YUI – How Crazy Your Love

“How Crazy Your Love” is YUI’s fifth studio album.  I am a fan.  Hence you can imagine how painful it was for me to wait till the record hits the store here in Singapore when not too far away, in a place called Hong Kong, the album not only comes with a CD, but also a DVD recording of YUI’s live concert in Hong Kong.  Normally, it takes up to a month for a regional cut Japanese CD to arrive at our stores.  It takes even longer if the album contains video contents.  Having learned my lesson, I ordered online via HMV Hong Kong and have this special edition album (that comes with a YUI printed guitar pick!) delivered.

If you are a fan, the special edition is a must buy.  Her 2011 concert in Hong Kong has a listing of 17 songs plus 5 encores.  That is over 2 hours of entertainment.  Compare to her 2006 “Song of the Sun” concert, she now has more songs and has grown up to be a sweet 24.  Like the previous recording, she plays her guitars on stage.  Shy, she may seem, her live performance has exceeded my expectation.  I cannot wait to see the same concert recorded in Japan.  The DVD is lying somewhere inside my shelf.

It took me a bit of time to like “How Crazy Your Love”.  Perhaps my sensory system has been abused by over-produced music of recent time.  Or perhaps I wanted more rock music from the album or that missing killer slow song.  To be frank, YUI is not a great singer.  But she writes good songs.  So far, her albums are pretty consistent, in terms of style and delivery.  And I am still eagerly awaiting for her next production, which I hope to see later this year.

Back to the album, the more rock flavored “Rain” is my favorite.  The opening track “HELLO” is playful, and it seems to work really well in a live setting.  I also like “Separation”, which is more melody driven especially on the bridge.  I can’t say I love all 13 tracks.  But I can’t find one that I don’t like.  Fans out there.  What are you waiting for?

Anna Tsuchiya – Rule – Coming Out From The Nana Personality

I was so excited about Anna Tsuchiya (土屋アンナ) so much so that when Amazon.co.jp alerted me of her 3rd album, I quickly dived in and made a purchase, when I was holidaying in Hong Kong.  Much cheaper than to buy the imported version in a local music store.  Much faster too.  It takes ages for Japanese albums to appear on the shelf here in Singapore.  I inquired.  And learned that HMV Singapore is of a retail outlet status.  Versus HMV Hong Kong, which is a distributer.  Apparently, if the disc comes with a DVD – which is very common for Japanese music – HMV Singapore has to wait until the distributor distributes.  I was used to blame the censorship board for the delay.  Now I know better.

In her first two albums – Strip Me? and Nudy Show! – Anna Tsuchiya was behind the persona of the famous Japanese anime character Nana.  A punk rocker.  Playing catchy upbeat rock songs.  “Rule” is her first album ventured outside ‘the voice of Nana’.  And it probably comes with no surprise that “Rule” is slightly different from her first two.  Her collaboration with the Japanese jazz instrumental band PE’Z has added one jazz track (“暴食系男子!!”) into her new album.  Then there is a theatrical themed song.  And one song (“Shout In The Rain”) with a sound texture that resembles the American rock bank Evanescence.  That song also reminds me of the style of other Japanese singer Oliver Lufkin (from the same anime).

It took me a little while to get used to her new personality and her expanded music direction.  I am delighted that her music has grown.  The album comes with a DVD that contains 5 music clips.  To be frank, I was hoping that my favorite tracks “Human Clay”, “Guilty”, and the slow song “Voice of Butterfly” would be featured as singles.  They are really catchy.

To showcase one of my favorite videos, here is a slow song called “Believe In Love”.

Anna Tsuchiya – Nudy Show! – Catchy, Very Catchy

As the vocalist behind one of the two bands in the popular Japanese anime series “Nana”, at times I wonder if Anna Tsuchiya has made the anime famous or it is the other way round.  I think it is a bit of both.  Her second album “Nudy Show!” (2008) follows closely with the style of her first album “Strip Me?” (2006).  Catchy rock music, with majority of the songs and lyrics in English.  The direct imported version from Amazon.co.jp comes with translated lyrics in Japanese (?!) and a DVD that contains 7 music videos and other bonus clips.  I did not think that I am capable to order from a Japanese website but I did it.

Two beautiful songs from the Nana anime has made it to this album – “Lucy” and “黒い涙”.  The latter one written in entirely Japanese, which is unusual for Anna Tsuchiya.  What stands out in this entire album besides the catchy tunes is the quality of the band.  The tracks are creatively played.  It is enjoyable to listen to each instrument taking turn to do its solo.  The amount of production is just nice.  Not too highly produced until you cannot tell who is playing what.  Nor too under produced until you feel empty with the gaps and repetitions.  The track “Ginger” stands out to be the most contagious track, a collaboration with the Japanese band Monkey Majik.

Below is my favorite track “黒い涙”.  For those who have watched the Nana series, this song connects to our emotional core.

And if you prefer an upbeat song, check out “Ginger”.  I think “Nudy Show!” has enough materials for Nana had the manga author decided to continue with the series after her hospitalisation.  As for me, I have Anna Tsuchiya’s upcoming album to look forward to (end of September release).

YUI – Holidays In The Sun – A Pleasant Album, Still Same Style

Nowadays, I seldom write about the music I listen to.  Not as often anyway.  With legal and unlimited music download, it matters little if it is a good album, or a bad one.  Because worst case, I delete the album off my digital storage.  On average, I listen to an album once, or twice, and then move onto the next one.

Once in a while, there are still albums that cannot be downloaded.  The charm of opening the case of a new album, savoring the artwork, listening to each track with such an attention and anticipation, all because I have paid twenty bucks for the entire package.  One of my recent purchases is YUI’s fifth album.  YUI tends to release plenty of singles (5 from this album so far) without an album in sight.  Imagine how ecstatic I was when I found her new album in store.

Being a Japanese artist who writes and performs her own songs, it is expected that “Holidays In The Sun” would sound much like her previous albums.  And it does.  In addition to her playing guitar, in this album, she plays the piano too for the opening track “to Mother”.  It is refreshing.  And it is also the only song in the album that features her piano track with no guitar overlay.  I wish that “to Mother” has as much of an impact as her other slow songs from her previous albums such as “Tomorrow’s Way” or “LOVE & TRUTH”.  Hence, on first listen, there seems to be something missing.  Something like a “LOVE & TRUTH” would be nice.  Then again, the overall mood of this album is upbeat.  Memorable upbeat tracks like “es.car” and “I do it” can easily please a live audience.  “Holidays In The Sun”, as a whole, is pleasant to listen to.  Fans would be pleased, for sure.

Her songwriting is not perfect.  At times I think she may have squeezed in one too many syllables into a sentence.  Her singing is not perfect.  At times I think she has gone out of breath trying to deliver what she envisions to deliver.  But what transpires, to me, is her being genuine and sincere and trust that her fans would appreciate the purity within.  I wish I could share a video of hers to demonstrate my last point.  Perhaps the one with her siting near the edge of the stage singing to a concert audience with only her guitar, in candle lights.  Just like how she is used to sneak through the streets, find a quiet spot, and start singing with her guitar to initially nobody and soon a gathering crowd.  Even the music video of her latest single “to Mother” would have proved my point.  The good news is, if you purchase “Holidays In The Sun”, it comes with a DVD that contains 6 music videos, “to Mother” included.

And so, the waiting of her yet another new album continues.  I hope it would take less than 2 years this time.

Ayumi Hamasaki – Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus – Another Great Production

At the counter, the sales assistance hesitated for a brief moment and he asked, “Do you want the poster?”.  Do I want the poster?!  I am a fan.  Hit me with one!

Really.  Do I want the poster?  I asked Cynthia where I should paste it.  Dining area, I suggested.  She frowned and counter-suggested the piece of real estate right above my computer monitor.  And there, I pasted Ayumi’s poster onto the wall.  Whenever I need inspiration on what to write, like now, I simply look up.

“You like her because she is cute,” observed Cynthia.  That is not true.  Not entirely.  For those who have followed her career, you would agree with me that she is an inspiration.  On her determination to remain successful.  And success does not come without sustained effort.  11 music albums, over 11 years, and she constantly releases concert recordings too.  At times I wonder: Does she ever rest?  Some observe that her firm control over every detail of production and marketing contributes to her success.   Critics may cite what Ayumi is not.  But I am more interested to read what she is.  Her biography in the future may answer that, I hope.

Back to “Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus”, it is an impressive production.  The album artwork is beautiful.  The CD+DVD edition includes a booklet of her photographs taken during her trip to UK, where at least one of her songs was recorded.  A total of 15 songs, 2 of which are the introductory track and the interlude track in the usual Ayumi style.  Majority of the material is what you would expect from Ayumi.  And the quality is consistently high throughout the album.  A few tracks stand out in an unique way.  The Goth rock “Microphone”, the Oriental “BALLAD”, and the Arabic feel of “Don’t Look Back”.  “Sexy Little Thing” (recorded in UK) is one of my favorite tracks.  It ties well to the album’s title.  Unique in its own pop way, extremely memorable.  I happen to like “Last Link” too.  That track starts with strumming of acoustic guitars and transits into a pop-rock track.

As impressively so is the bonus DVD.  In the first two back-to-back tracks “~LOVE is ALL~” sunset and sunrise version (same song in different tempo), Ayumi called in her fans – Team Ayu – to help with the music video.  These two videos warm my heart.  One video was shot in daylight (the sunrise version) and for another one, Ayumi was dressed in an evening gown standing on top of a platform singing to her fans.  Both videos have the fantastic backdrop of the beach.

Another amazing back-to-back video is “Sexy Little Thing” (that reminds of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” video) and “Microphone”.  There are some jaw dropping video transition between what appears as disjointed clips.  Besides these four video tracks that stand out, the other four are also a pleasure to watch.  If someone like me who does not know Japanese and still able to comprehend what the stories in the videos are about, I think the directors deserve a pat on their backs.

For someone who has passed the age of 30, Ayumi does not seem to show signs of slowing down.  Maybe because she knows her career will only last for as long as her remaining good ear.  For someone who has put the rest of her life on hold – love and family – to continue creating music, at times I wonder: Isn’t it a lonely journey?