Destiny Line – Ai no Matador –

Archive for June 2008

Utada Hikaru’s debut Japanese studio album, entitled 03.10.99. The album was highly successful as it is still the highest selling album in Japanese history. The expected reason for this is because she brought a new R&B/Pop sound that had not been heard in J-Music before. Two singles, Automatic and Movin’ on without you, were released prior to the album and First Love was a album re-cut single.

The album opens up with the strongest song, Automatic (Album Edit). The song starts off with a fun beat and is a perfect display of that strong R&B/pop sound. Her vocals are somewhat deep during the verses but they match the sound of the instrumentation perfectly. The English phrases such as “my rainy days” and “sun will shine” really stand out as they are sung in English. The chorus really stands out as Hikki shows off her vocal strength and the back-up singing up “I don’t know why” is a perfect touch. The ending line of the chorus really pops as it sung in English such as “I feel so good.” Hikki’s vocals during the song really do bring the lyrical story to life. With the final chorus, Hikki really brings out even more vocal range as she reaches higher and sings more powerfully. Automatic (Album Edit) is a wonderful starting track and certainly a track that should not be missed.

Next comes Movin’ on without you. The song begins with Hikki singing in English “nothing’s gonna stop me, only you can stop me” and the instrumentation shows off some rock tints with the guitar. The verses are sung with a deep voice and some rapidity that really makes the listener listen to what she is singing. The chorus features some stronger vocals with a poppy uptempo beat to match the more R&B sound. In the case of this song, the verses are much stronger than the chorus, which is lacking a little something to really make it stand out. The instrumentation is veyr interesting and is noteworthy and the verses are catchy enough to make Movin’ on without you stand out.

In My Room is the next song on the album. The song begins with a sweet and soft instrumental before the first verse starts. She sings the verse nicely as her vocals work well with the music and they are sung with emotion to bring the lyrics to life. As the verse comes to an end, the piano becomes a more prevalent part of the instrumentation. The chorus doesn’t stand out nearly as powerful as it should as the instrumentation reverts back to its simplistic sound right after the verse. Had that melody been in the chorus, combined with Hikki’s stronger vocals, the chorus would have popped. Pure instrumentation brings the song to a close and unfortunately, the song isn’t nearly as strong as it should have been. It’s definitely one of the less memorable songs on First Love.

One of the album’s real ballads, First Love, follows. The song starts off with a sorrowful instrumentation supported by Hikki’s vocalizing to really bring the atmosphere to life. The lyrics in this song are so beautiful and are something that any listener, no matter where, can relate to. Hikki’s vocals carry their emotional presence strongly. The chorus really stands out as Hikki shows off some more vocal power and range as she hits her notes wonderfully. The gorgeousness of this music really is a perfect match for Hikki’s vocals. Pure instrumentation brings the song to a perfect close, much like it opened the song. First Love was released as a recut single due to its popularity and if the listener listens to this song, it will be no surprise why. The lyrics are personal and sound like they come from the heart and Hikki sings with such emotion and beauty that they stand out all the more. First Love is one of the album’s best songs and certainly not worth missing out on.

甘いワナ ~Paint It Black~ picks up the energy on a more poppy sound. Opening the song is a cool and slick instrumentation that sounds really pretty before a more upbeat and fun sound comes in. Hikki sings her lyrics quite quickly and it makes the listener not want to miss one word. There is a certain attitude that is sung with these lyrics that really stand out to the listener. The chorus is nice as that poppish sound comes to full force and Hikki sings her way through it with consistent vocals. Before the third chorus, Hikki sings very strongly as she reaches higher to really make her lyrics stand out. There is almost a carnival-like feeling that comes through the pure instrumental section and it is a nice touch in helping the song stand out. Near the end of the song, Hikki repeatedly sings “I see a red door and I wanna paint it black,” which comes from the Rolling Stones’ song Paint It Black. The song is a great addition to the album and is on more of the pop side of the album spectrum.

Hikki slows things down with Time Will Tell. Piano instrumentation starts the song off before the song’s true sound comes in. Hikki’s vocals during the verses sound very nice and are a good fit with the music and although the lyrics are somewhat simplitic, they work iin being relatable to the audience. The chorus is a bit bland although the instrumentation is nice. The vocalizing from someone in the background certainly isn’t necessary though. During sections of pure instrumentation, the song’s strength comes through strongly. Time Will Tell is a pretty bland track on First Love but it does blend well with the album’s overall sound.

Never Let Go is the following song. The song starts off with a sweet and mellow instrumentation alongside some vocalizing from Hikki. The lyrics of the song are great and Hikki’s vocals really bring them to life. There isn’t much change, instrumentation wise, to introduce the chorus. The change of vocals really signals its coming. Hikki sings in a higher range and at points, it does sound a little pitchy but the instrumentation is really interesting and thus it stands out. The following verse features the echoing of Hikki vocalizing in the background throughout nearly the entire verse and honestly, it does sound annoying. With the later choruses, Hikki sounds stronger. Never Let Go is an okay song but the repetition of the vocalizing in the background really is annoying and if it was removed, the song would have been stronger.

B&C (Album Version) picks up the album’s tempo with this cheery number. After a poppy instrumental, Hikki nicely sings the first verse. The poppy element is even seen in her voice as she moves perfectly in sync with the instrumentation. The chorus features some even stronger vocals, particularly on the last line when she mentions “Bonnie & Clyde.” The third verse sounds great as Hikki reaches high and hits her notes wonderfully. B&C (Album Version) is a great addition to the album and one of the more enjoyable numbers on First Love.

Another Chance continues the uptempo sound of the album. The song starts off with a slightly funky instrumentation to open it nicely. Hikki sounds nice singing the verses as a certain softness really stands out to the listener. The chorus doesn’t really stand out as nicely as hoped as the instrumentation remains identical throughout and no line really makes it pop. Another Chance stands out primarily for its instrumentation and Hikki’s vocals are just nice here. It’s worth a listen every now and then.

This album’s interlude is simply titled Interlude. The lyrics in this song come again later as the opening lyrics in 言葉にならない気持ち from her sophomore album, Distance. The interlude is very short, only lasting roughly 20 seconds and it is easily her worst interlude. Perhaps it is the music but these lyrics sounded much stronger in the context of 言葉にならない気持ち. Honestly it’s a very short and pointless interlude.

The album closes with Give Me A Reason, a lyrical gem. The lyrics are beautiful and really sound as if they are coming from her heart. Unfortunately, the sound of the song is a little boring and it is the longest song on the album, and feels like it drags on at certain points. Her vocals definitely have their moments when they shine and the instrumentation has some great moments when the guitar is spotlighted but it’s not enough to make the song stand out as much as it should. Traditionally Hikki’s closing songs are great but it wasn’t the case for this album.

Album Ranking: B –

Hikki’s debut album definitely has the lyrical strength that is is praised for and it has some awesome songs that show off that unique R&B/Pop flare that holds the album together such as on Automatic, First Love, B&C and 甘いワナ ~Paint It Black.~ Although one sound ties the album together, it does work somewhat negatively in that a certain sameness does come out on some tracks and makes them less special. The album has its high points and its low points and certain songs are definitely worth the listen.

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Koda Kumi’s 2nd BEST album, entitled BEST ~second session,~ was released on 03.08.06. This album is a collection of the 12 Singles Project in which Kumi released a single every week for 12 consecutive weeks. The album also includes a new track, Love goes like…

This album’s introductory track is a part of Get It On, a digital release during the 12 Singles Project. The song is title Introduction to the second session. Opening the song is Kumi singing in all English with line such as “gotta gotta let you know” acapella before the song’s true sound arrives. The song features an Arabian beat that makes it so addictive. The song only features one set of lyrics that repeats throughout the duration of the song but it doesn’t feel repetitive at all. The song ends with some great vocalizing from Kumi and finally “gotta gotta let you know.” Introduction to the second session is a great interlude that introduces the album nicely and makes a good transition into D.D.D.

Kumi and SOULHEAD join forces for the addictive dance track. D.D.D. A hot beat with great music opens up the song before a repetiton of “turn it up” segues into the first verse. Kumi delivers her lyrics during the first verse with such attitude that it really stands out to the listener from the first line. The hook really stands out because of all the English phrases such as “naked body” and “we don’t need no spotlight.” The chorus is even more catchy as the vocals stand out with the music and the ending line “I just do what I wanna do, I do what I wanna do.” The second verse is memorable thanks to SOULHEAD’s ending section with the various sounds that are very addicting. The third verse features a rap of Jewels of SOULHEAD and once again, attitude makes it pop as well as the various use of English such as “you’re gonna miss me” and “you’ll be addicted.” D.D.D. is an excellent dance song and it fits perfectly on BEST ~second session.~ 

The beautiful winter ballad, you, is the next song on the album. The song starts off with a sorrowful instrumentation so that the song’s atmosphere is displayed right from the beginning. During the verses, her vocals are somewhat deep but they capture the sorrow of the lyrics perfectly. The chorus features some smoother vocals that are a perfect fit on the song. The small pure instrumental section does a nice job of maintaining the sorrow of the song and putting it to the very forefront. The following final chorus really blows the listener away as Kumi sings with her heart and the emotional presence comes to the forefront strongly. you is a great ballad with the sounds of winter to make the sorrow stand out to the listener.

Mr. Blistah joins Kumi for the traditional Arabian song, Candy. The song starts off with a looming arabian before the song’s true sound comes in. The chorus features some great vocals from Kumi and she holds her notes nicely, keeping with the music. During the verses, her vocals are somewhat deep but they match with the instrumentation perfectly. The hook features English lines such as “no, no, I’m not easy” and they really pop standing next to Japanese lyrics. After the chorus, Mr. Blistah comes in for a mini-rap and his voice actually sounds pretty nice here. Mr. Blistah’s full rap sequence is a nice part of the song and a nice change of pace and Kumi comes in again to deliver the chorus. Kumi and Mr. Blistah do a little segment at the end to bring the song to a nice close. Candy is an excellent song and is a great Arabian song.

Shake It Up is a great energetic dance song with Carribean influences. The song starts off nicely with the chorus, which is very catchy and features some great vocals. The “oi-oi-oi” that begins every line of the chorus really pops, catching the listener’s ear. A small section of pure instrumentation connects the chorus to the verses and they really do sound great. The verses are still catchy as the music steps to the background to focus on Kumi’s vocals. The lines are sung somewhat deeply but still sound great with the music. The complete section of pure instrumentation that follows the third chorus is fantastic as the Carribean influences are really spotlighted and the fun and carefree element of the song comes out beaming. Shake It Up ends with the echoing of “oi-oi-oi” to bring this memorable song to a great finish. Shake It Up is a wonderful part of BEST ~second session~ that should not be missed.

feel is the most intimate and relaxing song on the album, one of Kumi’s strongest songs in her discography. The song starts off with a gorgeous relaxing instrumental before the first verse. Kumi’s smooth vocals during the verses along with the music really help create a dreamy and intimate feeling. As the verse ends, Kumi sings “why, tell me why?” and it really pops. The chorus is sung in all English and although it might be somewhat hard to decipher, the lyrics are really sweet and move perfectly with the song’s atmosphere. The third verse features some great vocals before moving back into the sweet chorus. Pure instrumentation then brings the song to an excellent close. feel is the album’s strongest song for its intimate atmosphere that takes the listener into the story of the song

WIND, the upbeat and inspiring song, is the following song. The song starts off with the chorus, which is sung nicely with some great vocals that aren’t sung in a cute voice but have a certain kawaii element to it. The verses are very strong and there is a more mellow sound while Kumi sounds perfectly at home. As the verse comes to  a close, the instrumentation becomes slightly more energetic and it is these sections that really catch the listener’s ear for their fun nature. The pure instrumental section sounds great as a spotlight is put on the carefree atmosphere set forth by the music before the final chorus. WIND is a nice song with an inspiring lyrical theme and a fun sound that makes it a true part of the album.

Love goes like… is the only new song on the album but it definitely holds its own. The song begins with Kumi repeating “throw your hands up” over a hot R&B dance beat. When the first verse starts, Kumi’s vocals are somewhat low-pitched but they work with the music perfectly. As the verses come to an end, a slightly different feel is established. Kumi’s vocals sound slightly different and there are some vocalizing in the background that is a nice touch. The chorus is highly catchy as the English phrases such as “call me” and “show me” really pop. During a segment of Kumi singing “throw your hands up” in the background, Kumi speaks in English and the slight distortions in the instrumentation combine to make this part stand out. As the new song, Love goes like… is a perfect addition to BEST ~second session~ for its addictive chorus and hot beat.

No Regret, one of the album’s dance songs, appears as the ninth track. The song opens up with part of the booming chorus, in which Kumi shows off her vocals before a great beat and interesting instrumentation cmoes in with English being spoken in the background. During the verses, there is a certain attitude that Kumi delivers her vocals with and it really works in the song’s favorite. More of the beginning energy comes back in the chorus, the most addictive part of the song. It’s the ending line of the chorus that really stands out as it is sung lower than the rest of the verse, thus making the chorus really pop at the end. The pure instrumental section spotlights just how interesting and cool the music of the song is before the chorus comes back in. No Regret is one of the catchiest singles of the 12 Singles Project and it finds its home perfectly on the collection of songs.  

Kawaii Kumi comes onto the scene with the sugary and sweet, Birthday Eve. A twinkling and happy instrumental begins the song before the first verse starts. Kumi’s cute voice works perfectly during the verses and the phrase “happy birthday” really stands out as it is sung in English. The hook features a slight distortion of Kumi’s vocals to put an emphasis on the sweetness of the music and it serves as a nice segue into the chorus. The chorus is the most addictive part of the song as Kumi shows off a little more vocal power and the instrumentation continues to maintain its peppiness. The pure instrumental section is wonderful as the spotlight is put on the guitar before a cool sound before the sugariness of the chorus comes back in. Birthday Eve is the album’s cute song and Kumi does a great job of bringing the song’s spirit to life.

Lies is a catchy R&B song that really does take the listener on a listen through the story. After nice and catchy instrumentation, the chorus comes in. The chorus features some great vocals from Kumi and sung with such emotion that it catches the listener’s ear. The English phrases such as “you’re my special, you’re my bad boy” pop next to other Japanese lyrics. During the verses, Kumi’s vocals are strong at capturing the song’s overall atmosphere. The hook serves as a bridge as the instrumentation becomes slightly more varied and Kumi’s vocals pick up. The ending note in particular is held very well and makes a perfect transition into the chorus. The third verse takes the sound in a slightly different direction with a great instrumental and the final note of the third verse sounds great. The song ends with instrumentation as well as Kumi repeating “I just want you bad boy” to bring the song to an excellent finish. For its catchiness and attitude, Lies is certainly a track not to be missed.

One of Kumi’s dirtiest songs, lyrically, is next with 今すぐ欲しい.  The song begins with a smooth and sensual instrumentation that displays the atmosphere of the song perfectly. The vocals during the verses are nice as they very well capture the sexual energy of her words and the ending note is particularly strong. The chorus stands out as the instrumentation comes forward more and Kumi’s vocals are a little more smooth. The rap is a nice addition to the song as Kumi delivers her lines with a nice level of rapidity and althoug a little more attitude could helped the rap segment come alive, it still sounds. The English allows the listener to really realize the sexual atmosphere with words such as “lick me” and “climax.” The slow and smooth,  今すぐ欲しい, is a nice song to listen to if the listener doesn’t mind the dirtiness of the song.

Ishii Tatsuya and Kumi soar on the beautiful adult ballad, KAMEN. The song begins with a beautiful instrumentation that really shows off a romantic atmosphere. After a little vocalizing from the two, the first verse arrives. During the verses, Kumi and Tatsuya alternate singing their respective parts so that it really does feel like a duet. Tatsuya definitely has an excellent voice, letting him sing deep or powerfully and he holds his note fantastically. Kumi also does a wonderful job on the song, showing off her vocal power as well as holding her notes just as well as Tatsuya. The chorus features both singing at the time and appears twice during the duration of the song. It is mostly comprised of English so that the Japanese phrases really pop. KAMEN is an excellent ballad as both Tatsuya and Kumi sing their hearts out with such emotion that the listener is taken to the world of the song.

The album closes with the hopeful and upbeat finale, Someday. It begins with part of the chorus as Kumi holds her notes well and sings with enough power to keep the song going. After a great section of pure instrumentation, the first verse starts. Kumi’s vocals are very nice here and they really move with the music to show off the song’s atmosphere. The chorus is very upbeat and somewhat poppy. Kumi’s vocals sound great and it resonates with the listener strongly. The pure instrumental section is a nice fit with Kumi’s vocals pushed more to the background to spotlight the instrumentation. Someday is a great album closer and a nice song itself.

Album Ranking: A +

Utada Hikaru’s fourth Japanese studio album, entitled ULTRA BLUE, was released on 06.14.06. Claimed to be her most experimental album to date, ULTRA BLUE is a mix of fantastic songs that the listener can really fall into. The singles released before the album were: COLORS and 誰かの願いが叶うころ (both released in 2004) as well as Passion and Keep Tryin.’ This Is Love was released as a radio single in order to promote the album.

This Is Love is an upbeat number and a fantastic album opener. The keyboard opening makes for a nice transition into the chorus, which features some great vocals that Hikki reaches singing more with the higher notes. It ends with “this is love, this is love” before the first verse starts. The verses have a sort of dreamy feeling that really works with the beauty of the lyrics to capture the song’s atmosphere. The moments of pure instrumentation sound great as they take the listener into the world of the song. The third verse takes a slightly different direction as Hikki’s vocals remain smooth and the following chorus sounds brilliant as the focus is put on Hikki’s vocals rather than the instrumentation. This Is Love ends with some great adlibbing from Hikki, bringing a truly strong album opener to a strong close.

Keep Tryin’ is an uptempo number that is inspirational for the listener. The song begins with a magical instrumental before Hikki cheerfully sings the chorus. The opening line, “I don’t care about anything,” has a certain personal element of relatability that the listener is hooked from first listen. Her vocals sound great as she stays a little on the higher side and holds her notes well. She finishes with “keep tryin” and that phrase alone captures the atmosphere of the song perfectly. During the verses, the same magical instrumenation runs through as Hikki sings the lyrics very nicely. The hook is differentiated by a change in instrumentation which moves to being slightly more varied and Hikki’s vocals reach higher during this section. The small instrumental section is wonderful as a dream feeling is established. The song ends as Hikki lists people and tells them to keep trying. It’s a very nice finish to the song and fits with the song’s overall feel.

The third song is the interesting BLUE. The song begins with a smooth instrumental before Hikki does some very nice vocalizing. During the verses, the piano serves as the central instrument for the instrumentation and Hikki’s vocals sound great during the slower parts of the song. The chorus features a stronger energy as Hikki sings higher and the music picks up tempo. Although the two pieces are placed together, they don’t clash at all and sound completely natural as they protrude the other further. The pure instrumental section is very pretty and puts an emphasis on Hikki’s strength at producing songs. BLUE is an excellent song to give the album it’s name. In an interview Hikki stated that BLUE really reflected the direction of the album and the listener can see what she meant by listening to this song.

In an interview for ULTRA BLUE, Hikki stated that 日曜の朝 was her favorite song from the album and for its relaxing atmosphere, it’s no wonder why. The song begins with a somewhat uptempo instrumental before the chorus starts. There is a certain energy to it even though the overall sound is pretty mellow. The verses are nice as they capture the slower feel of the song with deeper vocals. The hook features a higher tone instrumentation in addition to some vocalizing from Hikki in the background and even some of the lyrics sung with a whispery voice. 日曜の朝 is a fantastic track and certainly one worth the listen on ULTRA BLUE.

Making Love is a great album track..The song opens up with a nice piano interlude before the song’s true sound comes in. Her vocals during the verses are smooth and move perfectly with the music in keeping with the song’s atmosphere. The hook begins to pick up the energy in time for the chorus. Her vocals during the chorus show a little more strength and when she sings “making love,” the listener really takes notice. The verse following the second chorus is interesting as her vocal strength seems to be pushed to the background in order to focus on the rapidity at which she sings the lines. There is a sort of comical effect created by this that keeps the listener interested, which is definitely a good thing. Making Love is an excellent album track and a noteworthy fit on ULTRA BLUE.

The album’s true ballad arrives with 誰かの願いが叶うころ. The song opens up with the beautiful sound of the piano along with some vocalizing by Hikki. The verses feature some softer vocals that really do capture the song’s emotional presence. At points, it sounds as if Hikki is on the brink of tears while she is singing and it stands out to the listener strongly. The chorus stands out even more as the piano melody becomes stronger as do Hikki’s vocals. The singing of the title in particular is something that stands out to the listener. 誰かの願いが叶うころ is a very nice ballad and although it’s not her strongest ballad, it’s definitely a song to watch out for because Hikki communicates her emotions and sorrow very strongly from start to finish.

COLORS is one of the most unique sounding songs on ULTRA BLUE. After a beautiful instrumentation, the first verse comes in. The melody has its slower moments and its faster moments during the verses, which really stands out to the listener. Hikki’s vocals remain calm and somewhat angelic in time to let them fly freely on the chorus. The chorus and the following pure instrumental section stand out strongly and sound great. The instrumentation that closes the song is really a perfect finish, bringing COLORS to a close as one of the most unique and creative pieces of ULTRA BLUE that is definitely not worth missing out on.

Yamada Masashi joins Hikki for the addictive One Night Magic. The track begins with a sweet and enjoyable uptempo instrumental alongside some vocalizing from Hikki. The English phrase “all your time through all your days” during the first verse really stands out, surrounded by Japanese lyrics. Her vocals sound great here, especially as she finishes the verse when she reaches high. Masashi delivers the hook and sounds great before Hikki takes the chorus. Her vocals sound great and the background repetition of “oh baby give it up” really stands out. Masashi then repeats a line and takes Hikki into the second verse. The third verse really stands out as Hikki sings all of it in a higher register than she’s sung on the song before and it sounds heavenly. She hits her notes flawlessly, drawing attention to the overall atmosphere of the song. Masashi finishes off the song nicely after Hikki sings her chorus nicely. One Night Magic is one of Hikki’s few collaborations and one of the strongest songs on ULTRA BLUE.

海路 is a beautiful and heavenly song that puts a spotlight on the instrumentation. The song opens up with a dreamy instrumentation and Hikki is heard as she vocalizes a little. There are few lyrics in the song so that the song’s focus is really on the music and how directional it is. As the listener listens to the song, the music as well as some vocalizing from Hikki creates a journey that the listener is taken on. Her vocals are consistently strong throughout the entire song and the somewhat slow pace she delivers the lyrics works perfectly in the song’s favor as each syllable is pronounced and emphasized strongly. The lyrics, although there are few of them in the song, are powerful and are a perfect fit with the song’s overall atmosphere set forth by the sound. 海路 is a fantastic track that catches the listener’s ear from the first moment and takes the listener on a journey into Hikki’s world.

WINGS is a nice uptempo and uplifting song. The song opens with a piano interlude before the first verse comes in. Her vocals work well with the music to capture the song’s atmosphere of the lyrics. The song doesn’t really have a set structure and that connects with the free spirit of the lyrics. The sections of pure instrumental sound particularly nice as they spotlight the carefree attitude that the song evokes, keeping the listener following Hikki’s voice from start to finish. WINGS is a nice and mellow uptempo number that finds a nice home on ULTRA BLUE.

Be My Last, the album’s weakest song, is next in line. The song begins with the strumming of the guitar and the first verse. Hikki’s vocals are nice and they carry the emotions throughout the song nicely. While the desperation and emotion come across in Hikki’s voice strongly during the chorus, it doesn’t hook the listener as strongly as desired. Her vocals after singing “be my last” sound a bit whiny and are a bit off-putting. Be My Last does a good job of communicating the presence of the emotion but isn’t as strong at porraying them effectively.

The album’s interlude is Eclipse (Interlude). The song picks up with a nice uptempo energy that runs throughout the song. There isn’t much to say but Eclipse (Interlude) really is enjoyable and makes a nice transition into Passion.

Passion, one of Hikki’s signature songs for overseas fans, appears as the album’s closing number. The song begins with some smooth adlibbing over a heavenly instrumental. The song’s true sound comes in and the first vocals are of the chorus, which really make the song come to life. Her vocals are smooth and she holds her notes effortlessly. The whistles and the guitar during the pure instrumental sections sound absolutely great. The verses feature some deeper vocals from Hikki that are still smooth. The lyrics of the song are really beautiful and the combination of the instrumentation and Hikki’s vocals allows the listener to be taken into the world of Passion and experience the song’s magic. The final group of lines are sung with even more energy and with even more vocal strength. Passion is an experimental song but one that is very successful. The beauty of the instrumentation as well as the smoothness and strength of Hikki’s vocals open a magical world up to the listener and it is one of Hikki’s best songwriting qualities that comes full force.

Album Ranking: A

ULTRA BLUE is Hikki’s most experimental album to date and features many gems that are fundamental listens such as the album’s opening track This Is Love as well as the album’s closing song Passion. Tracks like One Night Magic, Keep Tryin’ and COLORS are great uptempo songs while 日曜の朝 and 海路 are glorious songs. One of Hikki’s best albums, it’s certainly worth listening to.

Koda Kumi’s 3rd studio album, entitled feel my mind, was released on 02.18.04. The album features more dance numbers than her previous albums and her ero-kakkoi image began to emerge with the release of Crazy 4 U. The singles released before the album were Gentle Words, COME WITH ME and Crazy 4 U.

Break it down is the opening song on the album and a very strong track. The song begins with Kumi checking her messages as a woman speaks and once the message plays and the man says “K.K., it’s time to bounce again,” the song’s true sound begins. An more mellow dance instrumental begins the song with some vocalizing from Kumi that sounds great. The verses feature some rather soft vocals that work with the twinkling instrumentation. The chorus stands out as Kumi shows off a little more vocal power and the repetition of “I just wanna break it down” really stands out. The third verse features an unidentified man rapping in English and honestly, his presence is definitely not needed. The song begins much like it began with Kumi doing some vocalizing and makes for an excellent finish. Break it down is a bit simplistic but a song to look for and a great opening song.

The album’s strongest song, Crazy 4 U, is the second track. The song begins with a great R&B dance beat with Kumi doing a little vocalizing before the real beat comes in. During the verses, Kumi’s vocals are a little deep but the lines are sung with a certain attitude that really stands out. The chorus is the most addictive part of the song as Kumi’s vocals are strengthened and the little English phrases “crazy for you” and “only for you” really stand out. The pure instrumental section is a perfect breakdown as the coolness and slickness of the song is spotlighted. Crazy 4 U is a hot dance track that is the album’s best offering and definitely a song to look out for.

Rock Your Body is an uptempo dance number that is very catchy. The English used in the song in the background “rock your body, move your body, on the dance floor, don’t hurt nobody” is a very nice touch and appears along with the opening instrumentation. The verses feature some slightly deeper vocals that work well with the music. The hook begins the song’s addictiveness with the English phrase “boy if you wanna down with me.” The chorus stands out as Kumi shows more vocal power and the English makes the song pop nicely. The unidentified man from Break it down returns on the song and his presence does get annoying after a while but Kumi keeps the energy up. Rock Your Body is a very nice dance song with some pretty interesting lyrics and if nothing else, the chorus is very catchy.

Rain is the album’s most beautiful and emotional ballad. The song starts out with beautiful instrumentation before the first verse starts. Her vocals during the verses are somewhat deep and they capture the sorrow of the song perfectly. It’s the chorus that really stands out as Kumi sings her heart out. She sings with power and she hits the higher notes flawlessly, enhancing the song’s sorrowful atmosphere. The pure instrumental section sounds great as it really puts a spotlight on how key the music is in maintaing the song’s sorrowful magic. The final line is said with such emotion and fragility and segues perfectly into the ending instrumentation. Rain is a beautiful song that can bring the listener to tears, truly one of the album’s best songs.

Without Your Love is a great dance song that is very catchy. The song opens up with the sound of a car being started up and then a siren is set on before the song’s catchy instrumentation begins. After a few moments of vocalizing from Kumi, the first verse starts. Her vocals are a little deep and the English words such as “sorry” and “magic” really pop and make the listener pay attention to her voice. The hook, which consists of both English and Japanese begins to introduce a more varied instrumental. She finishes it nicely with good vocals as she “my love is on the way” and the echoing of “my way” is a nice touch. The chorus is especially as Kumi shows off more vocal strength and the beat remains addictive, finishing with Kumi singing “baby boy come and knock on my door.” The third verse breaks things down a little as the music goes softly and Kumi’s vocals go with them in a softer tone and after Kumi delivers a little rap in English as she repeats “I’ll bee going crazy without your love my baby.” This same rap sequence brings the hot song to a close with the sound of helicopters overhead. Without Your Love is a very nice dance track and one of the standouts on feel my mind.

Cuteness emerges on the next track, Talk to you. The track starts off with a cute and interesting instrumental before Kumi’s vocals really bring out the cuteness as she sings the title of the song. During the verses, Kumi sings her cute voice and it fits perfectly with the song’s overall atmosphere. The chorus stands out with the English phrases that pop as well as ker kawaii voice. Following is the hook, which is what opens the song. The pure instrumental section is really interesting as more elements than just the kawaii comes out. Talk to you is the album’s cute track and Kumi does a great job of bringing the kawaii atmosphere that makes the listener follow her throughout the song.

華 is one of the album’s true ballads. Beautiful instrumentation opens the song up along with some soft vocalizing from Kumi. Kumi’s vocals after this begin deep and soon they gain a little more power in order to capture the sorrow and emotion set forth by the beautiful lyrics. The song has a relative structure that is created mostly by the vocals as the chorus features stronger and more emotional carrying vocals and the verses are deeper. The moments of pure instrumentation are wonderful as Kumi’s soft vocalizing mixes perfectly with the music to capture the song’s atmosphere. The final line of the song is a perfect finish and is a very beautiful way of bringing the song to a close. 華 is one of the strongest album tracks and is a track worth listening to.

Get Out The Way is one of the album’s catchiest dance tracks. The song opens up with a cool and fun instrumental before Kumi sings the first verse. Her vocals have enough power to make the listener pay attention to her voice but soft enough to not clash with the music. The hook is somewhat of a bridge as the instrumentation stands out a little more, as an introduction for the chorus. The chorus really stands out as Kumi’s vocals are slightly stronger and the beat becomes even more key and retains its addictive quality. The pure instrumental section is accompanied by a man speaking in the background in English as well Kumi doing a little vocalizing. It’s a nice breakdown before the hook comes in again. Get Out The Way is one of the more memorable tracks on feel my mind and is definitely a track that should not be missed.

Sweet love… is one of the blandest songs on the album. It’s a nice upbeat track with some very nice vocals however it doesn’t really stand out from the rest of the album. It has a nice atmosphere but nothing particularly noteworthy and it doesn’t fit very well with the overall sound of the album.

Gentle Words is a sweet love ballad that stands out on the album so strongly. The song begins with a mellow and peaceful instrumental, which comes before the first verse. During the verses, Kumi’s vocals are somewhat soft and the phrase “Hello, hello” really stands out. As the verse progresses the instrumentation begins to build and become more varied in time for the chorus. The chorus is strong as Kumi’s vocals are slightly more powerful and capture the song’s atmosphere perfectly. The pure instrumental section is very pretty as it spotlights the softness and fragility of the song with a few great adlibs from Kumi to make it pop. The same instrumentation which opened up the song also brings it to a fantastic close. Gentle Words is a pretty and sweet song, which Kumi’s vocals really bring to life.

magic, the semifinal track, is the album’s weakest song. The song starts off with nice instrumentation before the first verse. Her vocals are very low-pitched here and they seem a bit dry. The chorus features some nice vocals but it’s not memorable at all. magic is the album’s dryest number and what sounds like a choir backing Kumi up is not enjoyable. magic definitely should have been left off the album because it’s not a very good fit with the rest of the album’s sound.

COME WITH ME, the song that perfectly captures the sounds of summer, is the album’s closer. A fun and exciting instrumentation opens up the song before the first verse. The verses feature English phrases such as “hear me vent my best friend” as well as some nice vocals. The chorus is very memorable with Kumi’s stronger vocals and the way she holds her notes as she sings “come with me to the sun” is brilliant. The pure instrumental section puts an emphasis on how fun and exciting the music really is. COME WITH ME is a wonderful album closer and certainly a track not to be skipped.

Album Ranking: A –

feel my mind features more dance tracks than her previous album and on these songs, Kumi sounds perfectly comfortable. Tracks such as Crazy 4 U, Break it down and Rock Your Body show off Kumi’s flare over hot beats. Kumi does bring the emotions on the ballads such as Rain and Gentle Words. The album has its flaws, such as magic, but overall it’s worth the listen.

Utada Hikaru’s 2nd Japanese studio album, entitled Distance, was released on 03.28.01. R&B is a genre explored on the album. The singles released before the album were Addicted To You, Wait & See ~リスク,~ For You / タイム・リミット and Can You Keep A Secret? Parody was also released as a radio-single before the album release.

The album begins with Wait & See ~リスク.~ The song begins with Hikki singing “Is it all for you?” and the attitude that she says it with really stands out and soon she delivers an impressive vocal. With the verse, she sings with a little rapidity that stands out to the listener right away. The chorus shows off more of a rock flare in the instrumentation and Hikki’s vocals are shown off more here than in the verses, making the chorus really stand out to the listener. The third verse features more great vocals but nothing compares to the amazing note she hits right after the small pure instrumental section. Wait & See ~リスク~ is a great opening track that shows off some great vocals and a enjoyable instrumentation. It’s certainly not a track to be missed.

The second song is Can You Keep A Secret? The song opens up nicely with the chorus and once it finishes, more of a beat comes in as she repeatedly sings “hit it up like this.” Once that section finishes, the instrumentation returns back to its slower sound and her vocals really capture the emotions strongly. Hikki’s vocals sometimes sound a bit awkward during the chorus when she pronounces the name of the song. The pure instrumental section is merely okay with the strumming of the guitar and Hikki speaking in the background. Can You Keep A Secret? is the album’s blandest song for instrumentation that doesn’t particularly catch the ear of the listener and the awkwardness that Hikki’s vocals sometime create.

DISTANCE is the album’s cheeriest sounding songs, which is interesting as the lyrics don’t quite portray the same atmosphere. The song begins with a very happy souding instrumental so that the listener is taken into the world of the song from the first listen. There is a certain relaxing element to the verses that work perfectly with Hikki vocalizing in the background and her singing peacefully in the forefront. The chorus features some very nice vocals, particularly at the beginning of the chorus where she reaches high and hits the note perfectly. From its pretty and happy instrumentation in conjunction with its strong lyrics, DISTANCE is an excellent title track and stands out on the album.

サングラス is a nice and relaxing R&B number that stands out. The track opens up with a dreamy instrumentation before the song’s true beat comes in. Her vocals during the first verse sound nice and work with the music very nice. She even reaches high and hits her notes perfectly. The repetition of the word “pretender” strikes the listener throughout the song at various points. The chorus features some great vocals and are sung with the emotion of the fantastic lyrics. The pure instrumentation section is wonderful as it is a return to that dreamy atmosphere that sounds wonderful and leaves a strong impression on the listener. She finishes the song with a few adlibs, one in English “I need someone I can rely on” over the sweet music. The song is an excellent R&B number with Hikki’s vocals shown off very nicely.

Hikki explores the sounds of rock in the fantastic ドラマ. The song begins with a strong rock instrumental before the first verse. Hikki’s vocals are somewhat deep in keeping with the song’s atmosphere but become more aggressive and powerful once the chorus arrives. English is spread throughout the chorus such as “baby let me touch you” and “baby let me kiss you.” The instrumentation becomes more varied with the guitar playing a larger role in the song’s sound, making the chorus the most addictive part of the song. The hook in which she sings in English is a perfect addition to the song. She sings “tumbling, tumbling, can’t you see that I will be your ecstacy” and the atmosphere set forth by this section really fits with the overall sound of the song. ドラマ plays with the sounds of rock to create a very strong track and one of the best songs on the album.

Eternally is one of the album’s true ballads. The song begins with an orchestral opening before she beautifully sings the first verse. Her voice carries the emotions of the song strongly and show the lyrical strength vocally. Her vocals during the chorus are fantastic as she reaches high and sings the notes with emotions that come across to the listener clearly. The song is nice and her vocals sound great however at certain points, she sounds like she strains to hit the notes. Overall though, the song is a nice performance and although it isn’t the strongest song on the album, it’s worth a listen.

Addicted To You (UP-IN-HEAVEN Mix) is the album’s seventh track. The song opens up with a cool instrumentation centered around the beautiful playing of the harp. During the verse, Hikki sounds great and delivers the lyrics with a small rapidity at times that really works. Generally her voice is deep during the verses and that’s a nice choice as her vocals stand out in contrast to the soft sound of the instrumentation. The hook stands out as Hikki sings in a slightly higher tone and there is certain delicate aspect to her voice that supports the instrumentation perfectly. The chorus is even stronger as she reaches inside of her and sings even higher. She sounds fantastic and the instrumentationremains just as pretty and interesting as it did from the beginning. The fun instrumentation brings the song to a close, making Addicted To You (UP-IN-HEAVEN Mix) one of the stronger songs on the album.

For You is an uptempo R&B track. The song begins nicely with a piano opening before the first verse starts. Her vocals are somewhat deep over the catchy beat. The verses feel somewhat long and Hikki’s vocals aren’t as strong as they could have been so a certain feeling of monotony comes. The chorus features a cooler instrumentation and some smoother vocals from Hikki and thus the chorus is much more enjoyable. The last English line of the chorus “I sing this song for you” pops nicely and during pure instrumental sections, Hikki is heard saying some lines in English. The English lines sung during the third verse are a nice change of pace and somewhat surprising as she sings “I want to make you cry.” Her vocals during this verse really stand out strongly. The lyrical simplicity of the song is actually pretty effective here as there is a certain relatability that the song has. For You is a nice track that starts off somewhat weakly but picks up over the course of the song.

蹴っ飛ばせ! is one of the more catchier numbers on the album and certainly a track not to be missed. The song starts right away with Hikki singing “I want your baby” and although certainly unexpected from Hikki, it does capture the interest of the listener. The verses are split into two parts with the repetition of “I want your baby” connecting them. Her vocals during the verses are really nice and she delivers her lines with a certain rapidity that sounds great. The chorus features stronger vocals from Hikki, particularly when she sings the title of the song. Her ending note of the chorus shows off her range as she hits the higher note perfectly. The song is of the most catchy and memorable songs off of the album and the repetition of “I want your baby” is definitely something that makes the listener hooked throughout the rest of the song.

Parody features a highly interesting instrumental and a very cool sound. The song begins with a cool instrumentation before she smoothly sings her way through the first verse. Her vocals work perfectly with the instrumentation, which features some jazz influences to make the listener go with her through the song much like a story. The chorus really stands out, particularly because of the English phrases such as “life story” and “real story.” The pure instrumental section spotlights the jazz influences and even the small rock flares hidden behind the music come out. Parody is one of the funner songs on the album with a catchy beat and lyrics that tell a story.

The semifinal song on Distance is タイム・リミット. A catchy uptempo instrumental backing track begins the song before the catchy hook begins. It’s mostly in English and the catchiness of the instrumentation matches Hikki’s vocals perfectly. Hikki holds her notes on the first verse nicely and she hits the higher notes wonderfully. The chorus continues the song’s catchiness with the same feel as the hook except it is sung all in Japanese. Hikki shows off more vocal strength and range with the second verse and sounds fantastic. The pure instrumental section sounds great with a hot beat although Darkchild’s voice really does get annoying. The cool music fades out, bringing the song to a close. タイム・リミット is one of the catchier numbers on Distance and is definitely worth the listen.

言葉にならない気持ち is the perfect album closer. The song opens up with a slow and relaxing instrumentation before the first verse starts. Her vocals during the verses are somewhat deep in contrast to the higher notes she reaches during the chorus. The chorus is really catchy and the instrumentation just stands out to the listener although it is somewhat simple. The pure instrumental section sounds great and the little adlibbing that Hikki does is really a nice touch. 言葉にならない気持ち is an absolutely fantastic song and closing number for the album.

Album Ranking: A –

Hikki’s 2nd sudio album features a lot of gems such as 言葉にならない気持ち, Parody, 蹴っ飛ばせ! and ドラマ. Although there is the bland Can You Keep A Secret?, the album is still a nice collection of uptempo and R&B numbers. It’s certainly something that should not be skipped.

Koda Kumi’s 5th studio album, entitled Black Cherry, was released on 12.20.06. Her best selling studio album to date, Black Cherry is a great collection of songs. The album was loaded with singles released before the single: 恋のつぼみ, 夢のうた (ふたりで… was left off the album), 4 Hot Wave and Cherry Girl / 運命.

The album’s introduction is INTRODUCTION, a flawless introductory track with a hot dance beat. It begins with Kumi speaking in English over a mysterious sound echoing in the background. A few English phrases that come up are “one nation” and “one unity” and once a guy in the background counts down to one “let’s go!” opens up the song’s true sound. The dance beat is absolutely addictive and the English fits perfectly as she sings “rock the party, work your body” and after that sequence is repeated a few times, another part comes in. She continues to sing in English and the final line she sings is “I know really you want, tell me how you’re like…” followed by her breath. INTRODUCTION is a perfect introduction for Black Cherry and makes a perfect transition into the next song.

Get Up & Move!! is a hot dance song that makes a flawless transition from INTRODUCTION. It opens up with the addictive hook with the English line “booty shakin’ like what!” and the chorus is one of the catchiest part of the song. The hook features all English lyrics and ends with “this is for the party people” before going into the first verse. Each verse begins with an English line and the one in the first verse shows off a certain sexiness element “everytime I look into your eyes…you’ve got me really horny.” Her vocals during the verses are fun and carry the perfect amount of power to really make the listener pay attention to. The pre-chorus features some smooth and slick vocals as she holds her notes well. The chorus features both English and Japanese lyrics and is one of the most catchiest parts of the song as Kumi’s vocals demand focus. The song ends just like it began with the hook going until the very end. Get Up & Move!! is an excellent dance track and the perfect first full track.

Kumi comes strongly with the aggressive rock track, 人魚姫. A more aggressive rock instrumentation opens the song up before the first verse starts. There is a certain element of roughness to Kumi’s voice that works perfectly with the sound to create a full atmosphere. The chorus stands out strongly as Kumi has that flare in her voice that makes the listener really pay attention to her voice. The final phrase of the chorus, as she sings the title of the song followed by “tired,” really pops and brings the section to a great finish. The pure instrumental section is absolutely worth checking out as the coolness is spotlighted as the guitar is showed off powerfully. The song is a great aggressive rock song and although it’s not as strong as previous rock song, Selfish, it’s definitely a standout song on Black Cherry.  

夢のうた, the winter ballad, is the album’s fourth track. The emotional presence in this song is incredible and it really does stand out. Piano instrumentation opens the song and soon the first verse starts. Kumi sings with smooth and soft vocals that express emotions perfectly and move with the music to capture a perfect atmosphere. The chorus really stands out as Kumi shows off more vocally and the instrumentation becomes more varied and stands out. It’s the third verse in particularly where all the emotions reach a climax as Kumi sings her heart out with powerful and effective vocals. Kumi adlibs her way very nicely to the end of the song with the sounds of winter bringing the song to its finish. The song is the album’s standout ballad for capturing the emotions so strongly and effectively.

月と太陽 is the cute midtempo song on Black Cherry. A twinkling sound and some strings start off the song before elements of the chorus, English lines such as “love me” and “every day, every night” are sung by Kumi. The first verse starts and her vocals are sung somewhat in her cute voice but they carry a certain emotion that stands out to the listener. The chorus features mostly English phrases along with a couple Japanese phrases and although simplistic, it is catchy. The third verse has a dreamy-like atmosphere set by the instrumentation and Kumi’s smooth vocals only add to this atmosphere. Her adlibbing on the final chorus is a nice effect that shows off the emotion and the string instrumentation finishes the song just as beautifully as the song began. 月と太陽 is a cute track that is a strong addition to the album.

Puppy is an amazing and catchy kawaii song that finds its home on Black Cherry. The song begins with a cool and slick instrumentation and Kumi singing “I just love you.” The first verse features some nice vocals that aren’t sung with Kumi’s cute voice but still have that element of kawaii. The hook features the repeating “I just love you cause I feel so good,” which really stands out and catches the listener’s ear. Kumi brings more vocal power on the chorus and the ending of the chorus is sung with such spunk that it really does pop. The pure instrumental section spotlights just how both cool and cute the music of the song is before the chorus arrives for one more spin. The repetition of Kumi singing “I just love so good” is adorable and a perfect way to bring the song to a close. Puppy is one of the best new songs on the album for its fun atmosphere and cool approach.

Kawaii Kumi comes out for 恋のつぼみ. The song starts out with part of the chorus, which automatically hooks the listener from first listen. The verses feature Kumi singing her cute voice and make the perfect atmosphere. The hook has a slightly different instrumentation that evokes the feeling of stars before the chorus starts. Kumi’s vocals during the hook are nicely shown off as she reaches a little higher. The chorus is extremely catchy as Kumi sings with even more sparkle and cuteness that makes the listener fall in love. The pure instrumental section is a nice breakdown on the sugariness of the song before the final chorus goes in and pure instrumental finishes the song nicely. 恋のつぼみ is a happy song that is a wonderful addition to the album.

The solo version of Kumi’s collaboration with EXILE appears as WON’T BE LONG ~Black Cherry Version.~ It begins with a member of EXILE saying a few English phrases before Kumi comes in with the catchy hook. The English in the hook “the uptown Tokyo slammin’ night” pops nicely and segues nicely into the first verse. The first verse features some nice vocals from Kumi that works with the instrumentation well. The chorus features the repetition of the title in a return to the song’s true catchiness. The song’s close features a cool sound from Kumi before the hook closes the song. Although the song is somewhat repetitive, it’s a nice listen.

JUICY is the song’s sexiest and hottest dance number. The song opens up with a hot instrumentation with little looming bits of Arabian influences that make the song really pop. The verses are sung with a slickness that keeps the listener interested and with a deepness that sounds great with the instrumentation. The English used throughout the song are nice additions and really stand out on the hook with phrases such as “kill me now” and “love me tonight.” Her vocals during the hook are wonderful and she holds her notes with a sexiness that only adds to the song’s overall atmosphere. The chorus is addictive as Kumi maintains that slickness strongly and the little lines that are rapped really do the song justice. The third verse consists of her singing English phrases that keep the sexiness oozing such as “you make me hot…and wet.” Kumi’s breaths end the song over the hot instrumentation as well as her saying “I’m juicy.” JUICY is the album’s strongest track and is one of her most memorable ero-kakkoi songs.

Candle Light is a sweet and soft piano ballad that holds a lot of emotion. The beautiful sounds of the piano open the song before the first verse starts. Kumi’s delicate and fragile vocals fit the music perfectly by capturing the emotions of the song. The chorus stands out as Kumi sings a little higher and you can really hear the emotion in her voice. At some points, it sounds as if she has to take a breath as she is crying. The second verse allows her to show off a little more vocally before the final chorus starts. Her vocals on the last note of the verse make the transition perfect. The emotions come to a climax on this chorus as she sounds like she is on the brink of tears while she is singing it. Piano instrumentation brings the song to a close, making Candle Light a very pretty and soft ballad that carries emotion well.

Cherry Girl is one of the uptempo tracks that keeps the listener hooked from the opening instrumentation. Following is the chorus, which is catchy and Kumi shows off some nice vocal flare and attitude in her singing. The lyrics of the verses are delivered with a certain rapidity that make them stand out and a deeper voice that draws attention to her words. The third verse is a nice change of pace and the way she holds out her notes makes a certain sex appeal and the ending vocal is very strong. Following the chorus is a section consisting of complete English adlibs with phrases such as “juicy for my life” in powerful vocals that make them stand out very nicely. Cherry Girl is a fun uptempo track that keeps the listener interested throughout the entire song.

I’ll be there is a sweet relaxing midtempo number. The song begins with Kumi singing the chorus alongside the strumming of the guitar. The ending line, which is sung in English “I’ll be there for you,” really makes a nice impact and pops very well. The verses are the most enjoyable part of the song as they really capture the song’s atmosphere and Kumi’s vocals are beautiful. The hook features Kumi singing “I’ll be there for you, only for you” in the background, which is a very nice touch. The pure instrumental section is one of the song’s strongest points as the atmosphere is really shown off. I’ll be there is a nice and mellow midtempo song that definitely belongs on Black Cherry.

運命 is a beautiful ballad that the listener can really enjoy. Piano instrumentation along with the sound of a few string instruments open the song up before the first verse starts. Kumi’s soft vocals project emotion well and the beauty of the instrumentation really is enjoyed. The chorus is very pretty and Kumi shows off a little more vocal power that stands out strongly. The first word, the title of the song, opens the second verse and the way she sings it really does stand out. The third verse stands out particularly as the instrumentation takes more of a presence in the song as it becomes louder and Kumi’s vocals are shown off strongly. 運命 is a very pretty ballad with emotions coming through strongly.

One of Kumi’s best kawaii songs to date is With your smile, which is cute but also has a fun dance beat. The song opens with part of the chorus, which features some fun English lyrics “I just want kiss you, smile me, touch me.” The first verse has a certain relaxed summer feeling that really stands out to the listener and is something that is so addictive. The hook serves as a bridge as elements of the uptempo and fun instrumentation begin to be introduced in time for the exciting chorus. Her vocals during the chorus carry the energy and excitement to make the song just so loveable. The pure instrumental section spotlights the summery atmosphere of the song before the hook comes in nicely. The same words that began the song are what end it, making With your smile an awesome semifinal track and one of Kumi’s best cute songs ever.

ミルクティー, a cute song that Kumi composed herself, closes the album. The song begins with Kumi singing in her cute voice over a pretty simplistic instrumentation so that her words and vocals are in the forefront. Soon, a beat comes in more strongly and Kumi shows off a little more vocal strength. The following sequence stands out mostly for the “la la la” and the “oohs” that capture that kawaii atmosphere perfectly. Kumi sings her way wonderfully out, making ミルクティー a somewhat short song but a nice and relaxing finish track.

Album Ranking: A +

Koda Kumi’s 5th album Black Cherry features a variety of songs that show off her sexy side to her emotional side to her cute side. The dance songs such as Get Up & Move!! and JUICY are really her forte and she sounds completely natural singing them. She really connects with the emotional songs like 夢のうた and 運命. The cute element really does stand out with songs such as With your smile and Puppy. Black Cherry is a great collection of songs from Kumi and is an album no Kumi fan should miss.

Utada Hikaru’s 3rd Japanese studio album, entitled DEEP RIVER, was released on 06.19.02. The album is critically acclaimed for its beautiful lyrics and amazing sound. The singles released before the album were FINAL DISTANCE, traveling, 光 and SAKURA ドロップス / Letters.

The album opens up with the beautiful SAKURA ドロップス. A drum-roll opens up the song before the chorus comes in. Her vocals during the chorus are breathtaking as she hits the high notes wonderfully and sings the rest with power and emotion. Sections of pure instrumentation really spotlight the creativity and the beauty behind the music. During the verses, the instrumentation becomes simplistic and the emphasis is put on Hikki’s voice, which is somewhat deep. As the verses appraoch their end, Hikki’s breath is heard in the background as she sings and the flourish of instrumentation re-introduces the chorus perfectly. Following the third chorus, the guitar is spotlighted during a section that consists of pure instrumentation along with some adlibbing from Hikki that sounds great. This sequence closes the song nicely, making SAKURA ドロップス one of the prettiest songs on DEEP RIVER and the perfect opening song that captures beautiful instrumentation and strong lyrics.

traveling picks up the energy very nicely in this uptempo track. The song begins with a magical instrumentation that takes the listener into the world of the song from the very beginning. Following a small section of vocals from Hikki is the first verse. There is a certain catchiness that really sounds nice and Hikki’s vocals only enhance it. The hook feature some vocalizing by Hikki in the background while she delivers her lyrics with a spirit that is very enjoyable. The title of the song really does stand out during the chorus, which is definitely the most catchy part of the song. The vocal strength during the song is very nice as it adds to the pleasant atmosphere of the song. The third verse allows for even more vocal prowess to be shown off as Hikki delivers her lyrics wonderfully. traveling does a great job of capturing a fun spirit and taking the listener into the world of the song from start to finish.

幸せになろう is one of the album’s upbeat tracks that really is an enjoyable listen. The song begins with a clacking sound before the first verse starts. Hikki sounds great as she sings over a sole piano instrumentation and there is such a graceful feeling established that the listener really can feel what she is saying. The chorus picks the energy up and has a sound similar to her earlier works as a nice and catchy R&B sound. The second verse is similar to the first however the instrumentation is solely focused on the piano and a larger emphasis is placed on the beat. The hook comes after the second chorus, which features English lyrics and the way that she sings her lyrics makes the lyrics step out even more. The hook followed by a nice piano finish brings the song to a great close. 幸せになろう is a very nice track and is one of the more enjoyable songs from DEEP RIVER.

Deep River is one of the album’s best songs for its beautiful sound as well as the personal lyrics. The song opens up with gorgeous instrumentation with a few soft vocals from Hikki before the first verse starts. She delivers her lines perfectly with enough softness to really capture the emotion of the song but enough power to put a focus on her lyrics. The chorus stands out the most as Hikki’s vocals show their range as she hits the higher notes perfectly and her “ahhs” sound heavenly with the music. She then follows by saying “that’s why I chose you” and the emotional charge behind that one line really is amazing. After the final chorus, Hikki sings some adlibs that allow her to reach higher and they make a perfect finish to the personal song. Deep River is one of the best songs on the album for Hikki’s wonderful vocals and absolutely fantastic lyrics that can really resonate with the listener.

Letters is a very nice track that was released as a single before the album. The song opens up with strumming and soon the first verse starts. Her vocals remain well-pitched in a higher range and the hook is an enjoyable section as Hikki vocalizes a little in the background and she sings her way nicely into the chorus. The chorus is nice with a very interesting beat with some great supporting vocals. The “aahs” really sound great and stand out from the chorus strongly. Nearing the end, Hikki speaks in English to the beat and its presence in the song is somewhat unexpected but enjoyable nonetheless. Letters is a very nice track with an interesting and cool beat and some more talented vocals from Hikki. It’s certainly not a track to be missed.

プレイ・ボール is one of the most interesting and addictive songs on DEEP RIVER. The song opens up with a cool and somewhat dark instrumentation before the first verse starts. Her vocals sound wonderful here in combination with the instrumentation and as the verses come to a close, the music begins to become a little more varied. Hikki introduces the chorus as she speaks in English saying “sounds like play ball.” The chorus is easily the most addictive part of the song as Hikki delivers the lyrics nicely and the English phrases such as “first impression” and words such as “mission” and “passion” really pop. Of particular interest are the Japanese words that bear a resemblance to their English counterparts such as “hunter” and “runner” and their inclusion really was interesting. The pure instrumental section is a cool addition as the guitar is spotlighted before returning back to the final chorus. Hikki shows off even more vocal range as she hits the higher notes wonderfully. This song is an excellent addition to the album and is certainly a track that should not be skipped.

東京 NIGHTS is another uptempo track that has a catchy beat to it. The first verse starts strongly with some deeper vocals from Hikki but she sings the lyrics to a very nice beat, making the words stand out more. She then sings in a higher octave and sounds great. The chorus continues the ascent of her vocal range as she sings higher and the English phrases such as “love is hard to find” make the chorus pop very nicely. The section of pure instrumentation after the chorus sound great especially with the very pretty strumming that ends each line of music. The third verse takes the sound in a slightly different direction with the instrumentation varying slightly and taking more on the element of the strumming to fit with Hikki’s vocals well. 東京 is a very nice uptempo song that stands out as being one of the more catchier numbers on DEEP RIVER.

A dark atmosphere arises on A.S.A.P. The beginning instrumentation conveys a dark atmosphere with the feeling of a storm in the air. The verses feature deeper vocals in order to keep up with the overall feeling of the music. The hook allows for a slight change of feeling as a more poppish sound is achieved before the chorus comes in. There is a return to that darker feeling and there are some nice vocals but the repetition of “A.S.A.P.” sounds a little bland. The second verse features lyrics that are delivered with a certain rapidity that works very nicely with the music. A.S.A.P. does a nice job of conveying the dark atmosphere that Hikki wished to create and even the desired image of a “wolf-girl” comes to live at parts such as the second verse but overall the song is somewhat bland.

嘘みたいな I Love You is a venture into the sounds of rock. The song’s opening features an exploration into rock that sounds very strong but once the verse starts, the aggressiveness of the music is lowered and there is a certain softness that combines well with Hikki’s voice. The constant guitar riffs throughout the song are a bit off-putting and would have been better had they been left for just pure instrumental sections. The chorus is pretty bland just like the instrumentation at this point but once the chorus finishes, the music jumps back to its cool and aggressive sound that it displayed at the beginning. Ending this track is the same interesting and cool instrumentation that opened it. The moment in which it stops and then continues again is a great moment that keeps the listener on the edge while listening to it. The song has some nice points during the pure instrumental sections but besides them, the song is pretty bland.

FINAL DISTANCE is the ballad version of Distance, from her previous studio album, which was used to commemorate a school shooting. The song opens up much differently from its original with piano playing alongside emotional vocals from Hikki. The following melancholy vocals really do capture the sorrow with an almost haunting atmosphere. During the verses, Hikki’s vocals carry perfectly with the music to establish that sorrowful feel and she shows off some very strong vocals. The chorus brings the emotions to a climax as the English phrases such as “I wanna be with you now” and “we can start over” capture the spirit of the song perfectly. The vocals near the end of the song are fantastic and the way that she holds them are really reflective of the song’s emotional hold. FINAL DISTANCE is a fantastic and emotional ballad that Hikki brings to life with her powerful vocals.

The interlude for DEEP RIVER is Bridge (Interlude). After a few moments of silence, a mysterious orchestral instrumentation arrives and it sounds beautiful. The strings sound fantastic and soon an uptempo element comes in, keeping the energy of the interlude up nicely. More silence ends the interlude, rounding it off as being strong from beginning to finish. Bridge (Interlude) is a very nice interlude with some beautiful orchestral music that makes it stand out strongly.

光 is the album’s closing song and the perfect finishing track. The song begins immediately with the chorus, which features some great vocals from Hikki and shows off her range as she hits the higher notes fantastically. The guitar serves as the central force of instrumentation during the verses, which are pretty addictive. The lyrics and her vocals both combine to tell a story and that quality is something that makes the song so loveable. Nearing the end of the verses, Hikki sings in a lower tone and the instrumentation varies slightly to make a perfect entrance for the chorus. These sections particularly stand out to the listener and really do sound great. The second verse features some great vocals as Hikki holds her notes perfectly and with consistent strength. The hook that follows the third chorus continues in the vein of the chorus’ sound with great vocals and an enjoyable sound. Pure instrumentation along with some very nice adlibbing from Hikki brings the song to a fantastic close. With its personal lyrics and the happy uptempo sound, 光 is one of Hikki’s most signature songs and is a perfect fit with the album.

Album Ranking: A

Hikki’s third Japanese album is critically acclaimed and it’s no wonder why. The lyrical content on the album is fantastic, showing thought and care and the sounds of songs such as プレイ・ボール and SAKURA ドロップス. Beautiful songs like Deep River and FINAL DISTANCE show Hikki can channel her emotions effectively to create wonderful music. One of Hikki’s signature songs, 光, appears as the album’s closing number and is a perfect finish and representation of everything that DEEP RIVER is. DEEP RIVER is an excellent album that offers a variety of sounds and moods and is something worth trying out.