This is my second in a short series of articles looking at good things that come in threes.
The first in the series was Women with Attitude, where I took brief look at Lily Allen, Katy Perry, Amy Winehouse.
This time, I’ll be looking at three culture-crashing Asian singer-songwriters who have taken my fancy over the last couple of years. And no, this is not a typo, Angela Aki and Angela Ai are different people.
The two other articles in this series cover:
- Angela Aki a Japanese-Italian solo artist and pianist, brought up in Japan educated in the US and made famous by her Final Fantasy XII theme tune.
- Angela Ai, an American Born Chinese, raised in Columbus, Ohio who is a Pennsylvania U graduate, an actress, on Broadway, a singer and a talented pianist.
Fayray (Album: Hourglass)
Hourglass is a beatifully produced, audiophile grade album with impressive taste and style. A real treat to Jazz and Pop fans alike or those who want to stretch their hifi with some well recorded accoustics and female vocals.
The opener, “First Time” starts with the powerful, subterranean stings of a beautifully captured double bass that will sound best with decent earphones or a subwoofer. The deep strings give way to an English voice which if not of unfettered, soaring range is one of impressive control and resonance; as rich and pure as the accomplished band that backs her.
Most surprisingly, First Time is sung entirely in English on a Japanese album, making it an unusually brazen opener for a rising star. Taking into consideration its slower, more understated, calmer pace and its also being far less famous than several of the others songs on the album, she bucks the recent trend of lining up the popular singles 1, 2 and 3 to catch casual listeners in the shopping centres at the expense of album flow, rhythm or atmosphere.
The fact that this is so demonstrates the confidence in her craft and control over her own production values.
The pace picks up a little with the third song, a Wong Faye esq ballad “最初で最後の恋” (My first and final love) and a rather 90s retro “Fell” harking back to Nakajima Miyuki with a little added electric guitar.
Classical piano influences show through heavily with most songs featuring an accomplished piano or keyboard track, played by herself.
The fifth song is a meandering, self composed piano instrumental solo demonstrating (perhaps a little unnecessarily) her prowess in front of a keyboard. Although a beautiful piece in and of itself, I can’t help feeling that it was a little unessessary.
“白い二月” (White February) is an Enya-like, synth piano floating number featuring her voice sailing breezily across its entire range into falsetto.
“道” (The Way) ups the pace to about the fastest and most upbeat the album gets with another Wong Faye influenced unashamed pop song and one of the few tracks which dispenses with the keyboard as the main melody carrier and instead pulls in a battery of electric, accoustic and spanish guitar.
“Look into My Eyes” is the hit single that put the album on shelves throughout Japan and features Fayray in her best light: On classical piano and in control of voice, the song’s well crafted rhythm and its gentle melody with other instruments, accoustic and electric guitars, a full string section and decent drums following her piano in its wake like the Pied Piper.
“Living Without You,” the second English composition on the album and signals the entrance to the final, distinct segment of the album.
It is a classic piano ballad, slow and thoughtful and if not a classic in itself is nevertheless a pleasent listen and lays the way for the final three songs, which feature her on the piano with a sprinkling of backing, winding down the tension with her gentle, soothing tones and masterful playing in a string of medium-close miked accoustic compositions, which she produced, penned, perfomed and sung herself.
Fayray’s classical background, starting at the age of 4 with the piano, squarely places her in the top echelon for technical ability. Adding intelligent and thoughtful compositions supported by an accomplished, confident voice which does not squeak, squeal, grate nor need computer assisted modulation makes her accessible and enjoyable to a wide range of Japanese and overseas listeners alike.
Although she works in collaboration with a number of colleagues, the album is essentially her own production.
She often appears on TV in Japan, in dramas as well as hosting TV programs as an English language interviewer of artists, politicians and other notables.
Fayray, Hourglass (Japan, 2004)
- first time
- 願い (Negai; Wish)
- 最初で最後の恋 (Saisho de Saigo no Koi; My first and last love)
- 樅の木-樹の組曲- (Momi no Ki-Jyu no Kumikyoku-; Fir Tree -Musical Suite of Woods-)
- 白い二月 (Shiroi Nigatsu; White February)
- 道 (Michi; Road)
- look into my eyes
- living without you
- 口づけ (Kuchizuke; Kiss)
- 愛しても愛し足りない (Aishite mo Aishitarinai; No matter how much I love you, it’s never enough)
- 名前 (Namae; Name)
Next up, I’ll be taking a look at Angela Aki.
Over the last six months, I’ve noticed a serious shift in the styles of music that turn me on. Again, I’m forced to attribute much of this evolutionary shift to my emusic account forcing me to listen to music I might not have paid much attention to had I been given the choice to ignore it.
However, there are certain albums and artists who just seem to come out of nowhere. My previous crush album, “O” by Damien Rice is one such album, and so is this, Birds by Bic Runga.
How I found this album:
This is a good one, even for me.
I was looking for a photo of a Biro for a project and of course, typed in Bic, being the quintessential Biro manufacturer and was presented with the following images in Google.
And there it was, Bic Runga’s photo! The face of a woman this gorgeous naturally stood out when arranged alongside the random, moodily lit images of pens, lighters and machine parts I came across. Feeling obliged to click on the image, I found a favourable review of her latest album.
Intrigued at seeing an Asian face on an English language album review I decided to go to her website at
www.bicrunga.com which quite spectacularly, has entire songs of hers for playback!
OMFG what a voice and what an atmosphere. It’s like Karen Carpenter and Tanya Chua meet Sarah Nixey and Cat Power in a diner. Immediately, I rushed over to emusic to see if they had it for download, and they did!
I consider the threshold for a worthwhile album when it has three keepers on it. That’s generally because a full album is three times the price of a single here in Japan. An album with five songs on it is a gem… but to have no less than eight tracks that I’m completely in love with is a record breaker for me.
Her songs start out promising very little, some reverb laden guitar rolls in with a spot of high hat and light backing of rimshot, duping the listener into thinking he’s listing to country and western. The first inkling one gets that this is something entirely different is when her sublime voice drifts in along with a raft of sultry classical strings, transforming the songs, causing them to blossom into pieces of pure beauty.
And just when you think it can’t get any better, Bic hits you with a full, satisfying chorus and you’re hooked.
Bic Runga is without doubt an absolute master of the perfect chorus. Within a month of buying this album, it has become my all time number one played album and Bic Runga my number one played artist since I joined Last FM and started to trust them to keep hold of my playing stats.
From the curiously addictive Winning Arrow with its close-miked recording and fabulous resonance through to It’s Over, a laid back sultry number, virtually the entire album is a keeper.
- Winning Arrow
- Say After Me
- Ruby Nights
- No Crying No More
- If I Had You
- That’s Alright
- Blue Blue Heart
- It’s Over
And as the icing on the cake, the album comes with five live recordings which somehow sound even better than the studio versions above.
This is as near to perfection as mere mortals can get, and she’s directed, produced and recorded herself just for our enjoyment.