Haha...Part 1 of 2 for this topic, found here, was posted a month after the album release date...and now my thoughts on the songs are being released more than a month after that...oh dear.
Anyway, this is the second post dedicated to Sakamoto Maaya's latest album, Singer-Songwriter, known best as the first album written and composed by her. I did purchase the LE/First Press edition of this album, so if you're interested in more pictures of the special casing/extras, again, all of that information is in Part 1. Otherwise, this post, scarce in pictures, will discuss each of the tracks on this album, as well as my thoughts on Sakamoto's progression (IN MY OPINION) regarding her musical compositions.
But, going back to that tidbit of info: that this album is written and composed by Sakamoto, as opposed to other people. I've mentioned it here already in the introduction of this post, as well as in my last post. Flashback to a picture zooming in on this bit of information from Part 1:
When I saw the announcement on maayasakamoto.net, I was thrilled. Many times before I've thought about something - what does it mean to be a fan of Sakamoto Maaya? It was one thing when she worked strictly with Kanno Yoko, at her career's beginning, but somehow, even after she branched off into other composers, her songs were still at the top of my list. She, as an artist, was at the top of my list.
But it didn't make sense because essentially it wasn't me being a fan of her music, but the music of the various composers that worked with her! Essentially it felt as if stating that I was a fan of Sakamoto meant stating that I was simply a fan of her voice. Even when she started writing her own lyrics, I could say that I was a fan of those as well, but it wouldn't mean much considering the language barrier when it comes to translations. I wondered time and time again what it meant...if I was right to say all these years that Sakamoto Maaya was my favorite artist.
***SIDENOTE: I do realize that Sakamoto has a say in who she works with, and most likely gravitates towards agreements with composers whose styles fit her interest. I do realize that this would mean a sense of continuity between her songs, despite the fact that she doesn't actually do much other than sing them in some cases. I do realize that this continuity would lead to the fact that I enjoy all of her songs, with the exception of a few (and I do mean few - under 5, in fact). But that still never put my thoughts at rest (oh God have I been lying to myself these whole 10+ years?!).END SIDENOTE***
Then there was "Everywhere," which I was so excited about because it was her first song written and composed by her, and that, to me, meant it was the first song that was entirely hers - belonging entirely to my favorite artist. I liked it - it didn't seem as interesting as her other songs but I liked it and, as a first product of her own composition, I thought it was quite good. "Chikai," her second shot at composition, proved much more interesting and I listen to that regularly to this day, though I'll go into that more later.
Now, am I the only one who felt a kind of relief in knowing that I enjoyed both of those songs? And am I the only one who was both excited and nervous about Singer-Songwriter, knowing that the songs were entirely Sakamoto's and that if I didn't care much for the album, I had no right to say she was truly my favorite artist?
Say it ain't so! D:
No; I'm sure that in this world of massive amounts of people, there is bound to be at least one other Sakamoto fan that felt just as awkward about the situation that would soon be at hand as I did.
But I'm happy to say that I haven't been lying to myself for more than half of my life. So let's get on with the damn review already!
|Track list as it appears in the CD booklet.|
03. everywhere ~HAL mix
08. Chikai ~ ssw edition
09. Boku No Hanbun
I prepared for this review the same way I prepared for my last on Late Night Alumni's The Beat Becomes a Sound: I listened to all of the tracks in the order they appeared on the album - their intended order. In fact this will be the last time I mention this method because it will be the method I use from now own, so it won't be 'new' anymore. I will also be commenting on every track again, because how could I not? This is a Sakamoto CD after all.
Lastly, I want to apologize. As someone who has listened to Sakamoto's music for years, I actually find that I form my opinions about her songs fairly quickly, and they don't change much over time. In fact, I was able to pinpoint my favorite song on the album within a few full rounds of listening to it. So...what I'm apologizing for is the fact that this review is going up so late.
I could have written it months ago. );
> Greater-than-thou sign indicates a pengu flipper, or PF, which is used to rate each song. It is my penguin-take on the star/thumbs-up system. One > is the lowest rating, while >>>>> is the highest rating. Half-PF's are rounded up.
01. Tooku >>>>
The opening track of the album, "Tooku" has a kind of grand start to it: the music starts quiet and gradually gets louder until the vocals kick in like a punch to the face. That sounds awful, but it really isn't. Of all my opinions of the songs in this album, the one I formed on "Tooku" months ago is the only one that has changed somewhat since. I thought this song wasn't too interesting back then, and once I listened to the album enough times, I began skipping it (and "Sunshine," actually) for a while before developing a better appreciation of it. I think it was the fact that I enjoy singing it that my opinion of it changed...but, anyway, I do like this song as the album opening. It has this great amount of energy to it. In fact, one of the things I love about it is the insight it gives to the rest of the album at its end: it ends with a ton of band instruments playing at once - an end with an improvisational feel to it. And this idea of the music being rooted in live people and instruments is what I love perhaps the most about this album as a whole. That's not to say this atmosphere isn't present in past songs - because it is - but I just get a sense of a small, intimate band playing from this album, which brings the energy in it to a whole other level. Four pengu flippers.
02. Sunshine >>>>
"Sunshine" is the song that opens the documentary from the LE edition of the album, I believe. It's another upbeat song, but more on the cheerful side than "Tooku," for whatever reason that may be. My ears say it's that way, haha. Another strange fact about my feelings towards this song: it reminds me of Sonic games. O_o The ones from the Dreamcast/Gamecube. But, anyway, I really like this song, and find that it fades nicely into the album's third track, literally. Four PFs like "Tooku."
03. everywhere ~ HAL mix >>>
I realized something when I listened to this album. "Mixes" are not that different from originals, while "editions" are completely different. I'll go more into "editions" when I get to "Chikai ~ ssw edition," but for now let's talk about mixes. On her Everywhere album, there is a track called "Magic Number <123 mix>" which is, as it says, a mix of the original song "Magic Number" from her Magic Number single. But aside from some musical differences, I find that the two songs are pretty much the same. The same can be said about "everywhere ~ HAL mix" and the original track "everywhere." In fact, I barely detect any differences between the two songs (though I will admit my ears are poorly trained when it comes to that). So, considering I got over "everywhere" somewhat back when it came out because, as I said earlier, it wasn't the most interesting of her songs, I didn't really feel motivated by this one. To me, it's the weakest song in the album because it sits side-by-side with songs that Sakamoto has truly set the mark with. I still like it, but I don't find myself excited to listen to it. As such, three pengu flippers.
04. Nicola >>>>>
Yay, "Nicola"! As I stated in the first part of this two-part post, I almost died of excitement when I saw that my favorite artist wrote a song whose title was nearly my name. "Nicola" seems to be the song focused on the most during the promotion of this album, since it is the song that has an actual promotional video illustrating it. Sakamoto is in her 'safer' range for this song, which makes it vocally less complex than some of the others in the album, but the song has such a calm, relaxing, and cheerful feel to it that it is still one of my favorites. Five pengu flippers.
05. Ask. >>>>>
"Ask" is another one of my favorite songs from this album. One of my big questions for this album was, how far would Sakamoto take her voice? Although she did hit some high notes in both "Tooku" and "Sunshine," they were scarce, and so I was pleasantly surprised while listening to "Ask." This is one of those songs that use Sakamoto's 'head' voice (I believe that's what it's called) - or her higher, softer voice. Other songs that come to mind with the same style of singing are "Koucha," "Kioku - there's no end," and "Nekoze," to name a few. On top of that, I was happy to see that she maintained her voice well in this style, because there are some songs she sings that have high notes in them that are borderline cracking. "Bokutachi Ga Koi Wo Suru Riyuu" and "Guitar Hiki Ni Naritai Na" come to mind. Anyway, this is a lovely, soothing song (one of the slower songs in the album, which made it a great follow-up from "Nicola") that I still enjoy today as much as the first time I heard it, so five PFs.
06. Naritai >>>>>
And then, as if to bring back the energy and upbeat pace of the album, "Naritai" comes in. This is one of Sakamoto's signature quick, rock-out kind of songs, much like "Private Sky" and "Get No Satisfaction." The verse is a bit awkward at first, since the vocals are so quick and short, but the chorus is super fun and catchy. It's the song in the album that I turn to when I want to cheer up, or feel even happier about something. There are other tracks I prefer over it otherwise, but I still consider this a song worthy of five PFs.
07. Kaminari >>>>
"Kaminari" is one of the most interesting songs I've heard from Sakamoto. It's the first to start with the addition of 'outside' noise (in this case, rain and thunder), and it's a song that beautifully showcases her vocal range. I mean, you get it all here: deep, hollow notes, higher, airier notes, and everything in between. It also has stunning harmonies in it. I adore how the two main vocal melodies work together (and off each other), especially at the end, when both sing 'ooo' in harmony and when one sings "ame, ame kono mama" while the other sings "furiyamanaide...owarenaide...owarenaide...naide..." (I'm typing this based off what I hear so I'm sorry if it isn't accurate). Instrumentally, it isn't the most exciting, but vocally it's stunning. Even so, I only give it four pengu flippers because I don't find myself running to listen to it, as lovely as her voice is. The instrumental part is just not as fulfilling as some of the other tracks on the album.
08. Chikai ~ ssw edition >>>>>
So, with "everywhere ~ HAL mix" I discussed mixes when it comes to Sakamoto's songs, and now I'm going to talk about the "editions." The first song by her with an "edition" remake was "Kazemachi Jet," from the Kazemachi Jet single, whose latter version was called "Kazemachi Jet ~ kazeyomi edition" on Kazeyomi. While the two are definitely recognizable as the same song, the musical composition of the two is extremely different. The same goes for "Chikai" from Driving in the Silence and this track, "Chikai ~ ssw edition." To be honest, the music was so different between the two that I almost really disliked "Chikai ~ ssw edition" because it seemed to lose the essence of the original. "Chikai" has a kind of dark, sad sound to it while "Chikai ~ ssw edition" has a much more bright, upbeat sound to it. After listening to it more, however, I think I may actually prefer the "ssw edition" over the original. The instrumental has this kind of uplifting sound to it that isn't present in the original "Chikai," and...well...I hate to say this, but I don't know how to describe what there exactly is about "Chikai ~ ssw edition" that makes me love listening to it so much. There's almost this drifting to the past that I feel, even though there is nothing actually nostalgic about the music. And the higher level of energy makes it a pleasure to sing - moreso than its original counterpart. I will say, however, that I prefer the instrumental end of the original over that of this album's version. Nevertheless, five full pengu flippers.
09. Boko No Hanbun >>>>>
This song reminded me right away of my absolute favorite Sakamoto song. First it was because it's length was similar to it (so stupid, I know), and then it was because this one has a variety of different musical sections to it. It's soothing and catchy all in one, just like my favorite track as well. So it's no surprise, then, that this is my favorite song from Singer-Songwriter. The verse is wonderfully relaxing, the chorus is relaxing while maintaining a level of energy in its beat, the bridge (with the strings [not sure what instrument that is], drums, and vocal harmonies) is soothing, and the ending has this amount of power in it in the way the music and vocals both build up and eventually dissipate into silence. "Boku No Hanbun" is just a beautifully quiet and complex song that I can't get enough of. I'm even tempted to call it my second all-time favorite Sakamoto song, following the aforementioned favorite that it reminds me of. Five pengu flippers, no doubt.
10. Singer-Songwriter >>>>>
At times I felt like this album shouldn't have ended on the song that gave it its name, "Singer-Songwriter," but after listening to the whole album over and over, and coming across "Singer-Songwriter" as the ending song as many times, I realized that it couldn't have ended better any differently - that, in fact, "Singer-Songwriter" is the ideal ending for the album. Why is that? Because I really feel like this song represents Sakamoto's upbeat, positive attitude (oh who am I to know if she's really this way? It is how she seems in her videos and essays though...) perfectly, and what better way to end her album than by a sound representation of her? "Singer-Songwriter" is nothing short of upbeat and cheerful, and it brings that level of band intimacy and live people/instruments that I mentioned earlier together, full-blast. I think the lineup of "Boku No Hanbun" and this track is perfect, as the two contrast each other in a way that makes them sound lovely in succession. While I usually dislike musical repetition in songs, I love the repetition of the chorus at this song's end because with each repetition, the music builds up more and more energy that ends with this big bang. I can't tell you how much the ending of this song reminds me of my old days in band, where we all used to play crazy slurs of notes while the band instructor held out the final note/measure, before bringing down the baton to completely end the song. This nostalgia just emphasizes the idea of live instruments and people in this album. You can feel the energy from the performance even though its a recording, and I love that. I love this song. Five pengu flippers.
Of course Singer-Songwriter gets five out of five pengu flippers. How can it not?
As someone who was afraid they might not like this album and, in turn, not be able to truly call Sakamoto their musical idol, I have to say I am completely blown away by Sakamoto's progression since her first fully composed song, "Everywhere." She's gone from simpler melodies and a safer vocal range to complex, beautiful music and complete mastery of her voice. Her confidence in her musical abilities is so apparent in this album and, as such, I can't help but say that this album is a treasure to me as a devoted fan. While I do look forward to Sakamoto continuing her work with other composers (and Kanno, especially!), I will definitely be anticipating more songs written and composed by her, if not another entire album.
I recommend this album to anyone interested in J-Pop, but especially to those who have followed Sakamoto for some time - though, do I really need to recommend it to you guys? You were probably on top of this album as fast as I was. =P
Anyway, I know this review was long, and I suppose that's why I put it off for over a month. But I had to devote this much time and effort into my thoughts on Sakamoto Maaya's Singer-Songwriter because this album was hers, and she is one of the few people I've truly admired and looked up to in my life.
Thank you for adding yet another amazing soundtrack to attach more memories to, Sakamoto Maaya. :)
Here's to July, when her newest single Hajimari No Umi will be released!
'Til next time! ('<>')>