Ariana Grande – Sweetener

August 18, 2018 at 3:02 PM | Posted in Ariana Grande | Leave a comment

sweetener1ALBUM REVIEW
Ariana Grande – Sweetener

1. Raindrops (An Angel Cried)
2. Blazed (feat. Pharrell Williams)
3. The Light Is Coming (feat. Nicki Minaj)
4. R.E.M.
5. God Is A Woman
6. Sweetener
7. Successful
8. Everytime
9. Breathin
10. No Tears Left To Cry
11. Borderline (feat. Missy Elliott)
12. Better Off
13. Goodnight n Go
14. Pete Davidson
15. Get Well Soon

♦ ♦ ♦

sweetener2Sweetener is the third album by American singer Ariana Grande, released on August 17, 2018.

Raindrops (An Angel Cried) is an acapella intro track and it’s a cover of The Four Season’s song ‘An Angel Cried’. Only a little part of the song is used, but it shows off Ariana’s amazing vocals and sets the tone for the album.

Blazed (feat. Pharrell Williams) is bound to become a hit because everything Pharrell touches becomes instant gold. It has his typical sound too with a nice beat and a breezy vibe to it. I like how Ari uses the more husky side of her voice for this one, it makes it a very relaxed track. It’s catchy, not the best from her but a good one.

The promotional single The Light Is Coming (feat. Nicki Minaj) is something I did NOT expect from Ari. Nicki opens the trip/hiphop track with her raps and I have a weak spot for her so I don’t mind at all. Then it goes in a whole other direction and I don’t know whether I find it catchy or annoying. The sample of the male exclaiming ‘You wouldn’t let anybody speak for this and instead!‘ is repeated way too often. Maybe this will grow on me.

R.E.M. keeps the hiphop vibe but moves into a more sultry and sexy vibe. Ariana can do slow jams like no other so this is a welcome change. What really draws attention here is Ari’s layered vocals which always sound good. Other than that, this is just a basic track although not unpleasant.

The album’s second single and a big hit is God Is A Woman, a track filled with confidence, femininity and sexuality. It’s actually the first track on the album that I really like. It has an amazing hiphop/pop arrangement, even some influences of reggae and trap, and that last bit where Ari’s vocals are multiplied so often she sounds like a whole choir makes it magical. I could see myself listen to this more often!

Sweetener, the album’s title track, is an interesting one. At first I thought it would be an uptempo track, but it turns into this hiphop slow jam that fits the previous tracks well. It’s got that ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade’ vibe going on and the computer game sound effects and the ‘sneezes’ make it a bit quirky (they might have overdone it a bit but at least it’s not a boring track, in fact it’s one of the better ones so far).

It’s nice to hear that Successful is a bit more funky and bouncy. The lyrics are a bit cocky at times, even though it’s meant to be a song of empowerment but it just doesn’t feel like that. It’s a song with a very constant vibe so it’s almost a bit too constant, but in the end the sort of steelpan addition makes it better.

There’s something about Everytime that I really like. It’s another midtempo hiphop/R&B track, reminiscent of the early 00s, but it’s in a very likeable key I haven’t heard that often on the album so far. This is the kind of music I’d love to hear from Ari more.

sweetener3Breathin is the first track that moves the album into another direction with a synthpop approach. I’m instantly attracted to it, perhaps because it’s not that experimental. It has a nice ethereal quality and those layered vocals I love so much.

FINALLY the lead single No Tears Left To Cry is here. The lyrics ‘I’m picking it up‘ get a whole new meaning on the album since she’s actually picking up the general pace with this one. The dance-pop/disco style fits Ari so well and she sounds amazing, which she deserves praise for since this song is about the Manchester Arena bombing and it’s great to hear she can’t be defeated.

Borderline (feat. Missy Elliott) is a fun little track that combines the hiphop style from the first half of the album with the synthpop from the past few ones. Missy’s influence is way too small, but somehow producer Pharrell made the arrangement in a way that makes her presence a bit easier to feel.

Better Off is another nice slow jam and actually one of the oldest songs on the album, and it almost didn’t make the cut. I’m glad it did because it has an interesting arrangement, especially on the chorus, and I like the lyrics (‘If we’re being honest, I’d rather your body than half of your heart‘).

I like how Goodnight n Go features a sample of Imogen Heap’s song with the same name. Ari left enough of the original to be enjoyed, but made it her own with a trap production and and arrangement that is among the best on the entire album. Definitely one of the best tracks.

One moment Ari was in a relationship with Mac Miller, the next she’s enganged to a guy named Pete Davidson. Whatever floats her boat. This is an interlude dedicated to Pete and although it’s short it’s also sweet and happy, filled with strings and a nice beat.

Saving the most emotional track for last, Get Well Soon deals with Ari’s anxiety she experienced after the Manchester Arena bombing. It’s a soulful track with mostly just a piano and fingersnaps, focusing on Ari’s vocals and the lyrics. It’s also a nice support track for her fans and people who have lost loved ones in said attack. Quite a long track, but the album just needed it. Note that the track is followed by 40 seconds of silence for a total running time of 5:22 minutes; the attack happened on May 22.

I hate to say it, but I’m not as impressed by this album as I hoped I would be. No Tears Left To Cry is easily the best song and it soooo does not represent the overall style, which is too bad. Ari experimented with this, but in my opinion she should just stick to what she has always done because that just works best. Many tracks just weren’t that memorable, only a few were catchy or original enough to stand out. It’s still decent, but her previous work is what made me love her, not this.

Favorite songsGod Is A Woman | Sweetener | Everytime | Breathin | No Tears Left To Cry | Goodnight n Go

OVERALL RATING
starstarstarblankstarblankstar
3 stars

sweetener4

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AOA – Jjalbeun Chima

August 13, 2018 at 12:10 PM | Posted in AOA | Leave a comment

jjalbeunchimaSINGLE REVIEW
AOA – Jjalbeun Chima

1. Gonna get your heart
2. Jjalbeun Chima
3. Garodeung Buraraeseo
4. Jjalbeun Chima (Inst.)

Jjalbeun Chima is the fifth single by South Korean girl group AOA, released on January 16, 2014.

Gonna get your heart is the intro track with a slick hiphop touch and some adlibs by the girls. There is also a male introducing the track, but it doesn’t really do anything. It’s very short but it does lead nicely into the next full length track.

I think funky music is AOA’s specialty because Jjalbeun Chima is exactly that. It’s also a very seductive song and playful, but not overly. I do like the chanting in the chorus, it makes it even more memorable and catchy. Another short song but it’s just right.

Garodeung Buraraeseo is a slower song that brings back the slick vibe the intro song had. It’s more inspired by old school hiphop instead of funk and I’m surprised how good it all sounds. This time the rap fits the overall style of the music so it’s a nice touch. Not as catchy as the title track, but still a very good song.

OVERALL RATING
starstarstarstarblankstar
4 stars

AOA – RED MOTION

August 13, 2018 at 11:57 AM | Posted in AOA | Leave a comment

redmotion.pngSINGLE REVIEW
AOA – RED MOTION

1. Heundeullyeo
2. Nikkeo Naekkeo

RED MOTION is the fourth single by South Korean girl group AOA, released on October 15, 2013.

What I like about AOA is that their group is basically a band and that can be heard in their music. Heundeullyeo is a funky pop song about someone sending mixed signals. The music is very nice with the bass guitar and the catchiness of the melody in the chorus. I just wish that bass guitar was more prominent, but nonetheless it’s still a kickass track with amazing vocals.

To balance the single, Nikkeo Naekkeo is a completely different song with a completely different vibe to it. I love the whistle intro and the fact that it sounds like a mixture between a 60s song and modern K-pop. It’s not too cute, just right. The rap doesn’t really fit the song, but it’s not that long anyway so enough focus on the other musical elements.

OVERALL RATING
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4 stars

KOKIA – trip trip

August 12, 2018 at 12:34 PM | Posted in KOKIA | Leave a comment

triptrip1ALBUM REVIEW
KOKIA – trip trip

1. Chouwa
2. Jikau Toki wa
3. Say Hi!
4. The rule of the universe
5. Princess EHIME
6. Tenshi
7. Pink no Zou
8. Hello passing days
9. Hana
10. Ningen tte Sonno Mono ne
11. Ashioto
12. tomoni
13. a gift

♦ ♦ ♦

trip trip is the second album by Japanese singer KOKIA, released on January 23, 2002. The album did not chart on the Oricon weekly charts.

Chouwa is a magical and epic opening track with such good vocals by KOKIA, I fell in love with it as soon as I heard it. It’s like, with this track, KOKIA inspired singers like alan, since this song made me think of her music. Four and a half minutes of mystical drums, strings, and epic singing.

Jikau Toki wa tones it down again with a relaxed acoustic guitar arrangement and hushed singing by KOKIA. I like the addition of the accordeon halfway through the first verse, it makes it stand out more. Otherwise, it would have been a regular pop song. Two minutes into the song it takes off and becomes a bit more powerful, but it should have been a bit shorter.

Could Say Hi! be KOKIA’s first uptempo song ever? I remember her debut album ‘songbird’ being filled with ballads so this is definitely a first. It’s a pop/rock track with nice percussion and guitars and it’s very nice to hear KOKIA heading in this direction. The chorus is also completely in English and the lyrics make you happy (“Having ice cream with extra whipped cream“, haha).

If Say Hi! was original for having an English chorus, The rule of the universe gets extra bonus points for being completely in English. Most of the time I can understand KOKIA and she really does her best. Its sort of like a pop/rock power ballad and I love how there is even an electric guitar solo in the bridge. A very powerful and nice track.

For the first part of Princess EHIME, I can’t really follow the music. It’s a weird piece with whispered vocals by KOKIA and soft percussion, synths and sound effects of bubbles and birds. It doesn’t get any different as the song progresses so I think this is my song of avoidance.

Tenshi opens with a soft piano melody and KOKIA’s small voice, but becomes more powerful as soon as it gets to the chorus. It’s similar to The rule of the universe when it comes to that pop/rock power ballad style, but it has a bit less impact. Still I like it pretty much.

I have the feeling Pink no Zou is going to be a quirky song since it translates to ‘pink elephant’.. It instantly channels some kind of Bollywood genre combined with piano music. I was right, this is weird, just like Princess EHIME, and I don’t like the high pitched vocals (a bit childish). “Paohhn paohhn”, or whatever.

Back to the normal songs, and I hope KOKIA stops doing that to me. Luckily, Hello passing days is a nice bouncy pop song with a catchy piano/guitar hook that instantly captures attention. It’s just a regular track but made so much better since Pink no Zou preceeded it. It becomes catchier the longer I listen to it.

Hana is a beautiful ballad with an airy quality to it, the harp is such a nice addition. Somewhere along the bridge there are also some flutes, but very subtle. I think this is exactly what I needed at this point on the album, so fresh and enjoyable and different from all the other tracks.

Ningen tte Sonna Mono ne brings back the pop/rock ballad ambience that is very prominent on this album, but it’s a nice track. I like KOKIA’s mature and controlled vocals a lot, and despite this being a good solid track on its own it disappears among the other similar songs on the album. Despite that, definitely worth your time.

The accordeon opens Ashioto and together with KOKIA’s interesting chant it makes for a nice intro. The prominent role of the accordeon instantly makes it a very original song and I must say I quite like it. Probably one of the best songs on the album and one of the most memorable ones.

There’s something Middle Eastern about tomoni with the soft drums, chimes and strings. KOKIA uses some interesting vocal techniques as well and it suits the song perfectly. It comes off as very mysterious, but it just needs that little bit of extra epicness to really soar. Despite that, it’s definitely one of the most interesting and original tracks.

a gift opens with an English monologue by KOKIA and her voice sounds so cute. Then the actual song begins with a piano melody and soft strings. KOKIA’s chanting along with the background singers sounds so angelic and peaceful. It’s a very quiet track, but it captures me and it just feels like a good track to close the album.

trip trip is an interesting album. Again, as with ‘songbird’, I don’t understand why it didn’t chart, because there are worse albums out there that did. There are quite some original songs on this album like Chouwa and tomoni that deserve some attention and it’s good that KOKIA finally put some more uptempo stuff on her album. Yet only the first and final part of the album are REALLY good, the middle is just meh with the two oddballs (Princess EHIME and Pink no Zou) and a lot of pop/rock midtempo ballads. Still, I think this is a very decent album and I’m glad I know it now.

Favorite songsChouwa | Say Hi! | The rule of the universe | Hana | Ashioto | tomoni | a gift

OVERALL RATING
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3½ stars

MOMOLAND – Welcome to MOMOLAND

August 11, 2018 at 9:53 PM | Posted in MOMOLAND | Leave a comment

welcometomomolandMINI-ALBUM REVIEW
MOMOLAND – Welcome to MOMOLAND

1. Welcome to MOMOLAND
2. JJan! Koong! Kwang!
3. Sangsabyeong
4. Eogiyeocha
5. JJan! Koong! Kwang! (Inst.)
6. Eogiyeocha (Inst.)

♦ ♦ ♦

Welcome to MOMOLAND is the debut mini-album by South Korean girl group MOMOLAND, released on November 11, 2016.

Stepping out of my comfort zone here since I don’t know MOMOLAND yet…
Welcome to MOMOLAND is sooo quirky, like I’m at some kind of circus and on top of that one of the girls opens by exclaiming “Ladies and gentlemen, get your tickets fast!“. It’s girly, filled with cute vocals and weird sound effects, but somehow it’s still catchy with its raps and nice chorus and the girls have good voices. It grows on me more and more.

JJan! Koong! Kwang! is also a bit quirky, but has much more attitude when it comes to the music. It’s more of an electropop song instead of the amusement park vibe we got from the first track. I’m willing to look past the weird and borderline bad lyrics, but basically this is just another K-pop girl group track.

Sangsabyeong is a breezy ballad track with lots of strings and piano, and actually happier than it appears to be at first. Most girls show off the more mature side of their vocals, which is good to hear, and the soulful vibe to the track makes it stick just enough to be memorable. But only just.

Turning up the tempo once more with Eugiyeocha, which features a saxophone hidden in the arrangement to make it a bit sassier. It’s a fast paced track and I like the part where they repeat the title words. It oozes with confidence and it’s just pure fun, I think I can get used to this.

It’s not going to be my favorite group, but after the title track caught me completely off guard with raised eyebrows (thinking ‘WTF did I get myself into now’) it got better. It’s a decent debut and they took quite a risk letting their very first track be a really weird one with that whole amusement park / circus vibe going on. They have a lot of potential and I think that if they just bring a little more edge into it, it could be the next AFTERSCHOOL.

Favorite songsWelcome to MOMOLAND | Sangsabyeong | Eugiyeocha

OVERALL RATING
starstarstarhalfstarblankstar
3½ stars

Lady Gaga – Joanne

August 11, 2018 at 9:18 PM | Posted in Lady Gaga | Leave a comment

joanne1ALBUM REVIEW
Lady Gaga – Joanne

1. Diamond Heart
2. A-Yo
3. Joanne
4. John Wayne
5. Dancin’ In Circles
6. Perfect Illusion
7. Million Reasons
8. Sinner’s Prayer
9. Come To Mama
10. Hey Girl (feat. Florence Welch)
11. Angel Down
12. Grigio Girls
13. Just Another Day

♦ ♦ ♦

joanne2Joanne is the fifth studio album by American singer Lady Gaga, released on October 21, 2016. The album peaked at #1 on the US Billboard 200 and has sold over 1 million copies worldwide.

Well this one is LONG overdue.
At first Diamond Heart opens like a soft track, but it becomes clear soon that this is a powerful opening track with rock influences. I love Gaga’s raw vocals and the arrangement that is filled with drums and electric guitars. As she sings “I may not be flawless but you know I got a diamond heart“, this track itself becomes close to flawless.

Here we go!” Gaga exclaims as she opens A-Yo, a country-inspired track with a catchy handclap beat and blazing guitars. It’s a fun track and some say it’s like Hannah Montana drunk on whiskey, but if that’s the case then give the girl another bottle please. This one is a typical track that stays in my head for days after listening to it just once.

Gaga sings to an acoustic guitar and soft percussion on the title track Joanne, a moving midtempo ballad about her aunt Joanne who died from Lupus in 1974 at the age of 19. Gaga never got to meet her, but still felt a strong connection to Joanne. She puts all that emotion into this wonderful and magical track with a sad vibe to it, especially when she sings “Girl, where do you think you’re going” over and over in the chorus. The song becomes more and more beautiful the longer you listen to it, I just want to put this on repeat.

John Wayne again channels country music and it’s funny how this is like a tongue-in-cheek track about Gaga’s former daddy issues. It’s a song full of surprises, especially when it comes to the change in arrangement for the chorus and the country music blends with dance. Gaga’s vocals are heavily modified, but it fits the song and makes it even more edgy.

Dancin’ In Circles is actually a song about pleasuring yourself, which becomes clear from the lyrics and Gaga didn’t feel the need to cover anything up. It’s a poppy and sexy track without overdoing it and I like how she delivers such soft vocals in the chorus. It’s playful and seductive, I really like it.

The first single released for this album was Perfect Illusion and it divided her fan base when she released it. I’m among those that love it, this disco-rock track is so incredibly catchy and Gaga’s vocals are so good you can’t ignore it. I also like the key change in the second half of the song, it really makes the track soar. It may be different from what she’s released before, but if you ask me it’s a welcome change.

Million Reasons did much better on the charts when it was released as the third single (A-Yo was the second). It’s kind of a shock after all those fast paced tracks since this is even more of a ballad than Joanne was, with its soft acoustic guitar, percussion and emotional lyrics about a dysfunctional relationship. Yet this is one of the tracks that has the best lyrics on the entire album and it shows off Gaga’s talent for putting a lot of raw emotion into her singing. Beautiful!

joanne3I LOVE the intro to Sinner’s Prayer, it sounds so much like a Quentin Tarantino movie! That magic is kept throughout the song which instantly makes it very memorable. Add in Gaga’s deep and sultry vocals and what you get is this amazing country song that won’t let you go.

Come To Mama is actually a song about Gaga calling the world for more love and less hate, which made the title a bit misleading to me. It’s a track reminiscent of 70s pop music with its uplifting beat and saxophone and that instantly adds points for originality. It’s one you either love or don’t care for and because it’s so catchy, I’m someone that can love it eventually after a couple more listens.

Hey Girl (feat. Florence Welch) also has that old school 70s vibe to it, but it also features some soul and R&B influences. Now we all know Florence Welch has an amazingly powerful voice, but Gaga can definitely keep up. It’s a girl power track about girls needing to help each other out, but it doesn’t explode with energy. It’s more mellow than that, giving way for much more focus on the amazing vocals.

Closing the regular edition of the album in a jawdropping way is Angel Down, a ballad that addresses the gun violence in America without any unclear metaphors. Gaga tells it like it is and the more you listen to the lyrics she sings to the arrangement of piano and strings, the more you ugly cry like a baby. It’s a heavy track that grabs you by the throat, but a very important one on the album.

The deluxe edition of the album gives us two more tracks, of which Grigio Girls is the first one. It’s disguised as a song about a girls’ night out drinking Pinot Grigio, but it’s actually about Gaga’s friend Sonja who is battling cancer and who Gaga and her friends don’t want to see them cry. Its chorus is pretty and has a memorable melody to it, but after all the other amazing tracks on the album it doesn’t capture me that much.

Just Another Day mixes the styles of her albums ‘Joanne’ and ‘The Fame’, bringing back the glam pop while adding a bit of Gaga’s new style to it. It’s uplifting and the additions of Mark Ronson on guitar and Bryan Newman on the trumpet (and Gaga introducing them like she is live on stage) makes it unforgetable.

I can’t describe how satisfied I am with this album, it’s her best since her debut album ‘The Fame’ was released back in 2008. I don’t know why I kept postponing this review (or listening to the album in the first place); I missed out on so many good songs! Makes me even happier to know that I’ve found them in the end and can scream from the rooftops that I’m in love with this new version of Lady Gaga. Country pop fits her so well and I love this new development in her musical career. I do have to admit Gaga sounds so much more comfortable on this album, more organic and true to herself. It’s a personal record with a lot of impact.

Favorite songsDiamond Heart | Joanne | John Wayne | Perfect Illusion | Million Reasons | Sinner’s Prayer | Angel Down | Just Another Day

OVERALL RATING
starstarstarstarhalfstar
4½ stars

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Koda Kumi – AND

August 11, 2018 at 3:48 PM | Posted in Koda Kumi | 3 Comments

and1ALBUM REVIEW
Koda Kumi – AND

1. PARTY
2. SWEETEST TABOO
3. GOT ME GOING’
4. WHO
5. OUTTA MY HEAD
6. NEVER ENOUGH
7. ALL RIGHT
8. LIT
9. BRAIN
10. IT’S MY LIFE

♦ ♦ ♦

and2AND is the fifteenth studio album by Japanese singer Koda Kumi, released on February 28, 2018. The album peaked at #2 on the charts and has sold 18,946 copies.

PARTY kicks off the album in an amazing way with a good summer tune. There’s an explosive instrumental hook that I really like and it’s almost trap/dubstep but not quite, very interesting and definitely worth it. Kuu’s English pronunciation is also very decent for a change. Amazing way to open the album.

After she gave us ‘TABOO’ back in 2008, she comes with SWEETEST TABOO now. It’s not its sister song, but it almost makes you think it is because of the title. From the start this track is pure fire with Kuu rapping the verses before moving into something a bit lighter and poppier. It’s the perfect balance and even though this track is quite busy, it’s FIERCE.

GOT ME GOING’ brings down the tempo and is more of a midtempo urban track. Despite that, there’s still enough attitude to go around here. I’m just missing some more melodies in the chorus, it was a bit too constant. At only 2:40, this is a very short track (but not the shortest..).

The next uptempo track WHO is a very interesting one to say the least. Again Kuu shows off some of her rapping skills, but some of it is very heavily autotuned. Luckily not all of it, so it’s just right. I like the fierce drop in the chorus with the saxophone, very sassy and a great addition to this edgy track.

I think OUTTA MY HEAD is one of the slowest songs on the album, but it’s still not a ballad. There’s still a lot of heavy bass synth and it’s hard to find another instrument to provide any kind of melody. We all know Kuu is good at putting a lot of emotion into her vocals, but what she’s doing her pushes it way too far. Not a bad track, but also not her best.

and3NEVER ENOUGH is Kumi’s latest single and luckily it proves me wrong because I thought this album wasn’t going to feature any decent ballads. This one is really good, a piano ballad with a soulful vibe to it and very good vocals and it was the perfect choice to be an A-side. Only one thing wrong with it: it’s too short!

At 4:06 minutes, ALL RIGHT is the longest track on the album (were there budget cuts at avex trax or something?). It’s a poppy feel good track with a breezy sound that fits well behind NEVER ENOUGH, also a welcome break from the party songs. It’s like a throwback to some of her earlier songs and something I’d like to hear from her more often.

On to the first A-side for this era, LIT. It’s like a watered down version of ‘Cherry Girl’ with that same vibe going on. The arrangement is very pleasant with the piano notes, guitars and synths and Kuu and her background singers sound like they’re really having fun. Not the best song on the album, but well worth it.

Here we have the shortest track at only 2:33 minutes. BRAIN should’ve been a bit edgier to really work, but what we get isn’t bad either. I like the bouncy quality to it, it’s a playful track and basically… it’s just there.

Closing the album, IT’S MY LIFE is a bit heavier again and like the other party songs on the album. What I really like about it is the prominent role of the low piano notes in the arrangement in combination with the trap high-hats, very mysterious and it makes it stand out among the other tracks. The arrangement is basically what makes me like it so much, but NEVER ENOUGH would probably have been a better closing track.

Kumi should have named this album ‘PARTY’ and made the opening track the title track as well, because that track probably had the entire vibe of the album in a nutshell. Most of the tracks were uptempo and real party songs, especially the first four of them, which is nice but I like some more variation. Also, the songs were very short and the album is only half an hour in length, which makes it feel rushed. Despite that, a lot of the songs were actually very good and it shows off the talent Kuu has for making uptempo danceable music. I’m curious about what ‘DNA’, the sister album, will bring next week.

Favorite songsPARTY | SWEETEST TABOO | WHO | NEVER ENOUGH | ALL RIGHT | IT’S MY LIFE

OVERALL RATING
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3½ stars

and4

Ayumi Hamasaki – TROUBLE

August 8, 2018 at 12:19 AM | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki | 2 Comments

trouble1.pngMINI-ALBUM REVIEW
Ayumi Hamasaki – TROUBLE

1. We are the QUEENS
2. æternal
3. WORDS
4. W
5. The way I am

♦ ♦ ♦

TROUBLE is the sixth mini-album by Japanese singer Ayumi Hamasaki, released on August 6, 2018 (iTunes Japan). The album’s physical release will be on August 15, 2018.

I was really surprised to find out that We are the QUEENS would be on this mini-album, but it’s a very strong and epic intro track. I remember loving its bombastic intro with the orchestra and marching drums and even though it’s an oldie by now, it still doesn’t disappoint. It’s so catchy I still remembered the chorus after not having heard this song for a year and a half. A unique song in Ayu’s discography because of its heroic theme.

æternal couldn’t be more different from We are the QUEENS. It’s a mellow pop track with a smooth beat, nice piano melodies and lots of strings. There’s a bounce to the music that I like and basically the arrangement is the best thing about this track as a whole. Ayu’s vocals are decent, but she’s putting a little too much effort into this.

I like how WORDS starts off with a ‘cold’ piano melody before moving into a soft verse that has just the piano and Ayu. Halfway through the first verse it gets more and more interesting and I’m positively surprised that the chorus bursts with music from strings, percussion and guitars. It’s a very good and beautiful track that just sounds so appealing to me, I feel fulfilled listening to it.

Wow, W is fierce! At first I thought it was going to be like a sequel to We are the QUEENS due to the marching drums opening the songs, but then it turns into a kickass and upbeat rock song with so much fire to it. I really like Ayu’s vocals in the chorus, especially the chanting, and when the electric guitars bring it home in the bridge, I’m sold.

To close the album, there is the beautiful ballad The way I am. I had already heard this song performed acapella through Ayu’s Instagram a week ago and I was instantly smitten with their performance. To hear the song with a full musical arrangement, in all its powerful splendor, is like pure magic. I think this is one of the best ballad tracks Ayu has released in a LONG time and I can’t wait to put this on repeat. Or the whole mini-album for that matter.

That was AMAZING. I have to admit I was disappointed at first when I found out Ayu’s next album was going to be a mini-album instead of a full length studio album, but I must say Ayu had 5 borderline perfect songs here. And each of them also brings something new to the table. I think I’m going to keep this short and sweet: HELL YES. Oh, just one thing: I NEED THAT FULL LENGTH ALBUM AYU.

Favorite songsWe are the QUEENS | WORDS | W | The way I am

OVERALL RATING
starstarstarstarstar
5 stars

Ayumi Hamasaki – MY STORY

August 6, 2018 at 4:32 PM | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki | Leave a comment

mystory1ALBUM REVIEW
Ayumi Hamasaki – MY STORY

1. Catcher In The Light
2. About You
3. GAME
4. my name’s WOMEN
5. WONDERLAND
6. Liar
7. HOPE or PAIN
8. HAPPY ENDING
9. Moments
10. walking proud
11. CAROLS
12. Kaleidoscope
13. INSPIRE
14. HONEY
15. Replace
16. winding road
17. Humming 7/4

♦ ♦ ♦

mystory2MY STORY is the sixth studio album by Japanese singer Ayumi Hamasaki, released on December 15, 2004. The album peaked at #1 on the charts and has sold a total of 1,132,444 copies, of which 574,321 copies in its first week.

The album starts true to Ayu’s style with a mostly instrumental intro with some soft chanting/singing. Catcher In The Light does preview the style of the album with its powerful rock arrangement, but it features some ethereal elements reminiscent of the ‘RAINBOW’ era. Cool intro.

About You is the first full blown rock song on the album with more aggressive singing from Ayu herself and an arrangement that is filled with electric guitars and percussion. The lyrics in the chorus are fast paced which fits the overall feel of the song well. I think it’s very memorable and a kickass start of the album.

Then one of the album’s singles/B-sides, GAME swoops in with its dark and cold ambience. That piano intro with Ayu singing softly puts you on the wrong foot before the arrangement explodes into another rock song. I actually like the computerized vocals in the verses for a change, it makes it a fierce track.

The title of my name’s WOMEN has always made me cringe, but I like the fact that it’s a woman empowerment song. It’s more poppy than the previous two tracks but still very strong in its own right, with a synth/electric guitar arrangement to accompany Ayu’s strong vocals. I really like this one as well.

WONDERLAND is one CREEPY interlude. It features that typical creepy carnival music that you hear in merry-go-rounds but soon it gets darker with thunder and evil laughter. I’m actually scared, WHAT IS THIS.

After that ‘interesting’ bit, we get a song that isn’t very well recognized among Ayu’s fanbase and she has never sung it live as far as I know. And although Liar is a more depressing and dark rock song, it is a good one. The verses are calm and brooding while the chorus explodes around you. It’s not special, but it is a well produced track that is solid and memorable.

HOPE or PAIN was my favorite track on this album for a long time because of the melody of the bell-like instrument in the song’s hook. It’s a rock ballad that packs a punch and yet sounds so simple and clean, still one of the best tracks on the album if you ask me.

Despite its title HAPPY ENDING is not a happy song at ALL. But it’s still worth a listen since it’s unique on the album, it’s more of a pop ballad and eases on the rock vibe. The chorus had potential for something more powerful, but the melodies are good enough for me to like it a lot.

Apparently this is the ballad section of the album, because the next one, Moments, is another rock ballad. It was released as the first single and although it’s the third ballad in a row, it’s so different from the others. I really like the instrumental bridge and the lyrics are among the best on the entire album, very poetic.

mystory3The next ballad is walking proud and it still manages to remain very original after that streak of ballads. It’s calmer but yet has an emotional touch to it. I especially like the intro that leads into the track, with the distant guitar. On its way to become a favorite of mine.

The final single of the album is CAROLS, and it’s unique since its a full on ballad instead of a rock ballad. The piano leads the way with Ayu singing along softly, and for once she sings rather happy lyrics instead of depressing ones. Still a bit on edge with some of Ayu’s notes in the chorus, but it doesn’t really matter since the rest of the song is so pretty.

Kaleidoscope is a very calm interlude with soft chimes, strings and synths and echoed effects. It’s just an interlude but it’s nice to have it included and it’s easy on the ears.

Back to the more uptempo stuff. INSPIRE was in my opinion the best A-side of this era with its more Middle-Eastern and sassy approach. Although it’s very different from the sound of Kaleidoscope, somehow both have that mysterious sound going on that I really like. It’s incredibly catchy and fierce, definitely one of the best on the album.

HONEY can be described with two words: poppy and cute. It’s energetic uptempo sugar pop complete with higher pitched vocals by Ayu to complete it. Somehow it reminds me a bit of ‘Trauma’ (on the ‘LOVEppears’ album), but that’s a good thing. This track gives the album a nice touch and it’s a step away from all of the more aggressive stuff.

Replace brings the tempo down a bit in the verses and it sounds a lot calmer, but the chorus is more powerful. It’s happy and along the lines of HONEY but not as sugarcoated and Ayu’s vocals are more mature as well. It does have that ending song vibe to it so maybe this should’ve been placed at the very end of the album.

The entire last section of the album is like an encore since winding road also has that ending song quality going on. It’s a midtempo pop/rock track similar to most of the other songs on the album, but again with a hopeful message to it and beautiful lyrics to match. A little hard to notice at first, but a good track for sure.

Finally, Ayu closes the album in the most original and fun way possible. Humming 7/4 is bound to catch you completely off guard with its aggressive and fast rock arrangement and it’s clear she’s having fun. It’s simple and yet so powerful and that chorus is one of the catchiest on the entire album. This SLAYS.

MY STORY is a VERY long album with a lot of full length tracks that last for four and a half minutes of more, so I had my work cut out for me this afternoon. But it was worth it, since this is one of the best of Ayu’s earlier works. It does feature a much heavier sound, which is why they made a classical version of it in 2005, but it works so well for Ayu. The first part of the album was a bit odd with some more aggressive songs opening, then moving on to a big rock ballad section. This made for a less balanced, but not less enjoyable album since pretty much every track here is solid. I know, each to their own, but I really enjoy this album a lot.

Favorite songsAbout You | GAME | HOPE or PAIN | Moments | CAROLS | INSPIRE | HONEY | Humming 7/4

OVERALL RATING
starstarstarstarhalfstar
4½ stars

mystory4

Ayumi Hamasaki – CAROLS

August 5, 2018 at 8:00 PM | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki | Leave a comment

carolsSINGLE REVIEW
Ayumi Hamasaki – CAROLS

1. CAROLS “Original Mix”
2. CAROLS “Criminal Tribal Mix”
3. CAROLS “Hammond B-3 Whisper”
4. CAROLS “Original Mix -Instrumental-”

CAROLS is the thirty-fourth single by Japanese singer Ayumi Hamasaki, released on September 29, 2004. The single peaked at #1 on the charts and has sold a total of 309,128 copies. CAROLS was used as the Panasonic Digital Camera “LUMIX FX7” CM song.

CAROLS is the real ballad of this era and for once it’s a happy instead of melancholic one. It ‘s quite powerful and I like how the music swells from just a piano to a full blown orchestra with strings and percussion. The melodies are lovely and Ayu sings with so much passion, yet I feel that during some notes in the chorus she was straining. Despite that, it’s a beautiful winter ballad that I’ve come to appreciate more and more over time.

Oh why does a ballad need a remix.. Let alone TWO of them… The “Criminal Tribal Mix” butchers the beauty of the original by chopping up her vocals in the verses and not preserving anything from the original arrangement. It feels empty and like a total filler track.

The “Hammond B-3 Whisper” remix on the other hand is VERY different. It features a soft organ and sound much more like the original, but with an interesting spin on it. Still, it feels like something is missing. The original had more spice to it.

Because of the remixes, the overall rating is a bit lower, yet the original ‘weighs’ more.

OVERALL RATING
starstarstarhalfstarblankstar
3½ stars

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