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Archive for March, 2008

SINGLE REVIEW: YUI- Laugh away

YUI- Laugh away

I’m glad YUI is managing to be active again after that long break caused by the DVD release. I hope she at least got to rest a bit during that time. Sony seems to be nicer to their talent than avex, so hopefully she doesn’t even need it that terribly. Anyway, I believe this is YUI’s first digital single, and I’m proud to review it on this site. Without further ado, YUI’s ‘Laugh away.’

———

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Laugh away is exactly what I was looking for from YUI. A complete return to her older, more down-to-earth style. The song opens with classic YUI acoustic chords and a fantastic melody. This song isn’t quite identical to her past works in that it’s very happy. Most of her previous songs had a very solemn or important message to them. This song also has an important message, but a happier one that can be conveyed in a more upbeat nature. And you know what? In the PV, she SMILES. I mean like, her mouth opens. And there’s something that resembles happiness. Recorded. On video. One of YUI’s best PVs in a long while. Not that she’s never happy, she just never seems to smile. Another thing to like/find funny about YUI. Anyway, to the actual song. There are still hints of YUI’s recent stylings (violin, electric backing guitar), but it is so absolutely refreshing all the same. The verses are pretty laid back, but definitely faster than most of her post-2nd album singles. The chorus is an explosion of joy not seen from YUI in her current era. I love the way she sings this one because of the previously unheard power she puts behind her notes. Even though I love YUI, she’s not an incredible vocalist. She’s good, but she’s not groundbreaking. And you know what? That’s okay! Even though she doesn’t have vibrato or any technique really, she manages to create great music. This song is a great example of perfect YUI-esque composition. The verses and chorus contrast but both convey the same idea, which is hard to do for people who weren’t professionally trained to do so. I’m really impressed with this track, and I’ve already listened to it like let’s see… Ha, 148 times. You should all go buy this single, I know I will. It’s going to be like two bucks, and it’s totally worth it. I am going to sing this every time I go to karaoke for sure. Hands down YUI’s best single of her current era. Not a question in my mind.

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

Overall Grade: A+

SINGLE GRADE: A+

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SINGLE REVIEW: ayaka- Te wo Tsunagou/Ai wo Utaou

ayaka- Te wo Tsunagou

After a string of wondrous singles, ayaka is back again with a double A-side. It’s apparent that there’s (instead of an album) a single release coming by the name of Okaeri, which seems odd considering that she already has four A-Sides for her coming album… Well, whatever I guess. At least we have new material. Here’s ayaka’s latest release ‘Te wo Tsunagou/Ai wo Utaou‘.

———

I personally have loved Te wo Tsunagou since the moment I first heard it. It begins with gentle and unoppresive acoustic guitar which creates a very solemn yet hopeful atmosphere. The acoustics are soon joined by violin, but remain rather calm for most of the song. As we reach the last third, a gradually appearing percussion track and more powerful instrumentation comes into play, which I enjoyed because it gave the song a lot of progression and evolution. I can’t understand what it is about this song that people don’t like. The composition is very attractive in the way that builds on it’s self constantly, rather than the verses and chorus’ all being the same. Needless to say, ayaka’s vocals are absolutely flawless (and I bet she only tried singing this once…), as expected. She manages to put both feeling and power into her vocals and it comes off gorgeously. I don’t think there are any factors working against this song. The way it all flows just makes you want to listen to it over and over, and the relaxing qualities manage to feel like so without being dreadfully boring. Yet another wonderful addition to ayaka’s discography. Her album is going to be incredible at this rate.

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

Overall Grade: A

Up next is a song of similar name; Ai wo Utaou.  This song is basically taking the upbeat parts of the previous and turning them into a full length song. It is probably just as if not stronger than Te wo Tsunagou. The quick guitar chords and percussion blend perfectly together, and a fantastic very ‘ayaka’ atmosphere is created. Vocally she manages to be perfect again (surprise, surprise…). The song has great composition, and every note is not only executed perfectly, but written perfectly. Whoever made this had a great vision. Ayaka’s way of singing this song is a bit tweaked, but in a good way. She adds extra breath to the end of her notes to make them more whispery and apparent. It makes the song stand apart from the previous. All in all, this song is probably a bit more interesting than the other A-Side. The addition of electric guitar and other various instruments created a nice happy atmosphere and a great song. Ayaka seems unbeatable at this point. Wonderful climax, wonderful flow, wonderful everything. I’m impressed especially by how much I like it considering I usually have a predilection to her ballads. This song has proven that ayaka can put out and wonderful upbeat song as well.

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

Overall Grade: A+

SINGLE GRADE: A

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SINGLE REVIEW: Tohoshinki- Close to You

Here is the fourth, and second to last, single in the TRICK series. So far these singles have been decent, but really not a whole lot more, with the exception of a couple of songs. I’m hoping Yunho steps it up, but you never know. He might just suck. I’m hoping that trend died with Changmin, however.

———

What to say about Close to You… Well, the introduction was very unique for a Tohoshinki track. The use of acoustic guitar and a really unique melody made for a good start, but from then on it kind of sank into nothing more than decency. The music is still made up of acoustic guitar, but you can barely hear it over all the percussion and synth. I don’t know if it’s just me, but all of these singles are sounding unfortunately similar, or at least within the same area. Maybe I’m crazy, but I’ve noticed that there isn’t a whole lot of variation. Although this isn’t a Yunho solo single, they did focus quite a lot on him. I have never been all that impressed with Yunho’s vocals, and here isn’t an exception. He has like two different registers and then no middle ground. He’s either obnoxiously high or ridiculously low. I want him to find that nice place in between the two. He’s not a bad singer, but he’s certainly not Tohoshinki’s best. As far as composition, the song wasn’t all that bad. The melody remained consistently entertaining, if not a bit repetitive throughout the song. Once again there was no climax, but I guess it wasn’t super necessary because of the consistent intensity. Overall, not a bad track, but obviously not a great one. It’s not all that catchy, and it’s really mediocre compared to the rest of their discography.

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

Overall Grade: B

Thankfully the solo songs seem to manage to be consistently better than the actual A-Side tracks. Crazy Life is a great deviation from the other styles featured on TRICK. That is one thing that has managed to remain constant. Each solo track presents a different musical genre, which keeps them all fresh. This particular song is in the dance category, which I know isn’t very specific. It’s quite filled with synthetics and a nice percussion track. The introduction is a bit cheesy because of the English chosen for this particular track, but the music is absolutely catchy. Composition-wise this track is very well forged. Every twist in the melody seems logical and motivated. I do feel like the song is climactic, though the note that appears to be so isn’t particularly incredible. It simply stands out because it’s the only one. Unfortunately, the quality of the song is brought down by the rap, even though it’s not absolutely dreadful. Just a regular level of crappiness. He’s not even really in sync, and he just sounds like he’s trying way to hard to be ‘cool.’ However, Yunho gets extra points that make up for it because he has found that middle ground. His vocals are near impeccable, and fit the tone of the songs wondrously. His tone is fantastically edgy, and he goes through the entire song managing to make every note sweet and listenable. I absolutely hate the second rap which ends the song because it doesn’t do everything that came before it any justice. There should have been a lot more. However, I do enjoy this track because of the strong music and vocals.

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

Overall Grade: A

SINGLE GRADE: B+

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SINGLE REVIEW: Namie Amuro- 60s 70s 80s

Namie Amuro- 60s 70s 80s

This is Namie Amuro’s latest single, and the start of her post-PLAY era. I can tell you all honestly that I’ve never been a huge fan. I love watching her interact with people on television and such, and she’s gorgeous, but as far as artistry I’ve never been super impressed. She has a way of singing that makes her sound like she’s doing the most boring thing she possibly could be doing. However, there are a few exceptions to this. I did feel that her previous album definitely deserved the #1 it received, and she has certainly earned her popularity. Oh also this cover is hot. Damn.

———

The first song on this triple A-Side single is NEW LOOK, which is one of the girliest songs I’ve heard since Urban Mermaid, but in a good way. I don’t think the song would be so entertaining if it was about anything else. So it starts with interesting 60s-esque piano, synth, and some lady saying hello to all the ladies… Hmm… Well, regardless of whether or not I’m supposed to listen to the song, I enjoy it. I liked the composition because of how well it flowed. It led wonderfully up to the climax, even though it was a bit of a wait. Although it is a bit repetitive, you can’t help but have fun. One really of the strong points is the use of background effects and vocals. This song is jam-packed with accouterments that are there simply to enhance the song, which is done quite well. Musically the song pretty much sticks with piano, but is accompanied by a full band arrangement. 60s-style brass, bass, and some more modern percussion. My only problem was that the lyrics became so thick in parts that she was chanting rather than singing. That is approaching rap way to closely for me, and we all know how I feel about that. Especially if it’s not intentional. Vocally Namie does surprisingly well. Although she still has that deep bored voice, the climax works out nicely because it stands out so strongly from the rest of the song. The lyrics should have been shortened a bit in a couple places, but other than that it’s a solid track.

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

Overall Grade: A-

Up next is the 70s, which is represented by ROCK STEADY. The introductory effects were very 70s, and the constant filtered notes in the background really supported the era of designation. The verses are a bit bland for the early part of the song, but after the first chorus everything is so much better. I loved the unscripted vocalizations as well. Vocally Namie definitely stepped it up in this song. There is so much more to work with, and I’m glad that she was given more diverse notes and more powerful areas. Musically the song is made up of constant percussion and maybe some bass. There’s really not a lot of musical support because of how filling the background vocals are. There is enough crammed in there to fill any empty musical space. Composition-wise this song is a bit less organized but overall slightly better than the previous. The chorus is very engaging and really serves as a climactic, reoccurring sequence in the song. Even though there aren’t any obvious one climax, the song as a whole is contrasting enough to not need it. This song is marginally stronger than NEW LOOK, even though both are very good. It may just be that it’s a bit more fun, but it also flows better and is more entertaining.

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

Overall Grade: A

I didn’t think that Namie would be doing much better than ROCK STEADY, but she’s proved me wrong with WHAT A FEELING. I don’t like the ‘Everybody call me dancing queen‘ intro, but everything after that is pure genius. The verses are quick and edgy with a great beat and fantastic runs by Namie. Once again everything is slightly better than the previous track. The music is basically just percussion and synth with a distinct 80s vibe in the way that it flows. Namie isn’t chanting in this song either (except in the beginning). Once again this song serves an amazing chorus, however this one is even better than that in ROCK STEADY. The way she sings ‘What a Feeling‘ is really compelling, and probably one of the best runs I’ve heard from Namie in a while. I was simply really impressed with this song. The way the composition goes from edgy to powerful is wonderful to listen to, and I have to say this song is absolutely phenomenal. There isn’t really anything I dislike about it except for that short intro. And since it ends so quickly, I’m really not bugged. Her vocals are better than I’ve heard them in a long time, and everything just works out. Definitely will be on repeat for quite a while.

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

SINGLE GRADE: A

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[Single] alan’s ‘Hitotsu’

SINGLE REVIEW: alan- Hitotsu

alan- Hitotsu

alan’s last single was extremely impressive, and I was drawn in by her powerful skills in Chinese opera. My consistent problem with alan has been the weakness of her vibrato, though I do not think it is a vital part of being a good vocalist. YUI does not have a strong vibrato, but she has a great voice all the same. I hope alan impresses with this single and becomes more popular.

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The lead track on this single is Hitotsu, a soft piano ballad that makes a sweet entrance with heartfelt piano chords and a deeper, fuller vocal performance. I am proud to say that alan did not use any of her Chinese Opera in this song. Though I find it incredibly beautiful, she has proven that she doesn’t need it. The other plus side I’ve found in this song is that alan is developing a bit of vibrato at the end of her notes, and therein sounds more controlled when ending her notes. She overall sounds like she’s learning to use her voice more effectively, which is a great step in the right direction. I loved the thick instrumentation and all the layers it created. The piano and synth along with an unexpected but very appreciate bag-pipe backdrop create the perfect atmosphere for the lyrics and vocal tone of the song. After the very distinct styling of her previous single, I feel that this is a step in the right direction as far as alan’s assimilation into mainstream Japanese music. Her lack of extremely unique and difficult vocal composition proves that she can average it up with the best of them, which isn’t necessarily bad, but rather telling of her ability to be popular. I think she has it in her, but right now she is held up by the language barrier. Her accent is very audible in her singing, and she cannot speak Japanese with any ease. Once that problem is cleared up, I think that maybe she can begin to rise from mediocrity. I liked the way that the verses built up for the first line of the chorus, as it made the song a bit more epic.

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

Overall Grade: A+

Up next is Kimi ni Omou Sora, which features a wonderful synthetic introduction and very accented vocals from alan. It feels like a ballad for a few moments, but when the background vocals appear the poppiness of the song is solidified. The woodwind instrument featured gives the song a slightly traditional feeling, but overall I really like the new angle from alan. We haven’t been treated to anything so quite as upbeat as this yet. The music is made mostly of some soft chimes and a constant backdrop of lively percussion. Although accented, alan’s vocals aren’t awful. They could be a bit less nasally, but in the end they work out with the cuteness of the song. One thing I noticed was that alan is still singing kind of ballad-esque throughout the entire song. It kind of annoys me a bit in the sense that her ballad voice and the peppiness of the music don’t really blend well, but I can just as easily not notice it. Overall a nice if not slightly average toss at mainstream pop with a hint of unconventional instrumentation. If alan had a large discography behind her it may not stick out as much, but since this is one of her mere six songs, it draws attention for being the only one of its kind.

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

Overall Grade: B+

A more R&B influenced ballad appears in the form of Tokyo Mimei, which features very soul-ish squeaky synth and only the sweetest of notes. Vocally this song is right in between Hitotsu and Kimi ni Omou Sora. She’s not nasally, but there are moments when she’s close. I liked the composition in that the verses contrasted the chorus nicely. The epic and powerful chorus is made more dramatic by the fact that the verses flow so quietly. The combination of strings, percussion, and synth add another aspect to alan’s small discography. I loved the acoustic guitar solo, even though it contradicted the previous feeling of the song by throwing in some unexpected Spanish flare. There were a lot of notes in this song that struck me as beautiful, which left a nice feeling after it ended. The song ended on an oddly jazzy note considering the previous flow of the instrumental, but I suppose it worked out nicely in the end. Overall, this song is a lot more memorable than the previous. It may not be quite as gorgeous as Hitotsu, but it has its own flavor and unique aspects that make it pleasurable to listen to.

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

Overall Grade: A

Ending the single is sign, a masterpiece and alan’s most unique song to date, which is saying a lot amongst tracks like Ashita e no Sanka. I have no idea what she’s saying, (Chinese or awful accent?) but I love it. The song begins with progressive synth and nighttime outdoor sounds (birds, frogs, etc.). There is a sudden appearance of traditional Chinese-esque percussion and the song continues on with those indeterminable vocalizations. The synth and the various sound effects just bring the track to a spectrum of entertainment that alan has not yet produced. But it’s good. Really good. The atmospheric vocals and unique composition make this song stick out wondrously, and I’m really glad that she managed to pull this off so well. For the vocals that she did produce, she performs incredibly well. I know there is technological manipulation, but even so the song is very appealing. All of the various aspects of this song just fall together so perfectly. I can’t say that I think everyone will enjoy this, but if you don’t that you have awful musical taste and no appreciation of originality. Haha, just kidding… Or not.

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

Overall Grade: A+

SINGLE GRADE: A

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ALBUM REVIEW: Yuna Ito- WISH

Yuna Ito- WISH

Yuna Ito’s last album was quite lackluster, and I’m really hoping for a signifigant re-invention in this album. Fewer cheesy 90s pop tracks, and more edgy dance and some sparse power ballads. I don’t know if I’m going to get it, but one can hope. This is only Ito’s second album, and I’m worried because the singles leading up to WISH aren’t as strong as they were for HEART. Endless Story melts me everytime I hear it, and Precious is practically flawless. There aren’t any singles that incredible for this album, which is a bit unsettling. Well I guess we’ll find out how she does. Here is Yuna Ito’s latest album ‘WISH’.

———Yuna Ito

The album opens with Power of Love which has nearly perfect verses. There’s a unique trance feel of the electronically distorted strings in the beginning, and I had a lot of hope for this song off the bat. As the verses come to a close there’s a great build up and then… a crappy chorus. Everything was so edgy and even potential dancable, but then the chorus appears with it’s awful generic 90s pop feel, and the song just crashes. The music switches to a very pop beat and some snapping that completely destroys the edge of the song. On top of that, the English is completely cheesy. ‘Forever I feel the sound of Love‘. You don’t feel sounds unless they’re just vibrating in your lungs. Maybe some people find that poetic, but from my point of view it’s really just… stupid. Yuna really neats to take more creative control of her career. She can speak Japanese now, and she already spoke English, so she should be perfectly capable of writing her own (sensible) lyrics. And after all this experience she should know how to arrange something, even just a simple mid-tempo pop song. The transitions in this song were just too abrupt, and the verses and chorus didn’t find together. I much prefer the qualities in the verses to the happy vomit that is the chorus. Well, this track was a bust. She doesn’t sing to badly, but the composition and music is awful, leaving the song dangling on a pathetic thread.

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

Overall Grade: C+

As much as a hated the last track, Ito completely redeems herself with alone again. It opens with euphoric strings and a beautifully synthesized atmosphere. Ito’s vocal are perfect for the tone of the song. I love the blending of the percussion and the filtered piano; sparse violin making an appearance every once in a while. The verses are very interesting to listen to, but the chorus is the star of the song. The composition flows gorgeously, and the reverb on Ito’s vocals just expands the slightly ethereal atmosphere. I’m impresses at this comeback, because after the crappy intro I was expecting an album filled with junk, but I’m glad a gem as already appeared. Ito’s Japanese has really improved, and her execution is a lot more comfortable and natural. Even though I loved her old singles, I was always bugged by how she didn’t seem to know what to emphasize. Now that she knows what she’s saying, it comes off a lot more personal and heartfelt. This song is proof that Ito doesn’t need power ballads to pull off a fantastic song. It’s somewhat sad, but it’s mid-tempo and definitely not a ballad. The fantastic acoustic guitar solo at the beginning of the fourth quarter was a great addition to the song, and added some flavor. The song was great without it, but I’m glad they included it. The song is a lot more engaging when spaced out like that.

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

Overall Grade: A+

Following the fantastic previous track is Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A World to Believe In~, Ito’s collaboration with Celine Dion. From the beginning I thought Ito was going to be blown away, even though I love her voice. To my surprise, they worked fabulously together, and managed to pull off the best duet of 2008. I can’t see anyone managing to stand up to this track. The introduction was weird, but once the vocals appeared everything ran smoothly and blended nicely. The verses are relaxed and quiet whereas the chorus is the essence of vocal power, a strong note in every line. The song is musically made up of soft acoustic guitar and a slow drum beat. The vocals are blended flawlessly, and the two support each other fantastically during the duo parts. I was impressed that Dion went and sang in Japanese to back up Ito. I wish I could hear her sing the song alone in Japanese, only because I’m really impressed. It’s not easy to sing in a language you don’t know, especially if you don’t live in the country where it’s spoken. But if Celine could master English then I’m sure she can handle Japanese.

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

Overall Grade: A

WISHI was extremely upset about Urban Mermaid being ruined by stupid English lyrics in the chorus, but I’ve gotten over it. Though it may keep me from enjoying it, the song is still technically sound. Opening with acoustic strings and electronic distortion Urban Mermaid has beautiful instrumentation and a fantastic vocal track. The composition is feminine, which is perfect for the girl-power theme of the song, and it all flows brilliantly. It’s pretty much the same musical pace as alone again, but with cheery vocals and a more inspirational atmosphere. Ito’s vocal clarity has always astounded me, and I’m constantly impressed by her tone. I have to make a note about the reason I gave this song an overall grade that was lower than the technical grades. I was really turned off by the ‘I’m a beautiful mermaid‘ line. If Ito took a more active roll in her music, I doubt she would have let this one slide. It’s cheesy, plain and simple. There are a few artists out there who, though fluent in English, have the tendency to write cheesy lyrics of their own free will, but I don’t see Ito as being one of them. The song is very well done, with the exception of that slip up. I don’t mind female empowerment, but she’s making herself look stupid to thos who know what she’s saying. I love her music, but often not her lyrics. It doesn’t make sense to me that someone who speaks English would allow incorrect grammar and idiocy into her songs.

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

Overall Grade: A

HEARTBEAT starts off with quick sort of choppy, jazz-esque beats that are a bit confusing, but intriguing at the same time. I like the first verses because they offer a new side of Ito’s music, which is electronic, but once again, the chorus is stupid. I don’t know why, but these people just can’t give her matching chorus’ and verses. Why? No idea. I honestly don’t think it’s that hard. The song goes from serious, edgy, and engaging to bland, cheesy, and outdated in a matter of seconds. Once again the verses drew me in but the chorus ruined the entire song. I can’t handle such an atmosphere change mid-song. It annoys me as a listener and pisses me off as someone with musical knowledge because it’s stupid and not that difficult to do. I don’t understand how they couldn’t see the flaws in this song. The only redeeming quality are the dance beats, which add a great feeling to the song for the their thirty second durations. The synth during the chorus adds to the fact that it’s generic, poppy, and not at all entertaining. The talking segment was a bad deviation from the entirety of the song, and is another thing I wish they’d left out. Having a talking segment in a song is a big risk, and it rarely works out well. A recent example of a good use is WaT’s TOKIMEKI☆DooBeeDoo, where Wentz speaks. It takes the right atmosphere, which this song doesn’t have due to it’s heinous inconsistency. Also, Ito’s vocals aren’t great here. She’s fine during the verses, but she sounds strained during the chorus and generally unpleasant.

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

Overall Grade: B-

Following that up is Colorful, the B-Side of Ito’s Urban Mermaid single. The introductory piano chords and really the entire instrumental track are pretty childish, but I will admit I went through a period where I listened to this song on repeat a lot. The happy nature and catchy percussion draw you in, even though it’s all a bit repetitive. I love the fun of the chorus, which is where the song is at its most interesting. It’s a bit generic, but it has a certain quality that makes it a nice listen. Ito sounds like she enjoys herself while she sings. The English is for once not entirely idiotic, which is a rare thing in a Yuna Ito song. Although it’s childish lyrically as well, it just has a nice feel. The quick and poppy synth isn’t too bad to listen to, and the entire song flows together well because of the musical similarity. There’s not a lot of direction, but I like that it switches up the order in the end as to not bore the listener completely. I listened to it more than Urban Mermaid, but not necessarily because it’s a better song technically. I might have listened to the A-Side more if it wasn’t so stupid. Anyway, this song definitely grew on me.

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

Overall Grade: A-Yuna Ito

The first regular, slow, tender ballad on the album is Unite as One. Overall, it’s a solid track. It begins with gentle piano chords and a light synth background. There are some R&B elements thrown in with the addition of some snapping beats and water drops. Towards the chorus there is more percussion and other instruments added in to thicken the music. During the chorus itself the music stays mostly the same but the percussion is more prominent and the piano chords are slightly louder. After the second verses there’s a short instrumental segment that features a nice rhythm and attractive atmosphere. Vocally Ito pulls of the verses brilliantly. Her soft tone supports the idea of the song well, and she doesn’t have any detectable trouble with the composition. The only issue is that during the chorus she sounds a bit strained, like she had been singing for hours and was at her lung’s breaking point. She really forces the notes out, but doesn’t quite manage to make it sound effortless. She’s way up in her head voice, which is disappointing since I know that she can pull them out of her chest just as well. The song switches up well at the end where Ito sounds a lot stronger, but has a bit of an exhausted tone. There was one ungodly high note in the song that I can’t imagine she pulled off without electronic assistance. It had to be at least three octaves above her known range, which is very suspicious. The composition is a bit odd since it goes verese, chorus, really long verse, chorus, and hook, but it actually works out in the end. Basically, I wasn’t blown away by the track, but it’s okay. Maybe a bit above average.

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

Overall Grade: B+

I am pretty sure that this was my first review ever on the old, Windows Live ~*Highway-Chance*~, all the way back in July. Mahaloha opens with relaxing, summery strings and laid-back beats. I like this style of pop because it isn’t too fluffy, and manages to sound mature even when it’s not too serious. Yuna’s breezy vocals are very fitting of the island atmosphere, and the cheery strings definitely pull that Hawaiian image into your mind. The lyrics are sweet, and I really wish Ito would attempt to write more of her songs. She doesn’t suck at it. Even though Micro may have done a lot of it, she obviously had to have done something to get any credit. I like the way that the featured artist’s vocal blend with Yuna’s during the verses, but the first chorus, and to a lesser extent the other chorus’ were somewhat off. It’s a big ball of memories, listening to this song. It’s been such a long time. I still like it as much as I did back then. The random vocalizations, the harmonization, the calm atmosphere, the happy lyrics; all of it works out well in the end. Although it’s not quite incredible like her pre-HEART singles, it’s very pleasant.

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

Overall Grade: A

I was blown away by the uniqueness of he next track, A Long Walk. It opens with separated synthetic strings and a bit of inconsistency soon supported with an atmospheric layer of noise. I don’t know how to classify this song, but it’s really enjoyable. The music soon evolves into a constant and quick percussion track, still supported by random, cut and paste guitar. Ito’s vocals are soft and relaxed. I am trying to pull the word for this song out of my brain, but I can’t seem to think of it. You all should definitely listen to it. The entire feeling is very desirous, and I don’t think I’ve ever hear anything similar. The closest I can think of is Stay off JYONGRI’s Close to Fantasty album. The unique composition, music, and vocals bring the song into an undefinable state of being, which, though slightly annoying in that I want to give it a genre, is wondrously euphoric. There isn’t an obvious climax, but the whole thing is so incredible that you just don’t really notice. Near the end some dance elements are incorporated, and Yuna repeats some thankfully correct English with an unexpected edge to her vocals. The entire thing is just so individual that I can’t even describe how it all plays out. The song is fantastic, I just don’t know what to say about it. You have to listen to it yourself and help me…

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

Overall Grade: A+

WISHFirst of all, Moon Rabbit? Seriously. I know the derivation, but it’s still not my favorite concept. Especially when it sounds like a cheap 90s track. The song opens with outdated strings and guitar effects along with very pre-turn of the centry synth. The percussion doesn’t do much for me either. I also don’t like how long the verses go without any build up for so long. I’m half asleep by the time that the moderately catchy chorus arrives. Even though it makes next to no sense, I like the way that Ito sings the chorus. The composition is pretty dull, and this song doesn’t have much of climax either, but this time it doesn’t work out for the best. There’s nothing fabulous that opens my eyes and makes me enjoy the song. It’s all just a big pile of 90s composition, instrumentation, and vocals. There’s not much to say about it since it’s not much of a song. It just kind of trudges on wishfully and eventually sputters to a pathetic stop. The kind where you get to the end and you’re just like, “Why did I even take this ride?”

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

Overall Grade: B-

I loved the strings that epically opened I’m Here, and I’m glad that the rest of the song followed its edgy vibe. The verses are mid-paced and fairly laid-back, but the build up to the chorus is excellent, and I’m very impressed with this song. Finally Ito puts out something you can dance to, and doesn’t lull you to sleep. The chorus is maybe the slightest bit shouty, but other than that the song is a master piece. I remember when I got the single and forgot to listen to it, then left my iHome on accidentally. It woke me up after the string of ballads it had fortunately been on. I just remember thinking “At least I’m waking up to something good.” Of course when I saw that it was like two AM I realized that there was nothing good to wake up to at that time. The quick percussion and quivering violin set a wonderful mood, and the direction of the composition is the perfect rush. As everything switches up for the dramatic finale, the energy builds in an ideal manner. Ito’s vocal performance is close to flawless, and this is by far her best single released post-HEART in my opinion (not counting the horrendous B-Side).

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

Overall Grade: A+

I have to say WISHs placement on the album was not at all strategic. Despite that fact, it’s definitely in the running for the best song. The serentiy of the verses somehow leads magically into the powerful chorus, which for me is ideal. This is the first ballad that relies mostly on piano, with only a dash of synth to fill the empty space. The real reason this track is so impressive is Ito’s absolutely flooring vocal performance. This song is comparable to the brilliance of Precious and Endless Story, both of which are by far my favorite Ito songs of all time. I don’t know why she refuses to release ballad singles now considering that they’re clearly her strongest point. Don’t get me wrong, her pop and upbeat tracks are nice, but her raw vocal power makes the powerful slow tracks incredible. There’s no denying that her vocals are her strong point after listening to this song, and it is that which makes it one of the best here. The only thing I would improve is some of the execution during the chorus, which seemed a bit soft for its powerful nature. With or without that it is a very repeatable and engaging track. The gentleness and tender atmosphere haven’t been seen since HEART, which is a real shame. The sparse extra effects in the instrumental department complete the song wonderfully, and I’m glad this song was put on the album. It really shows that Ito wasn’t just randomly pulled off the streets.

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

Overall Grade: A+Yuna Ito

The gospel-esque choir in the background of Tokyo Days did not work at all with Ito’s vocals, and ruined the song. Plus we’ve jumped back a decade once more. Even the composition screams made in the 90s. I don’t like that they chose to end the album with this song. WISH would have been a much better choice. You turn on the song and you hear some group of people speaking awful and indecipherable Engrish, which in itself is grating, and then Ito starts singing irremediably: the song might as well just end there since it really doesn’t go anywhere. If you’ve heard the first twenty seconds then you’ve heard the whole thing. I won’t blame you for not downloading this because it’s just so cheesy. The constant synthetic percussion and squeaky synth don’t work out here, and I’m not impressed at all. There are so many things that could have been done with the last track, but this was the last one on the list. Why, I will never know. Probably becacuse Ito realized the album would flow to well if it ended with WISH and decided to tack on a cop out track with boring, repetitive composition and no direction.

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

Overall Grade: C+

The bonus track ends the album so much better. Ito’s cover of Celine Dion’s MY HEART WILL GO ON is actually quite good. Usually composition intended for Dion means you need complete control of your diaphragm, but since I’m reasonably certain that Ito doesn’t have that, obviously it’s not too hard of a song. Unless maybe if it’s live. Since it’s an old song, I’m sure you all know what it sounds like. I remember watching my first fountain show at the Bellagio to this song (I won’t pretend to know how to spell that). Yeah so basically good job.

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

Overall Grade: A

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Although it’s not the perfect album, it is a huge step up from the sad mess that is HEART. Ito shows overall vocal improvement, though she still needs to fire her lyricists and put some more effort into her career. How does she expect to solicit a song she has no personal feelings towards other than ‘Some guy got paid to make this for me to sing.’ Yeah, next time try writing it yourself. Anyway, best songs have to be WISH, A Long Walk, and alone again. Worst? Hmm… I’d say Power of Love and Tokyo Days. Even though there were a few crappy songs on the album, I have to say that it was pretty nice to listen to.

ALBUM GRADE: A-

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SINGLE REVIEW: Tohoshinki- If…!?

Tohoshinki- If...!?

I was annoyed by the first single of this project, but then pleasantly surprised by the follow up. I’m not quite sure what to expect from this single, but I’m hoping that the B-Side is flooring. I saw the live version before I knew it would be released as a single and I have to say that I am really looking forward to the recorded version. Well here we are with Tohoshinki’s ‘If…!?’ (idiotic puncutation).

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The single opens with If…!?, a poppy watered down version of Runaway. As this is Junsu’s single, everything is really centered around him. The song opens with funky synth and quiet vocalizations that can’t really be understood, but add to the atmosphere. The verses were supported by similar synth and a constant percussion. The familiar chorus, inclued in the TRICK song, has nice composition, but isn’t really incredible. This one is kind of like a cross between the last two, but has the average-ness of Two Hearts. It’s a solid and maybe entertaining track, but not unique or at all engaging. Junsu’s runs with the high composition are pretty good, and the chorus pulls off a bit of edge, but overall it’s not amazing. The verses don’t switch anything up really, and the composition gives the song no obvious climax. That’s usually fine for dance songs, but when it comes to something mid-tempo and very middle-of-the-road like this, every second has to offer something special. And since it doesn’t, we were left with generic wannabe catchy. It’s not awful, just average.

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

Overall Grade: B-

I am floored by Rainy Night every time I hear it. The song begins with soft strings and gently progressive synth, accompanied by R&B-esque percussion as the verses start. The other various sounds that make and appearance (guitar for example) only enhance the atmosphere of this heartfelt ballad. Junsu’s vocals are gorgeous, and every note is executed with intent and control. The composition is what makes this song so incredible; there are so many multi-note words and the overall direction is beautiful. The verses feature a tenderness and longing, where as the chorus is absolutely epic and exclamatory. Every piece of this song fits wonderfully with the others. My favorite aspect to the song is how well they do in building up to the climax, which is absolutely worth waiting through the entire song to hear. Junsu’s vocals mold flawlessly into this power ballad, and it is definitely one of the best songs I’ve heard in quite a while. My only issue is that they put the power note in the background, which was different from the live version. Either way, it’s wondrously satisfying and endlessly engaging. This song is better than any on the TRICK singles, and possibly than any on the T album.

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

Overall Grade: A+

SINGLE GRADE: A-

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