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Posts Tagged ‘Mika Nakashima’

I have listened (and purchased) a lot more music this year compared to 2009, which means a bit more selection to be reviewed. Last year’s best of showcased only 3, and this year is no exception. A first in nearly 3 years will have this countdown reinvolve music from North America as the last 2 years only focused on JPop. Ranking the 3 accordingly this year was more difficult because I love all 3 albums equally.

3:
STAR — 中島美嘉 (Nakashima Mika)

It seemed easy for her to top her 2008 release, “VOICE” but this is definitely a solid album from start to finish. There aren’t many surprises this time around (like her Mica 3 Chu group a few years back), either a ballad or a dance track; yet the tracklist for it is placed quite well so it doesn’t get tiring on either front.

Fav tracks: (#1) ALWAYS, (#5) GAME, (#10) SPIRAL, (#11) Memory (Feat. DAISHI DANCE), (#13) 流れ星, (#14) SONG FOR A WISH

2:
LIFE — アンジェラ・アキ (Angela Aki)

I really wanted this album to be #1, only to be trumped by the eventual #1. Similar formula to her last album, ANSWER, but tweaked a bit in the form of half-n-half language songs. 6 of the songs are completely in English, which begs the question if and when she’ll make another attempt at cracking the Western (North America or Europe) market. Gone are the very long, yet amazing ballads (see: Dahlia and Requiem from “ANSWER”), which overall is a better listening experience. It’s hard for her not to make an album of a sub-par level. I need not say anymore, she’s consistently that good. And to think since Jun Shibata hadn’t released an album for 2010, it would finally top my list, however…

Fav Tracks: (#1) 愛の季節, (#2) 輝く人, (#6) Unbreakable, (#10) The Truth Is Like A Lie, (#12) 母なる大地, (#13) LIFE

1:
Have One On Me — Joanna Newsom

Where to begin? Well, admittingly I bought this album in June (unknowingly released in February), and not a moment too soon. I think it was about the time I found out she was performing in Vancouver. So a double-whammy of sorts, bought the album and the ticket to the concert ’round the same time. Much like her 2006 masterpiece, “Ys”, she once again doesn’t just relied on her harp as percussion and piano seemed to be quite prominent. More so, her vocals have matured once more. The elf-like vocals are long gone; still very high in pitch but less piercing (re: Milk-eyed mender). Oh, did I mention that this album is 2 hours long? (it’s split into 3 discs) But here’s the thing, it’s not fatiguing at all. It’s such a pleasant and magical ride you’ll take when you listen to this album. “Ys” set the bar for her, and it very well matched it.

Fav tracks: (1-#1) Easy, (1-#2) Have One On Me, (1-#4) Good Intentions Paving Company, (2-#3) In California, (2-#4) Jackrabbits, (2-#6) Occident, (3-#2) Esme, (3-#5) Kingfisher

Here’s hoping 2011 will bring just as much brilliance as 2010 did.

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Well, with the year gradually winding down and during the time of Christmas shopping and the endless loops of holiday music piercing your brain (a relief I don’t have to put up with). Music releases take a holiday as well; with only a handful of new albums in December — save for Christmas releases. You patiently wait for the New Year to arrive for new music; but before you do that, you look back at the year that was. You look at your CD library you’ve accumulated (or downloaded for some of you) and you dwindle down to the truly best in your honest opinion; what you couldn’t stop listening to all of 2008.

Now, as I’ve done in the previous year, my guideline is that new releases starting from the posted date (generally mid-December) up to the most current “best of”. Aside from one exception in this list, the rest were released sometime in 2008. And much like my list in 2007, it’s an all Japanese Pop “best of”. Only fitting since I’ve been in Japan since September. I thought of splitting the top10 to 2 parts, but it would look odd in the grand scheme that #10-6 would be below #5-1 (if you get what I’m saying).

10:

The Voice – KOKIA
Her voice alone is warranting enough to be top 10 worthy — classically trained, pleasing to the ear. She does it with ease and done wonderfully. And although her voice is incredible, on certain tracks, the instrumentation doesn’t fit the vocals ( eg: ごめんね。 ). It seems it’s taking away the emotion of her voice — that’s the way I see it.

>Favourite tracks: 穏やかな静けさ~浄歌 (Odoyaka na Shizukesa), ave maria

9:

Kingdom – Koda Kumi ( 倖田來未 )
When I first listened to her 2006 album Black Cherry earlier this year, I held it to a high regard. It all came together, and Kingdom had almost the same formula for a great album. Sultry voice with some bumpin’ beats. She threw in a couple of decent ballad tracks. I think there’s something good in this album for anyone to like.

>Favourite tracks: 愛のうた (Ai no Uta), 恋の魔法 (Koi no Mahou), Wonderland, Black Cherry [INTRODUCTION Full Ver.]

8:

Hikari Nadeshiko ( ひかりなでしこ ) – Shimamiya Eiko ( 島みやえい子 )
I had high anticipation for Eiko’s new album early in 2008 since her previous record, “O”, was hands-down a top 3 album of ’06. And there in lies the problem, I held it too high of regard and compared it too much to “O” that “Hikari Nadeshiko” was an anti-climax of an album in the end. Although not bad of an album in itself, there were a lot of chill-down tracks that I wasn’t used to hear from her.

>Favourite tracks: ひかりなでしこ (Hikari Nadeshiko), all alone, 奈落の花 (Naraku no Hana), 十四の月 (Juuyon no Tsuki)

7:

Himitsu ( 秘密 ) – aiko
aiko makes it too easy now; cheery love songs comprised of piano, strings, and guitar. She can come up with a song like that in her sleep it seems. And there is a 2-prong effect to it; in certain tracks she always re-invents the cheery, happy love song and always finds a way to make it sound different without making it sound, well, different (get what I’m saying?). But in some cases, it’ll sound very similar to her previous work. I mean, 10 years and 8 studio albums later, it’s not always gonna be perfect. aiko’s albums always seem to be very consistent; no real standout tracks. It’s a real treat for me to see a new album from her. A fan of hers since 2001 when I first heard “September”; keep at it, aiko!

>Favourite tracks: 二人 (Futari), 横顔 (Yokogao), シアワセ (Shiawase)

6:

VOICE – Nakashima Mika ( 中島美嘉 )
Just made the cut-off for the year-end review, and not a moment too soon. I liked her ’06 work, “YES”, and I like “VOICE” much more. As the album title implies, Mika’s voice is the main focus and if you look closely at the album cover, she has a tattoo on her right wrist, which says, “Trust your voice”. It’s a very nice touch all things considered. a good blend of soft tracks, danceable tracks, even a couple of rockin’ tracks towards the end — which does show the range of her voice from beautiful to pure raw. My favourite track of this album, 声 (Koe – “Voice”), is written by one of my favourite Japanese artists, Shibata Jun. Paired with Mika’s vocals on that track and it’s a match maid in heaven!

>Favourite tracks: 声 (Koe), LIFE, SAKURA ~花霞~ (DAISHI DANCE), FOCUS

5:

HEART STATION – Utada Hikaru ( 宇多田ヒカル )
This is another solid effort by Hikki. A few tracks still have that experimental-esque beats like her previous album, ULTRA BLUE. It seems to suit her well; they have a smooth flow to it. The ballad version of “Flavor of Life” is the crown jewel of this record — used in the Japanese drama, Hana Yori Dango 2 (Boys over Flowers), shows the true talent in her vocals as well as incredible instrumentation of strings and piano.

>Favourite tracks: Fight the Blues, HEART STATION, Flavor of Life -Ballad Ver-, Stay Gold

4:

5 (FIVE) – Berryz Koubou ( Berryz工房 )
A seven-piece idol group with staying power only bested by Morning Musume has to warrant for something and Berryz’s new album is their best yet. As with their previous albums they either have 2 or 3 members do vocals only on certain tracks, or even just a solo member singing for one track. There is so much versatility in this group and they find the right combination in doing so. Cute beats and cute vocals will leave you smiling.

>Favourite tracks: HAPPY! Stand Up, この指とまれ! (Kono Yubi Tomare!), バカにしないで (Baka ni Shinaide), REAL LOVE, 付き合ってるのに片思い (Tsukiatteru no ni Kataomoi)

3:

Kirarin Land ( きらりん☆ランド ) – Tsukishima Kirari starring Kusumi Koharu ( 月島きらり starring 久住小春 )
So yes, the exception of this list as it was released on 19 Dec 2007. Now you may be asking, “an anime-based album ranked this high? You must be crazy!” Well, be that as it may, but if I were to sum up this album in 3 words (which I won’t), it’d be “Upbeat, Happy, & Cute”. Every track on this album will make you feel good about yourself. From the ongoing anime “Kirarin Revolution”, the female lead, Kirari, aspires to become an idol after falling in love with a fellow idol which throughout the series thus far, she spreads her spirit of joy and happiness to everyone she encounters, while trying her best as a 14 year-old idol.

>Favourite tracks: ハッピー☆彡 (happy), チャンス!(Chance!), はなをぷーん (Hana wo Pu-n), 恋の魔法はハビビのビ! (Koi no Mahou wa Habibi no Bi!)

2:

Communication!!! – Leah Dizon ( リア・ディゾン )
Now, Leah has really grown as an artist this past year. She’s shown how capable she is as a singer from her last album, “Destiny Line”, and now she has taken it to another level with this new album. I had ranked Destiny Line at #10 in ’07 because while the songs were good on its own, for some reason it didn’t play the same result as an entire album – the flow wasn’t there. Leah’s Japanese has vastly improved and thus a major improvement when it comes to some of her songs, which she sings in Japanese. It’s a great danceable album by all accounts with some surprisingly good ballads in there (Without a Goodbye, Lost at Sea).

>Favourite tracks: Love paradox, LOVE SWEET CANDY, Lost at Sea, Communication!!!, Not Too Bad

1:

Shin’ai Naru Kimi e ( 親愛なる君へ ) – Shibata Jun ( 柴田淳 )
A familiar place at the top for her as she topped my “best-of” in 2007. The first track, カラフル, (colourul) showed an upbeat, carefree version of Shibajun; reserved for only a handful of her tracks. It’s all business from there as her ballads are delivered superbly; amazing instrumentation to boot. Right from the jazzy-feel of メロディ (melody) to the beautiful piano -laden track, ふたり, (Futari — Two People) this album will truly amaze you and you’ll feel the emotion from every note and lyric — whether you know Japanese or not.

>Favourite tracks: カラフル (Colourful), 椿 (Tsubaki), 愛をする人 (Ai wo Suru Hito), メロディ (Melody), ふたり (Futari)

*Images courtesy Amazon JP

Kusumi Koharu’s new album releases next week (17th). You know I’ll be getting that on release day and a review soon after.
Love it or hate it? Would you change anything different? Any additions you’d put? Do let me know.

Keep listening.

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