Ayumi Hamasaki – Party Queen

August 5, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki | 3 Comments
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  1. Party queen
  2. NaNaNa
  3. Shake It♥
  4. taskebab
  5. call
  6. Letter
  7. reminds me
  8. Return Road
  9. Tell me why
  10. a cup of tea
  11. the next LOVE
  12. Eyes, Smoke, Magic
  13. Serenade in A minor
  14. 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

Rating

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Best Of 2011: Japanese Music

January 14, 2012 at 12:04 am | Posted in ~Special | 3 Comments
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Last year was quite a slow year for Japanese releases. There weren’t many releases that I was anticipating and there were a lot of gaps between releases that I did enjoy. However, I was able to discover some interesting new artists and even become fans of artists I never thought I would like. The divas of J-pop all released great material last year but I was far more impressed by lesser known artists. There were many hidden gems released and I’m happy that I was able to experience a few of them. Japan had its fair share of drama ranging from Koda Kumi’s marriage and pregnancy, Maki Goto’s hiatus and ayaka’s announcement of return. It felt like an unproductive year for J-pop but it slowly started to pick up in the end and some truly great records were put out before the year was concluded.

Best Discoveries

LIL

I don’t even remember how I came across LIL but I’m pretty certain it was the album cover that caught my attention. It was so bizarre that I had to listen to how the music sounded. LIPS IN LUSH is a hardcore electropop album and I wasn’t expecting it to sound that way at all. It’s the hardest electropop album I’ve heard from Japan and it’s not easy to take it all in. I wasn’t sold on the group at first but after becoming familiar with the songs I started to see how great they were. “Moshi Moshi” Radio is all the great things about electropop rolled into one while me, too shows just how heavy their music is. There’s great variety between the tracks, some contain a very dark ambience while others are poppy, bright tunes. Earlier in the year, they released their second album, Synchronize. It still had some heavy tracks but there wasn’t as much of a focus on them anymore. Carnival, BLACK WALL feat. MIYAVI and Girl in the mirror are must-hear tracks and she hits some awesome notes in the latter. They’re not well-known but they’re great electropop artists and fans of the genre should check them out.

Miu Sakamoto

Miu Sakamoto is an artist I came across two years ago and I was impressed by PHANTOM girl. Her operatic vocals are so amazing and unique, a very unusual voice for an electropop singer. I wasn’t enamoured with her until last year. News of her album came out and when I went back to listen to her, I liked her much more. This isn’t the usual electropop most are used to. It’s otherworldly and her melodies are full of imagination. Her voice is part of the instrumentation, bringing a listening experience that is truly unique to her. Thanks to a few friendly bloggers, I was able to find her old material. It’s different than her material with Dave Liang but the experience is the same. Her music is always fresh, taking you into a beautiful world that’s atmospheric, almost euphoric. It’s a shame an artist like her isn’t well known because she has so much to offer.

Shiina Ringo/Tokyo Jihen

Shiina Ringo is an artist that I never thought I would fall for. I disliked her voice and I couldn’t get into any of her songs. However, 4lvy sent me the video for Noudouteki Sanpunkan and I loved it. I was so surprised because I could never find a song from her that I liked and then this one came along, shifting my whole view of her. I immediately went through her entire discography as well as her Tokyo Jihen discography and I enjoyed everything. The songs I heard before sounded much better. There’s so much more to her voice than I had previously thought. Her raspy voice is actually incredible, a perfect voice for rock music. The more I read and see of her, the more I love her. Her live performances are incredible and she has pretty wicked music videos. Tokyo Jihen released a new album, Discovery, last year and I liked it but I still need to give it more time. It hasn’t really sunk in yet. I’m more excited for her solo material though. She released a new single, Carnation, and I liked it much more so hopefully her next releases are just as good. Her voice definitely takes time to appreciate as it’s very unusual but once you do, it’s hard to ignore.

Best Cover

Namie Amuro – Checkmate!

There weren’t any covers that really caught my attention and wowed me but Namie’s cover is the most memorable. It’s not the most creative and the chess theme is very predictable. However, it all comes together visually. The colours work so well with each other. The emphasis on black makes her stand out and she looks beautiful. She’s one of the Queens of J-pop and taking on the role of the queen piece in chess is a nice nod to that title. She looks like a total diva and the purple looks so good on her. This cover is all about her and there’s nothing wrong with that because she’s flawless.

Runner-up: MAA – BubbleMan Engine

Best Single

Maki Goto – What is LOVE / SCANDALOUS

I had such a hard time deciding for this category because I haven’t been listening to too many singles lately but this is the one that stood out to me the most. She released this single as a lead-up to her debut album and both tracks were hot dance tunes. Many people, myself included, hoped she would release music similar to her SWEET BLACK material and these songs brought that hope to reality. What is LOVE is dance perfection. The introduction is fire, catchy beyond belief and leads into a raving synth and bass beat. The dark elements take it above and beyond and her voice is packed with an infectious liveliness. Her vocoded moans in the breakdown are so sexy and its trance-like influence is amazing. It was the first song that I adored from her and it really pushed me into liking her a lot more. SCANDALOUS has a different dance flavour to it but it’s equally brilliant. Her high register, sadly underused by her, dominates it with the electric synths. The 80s flair takes it even further and the chorus provides a taste of synth heaven. It’s easy to lose yourself in the beat and her screaming after the breakdown is very sexy. Not only are these tracks amazing singles, they’re some of the best tracks her album has to offer. It was a smart move on her part to release them because it definitely had more people anticipating the album. Credit for the cover goes to KKalil.

Runner-up: Namie Amuro – NAKED/Fight Together/Tempest

Best Video

Miu Sakamoto – Precious

Miu Sakamoto single-handedly showed every other J-pop singer how a music video should look. While it’s simple, there’s a beauty that resonates and captivates until the end. It’s not easy to make a simple video interesting but when it’s done, it needs to be praised. What starts off emulating a promotional ad for a drink quickly turns into a sparkling wonderland. Everything in this video literally sparkles and the scenery is gorgeous. It’s so vibrant and dominated by blues that are so cheerful. Blue is my favourite colour and this video reminds me why. There are a few shots that focus on her baby blue ring and I don’t know why but I love them. It’s such a simple shot but there’s magic in them. The endless blue sky carries an unimaginable beauty and the beach scenes with the water behind her are the most beautiful moments in a music video I’ve seen. It’s so natural and it compliments the song well. This was the first time I got a good look at Miu and she’s stunning. I wish more artists would release videos like this because it’s effective and you don’t get more beautiful than this.

Runner-up: Namie Amuro – Naked

Best Mini-Album

Ayumi Hamasaki – FIVE

FIVE wins by default because it was the only mini-album that I heard. I didn’t love this release but it’s a great little unit of songs. All the collaborations turned out well, my favourite being Why… feat. JUNO. progress is the gem and it’s the type of song that I love from her. I always look forward to her rock influenced tracks and it was chock-full of energy. Its action oriented, I wouldn’t expect any less from a Tales theme song, and it builds up quite nicely into the climax. The song that surprised me the most is beloved because it’s such a simple and elegant ballad. From what I heard about it, I didn’t think I would like it but it turned out to be one of the best songs. She may not be part of my favourite singers but I do enjoy her music and she’s proven again why she’s one of the best pop stars in Japan.

Runner-up: None

Best Album

Maki Goto – Ai Kotoba (VOICE)

Of all the albums that came out, I never thought that Maki would come out on top but Ai Kotoba (VOICE) blew me away. In the beginning of the year, I thought Maki would only have me as a casual fan but her debut turned out to be remarkable. Not only is this an amazing debut, it’s also a compilation as it contains most of her collaborations, making the whole package a complete success. The amount of amazing songs is unbelievable and it’s impossible not to find something to love. What is LOVE, SCANDALOUS, EYES, and Paradise are the dance songs I’ve been craving. The heat that they carry is phenomenal and they all have a delicious retro flavour. Believe and Tsukikage show a different side to her that I’ve never seen. I love the traditional aspects of the production and her voice is astonishing on these ballads. The second disc of collaborations contains songs that are just as hot. Her SWEET BLACK material is a nice bonus and it’s her best work ever. This release is very lengthy but there isn’t any song I dislike. I have to give it to her for releasing this unexpected gem.

Runner-up: Namie Amuro – Checkmate!

Best Artist

Maki Goto

Who would’ve thought that this former Morning Musume member would come out on top in 2011? During her time at avex, she released four mini-albums, each one demonstrating a different sound and style. While some loved what each mini had to offer, others were uncertain with her direction as an artist. Despite this, her debut album took all the great things about the minis and focused them into a single unit with brand new songs that complimented them. This resulted in a surprisingly cohesive record. Her vision finally came to fruition and it’s a really great pop album. Moving from her Morning Musume days, where I didn’t care for her music at all, and watching her mature into an artist was a journey worth being part of. Her music, as she has matured over the years, has continuously become stronger and more impressive. She’s gone through so much to get to where she is now. Her brother was arrested back in 2007 and her mother died soon after she signed to avex. She’s had to grow up and learn to cope while being a celebrity in the spotlight. She’s shown a resilience that is inspirational and has constantly put her all into her music. It’s understandable that she’s going on hiatus but it’s sad to see an artist who was showing promise have to put it on hold. Thankfully, she released an incredible album and said her goodbyes during her G-Emotion FINAL ~for you~ concert. It’s kind of bittersweet that I’ve become a fan now that she’s leaving the music scene behind for a while. However, I‘m looking forward for her to return and hopefully her next release is as amazing as Ai Kotoba (VOICE).

Japan had a slow start at the beginning of the year but the releases started picking up and by the end of the year I was satisfied with what I heard. In a way, the slow start was beneficial because it forced me to find new music, leading me to discover some amazing artists. There were other releases that I liked but didn’t get a chance to mention. Genki Rockets’ GENKI ROCKETS II -No border between us- , Angela Aki’s WHITE, MAA’s BubbleMan Engine, Rie fu’s I Can Do Better, alan’s JAPAN PREMIUM BEST & MORE, BENI’s Fortune, MISIA’s SOUL QUEST and MISIA no Mori -Forest Covers– and moumoon’s 15 Doors are all amazing albums and worthy of your time. 2012 is already looking interesting with Koda Kumi releasing JAPONESQUE at the end of the month. Ayumi’s going to release an album this year as well and ayaka’s coming back from hiatus, maybe she’ll win me over this year. After a bunch of singles, MiChi has stated that her sophomore album will be out sometime soon. moumoon is coming back already with a new album due out in February so 2012 is already looking like it will be busier than last year.

Best Of 2011: Readers’ Choice

January 14, 2012 at 12:01 am | Posted in ~Special | Leave a comment
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Firstly, I’d like to thank everyone who participated. I suddenly felt like trying something different and thought it would be interesting to see what everyone else loved about 2011. I’m honestly not surprised by any of the results and all of the winners will show up, in some way, in my own lists. I’m not going to comment on any of the results here because, like I said, I’m going to talk about them anyways.

Best Single

Brown Eyed Girls – Sixth Sense

Runner-up: 2NE1 – I Am The Best

Best Video

Brown Eyed Girls – Sixth Sense

Runner-up: Katy Perry – E.T. (feat. Kanye West)

Best English Album

Adele – 21

Runner-up: Britney Spears – Femme Fatale

Best Japanese Album

Ayumi Hamasaki – FIVE

Runner-up: Maki Goto – Ai Kotoba (VOICE)

Best Korean Album

Brown Eyed Girls – SIXTH SENSE

Runner-up: Wonder Girls – Wonder World

Congratulations to all the winners and I hope everyone is happy with the results!

Best Of 2011: Reader’s Choice Polls

December 30, 2011 at 11:54 am | Posted in ~Special | Leave a comment
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I wanted to try something different with my “Best Of 2011” posts so I decided to make some polls to get you all involved! This is completely separate from my own “Best Of 2011” posts which will be up next week. The polls last for one week and they’re multiple choice so you can vote for three options. I tried to make them as inclusive as possible and tried to add albums other than the ones I’ve enjoyed. I hope you all participate!

Ayumi Hamasaki – FIVE

September 6, 2011 at 10:14 pm | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki | 2 Comments
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  1. progress
  2. ANother song feat. URATA NAOYA
  3. Why… feat. JUNO
  4. beloved
  5. BRILLANTE
  6. beloved (Orchestra version)

A while back it was revealed that Ayumi landed a tie-in for Namco’s Tales of Xillia. Since Ayumi released an album last December, I expected the new song to be released as a single but she surprised everyone by announcing that she would be releasing her second mini-album, FIVE. I honestly didn’t care much for it until I saw how hot the covers were and I know you’re not suppose to judge a book by it’s cover but I was hoping it would be a reflection of the music.

I’m a fan of the Tales series so the tie-in, progress, helped get my interest up and it’s a typical Ayumi song but it’s very good. In the beginning, it has a dramatic orchestrated vibe going on but that turns out to be a little intro and the song then moves into a stunning piano piece with strings and occasional chimes. Her voice is elegant and emotive. I love when she sings in this tone and the she sounds stronger in the soaring chorus. The strings are more prominent and it takes on the perfect sound for an RPG. It wouldn’t be an epic Ayumi song without a tempo change and after the chorus an electric guitar blasts its way in. The second verse contains percussion while the second chorus features the electric guitar as well as faster strings. It comes together nicely and the rock version of the chorus sounds just as amazing as the ballad version. I wasn’t expecting the bridge to go all out on the rock sound but it’s so wicked. It’s one of the best breakdowns in an Ayumi song. It was clever of Ayumi to start the final chorus slow because the build-up into the rock instruments makes for a great conclusion. ANother song feat. URATA NAOYA marks the second time Ayumi has worked with NAOYA. The strings at the start led me to believe it was going to be a ballad but then the R&B back beat shows up and the song takes on a mid-tempo sound. Their voices go well together and I wasn’t expecting NAOYA to have such a light voice. It’s underwhelming compared to the opening track and the lack of melody change in the chorus doesn’t do it any favours. The song does get better near the end when the melody is altered and becomes brighter. On a positive note, the piano melody is really nice and it’s kind of addicting. It’s not a bad song but it’s lacking something that makes it stand out.

On the other hand, Why… feat. JUNO has that wow factor which is partly due to the extravagant orchestral melody. The gorgeous piano intro does a great job of leading up to the massive chorus melody which then fades into a delicious mixture of a guitar and piano for the verse. I love the addition of chimes because they add a magical feel and for once I’m not annoyed by the use of water drop effects. The chorus is split between the two of them and when they sing together, their voices harmonize perfectly. In the chorus, the melody takes on a rock and orchestral sound while they sing with stronger vocals. The bridge is simply amazing because of their back and forth singing which I adore. beloved is a simple ballad with some powerful moments. The warm, emotional vocals from Ayumi are charming and the composition’s build-up is marvelous. What begins as a piano-driven affair later becomes joined by a gorgeous sequence of strings that gets more elegant as it progresses. The soaring chorus is where she puts more strength into her voice and she sounds so good, especially when she holds the last note. Her vocalizing in the bridge is delightful and the slow chorus is so pretty. At the end, the use of background vocals and percussion beats elevates the song while Ayumi finishes it off with light vocalizing.

BRILLANTE seems to be the track that everyone is crazy about. It is made up of ethereal sounds that are joined by Latin male chanting which is quite a surprise because I’ve never heard a song of hers that incorporated this type of chanting. The Latin vocals get louder while strings and chimes are added to the melody. It settles down for the verse which features guitar chords, percussion and strings. It establishes a calm mood and it has a nice mysterious vibe to it. The woodwinds in the pre-chorus are fantastic and I like the sudden tempo change in the chorus. The chanting comes back and the chorus has an assertive and dramatic feel. It’s a good song and it’s interesting but I don’t see what all the fuss is about. It’s still similar to her other material except with some Latin vocals. Why… feat. NAOYA URATA is a hidden track and it has a different arrangement from the previous version. The most noticeable difference is that Ayumi collaborates with NAOYO again and it goes into an electronic direction. Its orchestral sound is replaced by sugary synths which don’t have the same impact. The computerized vocals are kind of bad and they sound cheap. Ayumi and NAOYA sound better together on this track but it doesn’t have the same feeling as the original. This new mix makes it stand out less and it’s somewhat plain. The final track, beloved (Orchestra version) isn’t what I hoped it would be. The orchestral arrangement actually tones it down rather than elevating it. It’s disappointing because I would have loved for it to have more power.

Conclusion: For an album that I wasn’t eagerly awaiting, FIVE is a solid mini-album. It’s not her best material but it’s a strong set of songs. Ayumi has never been one to include collaborations on her albums, if I’m not mistaken the last time she collaborated with someone was on I Am, but they turned out well. Furthermore, I would’ve liked to see Ayumi dabble into a new sound since this was a mini-album but I can’t complain because she does what she’s best at on this release.

Recommended Tracks: progress, beloved and Why… feat. JUNO

Rating

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