Archive for the ‘Ayumi Hamasaki’ Category

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Kpop vs. Jpop: The Epic, Part I

2010年 6月 5日

As you all have probably realized Tsuki no Ai has begun featuring Kpop artists on the blog. There are a number of reasons for this addition. First, I am trying to learn Korean (along with Mandarin and Japanese) as part of my major for East Asian Studies. I’d like to attain complete fluency in all three languages so I can have the freedom of living in most places in East Asia (heh Vietnamese will have to come later). Listening to Japanese music has been instrumental in my progression of the language because it helped me become accustomed to its sound and nuances. I’m trying to recreate that same affect with Korean music. Secondly, I want to warm up to more Asian cultures, aside from my Japanese “comfort zone.” Even though I’ll be reviewing Korean from now on (in addition to Japanese and perhaps the occasional Chinese), my heart still belongs with Japanese music. Why is that? Well that’s an issue I want to explore in my first ever EDITORIAL (zomg yaaaaay O(≧∇≦)O). Let’s get started.

The Lyrics

The first major distinction between Kpop and Jpop lies in the lyrical content of a song. While there are exceptions in each case, let’s take a look at two “typical” songs (English translations). I tried to choose upbeat songs from two artists (after all it wouldn’t be fair to choose an upbeat song for one and ballad for the other).

Ayumi Hamaski- excerpt from “Rule”

I don’t want to be imposed on
By the same old stupid Rules
Let’s start first, you and me
By breaking the Rules

Since the moment my strength turned into tenderness
And my tenderness turned into strength
I have nothing to fear any more
I’m feeling so

4minute- MUZIK

Let’s move within the rhythm that’s drawing us in
Let’s move within the non-stop raining music
I like the music, like, like, like the music
Listen to my song, not that boring beat

More sexier and tastier, I like it, I like it
Add more booty and do it more stylish, I like it, I like it
Now let’s fire it up with me, party tonight

Noticeably difference right? Now of course there are exceptions… you will find slutty lyrics from Koda Kumi and touching lyrics from Younha. However, what I’m trying to focus on is the general trend of lyrics. Jpop tends to focus on life- love, pain, parties, depression, childhood, parents, a journey, being sexy, happiness, anxiety, nervousness, etc. etc. Kpop’s sphere, while it can embody all of those I just listed, usually encompasses sexiness, parties, and love. Now don’t get me wrong, I love me a good slutty song, but I do like a little variety in my music. Now you most certainly can find deep Korean lyrics (especially in the ballads), but here I’m just trying to distinguish between upbeat songs.  I’m not trying to stereotype either Kpop or Jpop, I’m just noting some observations I’ve made by listening to all sorts of Asian music for 5+ years.

The Music

Now let’s focus on the instrumentation of each group. The vast majority of Kpop is sexy synth, aggressive hip hop, bubblegum pop, or moving ballads. Rarely are real, tangible instruments regularly used (with the exception of Younha, the TRAX and a few others). Japanese music on the other hand is much more diverse. We have acoustic goddesses like YUI, synth queens like Koda Kumi, pop mavens like Namie Amuro, techno bitches like Ami Suzuki, rock demons like OLIVIA… the list goes on endlessly. Japan suffered from a relatively stale music environment for quite a few years until X Japan (then just X) surfaced in the 80s. Now I’m not even concerning myself with Jrock here… purely Jpop. If I were to included Jrock into this mix the list of musical styles would expand enormously. The reason I won’t include Jrock right now is because there really isn’t a “Krock” scene to speak of. Yes there have been a few successful rock bands in Korea, but the charts speak for themselves. Korea wants pop, not rock. Now perhaps I’m not being totally fair here. The Japanese music market has had decades of history. Japan has had ample time to produce well-rounded artists of all different genres. Korean music hasn’t  been around as long (in terms of mass marketing), so it’s natural that the market is more limited. It’s not to say that Korea can’t produce talented artists, because it certainly can, it’s just that most of these artists belong within one or two genres.

Also of importance is song length. It is very rare to find a Korean song over 4 minutes long- even if it’s a ballad. In Japan it’s not unusual to see a ballad go for 5 or 6 minutes… X JAPAN’s epic, “Life of Art” rocks out for 30 minutes (ok yeah that’s rock, but you get the point). Personally I don’t think that you can make a well developed ballad in under 4 minutes… even upbeat songs need time for exposition, development, and recapitulation. Yeah Kpop songs are infectious, catchy, and dance-friendly, they’re just not long enough for my tastes. Often I find myself listening to a song and loving it but then feeling like “wait… it’s over already?” Now there are long songs that drag on, but for the most part the longer Japanese songs are well constructed.

The Vocalists
Here’s the trickiest category of them all- the singers that make it all happen. Koreans *tend* to have deeper, richer voices than their Japanese counterparts. This is especially true when it comes to male vocalists. I’m going to go right out and say it- Korean male singers a bit better. Sorry Japan =/. But here’s the thing… they know how to do vibrato, they’ve got pretty good intonation, they can phrase well. While Japanese men can certainly do all of those things, the tendency (particularly with JE boys) is to have a more nasal-y and higher-pitched sound. Japan has a much more difficult time promoting male artists that aren’t from Johnny’s Entertainment. I adore KAT-TUN and Arashi, but when you’ve got JE backing you up there’s no way in hell you aren’t going to chart well on the Oricon. Now we do get a breath of fresh air with Yuya Matsushita, who has done a superb job in the solo male department. Now you might say that JUNE and K have great voices… but remember, they’re KOREAN.

Now let’s talk about the girls. For the most part I’ll give this award to Japan (not including the travesty of H!P vocalists). There’s a lot of diversity in terms of vocal style for Japanese women… you’ve got everything from Rie fu’s soft spoken voice to Koda Kumi’s raspy vocals. Now Korean ladies can sure belt it out… my favorites being LENA PARK (phenomenal voice), Ivy (though I wish she’d do more ballads), and SeeYa’s Lee Boram and Kim Yeonji. Now I do think that Korea has a larger stock of female rappers, but I don’t think you can compete with Japanese veterans like SOULHEAD.

So this concludes the Kpop vs. Jpop Epic Part I! This was my first shot at an editorial so if you have comments or suggestions please, please, please let me know. Coming up next: international appeal, style, promotion, groups, triple threats, and more.

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Poll: Best album thus far (2010)?

2010年 4月 26日

oh hay kuu chan…. you look so cute but you didn’t win!!

So we’re a third of the way through the year.. how are we doing album wise? Personally there hasn’t been a one single album to fully grab my attention as “perfect.” Sure there have been great tracks on every album, but as a whole there hasn’t been one that is so outstanding that it shames all others (last year? alan’s Voice of Earth). However, the year is nascent and we’ve got some time. Let’s hear it again for Kalafina, shall we?

Kalafina- Red Moon– 13 votes, 46%
Ayumi Hamasaki- Rock ‘N’ Roll Circus– 6 votes, 21%

Sayuri Sugawara- First story- 3 votes 11%
Rie fu- at Rie sessions- 2 votes, 7%
KOKIA- REAL WORLD- 1 vote, 4%
Abingdon Boys School- ABINGDON ROAD- 1 vote, 4%
Tokyo Jihen- Sports- 1 vote, 4%
SuG- Tokyo Muzical Hotal- 1 vote, 4%

The following earned 0 votes:

Koda Kumi- UNIVERSE
D- 7th Rose
Morning Musume 10 MY ME
Aya Kamiki- INDIVIDUAL EMOTION

Let’s analyze the votes. Red Moon was the most anticipated release AND the “best” according to you readers. I thought the album was pretty good, but Kalafina isn’t a group I listen to too often. For me I’d either say Rie fu, KOKIA or Koda Kumi’s was best. Rie fu resonates with the kind of folksy sound I love. KOKIA opened up a new door in music for me. And Koda Kumi is just my little Kuu-chan. (What?? I work out to her stuff!) I should have added salyu’s maiden voyage to the mix! Well that’s what I get for making polls after midnight.

Now I haven’t listened to Tokyo Jihen before (though I’ve heard good things about them) and I haven’t listened to SuG in ages (I can’t really get into oshare-kei sometimes). I was surprised at how many votes Ayumi Hamasaki (what with all the bashing on the blogosphere lately). I think that she has more fans in Japan (relatively speaking) than across the globe. I think Ayu is highly talented, but I don’t think her album is quite “the best of 2010.” To each her own.

So… what do you think of the results? Are they a fair representation of the best musicians or do we have some stans in the house? You tell me.

~aoliwa

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Ayumi Hamasaki- Rock ‘N’ Roll Circus

2010年 4月 9日

This is a HQ cover, but Ayus eyes are looking a liiiittle to wide for my likes. Also I’m not too much of a fan of the Brit theme. Nothing against Brits, but the image doesn’t match the style of the music presented in this album.

THE introduction sounds very profound right? xD Anyway this is one of Ayu’s most ominous intros to date. We open up with some dark synthetic elements that gradually creep up into a main theme. It’s not my favorite of Ayu’s intros, mostly because I don’t like the melody line. Also… this is the only song relatively “circus” themed…

Looks like Ayu’s going into forays with the power/symphonic metal genre with microphone. A baroque style melody played by organ begins this piece, but its delicateness is interrupted by a slew of metal chords. Pretty soon we’re in your run-of-the-mill Ayu pop-rock song. But what makes this one different is the soft, delicate parts that lead up to the powerful chorus. Admittedly I didn’t like this song when it was first leaked, but it has recently gained my approval. It is one of the best tracks on the album.

I first thought count down would be an interlude track because of the static synth in the beginning. But actually, this song is a whole different style altogether. A dark and ponderous piano melody follows us through the song. Also, all the mysterious synth in the background reminded me of the ethereal stuff of salyu or Hikki. Nevertheless, the song loses the mysterious affect during the chorus because of the rock albums. Do we have a repeat of GUILTY?

I’m kind of surprised that Ayu put Sunset 〜LOVE is ALL〜 before Sunrise… anyway I actually like this song (yes just shut up). It’s definitely a summer ballad, but it’s very uplifting and sweet. Still, kind of an unusual transition because the songs around it are so moody.

See here for my review of BALLAD.

Okay now we’re jumping into what I’d like to call “Avril Lavigne Territory.” A melancholy acoustic guitar and cello bring Last Links its melody. This is definitely another rock track, but not the “Rule” kind. Actually this song reminds me of some of her older works like: (Miss)Understood, Memorial Address, etc. It’s a good song, but not necessarily different from anything we’ve heard yet.

Next we have montage, the appropriately titled interlude. Okay… montage is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever heard Ayu do. It starts with a dark synth, but explodes into this melody lead by an organ. This whole thing is like a piece of Baroque musical literature (except for it sounds a little more modern/romantic at the end). We have strings, organ, and harpsichord. Just… very different. This interlude would have been better placed at the beginning of the album to prelude microphone.

Don’t Look Back is one of the most innovative tracks on the album. The beginning is sexy as hell, with the Middle Eastern instruments and melody. I was kind of disappointed that the influence didn’t remain as strong throughout the chorus. During the verses there was this cool whispering voice that outlined Ayu’s vocals. My favorite part was the instrumental bridge in the middle song. It was so different from anything else on the album.

Jump!, the second interlude, brings us back to our NEXT LEVEL roots. It’s littered with synth and Ayu sustaining various notes. Also there are a number of fragments during the song wherein the background vocals repeat “jump!” over and over. This interlude was a bit of a hot mess, not going to lie.

Lady Dynamite was one of the few tracks I decided not to listen to until the album was leaked. At least Jump! was an appropriately placed interlude. Lady Dynamite follows much of the pop-rock model we’re used to seeing in Ayu’s music. Although not necessarily innovative, Lady Dynamite is one sexy and empowering song.

Sexy little things begins with a highly futuristic synth sound. But what was cool about this song is that this synth was transformed into creating a jazzy melody. The chorus was my favorite part of the song, because we haven’t really heard Ayu done this kind of sexy before. This is one of the best tracks off of the album IMO (even if it is a little weird ;]).

Yes I loved Sunrise 〜LOVE is ALL〜 too. This is the upbeat version of Sunset, which was placed earlier in the album. This song is one of Ayu’s famed summer songs, and it incorporates background vocals, which charge the chorus.

The third ballad, meaning of Love is next. Fortunately, Ayu rarely messes up a ballad. Meaning of Love is a little traditional in terms of instrumentals and melody, but it is still beautiful to listen to. Everything in this song is carefully placed and uplifting. My only concern with it is it precedes another ballad, You were…

You were… is another ballad that was released this past December. My problem is that, although pretty, contains many of the same ballad elements that meaning of Love has. Now You were… is easily more wintery, but its beauty is undermined by the grandiose ballad before it. I reviewed You were… with BALLAD.

Lastly is the album version of RED LINE 〜for TA〜. I’m still confused as to why she chose to end the album with this song… BALLAD, the most grandiose and powerful song on the album should have been placed here. Honestly there aren’t many differences between this version and the single version. The only main difference is that it’s much longer, and the chorus and guitar solos are extended until Ayu’s a capella section at the end. Couldn’t we just have this version and screw the single version?

Overall: I’m not really sure what to think right now. This album is all over the place in so many different ways. There isn’t a “bad” song on the album, but I think what I’m missing is the cohesiveness that’s present in Ayu’s other works (example… montage and microphone). Lots of rock on this album (hence the title… but where the hell was the circus? Oh well, that theme’s overdone anyway).

Best tracks:

  • BALLAD
  • Don’t Look Back
  • meaning of Love
  • Sexy little things
  • microphone
  • count down?

Rating: 8/10

Track list:

01. THE introduction
02. Microphone
03. count down
04. Sunset 〜LOVE is ALL〜
05. BALLAD
06. Last Links
07. montage
08. Don’t look back
09. Jump!
10. Lady Dynamite
11. Sexy little things
12. Sunrise 〜LOVE is ALL〜
13. meaning of Love
14. You were…
15. RED LINE 〜for TA〜 [album version]

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Ayumi Hamasaki- You were…/BALLAD

2010年 1月 11日

Pretty cover… I don’t know what else I should say about it =/

Daaa as you’ve probably heard by now, You were… is more of a traditional winter ballad. It bears a number of similarities to her winter ballad of ’08, Days. We have all traditional ballad influences present: strings, piano, and a good solid beat. Although not especially unconventional, You were… is still beautifully orchestrated.

I think Avex made a mistake. Why isn’t alan singing this song?!?!! Alright anyway, BALLAD is a remarkable piece of work. It heavily relies on Chinese instruments and melodies to structure the song. This song screams alan, so why isn’t she singing this. I didn’t think Ayu would be able to pull of these kinds of vocals, but her tone and vibrato perfectly suit this song. Who says Ayu isn’t versatile? BALLAD is epic!

Next up we have RED LINE ~for TA~, whatever the hell that means. Guitars open the song up with a melody that follows through the entire song. This seems like a song Ayu would have done in her earlier years. A nice song, but not outstanding.

The music box version of You were… is a sweet mix of the original song. It makes the song even more wintery ^_^

Lastly, what would an Ayu release be without an orchestration version of a previous release? The strings version of Sunset ~LOVE is ALL~ is a beautiful arrangement. The intro kind of reminds me of a scene from the 1920s or something. The verses are quiet and serene. The chorus has an angelic feel to it. I personally enjoyed the original songs, but even if you didn’t you might just like the orchestra version.

Overall: An excellent release from Ayu, I only have a few minor critiques. Check out BALLAD!!

Rating: 9.5/10

Track list:

  1. You Were…
  2. BALLAD
  3. RED LINE ~For TA~
  4. You Were… (Music Box)
  5. Sunset ~LOVE is ALL~ (Orchestra version)
  6. You Were… (instrumental)
  7. BALLAD (instrumental)
  8. RED LINE ~for TA~ (instrumental)
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Best of 2009: Album Artwork

2010年 1月 8日

I’ve been looking forward to this part of the “best” awards. This will probably be my last installment of the “best of”s, because I’m going to have a gigantic “worst” of post out this weekend. So here, in all their glory, are what I thought were the best album covers of 2009.

RURUTIA: Seiros
For a while I thought that this release was part of 2008 because it was released so long ago!. Anyway, RURUTIA’s music is very ethereal and reminiscent of Final Fantasy music. This cover reflects the magical element so present in her music. This cover is like a cross between reality and fantasy.

Namie Amuro: Past<Future
Plagiarized or not, this is one hot cover and it represents Namie’s moving forward with her musical career. The cover came under suspicion when it greatly resembled an image in a Korean magazine. Although it seems like the case is valid, it probably wasn’t Namie’s idea. In truth what really makes this cover amazing is Namie’s coy expression. Even if it wasn’t her idea, her cover is ten times sexier.

alan: Gunjou no Tani
This cover is one of alan’s finest. She looks so peaceful. She dons traditional garb, and it really pops compared to the dark background behind her. In this cover we have tradition and nature- the two most important aspects of alan’s music. I hope we see more of this soon!

OLIVIA: Sailing Free
Everything about this cover is so “OLIVIA.” She’s just kind of floating there, looking completely serene. Although it’s a lot of pink, all of the detail keeps this cover from being boring.

Koda Kumi: Alive/Physical Thing
Regardless of what you think of the single, I think its cover is astounding. Kuu-chan’s covers have gotten progressively better over the years. She went from looking almost like a trashy porn star to looking like more of an artist. I love the juxtaposition of this cover: Kuu looks like an angel while the environment around her is clearly rugged. Her outfit looks really high-fashion and her make up looks class. This cover is sexy without being over-the-top.

Nana Kitade: Tsukihana
Not only was this an outstanding musical feat for Nana, but its cover is a work of art too. Nana looks great in a traditional kimono. Since Nana is a model for a lot of lolita clothes, she knows how to wear an outfit. Her posture and expression make this otherwise traditional setting a little more modern.

Tohoshinki: Stand by U
The reason I like this cover so much is that it makes the boys look more “real” to us. They usually wear flashier clothes in staged and tempered environments. Here though, things look a little more candid and realistic. This kind of comforting image fits the A-side as well because the song projects a kind of intimacy.

Ayumi Hamasaki: Rule/Sparkle
This is one of my favorite Ayu covers to date. The tight-fitting outfit, silver high-heels, and bold covers give this image a futuristic look, perfectly representing the songs on the single. This single came out with many cover editions, as is common for Ayu nowadays, but this one was my favorite. Her makeup looks great too… not overdone, but still foxy. =]


Minami Kizuki: Shiroi Tsuki
I discovered Minami’s music kind of late in the year. For those of you who don’t know her, she has a voice uncannily similar to Hajime Chitose’s (she did the 4th ending to Blood+). This single happens to be a ballad, and the cover kind of reminds me of something alan would do. Minami really stands out from the black background. I really do think of the moon when looking at the cover.. maybe it has something to do with her reflection.


Miliyah Kato: WHY
This single represents one of Miliyah’s strongest releases to date. This cover lacks the glamor of a lot of these others on the list, but it perfectly reflects the raw emotion of the song WHY. Miliyah is known for her more “Diva-esque” covers, so this vulnerable side from her is something to look forward to.

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Best of 2009: B-sides and other stuff

2010年 1月 3日

Here’s the 3rd part to my 5-part “Best of 2009” installment! This time I’m focusing on B-sides and album-only tracks.  There are a couple more bonus categories I didn’t know where else to put (best collaboration and such). Again, nothing is in any particular order.

  • Gunjou no Tani (acoustic ver.)- alan (Gunjou no Tani)
  • SYOUKUBENI (shot in one take)– Dir en grey (Hageshisa to, Kono Mune no Naka de Karamitsuita Shakunetsu no Yami)
  • mute– Mihimaru GT (Torokechau Dandy)
  • Pied Piper– Plastic Tree (Sanatorium)
  • I– salyu (extension)
  • KISSES– stephanie. (Pride ~a part of me~)

  • Shiroki Yuu Utsu- the GazettE (DIM)
  • suki– Rie fu (Urban Romantic)
  • Akizakura (cosmos)– Ikimono Gakari (Hajimari no Uta)
  • Driving– Koda Kumi (Trick)
  • Drella– alice nine. (Vandalize)
  • COPY THAT– Namie Amuro (Past<Future)

There were a number of new artists this year… but as the title suggests I’ve only considered the artists who had the strongest debuts (I chose 5). I don’t consider artists like alan to be “new artists” since her work was well known way before her debut album. Artists like Mao Denda (who apparently released stuff about 9 years ago) are eligible because they made themselves known in 2009.  It’s a bit confusing, but it makes sense in my mind ._.

  • JASMINE
  • MiChi
  • Kana Nishino
  • Kizuki Minami
  • Lil’ B

Those where my three “main” categories. Here are the other ones (basically I was just too lazy to make graphics for categories with only one or two winners).

Best Collaboration: Ima Demo Aitai Yo– Yuna Ito feat. Spontania

Best Revival: UnsraW
Best appearance on anime: Again– YUI
Best Instrumental/Interlude: —anten.– Plastic Tree, Tenyou ~Interlude~– alan, INTRODUCTION FOR TRICK– Koda Kumi
Best Remix: romantic (strings ver.)– Rie fu, Days 8-bits of tears YMCK remix– Ayumi Hamasaki

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Best of 2009: Albums

2010年 1月 1日

Best albums of 2009 (not necessarily in order) from left to right

  1. alan- Voice of Earth
  2. Yuna Ito- Dream
  3. Ayumi Hamasaki- NEXT LEVEL
  4. the GazettE- DIM
  5. alice nine.- Vandalize
  6. Namie Amuro- Past<Future
  7. Nothing’s Carved in Stone- Parallel Lives
  8. rie fu- Urban Romantic
  9. Mai Fukui- My Song for You
  10. Girugamesh- Now
  11. Younha- Growing Season (Honorary Korean Masterpiece)

Honorable Mentions

MiChi- UP TO YOU
Ikimono Gakari- Hajimari no Uta
Koda Kumi- Trick
Ayaka Hirahara- My Classics
Perfume-