{single} Sakamoto Maaya – Ame ga Furu

October 20, 2009 at 12:38 am | Posted in Music, Sakamoto Maaya | Leave a comment

Sakamoto Maaya – Ame ga Furu
坂本真綾 – 雨が降る

(released October 29th, 2008)

Sakamoto Maaya’s 17th single. The first track is the ending theme to Kurogane no Linebarrels. Which makes me wonder, I don’t think Maaya’s ever put out a single without any anime tie-in to it…

1. 雨が降る [Ame ga Furu]
2. プラリネ [Praline]
3. 雨が降る (w/o maaya)
4. プラリネ (1+1)

Ame ga Furu had me instantly with the harp intro, after which Maaya comes in, singing softly. The music revs up a bit at the chorus, when the guitar, percussion, and strings come in. The rapid lyrics with the whispery backing vocals sound like rain falling (“ame ga furu”).  If I had to sum this song up in one word, it would be “rain” – nearly every aspect of the song musically embodies the rain. The harp notes sound like rain landing on windowpanes, and the contrast between the slow, lonely verses and the fast-paced, more frantic choruses makes me think of those days in which the rain would often start and stop, changing pace at random whims. The key change in the final chorus was a nice touch, it heightened the emotional atmosphere nicely. Though different in arrangement, Ame ga Furu struck me as a less dramatic version of Saigo no Kajitsu in some places.

I thought I would dislike Praline when I heard the intro since I feared it would be another one of her generic cheerful J-Pop songs. It’s partially true, but Praline isn’t dull at all. It’s one of those upbeat “feel good” songs that you can relax to as well. If Ame ga Furu was the rain, Praline would be the gradual sunshine after – definitely not the rainbow – it’s not THAT cheery. Think about walking around the block looking at the damp flowers and grass after the rain as the sun slowly peeks its way out from behind the clouds. The backing is just piano, guitar, and percussion and Maaya lilting vocals in this are really uplifting.

We have the (1+1) version of Praline, which is basically a stripped down piano + vocal only rendition. I actually prefer this to the original since I’m a sucker for simplicity in pop songs. The entire mood changes in this one – it sounds more indoors, as if Maaya’s looking out the window after the rain, and letting the rays of sun in. The vocals actually sound better in this version, since it seems like Maaya can sing more freely and not worry about singing over a louder, more complex arrangement.

Favorite Track: Ame ga Furu

Overall Grade: A


{single} Sakamoto Maaya – Triangler

June 22, 2009 at 1:09 am | Posted in Kanno Yoko, Music, Sakamoto Maaya | 1 Comment

Sakamoto Maaya – Triangler
坂本真綾 – トライアングラー

(released April 23rd, 2008)

1. トライアングラー [Triangler]
2. ことみち [Kotomichi]
3. トライアングラー (w/o Maaya)
4. ことみち (w/o Maaya)

Sakamoto Maaya’s 16th single. Triangler reached #3 on the Oricon Charts and is Maaya’s best-selling single to date. This is partly because of its anime tie-in; the A-side was used as Macross Frontier’s first opening theme. Triangler was also heralded as the epic “returning single” for Kanno Yoko – who has worked with Maaya on earlier works. The duo split up before Maaya’s “Shounen Alice” era, but are back together briefly for any Macross Frontier-related works. Only the title track is composed by Kanno, though.

My first impression of Triangler was that it was in a much higher range than Maaya generally uses – her vocals have gotten stronger since her last single, especially her high notes. Triangler is about a love triangle involving two women and one man, and it’s sung from the perspective of one of the women – which ties in perfectly to the Ranka-Alto-Sheryl dynamic in Macross Frontier. Sure, Maaya does sound a bit screechy at times, but I still love the force she attacks certain notes with. Plus, it adds to the angst of the song. I know a lot of the Kanno Yoko faction of Maaya fans have been disappointed after all the anticipation, but I think Triangler is one of her best songs I’ve heard. Sure, it’s got “anime” written all over it, but the composition is solid, the chorus catchy, and Kanno’s fondness for key changes serves to liven up things a bit. I’ll admit, the bouncy background music isn’t particularly remarkable and I did expect more from Kanno given the experimental stuff she’s done in the past, but it’s not a bad route to go with J-Pop. My favorite part is the ‘bridge’ section of the background with Maaya’s whispery backing vocals and how it builds up for the final chorus.

I’ve noticed a trend in Maaya’s singles – since all of them I’ve heard so far have an anime tie-in of some sort, the A-side and B-side have this anison/J-Pop dichotomy. Kotomichi is a gentle, breathy ballad with mainly acoustic guitar accompaniment. It reminds me very much of her song Yubiwa – a quiet, sad song. Kotomichi means “differing paths” – the lyrics were written by Maaya herself and talk about two lovers having to part. Normally I would cringe at Maaya singing that high, but her airy high notes give the impression that she has been crying softly to herself (reminds me of KOKIA’s “Lacrima”). There isn’t much else to say that I wish Maaya would put out more songs like this – the simplicity and beauty of Kotomichi makes me hold to my belief that no matter what genre Maaya taps into, her ballads will always have a special spot in my lazy, music-reviewer heart.

Overall Grade: A-

{single} Sakamoto Maaya – Saigo no Kajitsu

June 5, 2009 at 6:36 pm | Posted in Music, Sakamoto Maaya | 1 Comment

Sakamoto Maaya – Saigo no Kajitsu
坂本真綾 – さいごの果実

(released November 21st, 2007)

1. さいごの果実 [Saigo no Kajitsu]
2. ミツバチと科学者 [Mitsubachi to Kagakusha]
3. さいごの果実 (w/o maaya)
4. ミツバチと科学者
5. さいごの果実 (short size)

Sakamoto Maaya’s 15th single. Maaya returns to Tsubasa Chronicle with yet another ending, this time for the Tokyo Revelations OVA. Saigo no Kajitsu was my favorite J-Pop single of 2007, and it still does not disappoint.

It is unavoidable that I am going to end up comparing Saigo no Kajitsu to Kazemachi Jet despite their vast musical differences, because they have been endings for the same series. Saigo no Kajitsu has a more definitive ending/parting feeling, because it’s sung with an overall sadder tone. The opening guitar line is wonderful, and I love how the song starts out mellow and builds up. Sakamoto Maaya’s expressive capability continues to amaze me in this, as she goes from lonely to hopeful to desperate to optimistic again – she completely lets loose during the bridge. There were a few high notes that made me uneasy, but her emotion more than makes up for it. The composition is wonderful; nothing beyond the standard guitar, percussion (the tambourine was a nice touch), and strings I’ve heard in so many of her songs, but I’m a sucker for dramatic string parts, so I loved it.

With a title like Mitsubachi to Kagakusha (“the honeybee and the scientist”), I wondered if this was going to be one of Maaya’s quirkier, cute songs. It turns out just to be standard J-Pop. The lighter tone of this track feels a bit strange after the sweeping, epic A-side, but it’s nice. I love the energy level of this song though – it’s something I’d jam to but isn’t too rockish. My favorite part is around the 2:20 mark, when Maaya does this short “question & answer” passage – I like how it’s sung with attitude. I’ll admit that Maaya’s vocals do sound better here due to the fact she’s not stretching her voice to hit high notes, but they don’t leave the same emotional resonance as Saigo no Kajitsu.

Saigo no Kajitsu (short size) captures the best of Maaya’s vocals – the gentle opening and the dramatic middle and ending. The bridge is left out, so you don’t hear some of the high notes she struggles with but the downside is that the build up that made me like the original in the first place is absent. There’s almost no transition to the chorus (I think it’s the second one, not the first) – the song goes from soft to the dramatic parts suddenly. The intro is cut short as well.

Favorite Track: Saigo no Kajitsu

Overall Grade: A-

{single} Sakamoto Maaya – Kazemachi Jet/Spica

April 9, 2009 at 3:25 am | Posted in Music, Sakamoto Maaya | Leave a comment

Sakamoto Maaya – Kazemachi Jet/Spica
坂本真綾 – 風待ちジェット/スピカ

(released June 14th, 2006)

1. 風待ちジェット [Kazemachi Jet]
2. スピカ [Spica]
3. 風待ちジェット (w/o maaya)
4. スピカ (w/o maaya)

Sakamoto Maaya’s 14th single. Kazemachi Jet is the ending theme for the second season of Tsubasa Chronicle. Maaya wrote the lyrics for both songs, and they were meant to represent the feelings of the two main characters, Sakura and Syaoran. Kazemachi Jet is from Syaoran’s perspective, while Spica is from Sakura’s.

Before I delve into the background of Kazemachi Jet, I just have to comment on how much I love the composition. The delicate melody with the guitar, piano, and electric violin – it’s difficult to describe in words, but everything just melds together so well. The chorus itself is structured so that it will be catchy but not be written off as one of those generic J-Pop songs – it’s light and airy, easy to listen to but rather difficult to sing. Kazemachi Jet was written with the image of two people holding hands in the wind (I read this in a Maaya interview in NewType USA once…) and since it’s from Syaoran’s perspective, it reflects his patience and love as he protects Sakura and helps her slowly walk forward in her new life.

Spica, while it’s still consistent with Kazemachi Jet’s refreshing feel, has a lot more underlying sadness. Sakura, having lost her memories, is grateful that Syaoran is there for her but at the same time she is confused. She wants to reach out to him and understand him, and this song expresses that desire. Spica has a much simpler arrangement – a simpler melody, a simpler accompaniment (less prominent strings, and the guitar parts take the spotlight here). Maaya’s voice exhibits an interesting contrast here in comparison to the A-side – she’s singing with less vocal power, but with heavier emotion, which makes this a stronger song in my opinion. Spica’s also more standard J-Pop and less anison, probably because it’s not the ending theme.

Overall Grade: A+

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