Kurayami Monogatari

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Ai Otsuka – LOVE HONEY April 21, 2017

Filed under: Ai Otsuka — solarblade @ 6:29 am

lovehoney

Track Listing

  1. HONEY
  2. Watashi
  3. QueeN
  4. TOKYO Sanpo
  5. Sakura Harahara
  6. HEART BREAK
  7. Monochrome
  8. make up
  9. FrogFlag
  10. HEY!BEAR
  11. Starting Pistol
  12. Hibi, Ikite Ireba

1. HONEY

Opening the album, we have the title track for the album and it starts lightly with Ai under a nice mellow tone.  Though I was mesmerized after the introductory lines as the tune turns into a smoother low-jazzy arrangement with some light sitar runs throughout.  If anything the song reminds me of some of her earlier works that took the listener to wondrous and flowing space.  It is the album’s shortest track though making above 3 minutes, but I felt that it was good enough so it didn’t feel like the track was going to start dragging.  Pretty nice for the opening track.

2. Watashi

As the lone A-side released, Watashi comes next and just having listen to it a couple weeks ago has still left a decent appreciation about it.  It still carries that dreamscape-y vibes that “HONEY” kicked the album off with, but it adds on a nice and light dance beat to carry the song in a happier motif.  Like I said on the review, it’s not her most extravagant song in her discography but it does no harm overall and feels right coming after the previous track.

3. QueeN

Back to new tracks, QueeN happens to focus more on the synth/dance elements that “Watashi” had started to move towards in flow on the album.  Listening to it, it does feel like a track that would’ve easily fit on her last album, “LOVE TRiCKY” just from the beat and overall EDM style.  Ai-chin also sounds pretty good here and she does some interesting things in general tone too!  Overall, it’s nice and a good track to just lose yourself to, or a great background song at a club…it kind of works both ways.

4. TOKYO Sanpo

I almost wanted to say just from the intro that TOKYO Sanpo was going to be going in an Ondo route, but it doesn’t and reverts back to more EDM.  I’m not quite sure what to think of this song entirely.  It feels like “QueeN” but a little more complex and cuter overall.  It’s not bad though but for some reason it’s making me realize how much I miss the fact that “Joshi Shelter” isn’t anywhere on this album.

5. Sakura Harahara

That bitterness is also there because Sakura Harahara made it (the other B-side from “Watashi”).  Though I can’t be too mad because this was quite amazing in its own right as well.  This mid-tempo number is quite groovy and the chilled vibes I get are just wonderful, on top of the instrumentation/arrangement.  It’s still a nice song to listen to even after the single release!

6. HEART BREAK

We finally slow down enough for a ballad!  At least I felt like it did initially from the opening bars of HEART BREAK, but it does gradually build up to more of a mid-tempo ballad but with acoustic guitars to fill out the stereo with.  Now with this one, it feels like a leftover track from “LOVE FANTASTIC” because of the guitar-heavy arrangement.  That said, a lot of those album tracks from that album kind of flew over my head and I’m getting the same feeling here…

7. Monochrome

At least we get into an actual ballad with Monochrome which is led by very light guitar and a jazzy piano.  It’s hard to place this song where it lies amongst her numerous other ballads, but I do really like the arrangement of the tune and the buildup with strings and light synths are fitting and not so much intruding the feeling of the track.  Sounds like a wintry song for some reasons, but I found myself by lulled by it.  A lot more interesting than “HEART BREAK” that’s for sure.

8. make up

After the break, we jump right back into upbeat songs with make up and moving from a winter-esque ballad to a darker EDM type of track, make up is kind of a surprising twist and in a way kind of cool!  There are some psychedelic undertones to the track, but it also gives me Halloween vibes too but that may be from the chords and the synths lower register.  Ai-chin is also sounding more whispy and mysterious too…quite the oddball track, but I dug it a LOT!

9. FrogFlag

Hey, there’s a strange titled track here!  I guess if anything, her jazz songs seem to be getting the more oddball titles (“Toilet Paper Blues” & “Shachihata” anyone??).  Either way, her jazz songs also seem to showcare Ai’s vocals in a MUCH stronger light and like those songs before, Ai hits it out of the part with FrogFlag and it just catches my attention so quickly at how she held back this awesome voice!  Awesome song!

10. HEY!BEAR

Another oddball title for a song?  I wasn’t sure what to expect from this song because the jazz song was already taken.  HEY!BEAR is more towards the cuter side of pop mixed in with a dance beat!  I do like the funky guitar tones that back the whole thing and Ai sounds adorable (even though coming after “FrogFlag”, it’s a bit of a surprise at how different her tone is between the two).  Catchy song, but I feel like it could’ve been somewhere around “TOKYO Sanpo”.

11. Starting Pistol

The light tapping that opens up Starting Pistol caught my attention and then hearing acoustic guitar and Ai repeating the title was goofy, but luckily it doesn’t last too long.  The groove is very Samba-esque (not the carnivale kind, at least).  The track might be less energetic than “HEY!BEAR” but its got a nice thing going for itself.  The only thing that left me confused was the hip-hop breakdown in the bridge (she didn’t even sing during it either…).  Otherwise, this song is a light hip rolling song and I kind of liked that about it.

12. Hibi, Ikite Ireba

Closing out the album is oddly enough a digital single that was released last July so it stands that it was the first song to represent the album lol.  As a song itself it feels like the parallel opposite to “FrogFlag” by being a big band ballad.  Right from the start, I LOVE the muted horns melody before adding the rest into the track.  Ai’s voice is light and cute, but for some reason the mixture together gives me Seseme Street vibes and I’m not sure if I was that into that.  Still, it’s a nice rainy day song to just relax with a hot chocolate with.

Tracks Recommended

  • FrogFlag
  • make up
  • Sakura Harahara
  • QueeN
  • Monochrome

Song of Avoidance

  • HEART BREAK

As this is Ai-chin’s 8th album, LOVE HONEY is actually quite decent all-around.  It feels like she kind of has a mix of stuff from her last two albums brought here and I kind of dug it and it felt cohesive too.  The only song that I wasn’t really into is HEART BREAK but that’s the only song that felt like it didn’t really add anything to the album.  Otherwise, I was pretty content with this one 😀

 

Ai Otsuka – Watashi February 22, 2017

Filed under: Ai Otsuka — solarblade @ 4:38 pm

watashiai

Track Listing

  1. Watashi
  2. Sakura Harahara
  3. Joshi Shelter
  4. Watashi (Instrumental)
  5. Sakura Harahara (Instrumental)
  6. Joshi Shelter (Instrumental)

1. Watashi

As the leading track of the single, Watashi is actually quite nice and something that just isn’t a total balad, but something more along the lines of an upbeat tune.  It’s been a while since I’ve heard Ai-chin sounding like something from her first three albums. I do think the best part of the song is its choruses where the beat takes over and the tune goes to an fun and upbeat area.  Maybe not her most striking A-side, but it’s pretty good!

2. Sakura Harahara

Our next track, I have to say was something I wasn’t expecting with a spacey arrangement and is that pan flute I hear in different places on top of small snippets of shimasen?  Yeah, the tune is a laidback kind of mid-tempo ballad that throws in some Japanese folk instruments to spice things up.  It’s a slick song and probably my favorite of the single!

3. Joshi Shelter

Though I feel like the other B-side of the single is more like leftovers from “LOVE TRiCKY” due to its dance-centric arrangement, but at the same time, it does feel a little different from her recent happening since it has chanting and it’s got a pretty cool arrangement to add to the dance beats.  Definitely another favorite of the single.

After taking another small break, Ai-chin returns with Watashi and she hasn’t missed a beat as the whole single is very enjoyable to listen to.  Watashi might not be the star of the single, but this is a decent A-side and really makes up for some of her past singles that I wasn’t quite into (plus it does remind me of old Ai-chin music).  Sakura Harahara & Joshi Shelter though were the surprises as both just are unique and really brought back the Ai-chin that takes risks in her music.  With an album coming next, I’m kind of excited to see where her sound rounds up to!

 

Ai Otsuka – LOVE TRiCKY April 23, 2015

Filed under: Ai Otsuka — solarblade @ 1:58 pm

lovetricky

Track Listing

  1. Time Machine
  2. laugh
  3. summer lovely days
  4. affair
  5. I’m lonely
  6. reach for the moon
  7. shooting star
  8. Parallel World
  9. busy lady
  10. end and and ~10,000 hearts~

1. Time Machine

Wow, wasn’t expecting the album to open up with synths and such!  Yup, Time Machine really sets the album for what it’ll sound like for majority of it.  It’s very spacey and very Ai-chin since it kind of reminds me of her revisioned “5:09AM -Perrier-“.  Ai’s voice sounds relaxed and fun as well which adds to the bright EDM track.  It is a bit long for over 5 minutes for some reason, but it’s a nice first track.

2. laugh

Though I have to say, I wasn’t expecting a slightly darker sounding track to come in in the form of laugh.  With Ai’s vocals put on filters for majority of the track, it gives a really cool feel to the track and the ~give me love, give me love, give me love hey…~ of the chorus is different (and could be repetitive for some), but this song instantly connected to me.  Still the deeper arrangement is pretty awesome and the bridge was cool too.  Definitely an early favorite for me!

3. summer lovely days

Taking a more lighter route with summer lovely days, it’s a surprise that it departs from the beats to have a more natural flow and I quite liked the softer glow in this songs.  Ai’s voice is quite lovely here and the acoustic guitar mixed with the small synth blips are just sending peaceful vibes.  Makes me think of “Coco Natsu Vacation” but more towards today’s standards.  Very pretty song!

4. affair

Next up, the beats are back in full punch with the intro but with clapping beats as well which is interesting to hear.  I’m not sure what Ai was going for here because the arrangement feels like it would’ve been suited for Kuu but then at the same time Ai gives a mysterious feel to it that I don’t think no one could replicate.  It’s an odd song, but I like it lol.

5. I’m lonely

Getting into I’m lonely, why did I get a weird feel like it sounds like something Lady Gaga would be OK with using?  Ai’s voice is a little more deeper sounding in the verses but opens up with the chorus which is pretty cool.  It’s a pretty cool track and very up to current sounds in J-pop.

6. reach for the moon

Then things finally take a break and we enter the ballad of the album, reach for the moon.  It’s a bit weird, but it fits amongst the upbeat tracks because after a while it gets a beat and becomes a mid-tempo presentation.  After a while, the song kind of just fades to the back of my mind…just seems like it’s a bit too repetitive and has not a whole lot of direction.  Also a bit too long over 5 and a half minutes.

7. shooting star

Our next track feels like from the start it’s building up to a really kickass song, but like “reach for the moon” it kind of doesn’t and ends up almost sounding like the mentioned track with a little more melody involved so it evades being another borefest.  It sounds great for driving at night…it’s just real smooth and soothing at the same time.

8. Parallel World

Next track up, Parallel World gives us another upbeat song with the focus on piano acting as a secondary melody (well when it’s present, since a lot of it has the synths).  Ai’s vocals are a bit on the higher side of things, but she tries to keep herself in check and it wasn’t ear-piercing either!  It’s alright overall.

9. busy lady

Now this sounds like something familiar to me.  Well, knowing that STUDIO APARTMENT had produced the album mostly, busy lady really reminded me of their music which is really nice because it’s relaxing and yet is done so professionally.  busy lady is quite nice to listen to actually some of the arrangement reminds me of a mix of Ami Suzuki’s “The WeekeND” and “Bitter…” which the latter was produced by STUDIO APARTMENT.  Still a cool song for sure!

10. end and and ~10,000 hearts~

Then the album closes out with end and and (wht?) and kicks it off with a heartbeat before the song moves faster and opens to a piano intro into the song.  Though after a while it really grows into a nice dance track and Ai’s whispy vocals suit the sound great.  A nice ending to the album!

Tracks Recommended

  • laugh
  • busy lady
  • summer lovely days
  • shooting star

Song of Avoidance

  • reach for the moon

Wow, I wasn’t expecting Ai to release a new album over than half a year after “LOVE FANTASTIC” was released.  Lucky she did because while I do think the aforementioned album was OK, the new songs were mostly lackluster and boring.  LOVE TRiCKY on the other hand was totally unexpected and with the album being drenched over EDM courtesy from STUDIO APARTMENT and the overall experience was really nice, if not slightly safe.  Meaning the a lot of the songs didn’t have too much depth to them, but focused on the music more than Ai’s vocals which is something she doesn’t do a lot of in her career.  It’s a better album than her last two studio albums, but makes it in the middle for overall in her career.

 

Ai Otsuka – LOVE FANTASTIC July 16, 2014

Filed under: Ai Otsuka — solarblade @ 10:51 am

lovefantastic

Track Listing

  1. LOVE FANTASTIC
  2. More More
  3. LUCKY☆STAR
  4. CHU×CHU
  5. Gomen ne.
  6. Mawari Mawaru Mawareba Mawaro
  7. Lai Lai
  8. Action 10.5
  9. 9
  10. Zokkondition
  11. I ♥ ×××
  12. Re:NAME

1. LOVE FANTASTIC

The album opens up with promotional song for the album LOVE FANTASTIC is such a pleasant song to open up with.  It’s a lot like her past works where it’s light but upbeat at the same time.  Loving the atmosphere and Ai’s vocals have not changed much which is great!  It might remind some people of her early days or some songs from her last album too.  Great song to lead things off with and a good choice to kick things off!

2. More More

Which brings us to the last single released before the album, More More.  I really missed Ai-chin’s more upbeat and sillier songs and More More really represented that side to her.  I mean it’s still a bit safe (when compared to her more abstract stuff).  It’s pretty catchy and Ai just sounds so lively.  Great A-side and is one of my favorites of the era.

3. LUCKY☆STAR

Wow!  When I saw the tracklist, I wasn’t expecting anything that was pre-hiatus to make the cut, but NOPE.  As the first single for the album (released all the way back in 2010…yeah over 3 years ago), LUCKY☆STAR seems so strange to be heard on the album.  Best known as the song used for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, this song was pretty different for Ai being more synthy and well kind of dancey.  I mean for being such an OLD song…it sounds fresh but if you’ve been a close follower this might be odd to some people.  I personally still love the song so it was nice she included the singles before she went on maternal leave.

4. CHU×CHU

Our 2nd new track, CHU×CHU tones things down a bit by having more of a mid-tempo flow with a prominent acoustic feel to it.  Simple in arrangement, CHU×CHU is a really chill and soft tune with some pretty vocals from Ai.  It isn’t the more exciting track on the album, but it’s simple and pretty which is nice (though that title made me think of “CHU-LIP”).

5. Gomen ne.

After “Zokkondition/LUCKY☆STAR” she released a trilogy of 3 digital singles during her well break.  Gomen ne. was the third released and could only get it through her book which had a code where you could’ve purchased it.  For what it’s worth it’s the album’s first ballad and this song was a bit simple and chill.  Not exactly a memorable choice though because while it’s nice…it’s simplicity did bore me a bit.  Probably a song better on “LOVE LETTER” perhaps.

6. Mawari Mawaru Mawareba Mawaro

Wow that’s a tongue twister!  I thought this was going to be the album’s wonky and wild song but it’s actually quite the opposite.  To be honest, it’s another ballad, but this one sounds more unique and has a much better instrumentation to keep me interested.  Ai’s vocals have an echo effect to it which is boosted more by the arrangement.  It does sort of drag since it is almost 6 minutes in length, though it’s a much more memorable song than “Gomen ne.” was.

7. Lai Lai

At least the album knows to pick up (well sorta).  Lai Lai has a very youthful sound to it which makes it somewhat happier.  Actually, listening to the arrangement there’s something about it that connects this to our previous track which is neat I think.  It’s a dreamy tune and I enjoy the child-like atmosphere, but like “CHU×CHU”, it’s not all the exciting and doesn’t stand out for me.

8. Action 10.5

So here is the first digital single she released (yeah, she left off “Hikari”).  I actually was really happy to see Ai include this song on the album because it was pretty upbeat and synth heavy (almost like a dance track).  I’m loving the fact that Ai just sounds great with a pounding beat and yet retains such a careful feel to it.  It’s probably my favorite song on this album ironically (hmmm strange).

9. 9

Oh Ai, humor doesn’t fail you huh?  As the final new song on the album, 9 seems to move into more of her pop/rock sound which is always nice to hear.  Though it is another mid-tempo track so I was kind of like meh at first.  It does pick up by the time the chorus comes up and it’s a good enough song to get by.  Seems like it’s been a thing I’ve been saying a lot about the new album tracks doesn’t it?  Really not much else to say here sadly…but I’d say it’s one of the better tracks, but lands in the middle of the list.

10. Zokkondition

Then we move back into the other A-sides that made the album for our final stretch.  Beginning with Zokkondition which was the first A-side released for the album, it definitely suited coming after “9” because it’s upbeat pop/rock!  Ai’s energy is very nice to listen to for sure!  It’s a song I find myself enjoying with every listen.  I will say it actually fits on this album more than its sister A-side.

11. I ♥ ×××

As the 2nd A-side released, I ♥ ××× was where I was starting to lose interest in Ai because her songs were kind of all over the place.  In this ballad, Ai was actually trying something new in singing in English which she did well enough…but she turned the song into a track of nothing but redundancy with her saying ~I love ___~ which did drop the song in interest for me.  It does get more louder with added instruments…but seriously not enough to make it enjoyable.

12. Re:NAME

After taking that hiatus after “I ♥ ×××”, Ai returned to the scene (well actually came back under her band Rabbit first), her first solo release was this song and interestingly enough closes the album out.  I love the bossa nova vibes from this song and really complimented Ai’s light vocals so sweetly.  Definitely a nice way to close things out for sure!

Tracks Recommended

  • Action 10.5
  • More More
  • LUCKY☆STAR
  • LOVE FANTASTIC
  • Re:NAME

Song of Avoidance

  • I ♥ ×××

So it’s been almost 4 years since Ai’s last album and by god did she take forever on this one.  Honestly though, LOVE FANTASTIC is good, but definitely not because of its new tracks.  It seems like majority of the great songs are with the A-sides and previously released songs.  The album tracks for the most part were slower songs and they weren’t all that memorable.  I suppose this sort of makes up for the time she was gone…still on the fence on deciding if it’s better than “LOVE LETTER” but hmmm.

 

Ai Otsuka – More More May 24, 2014

Filed under: Ai Otsuka — solarblade @ 4:16 pm

moremore

Track Listing

  1. More More
  2. Fu Fu Fu
  3. More More (Instrumental)
  4. Fu Fu Fu (Instrumental)

1. More More

Wow Ai-chin, this song is kind of different for the era isn’t it?  It kind of reminds me of her older works with the piano-fronted melody with some added extra spice in the brass and bass lines.  It’s definitely a cute track for Ai and she definitely aces at songs like it.  If anything it reminds me of a toned down “Rocket Sneaker”.  Overall, it’s a pretty fun song and I’m happy it’s on the album!

2. Fu Fu Fu

As for the B-side, the tune takes a more chilled out style for its sound with a more synth-based style which is of course a way to take me away.  It’s a surprising track as it’s so straightforward and really shows off Ai’s vocals in such a relaxing, but upbeat style.  It’s really hard to decide which song is better on the single, they both showcase her so well!

 

 

As the 4th single and final to represent her upcoming “LOVE FANTASTIC” album, More More was a really nice way to lead to it as both songs featured are really nice songs that brought that old classic Ai-chin feel and I’m enjoying it (plus her last single “Re:NAME” was also great)…I’m very excited for the album (despite only 5 new tracks LOL).

 

Ai Otsuka – Re:NAME October 18, 2013

Filed under: Ai Otsuka — solarblade @ 6:12 am

rename

Track Listing

  1. Re:NAME
  2. Hello me
  3. Toilet Paper Blues
  4. Re:NAME (Instrumental)
  5. Hello me (Instrumental)

1. Re:NAME

It’s been so long since I heard Ai-chin last!  Re:NAME kind of brings back a more smooth sounding Ai and I totally forgot how sweet her voice comes off in slower songs.  Add in this slow bossanova / easy listening feel of the song and I’m just enjoying this a whole lot.  Definitely better than her last couple of singles (though they’ve been released so far apart as it is…).  Definitely a nice song to listen to on a slow day granted might be a bit long (almost 6 minutes).

2. Hello me

The first B-side kind of follows alongside quite nicely after “Re:NAME” but this has a bit more life into it being all pop/rock.  I actually feel like Ai’s voice has slightly deepened since “I ♥ ×××” which is a nice thing I think.  The song is very Ai and I easily fell in love with the song due to all the good things she’s pulling it off…it’s like a “LOVE LETTER” song but memorable!

3. Toilet Paper Blues

Though the one thing I love about Ai is how wtf she can get with her songs.  So I was very amused one of the songs was titled as such…then to find out the song is stylized in Jazz and unlike “Shachihata”, she actually SINGS in the style and BY LORD SHE SOUNDS ORGASMIC!  I knew Ai would handle jazz like a boss, but damn this song was the single’s WINNER!

 

 

Ever since “Bye Bye”, I felt like Ai-chin lost the spark for J-pop and nothing she released after had really stuck on me (except “LUCKY☆STAR”) and it didn’t help she started releasing digital singles and then the stint with Rabbit…I felt like I was just not into her anymore, but then she releases this single and all the good feels came back in full force.  Re:NAME is a nice track, very nice but not minimal luckily (unlike her last single) and Hello me is a good pop/rock tune that old Ai fans will enjoy.  Of course I have to give the trophy to Toilet Paper Blues for finally bringing Ai’s jazz voice to a much better height than “Shachihata” did (plus it’s what I wished for XD).  Yeah this single is a great comeback for Ai *RECOMMENDED*

 

Ai Otsuka – I ♥ ××× September 6, 2010

Filed under: Ai Otsuka — solarblade @ 6:44 am

Track Listing

  1. I ♥ ×××
  2. I ♥ ××× (Instrumental)

1. I ♥ ×××

It seems Ai-chin has been not having a well-played out career since the beginning of the “LOVE LETTER” and I can vow that she’s had the rather standout songs, but the one area that she positively hits are her ballads and that had the biggest hit because besides “Kurage, Nagareboshi”, her ballads have been otherwise hitting me as way plain and somewhat boring.  Unfortunately I ♥ ××× is kind of continuing it even though it’s better than her past ones.  I did like that it’s a bit more positive and shows off her feeling since she married SU and all that.  Let’s not forget that she’s singing most of the song in English and yeah, she’s not that well-trained, but at least it’s a nice sentimental song.

 

 

Oh Ai, where has your spark gone?  I just don’t feel the same for you anymore when I first started out listening to you through the “LOVE PiECE” era.  Everything since has been either too mellow, or just not interesting (of course there’s exceptions).  Even worse is that this is the second single of hers with one track (“Bye Bye” being the other.)  Can we get back to releasing something that can back up if the A-side is meh?  I ♥ ××× is cute for sure, but I think I’ve had enough of this light pop side she’s taking with here.