AFTERSCHOOL – BEST

March 31, 2015 at 10:23 PM | Posted in After School | Leave a comment

ALBUM REVIEW
AFTERSCHOOL – BEST

1. Bang!
2. DIVA
3. Rambling girls
4. Because of you
5. Just in time
6. Lady Luck
7. Dilly Dally
8. SLOW LOVE
9. Heaven
10. Shh
11. Ms. Independent
12. SHINE
13. Bang! [Alternate Ver.]
14. DIVA [Alternate Ver.]
15. Because of you [Alternate Ver.]
16. Just in time [Alternate Ver.]
17. Tell me [Alternate Ver.]
18. Heaven [Shinichi Osawa REMIX]
19. FLASHBACK [OTOGLIOD REMIX]

♦ ♦ ♦

BEST is the second Japanese best album by South Korean girl group AFTERSCHOOL, released on March 18, 2015. The album peaked at #8 on the Oricon charts and has sold 5,643 copies to date.

I love reviewing best albums because they’re a perfect way to show off an artist’s or group’s timeline. Bang! starts the Japanese timeline of AFTERSCHOOL, and it was apparent they still had to get into the Japanese language. A little more confidence would’ve been amazing and I’m a little bit too much used to the original Korean version (Bekah did a much better rap there as well than the one who replaced her here). Other than that, this remains one of my fave AS songs, albeit in Korean please.

Now DIVA is where the girls have found their voice and the differences from the Korean versions are huge. The music relies more on electropop instead of a cuter vibe that was heard previously and the entire song has had a mature makeover. I think I like this version more, it has great energy! Still, kinda hate that ‘I love my boy‘ line at the beginning, what’s the point of that anyway.

Rambling girls was their very first original Japanese song and it stays true to the electropop genre they had created for themselves on the Japanese market. It’s what I’ve always been used to when it comes to AS music: catchy as heck. The chorus is mostly made up of ~la la la~’s, but that’s what makes it so memorable.

The Korean song ‘Neo Ttaemune’ had a Japanese makeover into Because of you, and I instantly noted how all the vocals (including Kahi’s raps in the verses) felt more into place because they sounded much lighter. This song does kind of struggle to be either a ballad or an uptempo song, so I’ve decided it’s pretty much both. I still love it after three years!

Just in time wasn’t released as a single, so I actually had to look up really fast where it’s from. It was actually on the PLAYGIRLZ album, I completely forgot about it. Perhaps it’s because it’s not as special as the previous couple of songs and it’s quite a generic R&B/pop song with some electropop influences. Very soft and forgettable if you ask me.

Oh my gosh it’s here, one of my favorite AS songs! Call me crazy, but I totally adore Lady Luck because of its light and uplifting melodies and cuter quality (they hadn’t done that before in Japanese releases). The synths did give it a bit more spunk, but it’s girly at its best. So, sorry boys, not your cup of tea, I’m sure 😉

Dilly Dally is another great song that should’ve been on an album (I really don’t know why none of the Lady Luck / Dilly Dally single songs were represented on an album). It’s one of the more fierce AS songs with amazing and edgy vocals and danceable beats, the chorus is bound to stay in your head all day.. Sounds like the formula for a perfect AS song to me?

I remember appreciating SLOW LOVE so much because it was so different from what they had released in Japan up until then. Most of all, the girls get a lot more room here to actually perform than rather serve the energetic musical arrangement, so that’s a plus. Also, they tackle the R&B ballad genre very well here. Very pleasant song to listen to.

Officially entering the latest era, there is the funky Heaven. It draws similarity to Bruno Mars’ latest work (including ‘Treasure’ and ‘Uptown Funk’), although it’s catchy in a more humble kind of way. It’s sort of 70s sounding with its bass and groovy guitar riffs, different but I love it.

From 70s to 80s, Shh bares more resemblance to 80s synthpop (something I don’t hear very often in Japan). It seems as if AS went for a little more variety after their first era, also their vocals sound even more mature and sultry, it suits them so well! What an amazing change compared to, for example, Bang!.

Another new sound for the girls was introduced with Ms. Independent, a track on their latest Japanese studio album ‘Dress to kill’ (which, by the way, I didn’t like all that much). Following more of a House music arrangement, and although it can be a little repetitive at times it really pumps up the jam a lot. Enjoyable nonetheless!

Wow, SHINE was released just a few months ago and I’m pretty sure it was just for this best album. It sounds like no other song here and I mean that in the most positive way. It has the most beautiful and uplifting melody and from the beginning I’m sure this is probably the best AS ballad track I have ever heard. Very much my style, I’m in love with this song!

I’m gonna skip most of the ‘alternate versions’ on the tracklist, since they’re actually quite the same as the original. If someone could just point out to me which note they changed (xD), that would be great. Anyway, I haven’t heard Tell me [Alternate Ver.] here yet (in any form). It was the closing song for the ‘PLAYGIRLZ’ album and I remember loving its light and almost angelic R&B sound. It’s one of those simple yet very effective songs because it’s solid at the same time. I still like it as much as I did before.

What a treat, two remixes. Heaven [Shinichi Osawa REMIX] actually starts off pretty annoying, so I’m bound to take that last comment back. The remix strips away everything that I love about the original song, the funky arrangement is gone and it is replaced by a repetitive and empty dance track. I don’t even wanna talk about it.

The original song wasn’t even on the album, but we do get a remix: FLASHBACK [OTOGLIOD REMIX]. I can barely make out the vocals due to the loud dance music, but other than that this remix actually makes sense. It’s pretty fierce and it kicks butt like no other, so even though I’m not too fond of dance music I can actually appreciate this take on the (already very good) song!

So it was very interesting for me to check out this BEST album (I often get the question why I review best albums), because you can actually see where an artist or group came from and where they are now. AS started off in the Japanese music industry as some insecure girls who released some self covers, but then discovered their true spirit. Most of the time they did stick to electropop music, but every once in a while they released something completely different. Most of the A-sides where that different, and they are represented here which I love. They do release more generic songs on their albums if you ask me, but that just means that this album is just what it says on the tin: their best Japanese music on one disc. Enjoy!

Favorite tracks: Bang! | Because of you | Lady Luck | Dilly Dally | SLOW LOVE | Heaven | Shh | SHINE | FLASHBACK [OTOGLIOD REMIX]

OVERALL RATING
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4 stars

KOKIA – I Found You

March 30, 2015 at 9:28 PM | Posted in KOKIA | 5 Comments

ALBUM REVIEW
KOKIA – I Found You

1. Family Tree
2. Oishii Oto yum yum music
3. Recover
4. Solace~Kioku no Mori ni Tsumoru Kaiga
5. Ogre to Umarete
6. I Found the Love
7. Make Sense
8. Dear Armstrong
9. I Found You
10. Tabi Ressha life train
11. Muryoku to Shitta Hi

♦ ♦ ♦

I Found You is the fourteenth album by Japanese singer KOKIA, released on March 18, 2015.

Family Tree opens the album in a very soft and serene way. Although I’m familiar with the way KOKIA uses her voice, her amazing adlibs and vocal techniques here amazed me once more. This song is a beautiful ballad set to piano and strings, with the harmonies and singing melodies stealing the show, reminding me again of how breathtaking KOKIA’s music can be.

The next song has a more bouncy quality. Oishii Oto yum yum music displays KOKIA’s more bluesy vocal style, while the music is influenced by pop music. What surprises me is that KOKIA’s vocals remain so light and distant compared to the quite energetic and uplifting arrangement, but the song as a whole is very catchy to say the least.

Recover has an interesting arrangement. While feeling more like a ballad because of its soft use of piano and guitar strokes, there is a little tempo to it in its soft percussion in the background. It’s unlike anything I’ve heard before and it seems like this is another original KOKIA creation no other artist can come up with.

Solace~Kioku no Mori ni Tsumoru Kaiga finds itself more in the epic ballad category than any of the other songs up until now and it also brings out KOKIA’s more operatic vocal skills further along in the song. In my current mood, I think it’s more like the perfect lullaby song than that it actually grabs my attention, but other than that it’s actually very pretty!

I’m gonna dub KOKIA the new queen of ballads and epic use of vocals. Ogre to Umarete is a more accessible ballad song for me because it actually has a buildup in the arrangement. It strives towards a highlight and the song as a whole accentuates KOKIA’s perfect vocals. Although there is a lot of repetition in the song, it doesn’t really matter to me this time.

If you guys know me well, you probably know I don’t like too many ballads in a row. HOWEVER, I Found the Love is clearly an exception to the rule. It’s a soft piano ballad and although there are already more ballad tracks than midtempo/uptempo on this album, this one is bound to take your breath away. KOKIA’s harmonizations in the chorus are more than perfect and it made me dream away instantly. The real recommendation on this album!

Make Sense is the shortest track on the album at about 2:40 and also probably the most unique song on the album. It’s fully in English and sung to an acoustic guitar only. It has a very intimate feel, very genuine too, and I have to compliment KOKIA on her English. Simple yet stunning!

I have no idea what Dear Armstrong is about but the title is quite interesting. This is probably another lullaby-like song, but a very pretty one indeed. Its arrangement is led by a piano and a beautiful violin in the background, which makes it sound quite emotional. KOKIA’s vocals are again top notch, especially in the chorus.

So there we have the title song I Found You, not surprisingly another ballad but by now I’m quite done with my old ways and I actually welcome this sound (if it’s done by KOKIA, mind you). The melodies in this song are amazing, it’s all so simple yet it sounds so effortful, I can actually fall in love with this song right now.

There’s a little more tempo to Tabi Ressha life train although it stays in a very safe and soft place. The unexpected aspect of the song is the pattern of the soft percussion in the background, it gives the song a more bouncy quality. A unique track to say the least, very enjoyable.

Muryoku to Shitta Hi closes the album very much in the same spirit as most of the other tracks: soft and pretty. What distinguishes this track from the others is the tempo (a little hard to follow at times) and use of instruments, with KOKIA doing more of her echoed adlibs in the background. A serene track to close the album.

So… I wasn’t expecting to like this album this much, especially since I’m a fan of a little variation when it comes to ballads and uptempo stuff. Yet there IS variation in KOKIA’s songs, even though most of them are indeed ballads. It took me a little time to get that into my head, but now there is so much I appreciate about this album. There is something in every song that makes it unique and memorable and if you ask me, you have to be a very good songwriter to obtain something like that. As you can see, practically three third of the songs is among my favorite tracks. Not convinced yet? Just download the album alright.

Favorite tracks: Family Tree | Oishii Oto yum yum music | Recover | I Found the Love | Make Sense | Dear Armstrong| I Found You

OVERALL RATING
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4½ stars

Koda Kumi – WALK OF MY LIFE

March 26, 2015 at 2:43 PM | Posted in Koda Kumi | Leave a comment

ALBUM REVIEW
Koda Kumi – WALK OF MY LIFE

1. Introduction ~WALK OF MY LIFE~
2. Dance In The Rain
3. Lippy
4. Mercedes
5. Like It
6. House Party
7. Interlude ~Dance~
8. HOTEL
9. Gimme U
10. You can keep up with me
11. MONEY IN MY BAG
12. PIECE IN THE PUZZLE
13. Fake Tongue
14. Sometimes Dreams Come True
15. LIFE so GOOD!!
16. WALK OF MY LIFE

♦ ♦ ♦

WALK OF MY LIFE is the twelfth studio album by Japanese singer Koda Kumi, released on March 18, 2015. The album peaked at #1 on the Oricon charts and sold 39,346 in its first week.

I had to get a little bit used to Introduction ~WALK OF MY LIFE~ because of that weird deep male voice, but now I think it’s kinda sassy and it represents the sound of the album very well. I liked Kuu’s vocals too, even though she had a small part in this piece herself.

The album starts off with a familiar song and one of Kuu’s best songs in a very long time: Dance In The Rain. I love the background beat and the fact that this song is filled with nice piano notes. It was weird finding this here after that big introduction, but nonetheless it works fine for me because this tune kicks ass. It brings me back to Kumi’s earlier days, which is a very good thing.

Lippy is what I call the first of a string of filler songs on this album. It’s also quite a messy song and although I love me some quirckiness at times, I know Kuu can do better than this. If I have to give her credit for something, it would be for her steady raps in the verses. Not a disaster, but it’s just not what the doctor ordered if you know what I mean.

I like the oldschool vibe of Mercedes with some brass instruments and nice drums in the background, also Kuu’s vocals take less after Ke$ha if you ask me. The arrangement lacks a little melody and it comes off as empty, but it’s a step forward from Lippy nonetheless.

Like It is like a mash-up of Lippy and Mercedes; the same musical style as Lippy (albeit with a little more urban influences and some Mexican-styled brass instruments) and the same emptiness that Mercedes had when it comes to the music. This song is a little under three minutes which is just about enough, and it closes the string of filler tracks.

Even though I don’t like “let’s party!” types of songs, House Party is enjoyable. It displays Kuu’s amazing amount of energy as an entertainer. I don’t even mind the male rapper and the ‘the roof, the roof, the roof is on fire‘ line, it actually cracked me up big time. Not the most interesting track but it’s more catchy than the previous three.

I would’ve loved to see Interlude ~Dance~ evolve into a full length track, it’s short but it has a lot of potential. It needs a little more ‘oomph’, but it’s close enough.

So finally one of my favorite tracks is coming up: HOTEL! I never expected to like this track so much but it has everything so many other songs up until now lack. It would’ve been perfect after the introduction track because of its distinct urban sound, great beats and bass, brass elements and vocals (I’ll pretend I didn’t hear the terrible Engrish though). Definitely one of my favorites!

Gimme U gave me instant happy feelings since it’s exactly what I wanted to hear on the album. Also, it works perfectly behind HOTEL with its R&B/Pop vibe. It’s like a continuation of HOTEL but with a cuter and happier vibe. Gimme more of ‘Gimme U’ please (pun intended)!

If you want energetic, You can keep up with me gives you energetic to the max. It’s one of the more edgy songs on the album and Kuu pushes herself with the aggressive vocals, but it works. It almost falls in the same category as songs like Lippy, but this song doesn’t irritate me that much. Better version.

MONEY IN MY BAG was on the ‘HOTEL’ single and I wasn’t expecting to see it here. I still think it’s right up HOTEL‘s alley with its urban feel and I like that sound and Kuu’s fierce approach, but it does have less production value than the better songs on the album. Still, not half bad.

One of the best new songs on the album must be PIECE IN THE PUZZLE. Every Koda Kumi has one killer rock song, and this is the one on this album. Kumi does this amazing tongue roll in the verses that instantly makes it catchier and the chorus is to die for. I could listen to this one multiple times in a row!

Sooo… I know it’s Fake Tongue but it sounds more like ‘Fake Tan’. ‘You’ve got your fake tan, fake tannn‘, catchy huh. Anyway, it tries its best to be like PIECE IN THE PUZZLE but it kind of fails if you ask me since the chorus is too much ‘in your face’ when compared to the steady verses. Kuu screams too much. Still, nice guitar solo.

Sometimes Dreams Come True is the happy ‘life is good’ song when it comes to the sound. It has more of a pop song approach through its soft use of electric guitars, handclap beats and snappy vibe. When it comes to the vocals, this is how I love to hear Kuu perform. Energetic, joyful and simple at its best.

Although it would’ve been a good summer song if I ignore my own opinion on the song, I wouldn’t mind LIFE so GOOD!! being left off the album. It’s catchy, but we’ve had enough generic songs on the album already and it doesn’t really add anything to the album at track #15. Still, I guess there are enough people out there that would really like this song and I understand (although just a tad).

At first I thought WALK OF MY LIFE was definitely gonna be a ballad, but I really don’t know what it is exactly. I’ll just treat it as a power ballad though. It’s not a real album closer, but it fits better on the album than most of the other songs. It’s more accessible for my taste and the arrangement is atypical, very original and breathtaking. This is Kuu staying true to herself, and this is what I would’ve loved to hear more.

It wouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m not too excited about the album as a whole. Right before it came out I felt the excitement build inside of me and I couldn’t wait! Then it leaked a few days before its physical release and I started to listen to it immediately on my way to Uni. I found out some of the tracks actually sounded alike and most of them brought out the Ke$ha in Kumi, something I don’t really like. The album has more of a Western urban sound than her previous albums had, which is not bad, it’s how she took that style to some of her tracks that just doesn’t work for me. Kuu, you should’ve deleted some of the tracks, an 11-track album is fine with me (without Lippy, Like It, LIFE so GOOD!!, Fake Tongue and the interlude). Oh well, chick releases an album every friggin year. =’)

Favorite tracks: Dance In The Rain | House Party | HOTEL | Gimme U | PIECE IN THE PUZZLE | Sometimes Dreams Come True | WALK OF MY LIFE

OVERALL RATING
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3 stars

SHINee – Your Number

March 16, 2015 at 2:33 PM | Posted in SHINee | 4 Comments

SINGLE REVIEW
SHINee – Your Number

1. Your Number
2. LOVE
3. Your Number (Instrumental)

Your Number is the eleventh Japanese single by South Korean boy group SHINee, released on March 11, 2015. The single peaked at #1 on the Oricon charts in its first week.

Your Number is another typical SHINee song that could never let you down. Catchy as ever, it features a nice pop/R&B flow and some brassy elements mixed in throughout the song. I always find that very original. The guys sound great, even Minho who gets some singing parts instead of just raps! This is just sassy, if you ignore the fact that this is (ofcourse) about wanting to talk to a girl you really like, something SHINee does frequently.

Can’t help imagining SHINee in a field of flowers now xD    The beginning of LOVE kind of takes you to a classic romantic movie and it also reminds me a bit of Diana DeGarmo’s ‘Don’t Cry Out Loud’, which makes this probably the most unusual SHINee song ever! It needs some time to get used to, but eventually it’s a very original and one of a kind song. Interesting, but fun.

OVERALL RATING
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4 stars

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