Friday, September 28, 2012

J-pop album review ZARD Golden Best ~15TH Anniversary~

ZARD is one of the highest selling acts in j-pop history with music station ranking them at #8. ZARD started out as a band but slowly because Izumi Sakai's solo project. ZARD songs are usually acoustic, easy listening pop tracks. All lyrics are written by Sakai herself and according to me, are a high poit of ZARD's work because her lyrics are really good.

This album has 2 CDs. Usually, I review albums as a whole, but I haven't had time to listen to the second CD so I am just reviewing the 1st CD for now.


1. Goodbye my Lonliness- This was ZARD's debut single. The use of piano is prominent, but there are guitars as well. The song has a melancholic and 'rainy' atmosphere, which reminds one of lonliness. ZARD's vocals are crystal clear and sharp, but they sound too happy for such a sad song. There is a saxophone part towards the end which is really good. The instrumental part of this song (into, outro, saxophone part) are all really good.


2. Nemurenai Yoru wo Daite (Embrace the sleepless nights)- This follows a somewhat generic pattern of 80s pop, but doesn't sound as oldish. ZARD hits some pretty high notes in this song. It is basically an acoustic pop song. It does tend to get boring at times.


3. In my arms tonight- The instumental intro is very melodic and somewhat jazzy, like a slow dance song. ZARD's voice is full of nostalgia and yearning in this song, which suits the song perfectly. I think this is my most favorite track on this album. There is just something about this song- the extremely melodic chorus, the nostalgic verse, but it all comes together brilliantly in the end to produce a very emotional track. The lyrics are very fitting.

Rating- 5/5

4. Makenaide (Don't give up)- This is ZARD's highest selling single. It sold more than a million. It is an upbeat and bouncy track with optimistic vocals. The lyrics are wonderful, and the melody perfectly matches the spirit of the song.


5. Kimi ga Inai (You're not here)- This track starts off badly. I didn't think the chorus was all that good, but the verse is nice, even though the transition between the verses and chorus is jerky. This is an alright track, nothing spectacular. Before trying this album, I was hesitant to try something from ZARD because I thought that most of their songs are just generic acoustic pop songs with mediocre melodies. This one supports that kind of thinking perfectly.


6. Yureru Omoi (Trembling feelings) - The chorus is high and catchy. The verse is more easy listening, but what this song showcases is Sakai's vocal ability. This was another million seller for ZARD. I don't like the lyrics so much, because it's full of meaningless description, but the song is good.


7. Mou Sukoshi Ato Sukoshi (Just a bit more, just a bit longer)- The lyrics are heartbreaking about a love that has ended, but Sakai wants to hold onto it desperately. The melody is quite melancholic and mysterious. It has a good flow and captures the feeling very well. The arrangement is also minimilastic and supports the song well.


8. Kitto Wasurenai (Surely, I will not forget)- This is a happy pop track with guitars, drums and all.


9. Kono Ai ni Oyogitsukaretemo (Even if I get tired of swimming in this love)- This song sounds mysterious. It is different from the kind of tracks ZARD usually does. It starts off with almost no instruments in the background and increases the speed and adds more instrument as every verse passes by. The lyrics are about love when it gets hard. As always, the lyrics are realistic and optimistic at the same time.


10. Oh my love- This is a spring pop tune. It sounds a bit like In my arms tonight. I like it when ZARD uses english words in her song. It gives them a somewhat jazzy, modern feel. This song is a great easy listening track.


11. Konna ni soba ni iru no ni (Even though I am this close to you)- Some ZARD songs have really long titles. This sounds more like a disco song from the 70s, even though the beat has been toned down a bit. ZARD shows her versatility by singing a different tupe of song. It has a dark tone.

Rating- 4.2/5

12. Anata wo Kanjiteitai (I want to feel you)- This is a cheerful pop song with chimes and stuff. ZARD's vocals sound powerful on this one, but the melody is not very remarkable.


13. Ai ga mienai (I can't see the love)- This song starts off  like a dance song with a strong beat. The melody sounds minor and moody. I really like the lyrics, which speak about how everyone is caught up in the rush of life and becomes lonely and about how love slowly fades and bcomes discord. I think the lyrics are different from ZARD's usual positive lyrics, as if she is reflecting on life. As always, the melody is a perfect fit for the lyrics.


14. Sayonara wa ima mo kono mune ni imasu (Goodbyes remain in my heart now)- This finishes the first CD perfectly. It is a breezy, easy listening track with a somewhat summery feel.


ZARD had their own brand of pop, which while not catchy, is easy listening with great repeat value. Sakai's vocals and lyrics are the the best and bring out the full potential of every song. Definitely try out this wonderful artist.

Best j-pop dance songs

Like all other industries, danceable songs are really popular in the j-pop industry as well. There are a lot of groups that do dance tracks and some of these songs (as well as their choreography) is brilliant. Here is a list of dance songs that I think are the best. Obviously, I have not heard every dance song, so feel free to comment with your favorites.

The songs are in no particular order of preference and are not rated.

1. Give me a shake by MAX- MAX is a group from Okinawa. The girls used to be part of Super Monkeys with Namie Amuro but are now a separate group. MAX has high-impact, powerful choreography and are nothing like the cardboard-cutout cutesy idols. Most of their songs are really well written. Give me a shake is one of their most popular songs and features really powerful vocals for a dance song. Its rhythm is easy to follow.

2. Feel so Right by MAX- This is another song by MAX. It also features great dance moves and has a strong beat. It features low parts which showcases MAX's vocals. It is a song that will get you addicted on first listen. It was the ending theme of captain tsubasa.

3. BODY FEELS EXIT by Namie Amuro- This was Namie's debut single and is still one of her most powerful singles. The vocals are a bit high pitches and nasal, especially compared to Namie's current vocals, but the song has a strong melody with a latin-like atmosphere. Namie has also done a lot of good dance tracks. UNUSUAL, a collaboration with Yamashita Tomoshisa as well as some other tracks on her CHECKMATE album are really good too.

4. Can't stop Falling in love by globe- Tetsuya is a famous dance music producer and his own band globe has a great wealth of good dance songs in its discography. Can't stop falling in love really stands out in my opinion because of its mellowness even though it is a dance track.

5. Beginner by AKB48- This is a techno-dance track by girl group AKB48. The dance moves are quite good and this song is different from what AKB48 usually does. It is quite unique for a dance song because it features comparatively girly vocals with multiple vocalists. I think Seifuku ga jama wo suru by AKB48 is also a good dance track, though it might sound a bit oldish.

6. Computer City by Perfume- Although perfume is an electropop group, their songs are seriously danceable. Polyrythm, Love the world and chocolate disco are some of their other tracks which are very good.

7. Realize by Nami Tamaki- This is a dance song with strong vocals. IIt was used as the ending for Gundam seed and has a somewhat 'superhero anime' feel. But it sounds mysterious in the chorus.

8. Angelus by Hitomi Shimatani- This is a latin-inspired song by Hitomi Shimatani. She usually does crossover songs with a strong dance element. Out of all her dance songs, Angelus stands out most because of the energy in the song. It starts with a brass intro and choppy verses accompanied by Hitomi's fluid vocals.

9. The boys by Girl's generation- This song is seriously addictive. The more you listen to it, the more addicted you will get. Girl's generation is a relatively new act in the j-pop scene and they are rapidly gaining popularity. The beats are strong and the girls' voice has enough attitude to pull such a song off smoothly. The dance moves are beautiful and will keep your eyes glued to the screen. A flawless track but it takes a few listens to stick on you.

10. TABOO by Koda Kumi- This is a club dance track by Koda Kumi. Her sandpaper like gruff vocals just take this song to another level. There are no high parts, but teh main highlight of this song is Koda Kumi's voice, which is perfectly suited for dance tracks. She has produced many other great dance tracks in her career like FREAKY, JUICY and SHAKE IT. SHAKE IT is a really good album track with arabian elements, so you may want to give it a try.

So that ends my list of teh best dance j-pop tracks. Hopefully, as I listen to more amazing dance songs, I will add them to this list or make another list.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Jpop album review- EXILE Ballad Best

EXILE has become quite popular in Japan with their string of million sellers earning them a coveted spot among the best-selling jpop acts of all time. Here's a review of their ballad best which was a million seller.

1) Ti Amo- This successful million seller hits off in the right direction with the intriguing Spanish influenced Ti Amo. This song has bounce and rhythm while managing to incorporate a deep sense of pain and mystery. The lyrics automatically come across as sad and painful. Atsushi and Takahiro’s vocals are at their best here with both of them singing one emotional sentence after another. The beat and melody are probably the strongest point of this single. Ti Amo starts the album with high expectations.


2) Lovers Again- A karaoke favourite. Lovers Again follows the rhythm of Ti Amo while incorporating a wintry feel. This happens to be the biggest difference between the two. The chorus carries on in a typical EXILE style with a strong beat and emotional vocals.


]3) Your eyes only ~Aimai na boku no katachi~- Your eyes only is a popular EXILE ballad. This song sounds very similar to Lovers Again but with a little less ‘wintry’ feel. Falsettos are liberally used especially in the beginning and end. The chorus moves onto a higher plane. This song has slightly less beat than the previous two but manages to be a decent track.


4) Song for you- Song for you breaks a little bit from the mold with an elaborate orchestral intro. The airy and bouncy vocals slowly come in till the song reaches an emotional climax. This song is a lot less emotional compared to the previous three. It has a breezy atmosphere with a pinch of melancholy. The chorus is airy and R&B-ish.


5) We will ~Ano basho e~- This song has a lot less beat than any other song. It starts off with a quiet verse devoid of any drum beats. The chorus has a classical/orchestral feel that adds to the value of the song. After the breezy Song for you, We Will manages to sound quite dramatic.


6) Unmei no hito- Starts off with a jazzy piano introduction and follows in the style of the orchestral We Will. It is an emotional track but does not bring in anything new to the album. It is quite similar to We will and lacks a beat as well.


7) Holy Night- This is probably one of the most unique and experimental songs in the album. Holy Night is an acapella song that lets Atsushi and Takahiro’s powerful vocals shine through. Acapella is not very common among pop artists. EXILE took a risk with this one that paid off. The chorus escalates in power till the main vocals and harmonies form a perfect balance. This gospel track manages to be a stand out track and one of the most powerful ones on this album.


8) Last Christmas- Begins in the style of Holy night with bare harmonies and flows into a bouncy beat. This is a cover of Wham’s hit Last Christmas. It follows well after Holy night. It was released as a single as well.


9) Tada....Aitakute- Tada.....Aitakute is the best selling single of EXILE’s cover. For that, it is quite unspectacular. Tad......Aitakute is a wintry ballad devoid of beat. Atushi and Takahiro do their best here to bring out emotion. Tada Aitakute is nothing great but manages to stand out after the bouncy Last Christmas.


10) Boku e- Boku e is a piano ballad devoid of beat. Frankly, it offered nothing special to the album. The emotion, melody etc. Were all there but this track doesn’t stand out after Tada Aitakute which was quite similar.


11) Kawaranai mono- Kawaranai mono picks up the typical EXILE style of ballads with beat and sadness. It is a little different from Boku e but the chorus is quite weak. Definitely not one of the better tracks in this album.


12) Michi- Michi has a mix of beat, piano, orchestra and emotional vocals. However, it doesn’t take away the monotony of the album which seems to be setting in at this point but rather reinforces it. Despite being a good track, this offers nothing to the album.


13) One love- One love is a piano ballad that is quiet and lacks beat or any other instrument. Since this song comes towards the end, it fits the mood well. In terms of emotion or high notes, one love is mediocre.


14) Love, dream and happiness- For the ending tracks, this song is quite upbeat and breezy. It has a strong easy listening vibe to it that kind of reminds me of Koda Kumi’s Wind. The chorus is airy and R&B/Hip hop influenced. Quite a typical song coming from EXILE. There are some female vocals in the end.


Overall, EXILE Ballad best, though not wildly original is an album that has a lot of re-listening value. Atsushi and Takahiro’s vocals are powerful, emotional and consistent throughout the album. Some songs like Lovers again, Ti amo and Holy night manage to be quite distinct and leave an impact. The album easily falls into easy listening because EXILE’s vocals are easy on the ears and their ballads have beat. EXILE’s ballads are no power ballads but they shine in their unique style. What the album lacks the most is originality. The tracks are similar sounding. For EXILE fans, this is a great album to buy. For others who enjoy ballads but are new to EXILE’s style, this can prove to be a good try. Some of their songs have a western styles and can probably impress western singers and music judges.


Re-listen value


Best- does not contain many new songs

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

J-pop album review- Cover You by morning musume

Cover You is a cover album by popular j-pop idol group morning musume. It contains songs written by the late lyricist and novel writer Yu Aku, who is the highest selling lyricist of all time in Japan followed by Tak Matsumoto and Tetsuya Komuro.

1. Nagisa no Sinbad (Sinbad of the beach)- I had already heard this song on Pink lady best album and also reviewed it, but this time the vocals are by morning musume. There is hardly any variation from the original. It just sounds cuter and more girlish due to morning musume's much more high-pitched and sugary vocals. It is quite a short song but extremely catchy. It is a breezy pop summer song.

2. Dou ni mo tomaranai (Just can't stop it) - Originally by Linda Yamamoto but I have never heard her version. Morning musume's voices sound a bit more mature and oldish here than the previous track. This song is like a disco samba tune extremely reminiscent of the 80s.

3. Izakaya (Pub)- This is an enka song. This song is a real gem. It has a smooth and rythmic arrangement. Right from the opening instrumental, it draws you in. It is a duet with Itsuki Hiroshi, a famous enka singer who also sang the male parts in the original. Takahashi Ai does the female parts. Her voice sounds nothing like an enka singer, but its mellowness fits well in this song. This song is brilliant from start to finish. A real standout enka song.

4. Pepper Keibu (Inspector Pepper)- I really like the lyrics of this song. Like Nagisa no Sinbad, I have already listened to this song on Pink lady's best album. Morning musume version is more like karaoke, because they have altered nothing in this song.

5. Shiroi chou no samba (Samba of white butterflies)- An okay song. Sounds oldish. Morning musume's voices did nothing for this song. The verse repeats a lot of times in the song.

6. Seishun Jidai (Youth)- This song has some rock elements and there is use of electric guitars. It is different from morning musume's usual style.

7. Ringo Satsujin Jiken (Apple murder case)- Seriously, I don't like this song. It would have been an alright song, except that annoying 'funifunifunifuni' part just gets on my nerves. Morning musume's high pitched voices sound really nasal on that part. As soon as that part comes in, I really feel like skipping this song.

8. Romance- This is definitely 80s sounding. That sharp 'ting ting' sound (I don't know what instument that is) is quite prominent in the arrangement. It's verse sounds like it's part of some dance song. It is much like the verse of many MAX songs. But the chorus brings it back to pop. Quite an interesting song that sounds a bit melancholic.
Rating- 4.8/5

9. Machi no Akari (Streetlights/Lights of the streets)- A very easy listening ballad. This song could best be described as 'mellow'. It has a haunting atmosphere and really makes you feel like you are standing in the middle of a cold street with streetlights on at night.

10. Koi no dial 6700 (Love's dial 6700)- I actually think the concept of the song is quite good. A number to dial for love. There are all kinds of telephone noises in the beginning and thoughout random parts of the song. The lyrics are also cute and about being unable to express love.

11. Pin Pon Pan Taiso- This is a really unique song because it is a children's song (at least I think it is). If you read the lyrics translation, this fact becomes evident. It is full of amazing tigers, crocodiles and such things. It also seems like an exercise song, because of the part division. It's structure is not like that of most pop songs. It talks about a different creature or event in each verse and the melody is also different.

12. Watashi no Aoi Tori (My Blue bird) - A nice easy listening ballad, but seems a bit monotonous compared to the other songs on this album. It has no high vocals parts or anything to make it seem special.

13. Johnny e no dengon (Letter to Johnny) - It has high parts which Morning musume manages quite well. It is also a ballad, but I found it stuck in my head after a few listens. It has a 'leaving town' atmosphere and that's what this song is about anyway.

14. UFO- Another Pink lady classic. This song has interesting lyrics and an 'extraterrestrial' sounding arrangement. Morning musume has once again, not changed the arrangement or anything else about this song.

Overall, a good album where you can listen to many older j-pop songs which you might not have a chance to hear by various artists. Morning musume did not alter any of the original structures or arrangements significantly so this really sounded like a karaoke session. But not too bad.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

J-Drama Review- Kaeru no Oujosama

I have been watching this drama for a while now (and it's over). Kaeru no Oujosama has the alternate title of The princess and the frog and from what is narrated in the drama, the story has a slightly different japanese version.
Kaeru no Oujosama is a musical drama that is an aural treat for all the jpop fans, especially those who like or want to hear older songs. The drama is quite recent (2012) but gives an oldish feeling because most of it happens in a small town.

Kaeru no Oujosama is the story of a city choir, the Chansons, who try to save the town's music hall from being scraped to build a waste treatment plant. Chansons, which was a four memeber female choir holds auditions and accepts new members to make them better. Amami Yuki plays Mio Kurasaka, the Chansons' coach from Broadway who is originally from Yume town. She helps everyone improve their lives and overcome their problems with music. Roughly, one episode is dedicated to each member's story with Amami Yuki, Yuko Oshima and the male lead (Zeruel) having more than one episode.

I like the drama because it is very touching and shows how music can make ordinary lives seem extraordinary. Amami Yuki is the driving force behind the Chansons and the drama. Her character and personality were certainly unique.

The Chansons start of as an amateur choir with no experience in singing or dancing but Mio trains them hard and keeps spotting gigs for them, making them quite good by the end of the show. There are instances when her Broadway past comes up but it keeps going underground again.

The best part of the drama is probably watching the transformations which can be very touching and inspiring. Through music, The Chansons give everyone in the choir as well as the town hope and teach them to believe in miracles. After watching the drama, I felt that music is such a powerful tool in bringing about positive change. These days, the music industry has become totally commercial with songs being released only to earn profits and achieve fame (not so much in Japan as in other countries). In these times, the drama shines more and makes us remember the true meaning of music.

The actors do their part well mostly because they need to sing more than act. Amami Yuki definitely remains the star of the show. Her experience in acting shines through here. The personalities of the characters in the choir was distinct and each came from a different background, adding to variety in the drama. Yuko Oshima's acting was a little bland but her singing was fine.

Kaeru no Oujosama kind of reminds me of GTO, I don't know why. It has the similar feel of one student discovering their potential in each episode under Onizuka/Amami's guidance. More than that, each GTO episode was a tear-jerker just like each Kaeru no Oujosama episode. This is a drama that has made me cry in a long time.

If you love j-pop, you'll love this drama. I knew a lot of songs in the drama but when I heard them in the context of the drama and the episodes, their meaning became clearer to me and I can appreciate them more now. The prime example of one of such songs is Dreams Come True's Nando Demo. I have heard this song so many times but when it features in the sixth episode, it brings a new meaning and angle to the lyric interpretation that I did not focus on. Other songs that I recognized included Momoe Yamaguchi's This is my trial, Playback, Imitation Gold, Yokosuka story, Yumi Matsutoya's Hello my frind, Chage and Aska's Yah yah yah, , Kome Kome Club's Romantic flight, Princess Princess' M, Sugar's Wedding Bell and some others that I am forgetting. A lot of the songs are from the 80s, 70s time period sung in show choir style. Songs I liked but hadn't listened to earlier were Kaze ni naritai (which I found better than the original), Miagetegoran yoru no hoshii etc.

The story wasn't wildly original or anything. We've seen these kind of stories many times. But, the interpretation and script stood out. The songs were appropriate and well-placed. Character development was the strongest point of this drama. The characterisation was strong as well. The setting was a little bland and quiet. I know it is a small town but there are hardly any people on the streets (a total contrast toTokyo). The script, in fact was well done. The ideas, development and lines were crafted well to appeal emotionally to the audience- japanese excel at these kinds of things.

Before I wind up, I want to mention the tale of the princess and the frog. As far as I know it, the princess kisses the frog and it transforms into a prince. But in the drama, the princess calls the frog to the palace but repulsed by its ugliness, slams it on the wall. That instant, it becomes a prince. This kind of behavior is often comapred to Mio Kurasaka's harsh words that actually help the members become better.

Overall, I quite liked the drama probably because I like j-pop. This year, there have been a lot of mediocre releases and Kaeru no Oujosama seems better to most. I am watching Rich man, poor woman currently and I'll review it sometime in the future when it ends. Despite the good plot and acting, the drama did not have stellar ratings or anything. Nevertheless, for anyone looking for inspiration or wanting to break the monotony of romance dramas, Kaeru no Oujosama is a welcome change. Needless to say, it is a must watch for j-pop fans.

Music- 4.6/5
Overall- 4.5/5


Amami's acting'
Character development


Typical story
Some actors lack experience/ do not act all that well