BeForU – KI・SE・KI
(released November 18th, 2004)
2. チカラ (Re-arranged version) [Chikara (Re-arranged version)]
3. Firefly (add Vocal&Mix)
4. GRADUATION (New Vocal&Mix)
5. 約束 [Yakusoku]
6. KI・SE・KI (KARAOKE VERSION)
BeForU’s 1st single, to mark the second generation of BeForU. After Maehara Shiyuna left, an audition was held for two girls to join the group. However, there was a tie along the way, and the line-up was increased to six. The new members are Arisawa Miharu, Minami Sayaka, and Sotohana Risa. The three are known as BeForU NEXT.
Now, KI・SE・KI seems to be a good musical direction for the group to go in. The synth intro was solid, and reminded me a bit of the spooky organ you hear in gothic rock songs – unfortunately, we won’t actually get that since BeForU still stays in its DDR-friendly zone. While I generally detest synths and beats as the sole accompaniment, I actually like the composition of this song. The piano lines in KI・SE・KI were a nice touch. The vocal performance, however was definitely lacking. The new girls all have rather nice voices but everybody (even Riyu) sounds rather bland here – with the music setup and a good melody that starts out low-key and builds to a catchy chorus climax, I thought KI・SE・KI had potential to pack a pretty big punch, but the girls just sing like they’re half asleep.
The next three tracks are covers of first generation BeForU’s songs. The Re-arranged version of Chikara takes the lighthearted girly rock song and strengthens it into a more mature sound with grittier guitars and a nice bass line while keeping the mood of the original intact. This one appears to be a Riyu solo with the rest of the group doing occasional chorus vocals. Riyu’s singing has definitely gotten stronger since the original version (she sounds more exuberant and less hesitant), but I wish they had featured the others (or at least the new three) more – wasn’t that the point of this single?
Is it just my imagination, or are the beats and synths heavier in this add Vocal&mix version of Firefly? The NEXT girls are prominently featured in this song and sound a lot better here than in KI・SE・KI. They have rather distinct voices too – one of them has a round, rich tone (Sayaka), another has a thin but throaty voice (Miharu), and the third has a really mellow voice (Risa). However, Risa sounds like she has trouble handling the song. In comparison to the others, her voice is weak and even flat in some parts. Firefly probably wasn’t the best choice to show off the vocals of the new members – I’d hoped for a 6-member version of Dive instead. My favorite part of this rendition was the bridge – Sayaka and Noria sounded wonderful. I think I still prefer the original to this, even though though I like the variety in the new girls’ voices.
The New Vocal&mix version of GRADUATION follows, and it’s a Minami Sayaka solo. It’s easy to see why Maeda Naoki favors her – she has the most solid and distinct singing voice out of the three. Her voice actually is better suited to this song than Riyu’s is, and it really goes with that cheesy but sweet “sakura petals floating around high school graduation” feeling of the song. The bridge is especially pretty, since Sayaka’s smooth voice transitions into those melodic jumps with ease. Sayaka’s singing is very soothing, yet not lacking in power and deliberation. While she does sound like she’s singing through her nose in instances, her voice tone doesn’t end up sounding pinched.
Synthesized strings (would it kill them to use real strings? it sounded okay the first time but after a few listens, my ears started hurting) lead into Yakusoku, a group song. It started out nicely with Risa singing softly (and she does do a decent job here, albeit sounding a bit out of breath), and then the music really kicks in when Riyu gets into her line. I really can’t stand Yakusoku’s arrangement – sure the contrast between soft and loud in verses makes the song interesting, the chorus just sounds tinny and overblown and out of place…and I don’t like the melody there at all. The only redeeming parts would be Sayaka’s solo in the bridge and the brief piano outro at the end.
Favorite Track: Graduation (New Vocal&Mix)
Overall Grade: C+
BeForU – BeForU
(released November 28, 2003)
1. チカラ (LIVE BAND style) [Chikara (LIVE BAND style)]
2. ♥LOVE² シュガ→♥ [♥LOVE²Sugar♥]
4. ヒマワリ [Himawari]
5. BABY LOVE
7. BRE∀K DOWN! (LIVE BAND style)
8. Silvia Drive (extended)
10. ☆shining☆ (LIVE BAND style)
11. SHOOTING STAR
13. true… (2003 album version)
14. GRADUATION ~それぞれの明日~ (unplugged version) [GRADUATION ~sorezore no ashita~ (unplugged version)]
BeForU’s first album. Many of the songs are either full versions or new mixes of their works in various music/rhythm games (DDR, Guitarfreaks, Drummania, etc.) so the album has a very “Bemani game soundtrack” feel to it. Even though the album is released under BeForU’s name, the majority of the songs are solos by Kosaka Riyu and Shiraishi Noria, leading some fans to refer to it as just the “Riyu and Noria album.”
Chikara (LIVE BAND Style) is a great song to start the album with. It makes me feel more like I’m at a rock concert since it would make a wonderful opening number. This is a Riyu solo, and her vocals have improved dramatically since her debut in 2001. The song as a whole is very upbeat and despite the title (“chikara” means strength) it’s not too rockish – there’s still a very feminine touch to it. I’m not sure if the backing vocals in the chorus are Riyu herself or the other girls, but either way, they’re a nice touch. Riyu ends with “Let’s go~!” – in that case, let’s go on and find out what else this album has in store for us…
Noria gets her intro in with the sweet eurobeat number ♥LOVE²Sugar♥ (which I believe is pronounced “love love sugar”). From her high-pitched yells, I was afraid her voice would be grating and squeaky (I’ve been mentally scarred by all those moe seiyuu songs) but it’s surprisingly easy on the ears and she hits those high notes in her head voice effortlessly. The background music may annoy some listeners, but for me, it’s just a reminder of why I went through a eurobeat phase a few years ago. Everything’s just so hyper-sounding, and at the chorus I feel like jumping around too.
We get a more serious song with the full length original mix of DIVE. It’s also the first group song, although compared to the distinct voices of Riyu and Noria, I can’t really tell Yoma and Shiyuna apart. The vocals mix rather well in the chorus when they sing in unison (Riyu doesn’t overpower everyone like I thought she would) and the overall arrangement is very strong. I especially love how the intro builds up. DIVE is probably the most J-Pop-esque track on BeForU. This is the first song I ever heard from the group, so I might be a bit biased but it’s also one of the best tracks on this album. I wish that the song focused on the other two girls more though, because they have nice voices and were given no solo songs.
If there’s any song that makes me I wish I could play electric guitar or drums, it’s Himawari. I’m already bouncing around at the intro, and the song just gets better when the vocals come in. Himawari isn’t an easy song to sing because the lyrics aren’t the easiest to synch with the melody but Riyu does it flawlessly – the way they “click in” rhythmically makes me want to listen to certain parts over and over again. Himawari means “sunflower” and Riyu sings in a light, cheery tone. I love how Riyu goes into her upper range for one part – her head voice is really beautiful, and I wish I could hear it more. There’s also the right amount of guitar – you can rock out to the song, but it’s not too heavy. The only thing that could have improved this song would be if they added Riyu yelling “1, 2, zutto music start!” (at the beginning) which was in the DDR version to get the listener into the mood.
BABY LOVE is my least favorite song on the album – and it’s not because of Noria’s sugary vocals. The song as a whole is just plain cheesy and the verses make me confused as to what the melody is and the chorus is repetitive and annoying. The background music is a mismatch as well – all the drum beats and sound effects are as obnoxious as hell. This song would have worked much better with a jazzier background; get rid of the synths and find some real brass instruments! The lyrics are pretty bad too – the part where Noria keeps repeating “love love love love” like a broken record makes me cringe. Skip, please.
Fortunately, Riyu’s LOVE♥SHINE is up next. It’s everything a cutesy song should be. The lyrics are silly, but tastefully so (they’re about a young girl gathering courage to confess to the boy she has a crush on). Riyu’s singing in a playful style that fits the song very well – I love the childish way she pronounces the words. My favorite bits are her random yells and the “lalalalala” part; they just add so much to the atmosphere of the song. LOVE♥SHINE seems to tell a story through the song – it’s mainly all fun but you can feel the fictional character’s nervousness as she runs around. The song is also very catchy – a VERY important factor in lighthearted songs, in my opinion.
BRE∀K DOWN! (LIVE BAND style) is in the same vein as Chikara and Himawari – they were all in the same game. It’s a lot more similar to Chikara because of the whole “LIVE BAND style” but with a much more memorable chorus melody. This full version is a lot better than the short one used in the game because of the bridge section. Well, it’s only Riyu singing “break down” a few times, but she really gets into it and belts her heart out before things rev up for the final chorus. BRE∀K DOWN! starts strong, continues strong, and finishes strong. Probably the strongest song musically in the entire album, in my opinion.
Things go slightly downhill at Silvia Drive (extended). I was enjoying the guitar intro but the vocal parts in the beginning are completely unnecessary. I love Noria and all, but hearing her go “papapapapa” on repeat is not a pleasant experience. Other than that, Silvia Drive is a fun and cute song – especially with the “un, deux, trois!” in the lyrics. I’m not sure if I agree with Noria’s singing completely (she sounds a bit screechy at times) but the only REAL problem with the song is the extended intro. Somebody on a BeForU-related forum once commented if the song was cut at where the violins come in, it would be a lot better…and as much as I love the guitar, I’d have to agree.
We finally get another group song with Firefly, another rhythmic, fast-paced DDR-like song (I can’t remember if this track was actually used in a game or not). The chorus melody is really nice and I still can’t tell which is Yoma and which is Shiyuna. (which one is the one with a throatier voice and which one is cutesier? Riyu still dominates…). Vocal-wise, Riyu and Noria sound really pretty at the bridge section…aiya, where is the spotlight for the other two?! Firefly is very much like DIVE but the composition isn’t as good. As much as the DDR sound works when you’re playing the game, this song would go so much better with a rock arrangement if it was meant for listening purposes. At least DIVE’s synths and beats weren’t as overbearing…
I wished they had saved ☆shining☆ (LIVE BAND style) for the ending track, because it would have been a nice concert encore song. Not surprisingly, this is very similar to Chikara and BRE∀K DOWN! because it’s another LIVE BAND style song. It’s yet another energetic girly rock song with an addicting, catchy chorus. It’s a duet between Riyu and Noria – even though Riyu seems to drown out Noria a bit during the chorus, their voices go well together. Noria sounds a lot better here; instead of being overly sweet, she sounds more honest. At 3:43, I felt like this song was a bit too short, since it goes by fast. ☆shining☆ is so cheery that I can always count on it to bring me my “shining days”!
Shooting Star is yet another Riyu solo, and sees a return to that trance-y DDR stuff. I have very mixed feelings about this track – it had a lot of potential, but somewhere along the way that potential was destroyed by the composition. I’m more partial to songs using ‘real’ instruments as opposed to a barrage of synths and beats, so I don’t think the background music did Riyu justice. I was immediately drawn in by her haunting vocalized intro, and the verses sounded like a darker and more serious song than her previous solos. The chorus melody’s emotion would have been wonderful if it had not been dampened by the music. Someone give Riyu a rock or acoustic arrangement of this song, please.
Urgh, why must Konami ruin a perfectly good Noria solo? TEARS suffers from the “Silvia Drive syndrome” but to an even extreme extent. Noria’s vocals don’t come in until nearly the three minute mark. Yes, you heard me right – in a 5:49, you have to put up with about 3 minutes of bad trance music. Yawn. When Noria does sing, I’m in for a surprise because it’s such a departure from her other songs. This is a very depressing song about unconfessed love and she does indeed sound like she’s crying her heart out. I don’t hate the background music, it does fit Noria’s voice well, but it’s just too damn long. Noria’s head voice is really pretty, though…so I at least enjoyed that.
Speaking of head voice, it’s a good way to open the 2003 album version of true…. Riyu’s vocalizing could be stronger, but it’s still nice. I rather like this slower arrangement – the keyboard is the best part, and the beat isn’t overpowering. Riyu’s vocals don’t seem to have a huge improvement yet, but she does sound more confident and less likely to go off-pitch. This version makes me wish that this was made into a piano ballad instead, although that’s kind of really at odds with BeForU’s style. I’m also a bit disappointed that they didn’t make this a group song – I love Riyu, but face it, this isn’t one of her better songs. Poor Yoma and Shiyuna, being neglected like crazy…
With Graduation ~sorezore no ashita~ (unplugged version) this album seems to be able to read my mind, because this song IS a piano ballad. It’s *supposedly* a group song, but I only hear…Riyu. It’s the type of slow song I love, but I feel like Riyu doesn’t know what to do with it – she seems to be wavering between belting it out and just letting it flow gently, and that makes her sound very awkward. Lyrics-wise, I think it’s lovely she ended on “wasurenaide” (“don’t forget”) – makes me think of just parting with friends after a graduation ceremony, and making a promise to meet up again (cheesy, I know). Keyboard part is pretty, but I wished they had used a real piano…since it just sounds very tinny here. Not a bad album closer, though it does leave me wanting an upbeat encore (I wonder if they should have included the “plugged version” instead?).
Final Thoughts: BeForU’s debut album was fun and enjoyable, but it lacked the feel of a ‘real’ J-Pop album. While most of the BeForU fanbase (that I know of) choose this one as their favorite album because this old-school BeForU era supposedly shows ‘true BeForU’ sound, I, however, would love to see their sound mature into something more varied and versatile. I think many of these songs were viable as J-Pop songs, but the production budget seems to be too low for the staff to put out truly polished songs. This album is a fun, enjoyable set of songs to run/dance/play video games to or even put you in the mood to clean the house, but it’s not something I’d queue up on my playlist if I wanted to listen to music for the sake of listening.
Favorite Track(s): a tie between Himawari and BRE∀K DOWN! (LIVE BAND style)
Overall Grade: B
Kosaka Riyu – true…
小坂 りゆ – true…
(released October 17th, 2001)
2. DIVE TO THE NIGHT
3. true… (Trance Sunrise Mix)
4. DIVE TO THE NIGHT (NM Rock Style)
5. true… (instrumental)
6. DIVE TO THE NIGHT (instrumental)
Kosaka Riyu’s debut single. Being a big fan of Riyu, I thought I’d review her discography from the beginning, since it would be interesting to hear how she’s improved over the years. I haven’t reviewed a CD for a while, so I’m starting anew (my style might be different, and I might be slightly harsher or easier with grading…) Interesting fact – true… was released when Riyu was only 16 years old.
Either the music production technologies in 2001 were far less advanced than the equipment used today or Konami didn’t shell out much money for this single, but the mixing feels weird. true…‘s intro isn’t bad as a standalone but I think it sounded a bit tacky in this song. The keyboard throughout the song was nice though. Vocal-wise, I was surprised at how weak Riyu’s voice was at her debut. It’s wispy at times and she sounds a bit out of breath in some parts and she just sounds like she’s bored with the song. The melody of the song is nice but I feel like the chorus is a bit weak (the song itself, not how Riyu performs it). Overall, true… needs more polishing.
DIVE TO THE NIGHT has a lot more impact. I’m not surprised, since it was used in DDR, so naturally it’ll be a lot faster-spaced and rhythmic. Riyu sings a lot more assertively in this track, but still runs the risk of being drowned out by the loud synths. However, you can definitely hear that peppier side of her voice (that she’ll later become known for) come out. The lyrics and parts of the melodies are different from the famous “Dive” by BeForU, but song-wise, I prefer this version (I liked the bridge part a lot). DIVE TO THE NIGHT isn’t as sloppily produced as true… but it definitely needs more work.
I’m generally wary of remixes but true… (Trance Sunrise Mix) is a huge improvement over the original. The mood of the song changes – instead of having a flat, lukewarm dance track, you have a song that actually has emotion in it. This version is more toned down and hollow-sounding which makes the title of the mix very appropriate because it gives the feeling of a very lonely sunrise at the beach. You can almost hear pain and longing in Riyu’s voice. This version of true… actually has a more true feel to it. I would have preferred a more acoustic arrangement, but at least this time the electronic background isn’t overbearing.
Why, oh why couldn’t they have just used the remixes as the A-sides and done away with the originals? You’d think in DIVE TO THE NIGHT (NM Rock Style), Riyu would be covered up even more, but her vocals really shine in this one – guess she’s meant for rock more than that trance/eurobeat stuff. It’s the same case as with true – she sounds a lot more enthusiastic with the remix than the original (could be better editing, but who knows…). The bridge I loved in the original is even better here because the background…well, stays off in the background and lets Riyu have her spotlight. The best part is when she belts out “dive to the night” at the end of the song.
Favorite Track: true… (Trance Sunrise Mix)
Overall Grade: C+