Staff Selections: June / July 2015



Toki Asako – Bittersweet

Toki Asako is a real class act. Her work is always so smooth, so rich, so sophisticated. “Bittersweet” is no exception. It’s a mix of adult pop, jazz, lounge, disco, and even electronic. The album starts off with the light disco of “C’est La Vie ~Onna wa Ai ni Isogashii~.” In the music video, you can see a young girl looking at records by acts who clearly influenced Asako, acts such as Diana Ross, Chaka Khan, and Chic. “C’est La Vie ~Onna wa Ai ni Isogashii~” is followed by “BOY from Setagaya.” It’s a nice, light adult pop song that has good use of synths. They add a nice bit of softness to the song. The standout track is “Kung Fu Girl.” It’s an electronic song with touches of traditional Chinese music. It has a very cool feel to it. Asako even sings in Mandarin in part of the song.


Shiina Ringo – Nagaku Mijikai Matsuri / Kamisama, Hotokesama

This single was released physically in August but the songs on it came out digitally in July. The first A-side, “Nagaku Mijikai Matsuri”, is a summery jazz song. She’s assisted on it vocally by Ukigumo, Tokyo Jihen’s guitarist. She’s also assisted by some electronic vocal effects that really aren’t needed. They don’t make me dislike the song, but I don’t really see the need for them.  The second A-side, “Kamisama, Hotokesama”, is the one I like the most of the 2 songs. It’s a more rock song. She’s assisted on this vocally by Mukai Shutoku from ZAZEN BOYS. There’s also some flute on here, which is a nice jazz touch, reminds me of the 70s. The best part of this song is the end. The last minute or so of the song is all instrumental. It can best be described as a “jazz explosion.” It’s so chaotic, there are horns everywhere, but it’s so good.


RHYMESTER – Bitter, Sweet & Beautiful

The blend of hip hop and jazz on this album is great.  It gives it a classic vibe, while keeping things fresh. The piano on “Footsteps in the Dark” is a great touch. It cuts the hardness of the song a bit. The digitally deepened vocals on “Painkiller” add a nice smoothness to the track. The appearances by PUNPEE on the album, in “Kids In The Park” and “SOMINSAI.” I like his singing on the chorus of the former song. The latter song is interesting because it has a bit of a country vibe due to the prominent fiddle in it.


Yumi Shizukusa – BLUE

I like how R&B seems to be peaking its head out more and more this year. This new Yumi Shizukusa album is another good entry to add to the list. She’s picking up on the more progressive things happening in R&B right now and incorporating them into her music. But it’s not all new R&B. There are a few older sounding songs in the form of “Still Love You” and “Everytime.” Her vocals sound really good on the album.





JUJU surprised me a lot with this single. “Playback” is a contemporary summer hit and exactly what I’ve been waiting for this season. Most summer songs have been EDM and EDM only these past few years so this is a nice relief. I’m convinced that “Playback” would have taken off in the west if it was released by someone like Katy Perry.



Aimer – DAWN

First, let me say that Aimer has some of the most stunning CD artwork out there. I knew about her for a long time but she really convinced me with last year’s “Dareka, umi wo” (also on this album).

There is some variety on “DAWN” but there could have been a lot more. There are a few obvious filler songs (“Believe Be:leave”, “AM04:00”, “Kizuna”) which, in my opinion, drag the overall quality down.

However, there are standout tracks (“MOON RIVER”, “broKen NIGHT”, “LAST STARDUST”, “Dareka, Umi wo”, “DAWN”) that you should definitely check out if you’re into her style.

The overall thing may not be the best she’s done so far, but Aimer always has a few precious gems up her sleeves on “DAWN”.

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