Category Archives: Album / EP

Verbal – Visionair

“DUPH DUPH DUPH”

This sounds like the noise which sometimes comes through my walls at 3 a.m. on a Saturday morning, while I bang in response on the wall and threaten under my breath to play Kirarin Revolution with my speakers pressed against the wall at 7 a.m. for revenge (not that I ever will…). To say that heavy drum and bass and hip-hop in general aren’t my kind of thing is an honest statement. There are a few artists I really like (Eminem, B.o.B. etc.) but if I had to chose a genre outside of East Asian music to listen to all night, this wouldn’t be it.

So when VERBAL announced his new solo project, dropped names like Lil’ Wayne, I did cringe slightly at the prospect of another TERIYAKI Boyz style sound. I’m a big fan of m-flo, the act which has probably got VERBAL most of his recognition, but TERIYAKI Boyz is still a little too far out of my comfort zone.

The main pull to some people in trying this album, both in the East and West, are the heavy weights who VERBAL has convinced to feature on his tracks. Nicky Minaj (or rather a sample of Nicki Minaj), Lil Wayne and Drake are the main US pulls, while Namie Amuro also stars on the albums feature track, the addictive, “BLACK OUT“. There’s also a Jay-Z sample used in “BALL and BOUNCE“. Other things you’d expect from this type of album are also true – it’s heavily auto tuned and contains a large amount of, what has been described as “Jungle/drum and bass/dub step” but to me is mostly unpleasant noise.

But name dropping aside, what’s the album like? There’s certainly an East meets West feel to this. Surprisingly or not, I found most the tracks I love to be those where VERBAL has been given a free reign and hasn’t been constrained by a “collaboration”. “I CAN’T HELP MYSELF“, one of my favourite tracks, has a very retro 80’s/90s new wave feel to it, while “FALL OUT feat. Shunya“, released as a digital single before the album is probably my favourite track, sounding like another new wave crash with sweet male vocals and VERBALs elite rap skills. It says something about my taste when the tracks I find a heavily like are those with a more Eastern influence. However, to say that the other tracks are strictly “Western” is completely untrue. VERBAL has created his own style with a mash of styles from the traditional hip-hop (CHANGE CHANGE feat. Nicki Minaj) rock outfits like the Transplants (LIAR feat. MADEMOISELLE YULIA), RnB (YOU ARE) and still has elements of his J-Pop stylings – there are also tracks like “NOTHING” which make no sense to the album at all… Whether you like the random variety or see this as an uncalculated mess is down to you.

So, overall, I have mixed feelings about this album. Yes, there are a few tracks that sound worthy of being blasted from the idiot boy racer’s car while you sit next to him at the lights (STOMP DEM ROACH), but there are also those tracks which you could easily listen to all day long. However, as for the flow of the album, or even the concept of the album, I feel something is lacking. To me, it almost seems like an epitaph of “look what kind of shit I could do” – without a real target audience, or direction.

So overall, definitely worth a listen, but I think VERBAL has a little way to go before really breaking out into the mainstream with his elicit style.

  1. VISION IN THE AIR
  2. BLACK OUT feat. Lil Wayne & Namie Amuro
  3. I CAN’T HELP MYSELF
  4. BALL N BOUNCE
  5. DOPE BOY FRESH
  6. Fall Out feat. SHUNYA
  7. HEY MISTER feat. Minami (CREAM)
  8. I WANT IT ALL
  9. CHANGE CHANGE feat. Nicki Minaj
  10. STOMP DEM ROACH
  11. LIAR feat. MADEMOSELLE YULIA
  12. YOU ARE
  13. I SEE YOU
  14. NOTHING
  15. Some Other Place feat. Drake

Oh and my favourite line, from I can’t help myself, “X-Men, Magneto, Let me go”… WTF?

miwa – guitarissimo

There are a few things, musically, I’m prone to loving. First is genki idol music – like Guru Guru Jump by Momusu, and most of Momoiro Clover’s singles, second is American Pop-Punk, and thirdly, it’s a girl with a guitar. So, as it hits #3 – miwa’s “guitarissimo” has been my latest guilty pleasure.

 

Miwa debued last year, and her singles, hadn’t, for some reason, piqued my interest, but sometimes you have to hear songs within a context of an album to realise why they’re special – or even have the right setting around you. Picture this – a sunny Friday afternoon, walking home from work, and her latest album shuffles on through pure coincidence.

 

Oh miwa, how could I have overlooked you before? Pop-rock guitar and light vocals, you’ll make even the K-ON! girls jealous.

 

miwa will probably be best known outside of Japan as singing the 12billionth opening to BLEACH – chAngE, which although I don’t think is the best song on this album, is pretty damn catchy. This album has a lot of energy, it starts off with the rocking “Arienai!” which sounds like a mad mash of a PUFFY song with YUKI’s vocals. miwa doesn’t just do bubbly pop-punk however, she covers a range of rocky styles and seems to be a pop-rock chamelon, easily flitting between various styles (check out the vocals on hys and the beautiful ballad, Otoshimono). However, miwa’s vocals are something unbelieable – her range is not only on the “high” side, but she also has the ability to hit all the notes perfectly, without screeching (Don’t cry anymore is a good example of this). She’s also not part of that high pitched whiny singing circle which seems popular in Japan, and something which puts me off listening to full albums of high ranged vocalists.

 

The album overall is well balanced, opening on a powerful, fun song, and ending on the ballad Tsuyoku Naritai (I want to become strong), which I personally thought to be a nice touch. I have to admit, the singles are the strongest songs of the album, however, considering the majority of them weren’t massive hits (well, maybe with the exception of Don’t cry anymore which did quite well in digital sales), the album tracks definetly glue the album together.

 

A strong debut album is always a good foothold of success in Japan, as it could possibly be your only notable album. Miwa’s cracked it, and hopefully, she’ll be back sooner than later with another helping of warm summery guitar pop.

 

Recommended if you like: YUI, SCANDAL, Stereopony, YUKI

 

  1. Arienai!!
  2. Don’t Cry Anymore
  3. Friend ~Kimi ga Waraeba~
  4. Haru ni Nattara
  5. hys~
  6. Otoshimono
  7. Dear Days
  8. Samenai Yume
  9. chAngE
  10. Megurogawa
  11. Hatsu Natsu
  12. Little Girl
  13. Bokura no Mirai
  14. Tsuyoku Naritai

 

Does anyone else find the cat on album cover a bit too big and creepy by the way?

 

Maki Goto – Goto Maki COMPLETE BEST ALBUM 2001-2007 ~Singles & Rare Tracks~


For those of us that mourned the lack of a Maki Goto greatest hits CD two years ago, was getting this CD was worth the wait?  Not only does it detail Maki’s singles through her years with Hello! Project, but also includes a number of solo, Korean and live versions of a wide number of her songs.  Throwing this CD on, you’re drawn from debut number one “Ai no Bakayarou” to her last single with Hello! Project, “Secret” in chronological order.

I was particularly interested in this album to here Maki’s solo version of one of my favourite Morning Musume songs – I WISH.  Unfortunately the group version does sound a lot better, but I love the novelty of these solo versions – a lot of which I hadn’t heard before.  The Korean versions of Daite, PLEASE GO ON and Supin to Namida were also quite interesting (although distinctly lacked the energy of the originals), but the last three “live” tracks were a complete wash out, as I’m failing to hear the difference between these and the album originals.  And there’s even a cover of an Aya Matsuura track Watarasebashi. However, most of these “rare” tracks would be better termed “recycled“, as most can be found as album tracks on her first three albums.

Sales have been dire, which even surprised me.  The album peeked at number 30 on first day sales, ranked weekly at 74 and has only sold 1,920 copies! Considering Maki still claims a lot of media attention in Japan and that this album has come sandwiched between two mini albums, I was expecting a little more hype around it.

So overall, a must for any Hello! Project or Maki Goto fan, but don’t get your hopes up too much about the rare tracks. Post-debut single onwards, her songs until her last album with H!P are quintessentially “Hello! Project” – and no doubt we’ll be hearing more covers of these by the current Hello! Project members.

Tracklist

Disc 1:

  1. Ai no Bakayarou
  2. Afurechau… BE IN LOVE
  3. Te wo Nigitte Arukitai
  4. Yaruki! IT’S EASY
  5. Uwasa no SEXY GUY
  6. Scramble
  7. Daite yo! PLEASE GO ON
  8. Genshoku GAL Hade ni Yukube!
  9. Sayonara no LOVE SONG
  10. Yokohama Shinkirou
  11. Sayonara “Tomodachi ni wa Naritakunai no”
  12. Suppin to Namida.
  13. Ima ni Kitto… In My LIFE
  14. Glass no Pumps
  15. SOME BOYS! TOUCH
  16. Secret

Disc 2:

  1. I WISH (Solo Take Ver.)
  2. SHALL WE LOVE? (Goto Version)
  3. Akai Nikkichou (Goto Version)
  4. Shiawase Desu ka? (Goto Version)
  5. Watarasebashi (Goto Version)
  6. Namida no Hoshi (Alo Hello! Version)
  7. Suki Sugite Baka Mitai (Goto Version)
  8. Daite yo! PLEASE GO ON (Korean Ver.)
  9. Suppin to Namida. (Korean Ver.)
  10. Bokura ga Ikiru MY ASIA (Solo Take Ver.)
  11. LIKE A GAME (2006 SECRET LIVE Ver.)
  12. LOVE. BELIEVE IT! (2007 G-Emotion II Ver.)
  13. LOVE LIKE CRAZY (2007 G-Emotion II Ver.)

Deathloop: Ai no Bakayarou, DAITE!  Please go on, Some Boys Touch

Overall: C+

The rare tracks left us expecting something which unfortunately UFA didn’t deliver. It would have also been nice to seen a few more current Maki pictures used, but for obvious reasons, none must have been available.

Worth a Listen: Ayumi Hamasaki – Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus

Ayumi Hamasaki was one of my first J-Pop loves, along with Hikaru Utada, but unlike Hikki, I haven’t really kept up my love affair with her music.  Recent albums have been a bit homogenous and bland, and she’s been unable to place some fantastic singles she’s had over the past few years (Mirrorcle World and Sparkle for example) within the surroundings of an imaginative album.

Luckily, someone’s lit a fire beneath Ayu, because her current album is one of the best I think she’s released in years.  Including the singles “Sunrise / Sunset Love is All” and “BALLAD / You were…” which were all pretty boring and mediocre on their own, the album contains powerful tracks which prevents the singles from getting dull such as “Microphone“, “Lady Dynamite” and the funky “Don’t look back“, which is the type of track I haven’t heard Ayu attempt for years.  Oh don’t get me wrong here, this album doesn’t ooze originality nor is it overly provocative, but at the same time, for Ayumi it is a little more unique than some of her other works – although the brave attempt in styles in marred slightly by the over-indulgence in a few too many ballads and may leave you snoozing before the faster tempo tracks kick in, they’re tolerable if you know what’s around the corner.  I’m never a fan of a ballad unless it really moves me, and unfortunately none on this album really do it for me – although  it have gained a new-found love of Ayumi’s Sunset / Sunrise single which sounds a lot better spaced so far apart on the album, rather than being placed next to each other on the single.

Worth a Listen?: If you’ve ever like Ayumi Hamasaki, or if you like generic J- pop, this is most certainly worth a listen.  It’s far from one of my favourite albums, but it shows the potential which Ayumi has at a more diverse range of music.  There’s also a whopping 13 vocal tracks, so you’re bound to pick up something you like, whether it be the visual kei inspired Microphone, the sexy Don’t Look Back, the rocky Lost Links or one of the many, many ballads…

  1. The Introduction
  2. Microphone
  3. Count Down
  4. Sunset: Love is All
  5. Ballad
  6. Last Links
  7. Montage
  8. Don’t Look Back
  9. 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)

Melon Kinenbi – Melon’s Not Dead

The ironically titled final original album from Melon’s Kinenbi features their 2009 collaborations with various rock bands, as well as a few new rock tracks.

  1.  Melon Kinenbi no Theme (Rock Ver.)
  2. DON’T SAY GOOD-BYE (Melon Kinenbi x BEAT CRUSADERS)
  3. Pinch wa Chance Baka ni Narouze! (Album Ver.) (Melon Kinenbi x NEW ROTE’KA)
  4. sweet suicide summer story (Melon Kinenbi x Midori)
  5. Seishun-on-the-Road  (Melon Kinenbi x THE COLLECTORS)
  6. Melon Tea (Melon Kinenbi x GOING UNDER GROUND)
  7. Romantic wo Tsukinukero ~Break it now~
  8. ALL AROUND ROCK
  9. Ai da! Ima Sugu ROCK ON!
  10. ALWAYS LOVE YOU (Melon Kinenbi x BEAT CRUSADERS)

Whenever I think of Melon Kinenbi, I think of how they went out of Hello! Project – absolutely on fire, singing “This is Unmei“.  The crowd were jumping, the girls were rocking it out, and the Wonderful Hearts were probably wetting themselves knowing that they would have to follow in their footsteps. 

Out of all the ex-Hello! Project members, Melon Kinenbi have made the largest advance with their music in the last year, and rather than going out with a dull swan song, have opted to go out with rockin’ fireworks.  The album features collaborations with some of Japan’s finest indie bands as well as the BEAT CRUSADERS who are known by wota and otaku alike for their misuse of the English language.  It’s hard also to believe, that for such a prolific band within Hello! Project, this is only their third original full album, which probably tells us more about us H!P fans disoriented look on popular Japanese music than anything.

1. Melon Kinenbi no Theme – mixes quite heavy old school rock with the kind of 60s rock’n’roll type.  Instrumental.

2. DON’T SAY GOOD-BYE (w/ BEAT CRUSADERS) – a la BEAT CRUSADERs pop-rock style, this is a pretty awesome track.  Fast paced, energetic and littered with English, the girls split lines evenly and do a group chorus.

3. Pinch wa Chance Baka ni Narouze! (w/ NEW ROTE’KA) – Another energetic track, I’ve never heard of NEW ROTE’KA before but they look a little mental.  There’s lots of shouting, screaming and chanting from MK on this track – excellent!

4. sweet suicide summer story (w/ Midori) Wow you don’t see many – former or current – H!P acts with song titles like this.  Lots of weird guitar riffs and weird piano playing – the song almost sounds out of tune in places (vocals and all!).

5. Seishun-on-the-Road (w/ THE COLLECTORS) – This is the kind of chilled out track we need to slot in the middle of the album.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s still rockin’, and I love the contrast of the male-band members voice against MK’s in the chorus.

6. Melon Tea (w/ GOING UNDER GROUND) – I thought they were singing “Melody” to start with in the chorus (hence why I should check the name of the song I’m listening to every now and then).  The chill-out of the previous track is dissolved and replaced with a faster tempo and funky guitar riffs.

7. Romantic wo Tsukinukero – “Samishii, samishii samishii kono kimochi” – I love this part of the chorus for some inexplicable reason.  Another really, really fun track and the first one where MK aren’t relying on another band.  There’s more of their clever vocals in this track than their previous ones, and you really feel the girls supporting each other better with backing vocals.  It’s also probably the most familiar sounding track in terms of relating back to their previous works.

8. ALL AROUND ROCK – This is a bit of a freaky song, it reminds me a bit of those weird rock songs with organs (“Rock Lobster” anyone?).  Once again we get those boisterous Melon’s vocals in it!

9. Ai da!  Ima Sugu ROCK ON! – Just in case you didn’t get that this was a rock inspired album, here’s another song with the word “rock” in the title. More energy, more Melons, more, more!

10. ALWAYS LOVE YOU (w/ BEAT CRUSADERS) – Probably my least favourite track, because it sounds slightly out of tune in places.  It’s not a bad track however, and a go finale to the album.

 So what’s the overall verdict? From the outlook, the album doesn’t seem to be that thoughtful, in fact it looks more like someone has put all the singles one-after-the-other and added a number of new tracks to the end.  The surprising factor is how well the album plays through, and manages to maintain balance.  One of the best features of this album is actually having some male vocals other than Tsunku‘s.  A lot of the bands who do add the MK’s flawless voices add an extra dimension to the song and pull them away from sounding like they’re falling back into the idol trap.  I’ve always prefered MK doing this rock-style music, and they’ve chosen tracks which suit them down to a “t”.

The other great thing is how many different styles of rock the girls leap around from.  Okay they’re mainly staying in the safety genre of pop-rock, but you’d never hear something as bizarre as “sweet suicide summer story” or as angry and energetic as “Pinch wa Chance Baka ni Narouze!” coming out of their elegant idol mouths usually.  This album also isn’t here to demonstrate vocal technicalities or to show off in any particular way.  It isn’t full of ballads which bore us and waste our time – it’s fun, and that’s all there is to it, and I like that it’s such an unassuming album.

The hardest thing I’ve found with writing about this album is to treat it as an idol album, because quite frankly, it’s not.  It’s grimy, it’s indie, it’s more sub-culture than the rest of those idols, and the novelty is just one of the mainly appealing factors of it!  But here’s where the problem with the sales, the quality and the originality of this album rest: although undoubtedly unique and mouth-wateringly refreshing this album is to us Hello! Project fans, to the mainstream, it’s the same old cobble of girl-rock to mainstream Japan, except instead of bouncy teenagers we have 4 women pushing 30 who can sing considerably better. Problematic?  Well, at least it gives more of an insight into some of the reasons behind their disbanding.

However, MELON’S NOT DEAD is probably the most fitting departure to the group.  It has more expression and freedom within it than any, past or present, Hello! Project artist has ever been allowed.  Also, for someone like myself, who grew up on a healthy diet of rock, spent most of my teenage years going to local or mainstream rock concerts, this album is a lot easier for me to relate to.

So listening to this album is a must for any fans of Melon Kinenbi or music in general, but one thing this album is not, is a Hello! Project album.

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