Tags: Ayumi Hamasaki, Electro, Electronic, Hamasaki Ayumi, J-pop, Jpop, Music, Review
- Party queen
- Shake It♥
- reminds me
- Return Road
- Tell me why
- a cup of tea
- the next LOVE
- Eyes, Smoke, Magic
- Serenade in A minor
- how beautiful you are
Party Queen caused quite a commotion earlier this year as details for it began to emerge. Firstly, Ayumi announced her separation from Manuel, her husband, which wasn’t surprising at all but it did lead to a lot of drama. In addition, many were shocked by the record’s provocative covers which had her wearing only her lingerie while others were refreshed by the bold move, especially after the divorce. It appeared that the album was headed into a very dance-centered direction which it does touch upon but only briefly because it eventually delves into deeper and darker material. She does try to shake the album up by working with a new producer, Timothy Wellard, who also made an appearance in FIVE for the production of BRILLANTE and even joined a fan forum to spill details on Ayumi. He eventually fell out of favour with some fans due to his overexposure in her work. With everything surrounding the album, it seemed like she was branching out and trying something new and I was on board for it.
The album begins with its title track, Party queen, and the European electro aspects are immediately apparent as a bunch of crazy synths come to life. It starts off with a computer-like synth riff until it becomes overpowered by an intense drum and synth beat. She sounds a little weird on the verses because she talks her way through them with the sound of clinking glasses and the pouring of drinks in the background. They’re not that interesting but once the music picks up it gets much better and she begins singing to the beat. The chorus is kind of catchy with its raving dance beat and her repetition of “I am the party queen.” However, her tone keeps this from being a top track. She performs with her cute voice and it doesn’t go with the gritty underground sound. The track concludes with creepy laughter and leads to the police sirens that introduce the next party song, NaNaNa. The arrangement is vastly superior due to the sinister and aggressive growl of the electro beats. The gritty and dark melody instantly captured me and her creepy whispering of “tick tick tick tick tock tick” is a great way to start things. Her voice is much better and her lower range goes so well with the disturbing composition. Unfortunately, Tim is included and his sections are so bad. He offers nothing but cheesy and spoken rap-like sections before the chorus that bring the song down, “all the gorgeous boiz/come and make some noise.” After his tragic performances, she manages to salvage with the chorus which has a nice vocoder effect on her voice and the music lightens up but still keeps the infectious synths. This would have been a flawless track if it wasn’t for Tim but, regardless of his inclusion, the raving melody is more than enough to make this a favourite.
The fun continues with Shake It♥ and her vocalizing introduction is very catchy. This is another aggressive track but, unlike the previous songs, this one relies on guitars to bring out a gritty sound. A steady drum beat leads the verses with the occasional spazz of guitar while her voice cynically dances to the beat. Eventually, her backing vocals kick in to make it catchier. The chorus is unexpectedly dramatic with its array of beats and her heightened, rapid delivery. The rock influence comes out as she repeats “shake it” and Tim makes another appearance but only for the backing vocals. Not only is there a whole lot of rock but the bridge throws in a dubstep breakdown that oddly enough shifts to a brass section before the last chorus. It’s very weird but it’s pretty cool. I really enjoy the aggressive sound that she plays with and the heavy electronic elements are glorious. Even the interlude, taskebab, brings the heat despite its silly name. It’s all about rock here and its massive guitar assault is wicked cool. Too bad this isn’t an actual song because the melody is tremendous. It kicks into overdrive as a synth line appears, speeding up and exploding into a duo of rock and electro. This is such a waste as an interlude because it would have made such an energetic rock anthem. Her interludes don’t always make sense with the song that they lead into and that’s exactly what happens here. Not only that, but the album does a complete 180 because from this point on the dance anthems end and it returns to her general style of music. call is a soothing pop rock tune, unlike the hardcore interlude. The acoustic guitar is quite lovely and has a fresh summer air. In the chorus, her voice gets much louder compared to the instrumental which does crescendo quite a bit with it’s arrangement of rock and there’s some sweet male backing vocals thrown in too. While it has a carefree attitude, there’s a lingering sadness that comes through her voice. It’s a gorgeous contrast and the combination of emotions that runs in this song makes this much more than just a typical pop rock hit.
The pop rock continues for Letter but the melody here is mellow and transcends into a very elegant state for the chorus. With a larger focus on heavy rock, she begins the verses with luscious and deep vocals. Even though I enjoyed her voice in the previous song, it is much more to my liking here. She sings powerfully and puts a lot more emotion into her intonation which is complimented by the dynamic instrumentation. All of this is enhanced in the chorus, where the strings burst to life and her voice soars beautifully. This isn’t an immensely catchy track but her voice and the dark, passionate production works wonders together. I like this a lot more than I expected I would. reminds me comes on to the scene with its ear-catching introduction of melancholic strings that flourish as they progress. Just as the magnificent procession of strings reaches its climax, it suddenly dies and in its place comes a soft acoustic guitar joined by her sweet voice. The sudden change in tempo and atmosphere is startling at first but the warmth of the acoustics is soothing as are her vocals. However, the song doesn’t stop there because it changes into an explosive rock ballad. Just before entering the massive hook, the electric guitars roar to life and the strings come back with a fury. Her voice is filled with a passion that has yet to be seen on this record and it’s marvelous, filled to the brim with emotion. Her ad-libbing as the strings work their magic is stunning and then the descent into a heavy rock breakdown takes it to the next level. I was expecting a return to another acoustic verse but the song just continues with the chorus. I love the intensity that she displays and it makes this a standout. Her vocalizing at the end creeps into desperate cries that are filled with tremendous pain. She does offer one final taste of warmth as the song calms back into the acoustics for its finale.
Lamenting strings introduce the power ballad Return Road and they lead into an epic organ with the twinkling of chimes in the background. This overly dramatic segment settles down for the verse which is composed of a piano and strings. Her delivery is as soft as the instruments are but this is short-lived because the chorus brings the song to its highest point where the strings and percussion lead her into emotional disarray. The bridge contains a bizarre mix of dramatic strings and the random clash of piano keys that are accompanied by operatic male vocals that reflect her inner turmoil. The final chorus is given an extra punch of drama as the operatic vocals back her up. It’s a little touch that makes a big difference. This is another excellent track and one of the album’s best offerings. Tell me why somewhat follows in the footsteps of the last few songs but in a much lighter way. Her “oohs” at the very start are stunning. With the piano, they create such a haunting introduction that pulls you into its state of sadness. The subtle gloominess that looms around the verses is overwhelming and the percussion adds a sense of emptiness. When it moves into the chorus, strings are added to the mix and her voice takes on a depressing tone that gives the song a stronger emotional pull. This ballad doesn’t contain the surprises or dramatics of the previous ones but that’s what I like about it. It’s a raw ballad that allows her to really express herself and bring about a sense of sadness. It’s very chill and soothing despite its depressing tone. a cup of tea, the second interlude, leads the album away from the dark and tragic tone that the middle section sets up. After the misleading procession of strings at the start, the interlude delves into dubstep territory with a sinister twist. It’s kind of quirky but there’s nothing too amazing about it.
the next LOVE takes Ayumi to a new style with a velvety smooth classic and jazz composition. The classic elements act as the introduction with Ayumi ad-libbing sweetly before a dramatic clash of strings leads to the inclusion of the silky jazz beat. Her voice gently glides along the piano, setting up a delicious lounge feel. Her voice gains strength as the instrumental spirals into a powerful blend of strings in the chorus. I love how the bridge gains momentum and she sings quickly to the ecstatic tempo change. It’s a really nice change of style for her. It’s a great combination of sultry vocals and instruments while still maintaining a powerful hook. The sound of a ringing phone followed by deranged laughter introduces the next jazz themed number, Eyes, Smoke, Magic. Unlike the last, this one takes a page from Broadway and has her whispering “eyes, smoke, magic” to a snapping beat. It just screams Broadway with its eccentric jazz-influenced melody. Throughout the verses, there’s the occasional spazz of beats that emphasize the theatrical aspect of the track. Midway in, after the first chorus, everything picks up into a sugary breakdown with Ayumi speeding up to the beat. The surprise of instruments never stops because the song continues to throw different elements into the mix. The end captures the finale of musicals because of the brass instruments and her strong ad-libs. The composition is certainly the highpoint and it’s such a drastic sound for her. The one thing I don’t really like is how cute her voice gets in some parts but it goes with the melody pretty well so it’s not too bad. Serenade in A minor is the last interlude and it’s the complete opposite of the others. This one is all about serenity and beauty. The strings carry a haunting atmosphere that is melancholic yet breathtaking. It’s not groundbreaking by any means but you can’t go wrong with a lovely serenade of strings. The good thing about this is that it leads into how beautiful you are perfectly. The final track is a classic Ayumi ballad and it stands out because it’s the only one that boasts a simple instrumentation. The album has been a mixed bag of electropop, rock ballads and jazz and this is absolutely refreshing. Supported by a lonely piano, she graces with her soft voice and despite a very basic set up, I really like how it comes together. Everything is kept to a bare minimum for most of the song and when the strings creep in for the chorus, it suddenly is filled with an uplifting and self-empowering mood. The way she sings the title is sweet and encouraging. The song gets even better when the male backing vocals are added during the bridge and continue into the last chorus where she performs with much more passion. It definitely closes the album on a high note.
Conclusion: Party Queen turned out to be something I was not expecting at all. I was actually looking forward to a complete dance-oriented album where she would let herself go wild. That seemed to be the direction she was heading with the first three songs but once they’re over she reverts back to her usual sound which is disappointing. I would have loved to see her fully embrace the sound that she explored at the start because it would have been so refreshing for her. In addition, there’s a lack of focus because the first part of the album doesn’t have much to do with the latter half. Despite my nitpicking, the songs themselves are not bad at all and most of my favourites come later on. It’s just that I would have really liked her to take a risk rather than stick to the same tired formula. The dramatic nature of the majority of the tracks is fantastic and the main reason they are so enjoyable. They are powerful and extremely emotional, bordering on very dark themes. Party Queen sees her trying to slowly reach out of her comfort zone and hopefully she does an even bigger leap in the future.
Recommended Tracks: how beautiful you are, Return Road, reminds me, Shake It♥, NaNaNa, Tell me why and Letter
Tags: Amuro Namie, Electro, Electronic, J-pop, Jpop, Music, Namie Amuro, Review
- In The Spotlight (TOKYO)
- GO ROUND (‘N ROUND ‘N ROUND)
- Sit! Stay! Wait! Down!
- Hot Girls
- Break It (AL Ver.)
- Get Myself Back
- Love Story
- Let’s Go
- SINGING “YEAH-OH”
- Fight Together
- ONLY YOU
After a handful of double A-sides and one triple A-side, Namie announced her tenth album, Uncontrolled, to celebrate her 20th anniversary. Since the album is filled with so many A-sides, she decided to touch a few of them up and even turned two of them into full English tracks. This is the first album that I’ve heard from her that has so many songs performed in English. I wasn’t sure how I would like them because I have never been a fan of her English but I was impressed by the risk she was taking. It’s always a good thing to see an artist try something different and succeed doing it.
Namie begins with In The Spotlight (TOKYO), the first English song on the album. “I feel alive/and tonight’s my night/I’ve got nothing to hide/I’m dancing in the spotlight,” she professes to a simple synth line but once it hits the verse it becomes a dance floor anthem. She takes on a very commanding presence in them and the beat is amazing. The synths take a backseat for the drums which are so crazy and infectious. It slows down again in the chorus but in the second half the synths crescendo into a raving dance beat. It sounds much more exciting with the upbeat melody. In the bridge, Namie goes wild to marching drums and it’s so much fun. The melody has a European sound to it so it plays on current trends but it’s really good. I’m surprised by how much I like the song and her English is fantastic. She’s improved tremendously over the years and there isn’t anything that is hard to understand. This is a great track to open the album because it’s fun, addicting and shows growth. NAKED has the most interesting composition on the entire record. It is an electronic paradise. The synth line is a psychedelic trip of epic proportions and it’s very heavy. Her light voice holds it’s own against the barrage of beats which become more intricate and advanced as the verses progress. Sighing background vocals add a sexy flair to the song and the spiraling synths that lead into the chorus are delicious. The chorus packs a massive punch and she delivers an energetically-charged performance. Her vocals are perfect, filled with excitement and power. I was hooked the first time I heard it and it’s still fresh. It’s just hardcore electro and every second of it is gold. The breakdown before the second verse and in the bridge is awesome. They’re filled with a variety of beats and beeps that get crazier as they go on. Namie ends this masterpiece by repeating “make up your mind now” to the heavy synth line. This is such an immensely wicked track and it’s my favourite song.
GO ROUND (‘N ROUND ‘N ROUND) is the first song to receive a makeover and it’s now sung entirely in English. Also, the intro is cut a few seconds short compared to the original but it’s not that big of a deal. I loved Go Round and I was a bit worried with how the English version would turn out even if there was already a lot of English in it. While some parts are a step down, the overall charm remains intact. Melody-wise, it has a catchy synth beat with mechanical mishaps and I love the flow of her voice. There’s a cute tinge to it despite the subject matter and I really like the lyrics, “still like the way that you stay on my mind when you leave (my mind when you leave)/still like the sound of your voice on my answer machine (on my answer machine).” The flow just gets more addicting in the pre-chorus and it shifts into an adorable delicacy for the chorus. The heavy synth beats wrap around her sweet vocals and the way she raises her register as she sings “go round (‘n round, ‘n round, ‘n round)” is so good. There’s only one thing about the new version that disappoints me and it’s the outro. Since the words “days” and “tears” are no longer used in the chorus, she only repeats “how many times” instead of “how many times/how many days/how many tears” which causes it to lose some of its emotion. Sit! Stay! Wait! Down! is relatively new for me because I didn’t become familiar with it as I did with the other singles. It’s humorous because she relates her lover to a dog and it’s a whole lot of fun. She uses deeper vocals this time and the arrangement is made of bouncing percussion and synths. It’s very contagious and I love its quirkiness. The song slows down a bit in its pre-chorus and she throws in some nice backing vocals. The transition to the chorus is amazing because the vocals and synths become wacky. With her fast-paced singing and hilarious dog references, the chorus is the highlight. It’s not an all-out dance track but it has a fantastic groove and it’s too cute when she sings the title. She’s so playful and the icing on the cake is the bridge when she repeats “good boy.” I love the soft dance feel and it’s great to see her be a bit silly.
“Round and round they go/where they stop no one knows,” she whispers at the start of Hot Girls before the dominant drum melody comes in for the repetitive but catchy hook. She takes an in-your-face approach for the chorus and the line “hot girls make the world go round” easily gets stuck in your head from all the times she repeats it. The synths imitate the pounding of the percussion and her voice gets a slight dose of vocoder in the verses. The melody is simple and very western but its heaviness is quite nice. The pre-chorus is much more enticing because the synths kick in and her voice rises, flowing wonderfully to the beat. The bridge features some heavy panting which is pretty sexy and she sings the chorus to a different beat. I’m not crazy about this song because it’s very generic but it’s catchy so it’s not that bad. Break It (AL ver.) came as a surprise to me because I didn’t know it was getting a makeover. Sadly, this new arrangement doesn’t live up to the original which was perfect to begin with. The funky guitar riff is replaced with a hard synth line that isn’t as infectious. In addition, her vocals have a bizarre muffling effect so she doesn’t sound as clear as she did before. However, I still really like the song. The new arrangement isn’t all that bad because the gritty sound of the synths does give it a slightly stronger feel. The chorus is explosive and it’s still immensely catchy. The post-chorus is just as great and she repeats “break it, break it, break it all/shout it, shout it, shout your soul” over a kick-ass beat. The outro was my favourite part and the raging guitars are still included, although muffled, so I’m happy they didn’t change that too much. It’s a shame that they messed with the melody but this is still one of the best tracks.
Halfway through the album and the first ballad, Get Myself Back, finally makes an appearance. Sweet licks of a piano start this incredible R&B ballad but it then soars into a grand melody. The piano becomes livelier and the added percussion compliments its elegance. She sings with soft, lighthearted vocals for the verses which are dominated by the percussion. The arrangement opens up to include a variety of different beats and as it nears the chorus the strings, piano and backing vocals flood in, elevating the serene atmosphere exponentially. This song oozes summery goodness and the chorus is heavenly. The melody is so vibrant and feel-good. The organic instruments are beautiful and the added touch of synths is wonderful. I love the sequence of strings after the chorus because her “ohs” are so catchy. The summer vibe makes this a fresh ballad and a standout in her discography. It’s compelling and performed beautifully. Her voice is warm, welcoming and with the lush instrumental is stunning. Love Story makes for back-to-back ballads and it’s just as great. While the previous one was happy and full of positive energy, this one relies on a more emotional performance. Fragile and vulnerable, her deep voice flows in with a breathless composition of piano, strings and snapping beats. The chimes that flutter in are magical and her tone is gentle and loving. In the chorus, the melody crescendos beautifully as her passionate vocals soar through it. It’s powerful and her emotional vocals make it a gem. It’s a very simple ballad but it’s anything but boring. It’s crafted smartly with a melody that pulls you in immediately and her voice is amazing.
After that little break, the album shoots right back into another banger, Let’s Go. The synths go hard in this rocking track and the drums that join them provide an even stronger punch. Namie takes a confrontational style of delivery and she gets more aggressive as the song progresses, especially in the chorus when the song hits its climax. The verses rely on a gritty sound but as soon as it reaches the pre-chorus the synths shift into dance/trance where she sings the catchiest part, “it’s the idea, the idea, idea of you/it gets me going, going/it gets me going, going.” The chorus continues with the heavy trance and the energy from the vocals and instrumental is incredible. It’s super addicting and she lets out her playful side during the bridge where she chants and shouts. This track borrows from the sound and attitude of her rock tracks but does it in a fun, electronic way. The mysterious and sexy SINGING “YEAH-OH” is next and it’s a delicious dance hit. The synth line is absolute fire and her voice snakes its way around it, making for one of the hottest verses on the record, “somebody stop me ‘cause I think I can’t keep in control (no, no).” It ends up with a very infectious and seductive flair. In addition, her English on this track is good and it’s on par with the original. The switch in melody for the pre-chorus gives it a positive dance vibe and her tone is more enthusiastic than sexual. The chorus is catchy but nowhere as amazing as the verses. It’s very dance-centered but the sensuality of the verses should have been incorporated. However, the bridge is fantastic and it starts with a fun breakdown before it darkens with her low, distorted vocals. This is sleek, sexy and cool, another great track from Namie.
Fight Together oozes vibrancy with its overly cheerful synths. The composition’s feel-good air is contagious and exhilarating. The synths drown in the verses as the percussion takes over and her cute vocals bounce happily to bopping beat. I really like her backing vocals after each stanza in the verse and the sudden change to jazz for the pre-chorus caught me off guard. It definitely makes the song interesting and works as a great lead up to the chorus. The hook is a blast of grand synths and she gets to show off her vocal strength. When she shouts “we fight together,” it gives off such a strong feeling of camaraderie that is quite epic. In the bridge, there are even more surprises because all the electronic instruments die for a small taste of gorgeous live instruments. I totally love the outro where she repeats “life goes on.” It’s such a simple closing but it has such a massive impact and the a capella at the end is a nice touch. Namie performs in English one last time for ONLY YOU, a sentimental mid-tempo and another favourite. Despite the pronunciation issues, this is a sweet track with an uplifting melody. Eventually, the percussion kicks in making it more upbeat and catchier. Her voice is very pleasant, especially during the chorus when her voice rises with emotion and passion. Her “the only thing that can touch me is you” lines are cheesy but they’re addicting and it’s the part of the song that doesn’t leave your head. After the second chorus, her voice shines with the vocal runs she does and the little segment of piano is a sweet surprise. It adds a serene and more sentimental feel as well as making for a great lead back into the chorus. Uncontrolled ends in a beautiful way with the power ballad Tempest. This is the album’s major ballad and it’s easily the best I’ve heard from her. Beginning with a gentle, magical piano and her extraordinary, soft vocals, this is a masterpiece from the start. She’s never sounded so good and her voice is simply stunning. The song transcends to another level in the majestic chorus because the soaring strings crescendos the melody into a heavenly state and her belting is fabulous. The dreamy atmosphere that envelops the chorus is beautiful and really gives it that grandiose sound. I’m so amazed by her voice because it’s so powerful here. I’ve never heard her sing like this and it’s mind-blowing.
Conclusion: Uncontrolled didn’t wow me the first time I listened to it and the changes to some of the songs left me bitter because none of them needed to be tweaked. After getting used to the new English versions, they’re not that bad at all and her English has improved incredibly. It’s actually cool to see her take such a bold move and the songs still have the charm that the Japanese versions had. The ballads are all incredible and I love each and every one of them. Even though there aren’t many new songs, I don’t have any issue with that because all the singles have been great and together they make a strong unit. I wasn’t planning on giving this album a perfect rating but the more I listen to it the more I love it. She never fails to deliver and this is the first Japanese release of the year to blow me away.
Recommended Tracks: NAKED, Tempest, Get Myself Back, GO ROUND (‘N ROUND ‘N ROUND), SINGING “YEAH-OH”, ONLY YOU, Sit! Stay! Wait! Down! and Break It (AL ver.)
Tags: Electro, Electronic, J-pop, Jpop, Koda Kumi, Kumi Koda, Mr. Blistah, Music, Omarion, Review, T-Pain
- Introduction ~JAPONESQUE~
- So Nice feat. Mr. Blistah
- Boom Boom Boys
- V.I.P. feat. T-Pain (Album Version)
- Slow feat. Omarion
- IN THE AIR
- You are not alone (Acoustic Version)
- Interlude ~JAPONESQUE~
- Love Me Back
- No Man’s Land
- Ai wo Tomenaide
- Lay Down
- Love Technique
- Poppin’love cocktail feat. TEEDA
- All for you
It was quite crazy for Koda last year. She announced that she was getting married and then shortly after revealed that she was pregnant. Her tenth album, JAPONESQUE, was pushed up due to her pregnancy which had fans even more excited. I went into the album with little knowledge of what to expect because I didn’t keep up with her releases during this era. I only listened to a handful of tracks and I wasn’t too amazed with what I heard. The album cover certainly caught my eye and it’s the best concept she’s done so far. The sexy and mature look of the oiran style is gorgeous and pure eye candy. I was interested to see if this traditional appearance would be a reflection of the record. When the album started getting praised as one of her best, I couldn’t help but get excited.
Introduction ~JAPONESQUE~ is exactly what you would expect after seeing the album cover. Its ethnic beauty comes through immediately as the shamisen comes to life. Contrasting against the organic, oriental instrumental, are Koda’s seductive vocoded vocals repeating “follow me.” As the song reaches it’s centre, her voice becomes even more distorted and the melody explodes with a slew of new beats including chimes and drums. She’s never had such an oriental-based introduction before and it’s very alluring. It does an amazing job of raising your interest and making you excited for what the album has to offer. The ethnic theme continues in the first true song, So Nice feat. Mr. Blistah, marking the second time she’s worked with Mr. Blistah. Like their previous collaboration, this song is wrapped in a luxurious and sexual Middle Eastern air. This mid-tempo oozes sex with its hot production and her provocative performance. She hasn’t had an Arabic song in a long time so it’s great to hear her return to it because she always slays these types of songs. Koda coos seductively over the percussion while Mr. Blistah provides the background vocals. The song doesn’t ignite until the chorus but once it does, it’s impossible to resist. She switches between a breathy, sex-charged tone and a sharp, high register in the chorus. Thrown into the background is some intense moaning from the singer. With the busier sultry melody, it’s so intimate and steamy. Mr. Blistah’s breakdown is just as captivating. He raps hard but still manages to convey the soft, sexual elements that she performs with. The track is incredibly addicting, one of the album’s best. Boom Boom Boys brings up the heat with a combination of rock and electronic elements. A gritty guitar riff is paired with her sassy vocals and it’s very in-your-face. The blend of genres really aids in the song’s catchiness and makes it stand out. I’m not usually a fan of her rock-oriented songs but the dance-oriented side of the melody does wonders. The chorus bursts into a fiery hook that is dominated with energy, power and attitude. The guitar becomes even more insane and during the middle portion of the chorus, her voice gets a large dose of vocoder that just meshes right into the intense riff. She takes the brash nature of rock and throws it right into the non-stop energy of dance-pop. Her “oh oh ohs” are so damn catchy and she’s so playful throughout the entire track. The breakdown is electrifying due to the barrage of synths and there’s a slight annoyance to her voice but her sassy attitude makes up for it.
V.I.P. feat. T-Pain (Album Version) was one of the songs I checked out before the album’s release and now it’s been updated with the inclusion of T-Pain. I’m always up for a slutty anthem from Koda but this is kind of a mess. The beat is fire though. It’s sexy, fierce and it has a banging display of provocative synths. It’s very quirky and full of that Koda charm. What brings the song down for me is the vocal work. She doesn’t sound bad but there’s so much going on, resulting in a lack of focus. Everything kind of muddles together. There’s vocoded backing vocals, panting backing vocals and unaltered backing vocals. She even jumps between registers and it just comes across as a huge mess. All these elements bring it down and take away from its potential infectiousness. It’s such a shame because I really want to like this track because it has such an interesting composition. I do enjoy the bridge because of her ad-libs and the spastic synth line. After this, it hits an all-time low as T-Pain makes a horrendous appearance with a completely generic rap. The next collaboration, Slow feat. Omarion, is much better. With its slick and smooth R&B/hip hop style, it’s a winner. This mid-tempo is led by a fresh synth and percussion beat, drenched in an edgy hip hop sound. Her voice has a nice layer of vocoder and it suits the nature of the track. She sounds so good with that slight dosage and it blends magically into the electronic melody. The chorus shifts the melody into a slightly more upbeat one and she delivers a strong performance. Her voice is sharp, clear and emotive. There’s a nice laid-back and smooth tone to it that screams R&B. It’s very delicious and makes for a fresh hook. Omarion’s backing vocals blend well with hers and there’s great chemistry between the two of them. Unlike the last collaboration, Omarion’s rap is much more fitting and sounds great. They sound so good together and it’s a very enjoyable tune.
Brave is the album’s first ballad and it’s somewhat typical but it’s quite lovely. The opening piano is soothing and blissful, a great-lead up to her sweet vocals. The song throws out a few surprises as it becomes a lot more complex as it progresses to its chorus as more instruments are incorporated. The chorus is very powerful due to the strings and her passionate delivery. There’s a gorgeous winter and romantic feel to the chorus that really brings a spark to the track. The instrumental break in the bridge is so pretty and her vocals are amazing. She puts so much emotion and strength into them. It’s a nice ballad but it’s just a bit too safe and similar to many of her other ballads. Up next is the first cute track, Everyday, and it comes in the form of a bright R&B tune. Her voice is sweet, innocent and sugary. It definitely has a feel-good flavour to it and its adorableness is hard to resist. This is the lightest tune so far and the playfulness that she evokes is really nice. In the verses, the light synth work is molded with a smooth R&B sound that is very pleasant. The song isn’t anything new for her and she’s done this sound countless times but it’s one of those songs you just can’t hate because of how sweet it sounds. Koda’s voice is so smooth and cute, a perfect match for the colourful arrangement. I really enjoy the chimes that are included because they add a level of innocence to it. The chorus is a burst of sugar as the instrumental livens up and she offers some lovely ad-libs. This is a simple but a lovable tune from start to finish.
In The Air follows the same breezy atmosphere of the previous track but it’s romantic and carries a bit more power. The song opens with a summery, elegant melody consisting of a piano, electric guitar and soft drum beat which makes up the verses. Her voice takes on a deep quality, setting a light-hearted atmosphere. It’s very beautiful but then the song takes an unexpected turn and explodes into an upbeat arrangement which makes the song even more spectacular. The chorus is filled with an uplifting air and Koda’s vocals soar through it, occasionally reaching some lush high notes. The mood in the chorus is so pleasant and such a contrast from the subdued verses. I wasn’t too keen on this song when I first heard it but it’s definitely a grower, thanks to the powerful chorus. A pounding drum and clapping beat is joined by a gentle acoustic guitar in the next track, You Are Not Alone (Acoustic Version). Koda begins ad-libbing before the background vocals chant the chorus with her. There’s much more power to the chorus thanks to the background singers and her heightened vocal delivery. On the other hand, the verses take a mellow approach as she performs with a soft tone. There’s not really much going on in this song and the melody isn’t that ear-catching. The campfire feel that dominates this track isn’t very appealing. Interlude ~JAPONESQUE~ is somewhat of a continuation of the introduction but this is much darker and aggressive. The oriental melody carries a dramatic feel but it eventually morphs to include a barrage of electronic beats just like the introduction. When her voice enters the track, it shifts into a calm, euphoric state and the instrumental slowly builds up into its climax.
Up next is the fast and furious dance anthem, ESCALATE. This up-tempo starts with distorted vocals and is supported by a catchy synth line. The beat is extremely aggressive as it consists of strong percussion and crazy electronic sounds. She opts for an attitude-packed delivery instead of a sexual approach. The song ignites in the chorus because the synths go into overdrive and she sings with a ferocity she hasn’t shown very much on the record. Even though it’s not her catchiest dance song, it’s pretty damn good. Koda jumps into her sexy style for Love Me Back, a spy-esque banger. Donning a sultry tone, she entices her way through a hot and groovy synth beat for the verses. There’s a very cool air about them that really works with the light sexiness she spills into her delivery. Of course, as the track progresses, the melody becomes more exciting and reaches its climax during the chorus where she sings in a delicious high register. I love how provocative this tune is and all the moaning that she does makes it even better. I didn’t like this song very much at first but it’s really grown on me. I still don’t like the English lyrics,“diamonds and sapphires and you, oh my,” but it’s not as intolerable as it was before. The instrumental break in the bridge allows for a better listen of the slick electro beats. This is a playful and wild track that the album desperately needed.
A lonely guitar opens No Man’s Land, the signature rock song of the album, but it’s soon joined by massive drums and even more guitars. This is quite different from her typical rock sound because in the verses she’s mostly rapping and speaking with a vocoder effect and it sounds really good. Her deep voice is perfect for the gritty instrumentation and it’s great to see her experiment even if it is only just slightly. Things pick up in the chorus where the guitars come to life and her flow is impeccable. The hook is easily the most addicting part and I love how her voice gets stronger as it approaches the end. In the bridge, the music dies down but quickly starts to build-up again as a marching drumline comes in which then leads into a fiery combination of drums, guitars and synths while she chants “everybody put your hands like this.” This has a very grand feel to it and it’s one of her most memorable attempts at rock. The experimenting is over as soon as it begins because Ai wo Tomenaide is another typical ballad. With a piano, set of strings and light drum beat, Koda offers a safe ballad that is pleasant to the ears but hardly anything to get excited over. The verses are led by the piano and array of strings with her performing in an elegant manner that becomes more emotionally charged in the chorus which is when the percussion is intertwined with the rest of the instruments. There’s a massive climax in the bridge that is followed by a gentle version of the chorus before it returns to its expressive melody. She sounds strong and passionate, the instrumental is extravagant but it’s just not that impressive and it runs on far too long.
KO-SO-KO-SO is the records saviour and most original track. I’m usually stunned by her club bangers but this is the first album where one of her mid-tempos ends up being my favourite. This is the sexiest song she’s done in a long time and it’s done in such a sultry and classy way. The synths are very European which makes for a much steamier melody. Her voice melts into the futuristic beats and her breathing backing vocals are pure sex. More synths are added during the chorus while she sings energetically, providing a dancier vibe. The song is quite repetitive but it’s marvelous. It has the most addicting and exciting melody on the entire record. Her performance is outstanding and she’s never sounded so hot. It’s raunchy but tasteful and it’s one of her best tracks. Lay Down is another highlight and it’s the big dance number. “U gonna love it,” she declares, initiating an onslaught of dark and intense synths. Vocoder runs rampant but it works so well with the heavy synth beats. She’s very playful during the verses and I love how sassy she sounds. This is the sexy Koda that I have been dying to hear on the record and it’s exactly what I hoped for. While the previous dance tracks all showed different sides of her, this one combines them all. Throughout the track, she’s sexy, flirty and aggressive. Surprisingly, the chorus isn’t as energetic as I expected it to be. Compared to the verses, her delivery is a lot more relaxed as she seductively sings, “take u, break u, make u mine…/and u gonna love it.” However, it fits wonderfully and she keeps the energy high throughout the song.
A computerized synth line is paired with her sugary ad-libs for the start of Love Technique. The melody is so electronic, filled with sporadic synth beats that are extremely infectious. Halfway into the verses, she sings rapidly while the synths begin to malfunction and this leads into the chorus which consists of magical chimes that make for a sweet surprise. The chorus is so catchy and it’s not overly cute. The heavy electronic elements balance the sugary atmosphere perfectly and it makes for a truly playful tune. Poppin’ love cocktail feat. TEEDA comes in and messes up streak that the end of the album had going for it. It’s a fun, summery rock tune that’s full of life and energy but I would have loved it more if TEEDA wasn’t featured on it. His intro is probably the most embarrassing thing I have ever heard and it was a terrible idea for him to start the track, “you looks like horny.” Luckily, all of Koda’s parts are fun, fresh and super contagious. The song never runs out of force and it is constantly bombarding you with guitars. In the verses, a simple guitar riff joins her but it transitions into a crazy riff that is then replaced by drum and clapping beats. It’s interesting and really enhances the summer vibe of the track. However, the chorus is where the song turns into a party of electric guitars and it’s fantastic. TEEDA’s raps are unnecessary and he affects the flow of the track. It would have been so much better without him. The record ends with All for you and it’s quite a surprise because it’s a live acoustic performance. She’s never ended an album like this before so it’s nice to see her strip down and focus solely on her voice. The acoustic instrumental is so minimal which allows her voice to shine. This is a song dedicated to her fans so it’s very sentimental and beautiful. The raw approach she takes makes it heartfelt and shows her love for her fans. It’s a lovely ballad but, sadly, I have an issue with the way it was recorded. The quality of the song is a little weird and it’s not as clear as it should be. Despite this, it’s a sweet song and a beautiful way to conclude the album.
Conclusion: While I went into JAPONESQUE with high hopes, I came out slightly disappointed because it doesn’t bring anything new to her discography. For a loaded album, she doesn’t take any risks at all and plays it safe from start to end. However, that does not mean the album isn’t solid because it’s very enjoyable. Koda covers everything from acoustic to dance to rock to R&B and to bubblegum pop. There’s not a single song that I outright dislike, they all have redeeming qualities. She stays in her comfort zone but she does everything extremely well, much better than what she’s done in her last few albums. It would have been interesting if she worked an oriental sound into more of the tracks which is what I assumed was going to happen after seeing the album cover. It’s a great album and fans will certainly be happy with the material.
Recommended Tracks: KO-SO-KO-SO, Lay Down, So Nice feat. Mr.Blistah, Everyday, Slow feat. Omarion, IN THE AIR, Love Me Back, ESCALATE and Boom Boom Boys
Tags: BIGGA RAIJI, Electro, Electronic, FALCO & SHINO, Goto Maki, J-pop, Jpop, KEN THE 390, KG, Maki Goto, Music, ravex, Review
- What is LOVE
- Get Your Way
- Ai Kotoba
- Queen Bee with BIGGA RAIJI
- TEAR DROPS with KG
- Mine with KEN THE 390
- Fly away
- Plastic Lover
- Golden LUV
- CRAZY IN LOVE feat. MAKI GOTO with FALCO & SHINO
- Fly away (HOUSE NATION Remix)
- Plastic Lover (Club Mix)
After four mini-albums under avex, Maki has finally released her long-awaited debut album. I’ve enjoyed her releases to a certain extent but I was getting somewhat annoyed by the constant release of mini-albums because it left me confused with what kind of artist she wanted to be and what sound she was going for. Her last mini-album wasn’t as strong as her previous ones and even though I didn’t outright dislike it, the constant change in direction was a little hard to grasp. She went from electropop to pop rock then to a summery ballad-infused album and it was quite overwhelming. Then Maki announced, out of the blue, that she was going on hiatus. This was her last chance to win me over and needless to say I was skeptical with how Ai Kotoba (VOICE) would turn out. However, when I listened to it everything made sense and all the different styles came together perfectly. Maki has released her best album and the most memorable album from Japan this year.
What is LOVE starts things off with a bang. I passed on it when it was released digitally and just decided to wait for it to be released physically. I’m glad I did because it’s a fantastic surprise for me. I was sold right at the intro because it wastes no time throwing the catchiest part of the song at you. It begins with the grittiest synth riff used in a Maki song to date, paired with a pounding beat and captivating vocals “what is True LOVE/what is Pure LOVE/what is Real LOVE LOVE LOVE breakin’ down.” She sounds amazing and the dark electronic elements that pervade the track are delicious. The energy is in constant overdrive, even in the verses. The thumping synth and bass beat is joined by her deep, whispering vocals and she sounds so sexy. Her voice oozes sex and continues to do so as she begins to sing in a faster pace as the verse heads towards the chorus. Once the chorus hits, it hits hard. It’s impossible to ignore with its contagious concoction of dark synths and Maki’s exciting delivery. The intro makes a return as the post-chorus and it fits right in perfectly. The breakdown is amazing as well and she offers a wide array of vocalizing that range from hot whispers to vocoded ad-libs. This is the first Maki song I’ve ever truly loved and it’s the best song in her discography. The excitement continues in Get Your Way, a rock and electronic hybrid. Opening the song is a vocoded a cappella performance from the songstress and the rock elements burst in soon after. Her voice is laced with vocoder during the verses and they consist of heavy synth beats. The rock aspect takes over during the chorus and it has a much greater impact than the verses. Her in-your-face vocals are vocoder free and they flood the chorus with an addicting energy. It’s a heavy hitter and will work its way into your head. The post-chorus is divine and hearing her sing “you got to, you got to, you got to get your way” with such delicious vocals makes you fall captive to its fist-pumping beat. The electric guitar bridge is typical but equally amazing as the rest of the song and I love how intense it sounds.
YOU, the first ballad, is highly reminiscent of other avex divas but luckily Maki makes it hers. It’s a very typical Japanese ballad in both structure and sound. Its sweeping instrumental is made up of chimes, strings, guitars and a light piano which creates a nice, elegant melody. Her voice slowly strengthens as it moves on and her voice reaches its highest peak during the chorus which explodes into a stunning rock melody. The rock elements maintain the sadness and beauty of the calm arrangement but intensify them. It’s emotional, powerful and Maki nails her delivery. The electric guitar breakdown is a nice touch to liven it up and it’s actually the most unpredictable element of the song. The only issue with the song is how generic it is. This exact structure and sound and been used countless times but I’m impressed with how Maki handles it and she does a great job of showing off her vocal power. Tsukikage is another ballad but it’s vastly different. While the previous ballad focused on vocal power, this one focuses on vocal vulnerability. It’s gorgeous partly due to the delicious oriental instrumental but mostly due to her beautiful and light vocal performance. I love the traditional element and it goes so well with her deep voice. It’s very soothing and in the verses her voice drifts with a sweet piano. The oriental aspect is centered in the chorus where it’s joined by magical chimes, a piano and some haunting backing vocals. This isn’t a powerful song but its airy atmosphere more than makes up for it. The bridge is awe-inspiring. The oriental piece is paired with vibrant strings and Maki vocalizes blissfully in the background. It takes the song that extra step and cements it as a standout. What an incredible song from start to finish.
“Can you feel my voice?/let me know,” she sings in the most beautiful tone I’ve heard from her at the start of Ai Kotoba. She uses a delicate, breathy high register that is absolutely marvelous and the piano melody is just as gorgeous. The song then takes an unexpected turn when it enters the pre-chorus where it awkwardly shifts into hard rock. There’s just too much of a contrast between the two sections that it doesn’t allow you to settle into the new melody. However, the chorus is much better. The blasting rock melody is infectious and her voice is full of energy. She puts a lot of emotion into her vocals and I love that it’s unpredictable but the piano-driven instrumental is so good and it’s hardly used. I wish it had a larger role but thankfully the rock aspect has grown on me. The bridge is intense because of the bombardment of drums and angry electric guitars. It sounds massively cool and the song ends by fading back into its lovely piano. EYES returns the album to dance but it throws in a delicious retro twist. It blends 80s disco and an early 1900s jazz influence into a modern creation that’s irresistible. The arrangement consists of sparkling synths, horns and catchy percussion beats which come together in a fun and funky way. There’s so much energy, especially in the chorus where the music crescendos and she performs with dazzling vocals. During the bridge, it shifts into a fierce breakdown and it takes you back in time as the retro jazz theme comes out even stronger. The chorus after the bridge is void of any of its old school sounds and it’s a bit slower but just as effective. I’ve really grown to love this track and I can see why so many people adore it. This is one of her best songs and a great inclusion to the album.
I thought Paradise was going to be an elegant mid-tempo or ballad with a euphoric atmosphere. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This is the sexiest song on the entire album and my absolute favourite. The beat is sick. The verses are percussion heavy and dramatic spazzes of synths are thrown in to accompany her super hot vocals. There’s a mysterious and urgent feel to it that is so addicting. In the chorus, a busier arrangement of synths comes along and it’s very catchy, especially the “do or die” parts. It’s faster than the verses, it enhances the sex appeal and it’s playful. The song gets even better with its steamy breakdown where it channels techno through a kaleidoscope of heavy synth beats. This is an amazing dance tune. Maki shows off her playful and sexy side all at once and I love every second of it. SCANDALOUS is another fantastic dip into dance but it has its own distinct flavour. It shares the first track’s heavy electropop style but there’s a slight retro sound contained in the synths. One thing I adore about this song is the abundant use of her high register. There aren’t many songs on the album that focus on this tone so it’s nice to see her use it a lot here because it sounds really good. The chorus is pure dance and the pulsing synth beats, along with the English lyrics, are super catchy. Maki’s rap in the bridge is phenomenal and makes the song even more infectious, “S-C-A-N-D-A-L-O-U-S/SCANDALOUS/you got me feeling like/I wanna be so scandalous.” The scream at the end of the rap is so sexy and fierce. Following this are her sweet vocoded vocals singing parts of the chorus and it’s great. After hearing the vocoded vocals I wouldn’t mind if the chorus featured some of them because it would have made it even catchier. Maki’s killing it with the dance tracks and this is another one of the album’s best moments.
Houseki threw me off completely when I first heard it and it’s produced by Shinichi Osawa which explains why. The instrumental is spectacular due to its complexity. It starts off as a soothing electronic ballad with sweet synths and a few piano licks while in the latter half of the verse some snapping beats, a short string section and beeping synths join in. When the chorus hits it literally does a 180 and blasts in a synthetic dance song. The synth line is aggressive compared to the one in the verses and it’s catchier. Unlike the other electropop numbers, Maki’s delivery doesn’t really match the heavy synth arrangement. She opts for a sweet and girly vocal approach rather than a deep, powerful or sexy one. This is a good thing because it makes for a nice contrast and helps it stand out. It’s a good blend of sounds and makes for an entertaining listen. The album goes into a ballad spree for the next few tracks and starts with “Nee…” It begins with a gorgeous piano, some synths and a few guitar notes that lead to a stripped-down composition for the verse. Before, the verses came off as a dull and generic. They’re still not extraordinary but I like them a lot more because they make for easy listening. Maki’s vocals are great and her deep vocals go well with the elegant piano melody. However, the chorus is much better because of the strings and chimes which add a beautiful layer to the song. They really do make a difference and they bring this ballad to life. Even Maki sounds livelier and she puts more emotion into her vocals. I’ve warmed up to it but it is outdone by the other ballads, especially the new ones.
Next up is hanauta, a heartfelt ballad that Maki wrote for her mother who committed suicide last year. The incident surrounding this ballad led me to believe that it was going to be tragic, depressing and a total tear-jerker. Surprisingly, it’s not. There’s a lingering sadness but there’s a stronger sense of love that makes it quite uplifting. Maki’s vocal performance is sincere and filled with so much emotion. Containing chimes, snapping beats and a somber piano, the verses have a traditional vibe to them and this makes the song so much better. The soaring chorus shifts to a grandiose arrangement with strings and it’s very elegant. The organic arrangement is gorgeous and really shines during the instrumental break. It’s not sad but just knowing what she went through at that time makes this tug at your heart. The final ballad, Believe, takes her back to an oriental sound and it’s stronger than the last two ballads. The verses, like the ones in Tsukikage, don’t use the oriental instruments. Instead, they feature an ambient piano that is stunning and magical. Maki’s sweet vocals are beautiful as well and this may just be my favourite vocal performance from her. The song builds up slowly, becoming more captivating as it moves on, and it transitions into its powerful chorus gracefully. It’s the most impacting hook on the album and her vocals are flawless. The expression, strength and emotion of the chorus make this a highlight. Her background vocals are excellent and the piano interlude is so amazing. The final chorus enhances all the wonderful instruments and it’s such a blissful conclusion. I was left speechless after hearing this and it really is beautiful. Ending the album is Ashiato, and it’s a little surprising because it doesn’t end the album on a sad note. Despite this being the last release from her for now, it closes with a bright song. The pop rock elements are immediately apparent as it begins with a breezy guitar. At first, it appears to be a mid-tempo but then halfway through the percussion is added and it becomes a lot more upbeat. The chorus is very energetic and the added synths blend well with the overall pop rock arrangement. The second verse is a bit different from the first as light drums, synths and chimes are incorporated into the melody. Maki graces the ears with girly, fresh and invigorating vocals. She makes the song fun and it’s such an infectious way to end the album.
[Collabo-Works Disc]: Queen Bee with BIGGA RAIJI is one of Maki’s most daring tracks and marks the time when I started to pay attention to her. The song blends pop with rap and even throws in a bit of reggae to spice it up. The production is fire. The verses are set up with some nice club-friendly synth beats while the chorus gets a dose of seductive percussion beats that make the song a huge hit. Her vocals are fresh and fierce which is perfect for the addictive melody. However, there’s one minor issue and it’s the atrocious rapper that’s featured. I’m pretty torn on BIGGA RAIJI’s inclusion because at times I despise his vocals and find him very annoying but other times I feel like he somehow makes the song what it is. With or without him, Maki does her thing and you’ll have the chorus, “boom boom boom boom/take it baby, honey baby/try me, try me, I’m Queen Bee,” stuck in your head for ages. Lady-Rise is another one of my favourites and it’s performed by a very feminine and seductive Maki. The instrumental is dominated by slick electro beats and a sexy guitar riff. It’s full of hot, fierce goodness that’s intoxicating and completely impossible to ignore. She’s really playful on this track but she gets quite aggressive during the chorus when the arrangement turns into frenzy of dance beats and she enthusiastically shouts “Lady-Rise!” It’s such a fun hook and it has a bit of an exotic flair thanks to her vocals. The bridge is pretty typical but all is forgiven because the screaming in the final chorus is so sexy and such a great addition to an already amazing hook. While not the catchiest of the SWEET BLACK tracks, Candy is a treat of dark electropop. It’s not overtly dark but the slow and steamy rock beats are laced with a dark flair. This accents the sexual nature of the song and the two come together in a very delicious way. Despite being a mid-tempo, it has a great punch to it and the hook oozes sex with its clapping percussion and slick electro beats. She heats things up even more during the bridge as her voice gets a sexy dose of vocoder. The song doesn’t leave a lasting impression but it sure is a nice listen.
The second disc reaches its first ballad and TEAR DROPS with KG is gorgeous. KG is a much better vocalist than BIGGA RAIJI and his deep voice sounds pleasant along side Maki’s sweet tone. He’s not amazing by any means but he does a good job. Maki is the star of the show though and her vocals range from light to high tones that accent the divine production. It’s made up of a duo piano and guitar melody that is simply exquisite, elegant and emotional. I love how the chorus includes synths into the composition because it brightens the song up and it sounds very optimistic. It’s an old track but it’s one of her best ballads. Mine with KEN THE 390 brings the fire back and it brings it back hard. This was one of the standouts when I first heard SWEET BLACK and it’s still just as amazing. The composition is similar to Candy because it has a slick, dark sound to it but it’s upbeat. The percussion and synths have a sexy urban vibe to them and Maki’s voice is great. The verses have her using a deep tone and in the chorus she focuses on an airy, high tone. The chorus has a strong dramatic edge to it because of the pulsing dark synths and her high vocals. It’s very catchy and it’s my favourite hook off the second disc. KEN THE 390 should have been featured on the first track as well because he’s a fantastic rapper. He really adds to the song and makes it even better. His raps are quick, engaging and infectious. This is an awesome song and collaboration.
Fly away blew me away when I first heard it because I never expected an ex-H!P member to release something of this caliber. Everything about the verses is dramatic. The tenebrous clapping beats, the electro underpinning, the exotic backing vocals and Maki’s voice are all intense and in-your-face. The verses are seriously the best thing about this song and it’s saddening that the chorus doesn’t carry their epicness. It shifts suddenly to an optimistic setting in the pre-chorus, losing the intensity and infectiousness of the verses. Although, I do like the contrast that it creates and how it plays with the light and dark sounds. The chorus is pretty catchy with the added emphasis on the synths but I just wish it was a bit more mind-blowing. I’ve grown to like it much more than before and I appreciate how distinct it is. It’s definitely a great way to get into her music because it’s such a unique track. Plastic Lover is made strictly for the club dance floor. There are so many different synth beats utilized here and it’s so cool. It’s the most impressive and interesting composition from SWEET BLACK. The drum and bass beat is off the wall and makes you want to dance, especially the chorus because of its dynamic blitz of synths. Her vocals are vocoded but they sound awesome paired with the heavy dance beats. The bridge is marvelous and shows off its crazy synth riffs which range from a high, hyper synth line to a deep, heavy one that than shifts to a bombardment of malfunctioning synths. Its dance heaven, super flirty and Maki hits some impressive notes during the final chorus. I don’t remember it being so good but now it’s a favourite. with… is the final SWEET BLACK collaboration and it’s another ballad. A guitar comes in immediately, joined by a few notes from a twinkling piano which gives way to drums. It’s very innocent and she uses a sugary tone to emphasize it. In the chorus, chimes are incorporated to increase its sweetness and the backing vocals are really good. This is the least impressive track but it is a nice listen. This sweet and light tune helps digest all the dark, club beats that the rest of the SWEET BLACK project is made up of.
The ravex coloration, Golden LUV, makes an appearance and it’s one of the ravex tracks that I didn’t pay much attention to. Now that I have, I’m surprised that I didn’t care for it before. This doesn’t sound so far off from her own sound because it has a retro jazz and disco melody. The arrangement in the verses is simple with synths and a piano but the song takes a turn for the better when she sings in a fast-paced manner for the pre-chorus. This leads to the fabulous chorus where the retro elements come out hard. The synths are amazing and it’s a really catchy tune. Maki always seems to nail the club inspired tracks and this one continues that trend. CRAZY IN LOVE feat. MAKI GOTO with FALCO & SHINO is the most girliest track on the entire album. It’s bizarre because it has an urban and hip hop sound but instead of being heavy and aggressive, it’s super flirty and vibrant. This makes it interesting and it’s cool that it’s not so predictable. The rappers do a standard job. You could replace them with any other rapper and it wouldn’t make a difference. Maki does a great job of sustaining the excitement and regardless of the repetitive chorus, she sounds really cute so it’s hard not to find enjoyment in it. The second disc ends with two long remixes, the first being Fly away (HOUSE NATION Remix). The intro led me to believe this was going to be a typical remix but then it mellows out with vibrant synths. It’s the complete opposite of the original and even though the dark sound of the verses is removed, it still sounds wicked. The chorus is spiced up by the synths from the intro and I love its light feel. It’s such a great twist to the original and it works as a soft track just as well as it did as a hard one. Plastic Lover (Club Mix) is more of an extended version than a remix and like it implies, focuses more on the club aspect of the song. There’s not a big difference but if you liked the original than you’ll surely enjoy this just as much.
Conclusion: Maki’s debut album is all kinds of amazing. I’m stunned by how much I love it. She came through and delivered one of the greatest releases of the year. Ai Kotoba (VOICE) is her strongest release and it’s so cohesive. The album flows extremely well despite having some old songs featured on it. All the different styles of her mini-albums which I complained about actually come together as a whole and she really made me eat my words. What makes this even better is that it contains the entire SWEET BLACK album plus a few other collaborations. There’s something here for everyone and I’d be surprised if someone didn’t find something to like about it. It’s a shame that she’s going on hiatus now that she’s won me over. I hope it goes well for her and that she returns in a few years because I’m looking forward to hearing from her again. It has been a long and painful journey for Maki during these last few years but she’s become such a fantastic artist.
Recommended Tracks: Paradise, What is LOVE, SCANDOLOUS, EYES, Believe, Tsukikage, YOU, Mine with KEN THE 390, Fly away, Queen Bee with BIGGA RAIJI, Plastic Lover, Lady-Rise and TEAR DROPS with KG
Tags: Electro, Electronic, J-pop, Jpop, MAA, Music, Review
- FREE Virus ZONE
- Monkeybone City
- GOLD LION
- No Bra sleep walk
- Babysitter Wana
- Hangover Payback
- New Moon
- Ballerina Brain System
- Tomorrow @ Your Kingdom (THE LOWBROWS remix)
- come again
- Ballerina Brain System -michitomo Remix-
I became acquainted with MAA earlier this year when she was sparking up a huge interest on blogs and forums. Her mini-album was a fantastic addition to the Japanese electro scene and she won me over with her quirkiness. BubbleMan Engine continues where her mini left off, keeping the same style but giving it a light makeover. The album is a mix of playful tunes with truly bizarre and hilarious lyrics that anyone can enjoy as well as mature and insightful songs that balance the fun out. There’s something about MAA that makes her stand out from other artists and it really works to her advantage. She’s literally the craziest artist I’ve ever seen. She has that weird cute factor that other Japanese electro/techno artists have but her image is more mature and sexier.
FREE Virus ZONE starts the wacky journey into MAA’s eccentric mind but it’s actually quite normal in comparison to some of the other songs. It is introduced by the chorus with its sparkling array of synths that later becomes modified into a more upbeat version complete with a driving percussion beat and more synth work. The role of the instruments are reversed in the verses, the percussion takes the centre stage while throbbing synths back it up. The pre-chorus kicks the beats up a notch and MAA receives a stronger dose of vocoder on her voice. The following choruses are much better due the inclusion of the full instrumentation. It’s upbeat, catchy and not too weird that it’ll alienate new listeners. It’s a good step into MAA’s music and a strong opener. Monkeybone City opens up with a guitar and the percussion comes in when she begins singing. The verses are pretty straightforward and the melody has a catchy groove to it but the song really pops in the chorus. Synths accompany the guitar and it’s infectious, especially the “make me believe” parts. Her delivery is quite forceful and the section after the first chorus features some distorted vocals before moving to the next verse. Things get kooky for the bridge where MAA’s vocals are distorted and she sings in an interesting manner. The screams and distorted backing vocals at the end are pretty awesome as well.
Next up is GOLD LION and it’s not what I was expecting at all. This is the emotional piece on the record and it’s nice to see her tone it down like this. Technically, it’s not really toned down but for MAA it definitely is. Her voice seeps in unaffected by enhancements and the “I lost my soul” lines are emotionally charged. She sounds beautiful during these moments. I really enjoy how the melody starts off minimal, moves into a sweeping pre-chorus with a drum beat and finally transitions to the most uplifting hook the album has to offer. The hyperactive synths blend with the other beats and it comes out as a feel-good melody. It’s a great contrast of sounds and the constant build-up gives it that something special. Things finally start to get weird with F.B despite following the previous songs’ light sound. The verses are filled with fluorescent synths, a slick guitar and a static drum beat. She makes reference to Gwen Stefani, The Beatles and Ringo Star and the pre-chorus crescendos as MAA employs a deliciously sweet tone laced with a light vocoder effect. When I said the track was weird I meant the lyrics for the chorus and they’re insane, “my little favorite bitches/my little miss favorite boobie bitches.” It’s hilarious, the melody increases ever so slightly into a more addictive upbeat sound and her airy, raspy tone goes so well with it. The song ends with glitchy synths and MAA gagging which makes me love this tune even more.
I knew King&Queen&Kiz was going to be awesome due to its wicked intro. The percussion is extremely eccentric, her childish vocals get aggressive as the music crescendos with video game synths and the lyrics are, once again, wacky, “got a gay ass bitch psycho.” This melody dissipates while a pounding drum and synth beat take over. The pre-chorus sees a robotic MAA accompanied with nice backing vocals and wonky synths while the chorus features a stronger synth melody and energetic singing. The song just keeps getting stranger as it comes to a breakdown after the chorus with whiny beats and vocals. It keeps your attention locked on to it and it eventually comes to its greatest moment, the bridge, where she spews out the most random lyrics, “Aurora, donky, whiskey/FRankie, yo mama, COCONA/Abracadabra, Pixy,Pony-ta, Banvi-no, LEGO/UNO, BATTLE SHIP, Monopoly.” She continues to amaze me and her crazy antics never get boring. This is one of the best songs on the record but it’s upstaged by the next track, Mayday. Her distorted voice enters along with a buzzing electro beat and in the background she shouts “mayday” with the sounds of a plane crashing. It’s amusing, fun and a great way to start the track. Moreover, the instrumentation is marvelous. The synths are captivating, deliciously addicting and the pre-chorus takes it further as it introduces a Middle Eastern influence and MAA employs a fantastic high tone that blends into the sexy melody. The exotic touch remains in the intense dance chorus and the English lyrics are so catchy. It’s so energetic and it’s seriously the best song she’s done.
No Bra sleep walk isn’t as good as the others but it has a vibrant retro synth arrangement that helps liven it up. The verses are your standard electropop but it’s pleasing to the ear and the melody remains the same throughout the song. The chorus is more engaging and I love the post-chorus where she stutters “but I try, try, try, try/and I cry, cry, cry, cry.” All in all, it’s a decent song. Luckily, Babysitter Wana makes up for the previous song’s faults with its funny, dancey goodness. With a distorted intro, a thumping dance beat, techno-infused verses and an infectious chorus with cute vocals, this song is a hit. Only MAA could make a song with lyrics like “I need a new babysitter every night” a fun track to groove and sing along to. The cute nature of this track is too hard to resist and while it may not be the most creative thing she’s done, it’s really nice. Hangover Payback makes a much-needed appearance with its fantastic arrangement. It starts off with some ambient synths, then percussion is added and finally the rest of the synths come in to make it more upbeat. I love the dance yet relaxed feel of the chorus and the English lyrics, “in my dream” and “come back home…come back,” are great. Her voice is emotional during these parts and it adds a sentimental layer to the track. The synths in the bridge are awesome and the euphoric backing vocals are lovely.
New Moon throws in dark elements that have been missing from this album but it still manages to make it lighter than the stuff off her mini. The dramatic flair in the verses from the creeping synths and stuttering percussion gives it a dark edge that sadly vanishes in the chorus. It’s upbeat but it’s not overly powerful and there’s a soft feel to it. I would have liked the darker sounds to play a larger role because the song would have benefitted greatly from it. At least the bridge consists of spooky vocoded vocals that also appear in the pre-chorus and I really enjoy them. Ballerina Brain System is going to go down as a MAA classic and it’s the song that started it all. This iconic tune is incredibly fun and will easily have you wanting to move along to the beat. The percussion and the synths in the verses are delicious and MAA’s vocals are vocoded for the entire track. The song becomes a lot more upbeat during the chorus and MAA sings with more energy. The chorus’ atmosphere is really bright and just gives off a great feeling that will have you smiling. The English lyrics throughout the song are very playful and addicting, “big fat boo,” and “so honey bunny/dance to u, dance to u dance…/so honey bunny/sexy ballerina.” Overall, this is a perfect track.
OKay is the first song that introduced her lighter sound to fans. I never listened to it despite it being released a few months ago but it is a huge change of pace from her previous album. It’s her most lighthearted tune and her soft vocals are joined by a guitar and drum beat in the verses. She increases her singing for the pre-chorus where atmospheric synths pour in before moving into the uplifting hook. “I’m gonna be OKay /until I see U again,” she happily coos with a delightful and energetic voice. The robotic backing vocals fit in really well and the bridge darkens the mood with a heavy bassline. Tomorrow @ Your Kingdom (THE LOWBROWS remix) is a bland remix. All the great things about the original, its bright and feel-good arrangement, are done away with and replaced by a gritty dubstep beat that feels out-of-place. Her vocals don’t flow with it at all and it ends up being an awkward mess. I like that they tried to do something different but it didn’t turn out so good. The rapid percussion is the bridge helps a little as does the quicker tempo in the final chorus but not by much. come again closes the physical release and it’s from the compilation album m-flo TRIBUTE ~stitch the future and past~. MAA’s voice is heavily vocoded to suit the spazzy electro beat and it’s really catchy. The chorus is fast-paced and MAA’s singing style is toned down compared to her usual stuff and she still sounds awesome. VERBAL delivers a rap after every chorus and the first is okay but I like the second better. He raps quickly and it sounds cool with the wobbling synths. It’s a typical m-flo song but for MAA it’s a great inclusion in her music library. The iTunes bonus, Ballerina Brain System -michitomo Remix- is a drug-induced concoction of synths and the lyrics are all in English. It’s much better than the other remix but it’s still not as good as the original. The verses are a bombardment of repeated words while the chorus is sung properly. It’s fun but that’s about it.
Conclusion: BubbleMan Engine may not be as great as Monkey Kingdom but it’s still the best full-length album to be released all year in Japan. I would have liked to see darker productions like Ghost Enemy and Virgin Killer Santa but at the same time I like that the album is very cohesive due to the focus on light arrangements. The first half is flawless but in the second it stumbles because a few of the songs sound too similar and it leads to underwhelming productions. Other than these few songs, this is a strong, focused record that’s incredibly fun, hilarious and insane. MAA keeps everything fresh with her bat-shit crazy style and she’s the most interesting artists to debut in Japan in a very long time.
Recommended Tracks: Mayday, King&Queen&Kiz, Ballerina Brain System, GOLD LION, FREE Virus ZONE and F.B