AFTERSCHOOL – Dress to kill

July 5, 2014 at 7:16 PM | Posted in After School | Leave a comment

ALBUM REVIEW
AFTERSCHOOL – Dress to kill

1. Dress code ~Theme of “Dress to kill”~
2. Dress to kill
3. Ms. Independent
4. Triangle
5. Crazy Driver
6. Shh
7. Yes No Yes
8. Heaven
9. in the moonlight
10. rock it!
11. Spotlight
12. Killing eyes ~End of “Dress to kill”~

♦ ♦ ♦

Dress to kill is the second Japanese album by South-Korean girl group AFTERSCHOOL, released on March 19, 2014. The album was released in three versions. It debuted at #14 on the Oricon Charts and has sold 4,813 copies to date.

Dress code ~Theme for “Dress to kill”~ is just an intro, let’s not get too emotional about it.

The first full song Dress to kill sounds a little more interesting then. For a title track it is still a little too minimalistic to my taste, but it has potential. It has a sexy and seductive vibe to it and I loved the central role of the guitar in this song. It’s well produced but it could’ve been better than this.

Ms. Independent on the other hand really pumps up the jam! With a modern house production it’s a new road for AFTERSCHOOL but they can sure deliver this very well. Don’t mind the lyrics and repetitions in this song, this is one for just going with the flow and forgetting everything. I’ll just let this track be the catchy one that it is and okay maybe this is repeat material.

While the previous song was a bit more on the lighter side, Triangle is AFTERSCHOOL’s attempt to pull off a darker and edgier dance song. Although it’s pretty catchy, the overall production of the vocals isn’t as good as some other songs by the group. Still, I’m not gonna whine about this one since I really love the vibe of the track. I could get used to this to be honest.

I can’t remember dubbing Crazy Driver the best song off the single ‘Heaven’, especially since it was so different from the A-side, but now on the album it just fits on this exact spot. This is probably the first time the girls’ vocals have been heavily autotuned, but it’s actually kind of sassy and it reminds me of some Namie Amuro-ish quality. Short, but a good enough song in my opinion.

Shh is the A-side from their latest single with the same name, and if you ask me this is a good approach of 80s synthpop with a modern house twist, the former style being something that is often still missing in the Japanese pop scene. Sometimes this song needs a little push to be a little more interesting than it is now, but it’s not terrible. It could’ve been a little bit shorter too, but the repetition makes it a little catchy on the other side as well.

After a lot of upbeat songs, Yes No Yes takes the album to a more relaxed spot with a soft jazz tune. That laidback quality in this song is what draws me to it so much. Ofcourse it’s the type of song you forget the moment it’s over, despite the lovely guitar solo, but I’ll enjoy it for the time being.

I was already wondering how they were gonna place Heaven on this album with all those dance tracks, but right after Yes No Yes is the best place. It’s very oldschool and funky and it could’ve been produced by Pharrell Williams if you ask me. That funky style is what makes it very infectuous at the same time, and yet it feels like all the other songs on the album: a little too empty to really love it.

I don’t like the vocals in the opening of in the moonlight, and that same feeling stays throughout the song. It’s like a filler track, nothing special too much of the same to me. The music is catchy if you view this as an independent song, but in the context of the full album this does little for me.

rock it! served as the B-side for Shh, and when I reviewed the single I thought it was a nice song but good enough to be just a B-side. Now on the album it gets a little more value because of its better aggressive approach than some of the other songs. This is one of the catchy songs that isn’t just catchy on the moment you hear it, but also afterwards when it’s over. Because of that, I’m starting to appreciate this one more.

Closing the album, there’s Spotlight, and it feels too much like a continuation of every single track that came before it. True, it’s catchy and well produced and the vocals come out a lot better, but right now I’m just tired of the same old thing every time. Give it a chance whenever you decide to play it, but for me it’s over by now. All that’s left is an uneventful Killing eyes ~End of “Dress to kill”~, and it’s really done.

AFTERSCHOOL has really let me down with this album. Don’t forget this is just a personal opinion and I usually love this group, but this album is filled with forgettable songs that all sound the same to me. There were some standout tracks and exceptions, but overall this album just doesn’t capture me. I’ll just hope for the best and we’ll see if they come up with something better than this.

Favorite songs: Ms. Independent | Triangle | Crazy Driver | Heaven | rock it!

OVERALL RATING
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2 stars

4,813
4,813
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Ayumi Hamasaki – Colours

July 5, 2014 at 6:20 PM | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki | 2 Comments

ALBUM REVIEW
Ayumi Hamasaki – Colours

1. Feel the love
2. XOXO
3. What is forever love (duet with Urata Naoya)
4. Hello new me
5. Pray
6. Terminal
7. Angel
8. Merry-go-round
9. Lelio
10. NOW & 4EVA

♦ ♦ ♦

Colours is the fifteenth full-length studio album by Japanese singer Ayumi Hamasaki, released on July 2, 2014. The album was released in five different versions and debuted at #5 on the Oricon Charts.

Let’s just say I’m curious about what this album will bring me, since I haven’t been too excited lately. It doesn’t surprise me that Feel the love opens the album because I thought it was a very strong A-side when it was released on Christmas Day. It’s an EDM track with an English chorus and it’s actually the perfect Summer song for an A-side that was released in the middle of winter. Let’s give it another try in this season, shall we. I’m starting to like this one a lot.

I love the way Ayu’s voice sounds when she opens XOXO, it just sounds so fierce. That fierceness stays throughout the song and that totally makes up for the cheesy lyrics she’s singing. A lot more of the song is in English as well, and she has improved her pronunciation a lot. The fact that this song is another dance track makes it fit very well at this spot, behind Feel the love, I like the loud beats and synths. Good job, Ayu.

Dem besties Ayu and Urata Naoya reunite for What is forever love, they sure love working together. They turn out good songs as well, and I was surprised to see them collaborate on a more dance oriented track (produced by DAISHI DANCE). The track needs to grow on me a little, but after a while it starts to appear less empty to me and more catchy.

Hello new me was one of the digital singles (and I didn’t review it indeed), and thank god the previous track already toned things down a little bit. I wasn’t really expecting a ballad here since the album has many dance tracks, and this pop ballad is the kind of ballad you can find on any Ayumi album. I love how it starts off peacefully with just a piano, and then afterwards it gains more power. Loved the melodies as well.

Pray was the other digital single for this album, and somehow I think it’s strange that these two ballads were used to promote a dance album, but anyway.. It’s like a throwback to albums like ‘FIVE’ with a classical and emotional touch. Pray uses piano and strings very well to build up the tension and it actually made this the first track I really love. I like this Ayu so much more than the dance oriented Ayu.

Now Terminal is quite a shock coming right behind Pray, but oh well. This trance track is produced by my fellow countryman Armin van Buuren (who also produced “Connected” on Ayu’s 2001 album “I am…”) and ofcourse it’s very synth-heavy. I didn’t expect to like it all that much, but as soon as Ayu starts singing it’s starting to sound better to me already, her voice sounds really good here. I’m not too fond of dance and trance music, but this kicks ass to say the least.

Slowing things down a tad with Angel, it’s almost a power ballad but not quite. Ayu’s vocals are so different here, I haven’t heard her like this before, and musically she’s going all Miley Cyrus on us (‘Wrecking Ball’ anyone?). This could’ve been so much more, the music sounds too familiar and yet it has potential. I just don’t like Ayu’s voice here, she’s crying out too much.

Merry-go-round was the B-side on the physical single released in December together with Feel the love. The latter was the better song on the single, but mostly because VERBAL messes up parts of this one. To me, this song is much more Ayu than the previous track, and actually this could’ve fit on an album like ‘LOVE again’ too. I’d take this over Angel anytime, but that doesn’t mean I have to love it. Just kick VERBAL to the curb and I’ll give it another chance.

I heard Lelio some time ago and now in the context of the other tracks I must say it’s a standout track. I wasn’t too enthousiastic about it, but now it’s like a good wake up call. It’s a strong dance track with a lot of production value, Ayu and her team really put their best effort into this. At first I thought I might wanna skip this one, but now I could easily play it on repeat.

NOW & 4EVA is like a throwback to ‘old Ayu’, somehow this is more typical of her. It’s different from all the other tracks since it’s not dance-centric but more power pop, but still it’s the perfect closing track for the album. I also loved her vocals much more, and my goodness how I missed a nice electric guitar solo on this album.

Well, as I admitted earlier I wasn’t fangirling over this album before and to be honest, I won’t be now either. I used to love Ayu’s music so much more before she turned to dance music and her previous album “LOVE again” was on repeat for the entire year of 2013. This one won’t be on repeat, I doubt if I will ever give it multiple listens in a row. Maybe it just needs to grow on me, but I have the feeling this just isn’t my cup of tea. There are some really good songs on this album though, let’s not forget that. But overall, this just doesn’t capture me, as much as I want it to.

Favorite songs: Feel the love | XOXO | Hello new me | Pray | Lelio | NOW & 4EVA

OVERALL RATING
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3 stars

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