didn’t put on that damn glittery shirt more than two years ago for POP STAR. I still laugh randomly in class when that comes into my mind. Well now for the long awaited review of Ken Hirai’s ‘Canvas/Kimi wa Su・Te・Ki’

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Canvas opens with light string plucking soon supported by wind instruments then replaced with piano chords. Overall I really enjoy the musical aspect of the song because of the soft air. The song doesn’t have any melancholic qualities because of the percussion that comes in near the one minute mark. The song takes an oddly upbeat turn as it progresses, though it’s really only apparent in the music. Vocally this track is fairly strong. I have never thought that Ken’s voice was that great in ballads, but this song is impressive. Ken’s voice is great when it comes to more soulful sounding music, but it works out surprisingly well here maybe due to the percussion. The tempo is also good for the slightly nasal he has when he sings. It’s definitely no Elegy, but it’s a solid ballad.

Vocal Performance Grade: B+ — Musical Performance Grade: A- — Composition Grade: B+

Overall Grade: B+

The introductory beats of Kimi wa Su・Te・Ki caught me completely off guard. With a title that basically means You are Fabulous, I was expecting POP STAR back from the grave. But what I got was… Uhh, I have no idea what this is. The verses are… hardcore…? And the chorus is pop with a layer of faux hip hop synth poured over it. I bunch of people don’t like this song but… I guess… I do… Wow this song is really surprising. Okay so it starts out with trash-can percussion and Ken saying ‘You listen to me‘, and then jumps into a synthetic party with a very enjoyable melody and some ungodly high pitched and disturbingly fast vocals. It’s really hard to understand what he’s saying because of the pace, but it’s really really engaging. Overall I definitely like this song better than Canvas sheerly for the fact that it’s so unique. I haven’t heard anything like this in all of my years of Jpop, and I’m genuinely impressed. Leave it to Ken Hirai whom I thought had expended all of his tricks to expand my music horizons. There are a couple really cool points in the song, which are the ‘Yukou’ notes and the ‘Hop, Step, Jump‘. I also am very impressed with the vocal performance. It’s a difficult song to pull off, but he managed to do it. The performance is perfectly edgy. The melody is catchy and I just don’t see how you can’t like this. It’s pure Ken brilliance.

Vocal Performance Grade: A — Musical Performance Grade: A+ — Composition Grade: A+

Overall Grade: A+

Cry & Smile!! opens with happy piano chords and some sweet Ken wailing. Reminded me of a Little Big Town song. I really like the way it flows overall. The piano and that one instrument that you shake (god I’m an insult to music lovers everywhere) work oddly well together, even more so when the clap beats show up. I thought Ken said Smile a few to many times, but I suppose it’s forgivable because it’s in the name of the song… My only problem with the song as a whole is that the composition is a bit boring. However, I like Ken’s vocal performance once more and this is overall better than Canvas. I hate punctuation in titles, but I guess since Ken is the master of flamboyancy I can just let it go. I make too many allowances for him. But I do like this song. From the snaps to that unnamed instrument, it all just works. Thought it flows a bit too well, I did enjoy it in the end. Definitely worth listening to more than just once. Ken gives a nice performance, and it’s pretty engaging as a whole.

Vocal Performance Grade: A- — Musical Performance Grade: A- — Composition Grade: B+

Overall Grade: A-

SINGLE GRADE: A-

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SINGLE REVIEW: Thelma Aoyama- Soba ni Iru ne

Thelma Aoyama- Soba ni Iru ne

I was very impressed with the lead track of Aoyama’s last single, and I’m hoping that she can lead up to my expectations with this one. It’s very clear that she can sing, but whether or not she can consistently deliver engaging performances is what I’m still not sure about.  Here’s Thelma Aoyama’s ‘Soba ni Iru ne’

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Soba ni Iru ne begins with light piano chords and violin-esque synth that shows a more laid-back side of Aoyama’s music. She has moved to R&B territory with this sweet love-ballad, and I have to say that I’m feeling it. Even the stupid rap part wasn’t dreadful, and I think it blended nicely with the rest of the track. After a considerable amount of listening the track gets kind of boring because it lacks a climax, but that is somewhat made up for by a short instrumental section featuring gentle strings that played out nicer than I thought they would. This was a collaboration with an artist called Soulja who (whoopie…) raps. He’s better than some I’ve heard, but I still just don’t like the way that it sounds. If I wanted to hear people talk I’d go out somewhere. Aoyama’s English is, obviously, perfect and her vocals fit the calm atmosphere wonderfully. I can see why she’s been having so much success with this single, as it really is quite good. I say keep it up. As a whole, I think I prefer her previous single as it was a bit more interesting.

Vocal Performance Grade: A+ — Musical Performance Grade: A — Composition Grade: A

Overall Grade: A

The first of two B-Sides on the single is My Dear Friend. The composition of this song is very different from any of her other songs. It starts out with very quick lyrics that built up, and then suddenly relaxed and moved to a more R&B sound once more. Aoyama’s high notes in this track are surprisingly well executed. She didn’t really go high anywhere for any of her previous songs, so it’s interesting to hear her use more range. The chorus is the best part of the song because of the upbeat nature. Aoyama’s vocal tone is perfect for dance, but I think she could definitely pull off a power ballad as well. That’s what I’m hoping for from her next. She’s gone upbeat and R&B, so it’s time for a power ballad. Though I prefer Soba ni Iru ne to My Dear Friend, this track is certainly worth listening to.

Vocal Performance Grade: A — Musical Performance Grade: A- — Composition Grade: A-

Overall Grade: A-

The last track on the single is Last Day, which is surprisingly captivating. The music is created with an interesting whistle-like synthetic sound as well as your typical (but not uninteresting) percussion. Although this song isn’t bad either, it’s definitely the weakest here. The verses are unfortunately bland throughout, and the song doesn’t really have any qualities that draw you in. That whistle instrument is unique, but not enough to recover from the pretty boring composition and lackluster vocal performance. I didn’t like the rap this time around either. I don’t know who does it, but it lasted way to long and wasn’t pleasing to the ears. I got bored of it after about five seconds, but it just kept going and going and going… The only good thing about that was the elation I felt when it stopped and she started singing again. Other than that, this track is pretty much just average.

Vocal Performance Grade: A- — Musical Performance Grade: B — Composition Grade: B

Overall Grade: B

SINGLE GRADE: A-

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