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Good Things Come in Threes: Three Women and their Pianos – Fayray (Hourglass).

December 2, 2008 4 comments

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)

fayray

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.

Mini Facts

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)

Hourglass - Fayray

 

  1. first time
  2. 願い (Negai; Wish)
  3. 最初で最後の恋 (Saisho de Saigo no Koi; My first and last love)
  4. feel
  5. 樅の木-樹の組曲- (Momi no Ki-Jyu no Kumikyoku-; Fir Tree -Musical Suite of Woods-)
  6. 白い二月 (Shiroi Nigatsu; White February)
  7. 道 (Michi; Road)
  8. look into my eyes
  9. living without you
  10. 口づけ (Kuchizuke; Kiss)
  11. 愛しても愛し足りない (Aishite mo Aishitarinai; No matter how much I love you, it’s never enough)
  12. 名前 (Namae; Name)

Next up, I’ll be taking a look at Angela Aki.

Good Things Come in Threes: Women with Attitude (Lily Allen, Katy Perry & Amy Winehouse)

August 25, 2008 2 comments

By sheer coincidence, I’ve started listening to three artists who have striking similarities in their art which people might not, at first glance, realise.

Why I think they are similar is probably just more just for personal reasons than any scientific ones. Stil, here are the major reasons:

  • They are strong, highly visible individuals with brains, attitudes or opinions. Forget dance units with cloned girls grown on “pop-farms” and harvested just in time fo rthe holiday number ones, these girls have a lot to say.
  • They have crafted a media personality that makes them stand out. Some say this is just to get attention: But then, I guess that’s the point isn’t it, if you want to be a star these days, you have to do a bit of media whoring.
  • They sing about similar things, sex, drugs and rock & roll! I can dig that.
  • They are distinctive and don’t hide their roots in their songs. They sing about things directly around them. Their songs feel real, not idealised concepts of love or romance, but life’s troubles, from the rather trivial affairs of everyday life, pet peeves, annoyances etc. through to confronting really quite threatening situations.
  • -> I’m going to get stoned for this comment, but please read to the end before mailing me: They all appear proud of being White Trash! Like a Jean Paul Gautier fashion range that uses daily, household items and turns them into something wonderful, these ladies take the dreary, dull goings-on of modern existance and breath new life into them, creating works of art that inspire, enliven or sometimes, even just titilate.
  • I listened to all three of them for the first time within a week of each other, which means that I associate them with each other. When I play one, I tend to want to play the others.

Now, to be honest, these things don’t make them sound like the sort of artists you’d want to listen to in front of your mum or with your grandparents in the room, and frankly they’re not.

So, is there else similar about them?
Did I say they were women? Yes?
Then I guess that’s about it…

… Because when it comes to musical styles, they are so far apart they could be considered the three corners of a very large triangle. There are practically no similarities between them at all.

First Up,

Lily Allen with Alright, Still

lily_allen_alright_still

She has layered a thick “Lahndanah, Innit!” sheen over some pumping Ska beats to come up with a mix of sass-trash hits and zany surreal ditties that depict London like no other album I know.

Familial-love, dispair, mortgates, the weather, vandalism, violent revenge, no topic is beyond reach of this girl. Her songs are so graphical that if she wasn’t singing, she’d prabably be an artist. Or failing that, a social commentator or comedian.

Katy Perry, One of the Boys

katy_perry-one_of_the_boys

This is pure, unadulterated mainstream-pop, plain and simple: Catchy beats, engaging choruses, thickly layered synthsand drums, there is nothing at all straining or even slightly difficult to listen to, musically.

Yet, this is the most controversial of the three albums, having two tracks that have caused an online firestorm in the US and one that has reached a collosal 10,000 comments on US iTunes store. I’ll repeat that:

A single track that has reached no less than 10,000 COMMENTS!

So what’s the issue?

Her songs are blatently sexulally ambiguous, “metrosexual” numbers, bluring the line between male and female in an entirely unsubtle fashion. The landmark song being, “I kissed a girl.”

OK! OK! Regular readers are going to go, like, “Oh here he is, on about lesbians again, for Pete’s Sake!”

But they say you wait 30 minutes for a bus and three come along at once… Not that I was waiting for a lesbian theme or anything… (he says, digging himself even deeper into a hole)…

[GET ON WITH IT!!!]

OK, right. So this song propelled her album to iTune’s number one along with “You’re so Gay!” using the word gay as in pathetic rather than happy and lively… or that other meaning that it sometimes has.

Now I count neither of these songs as classics. Sure they are catchy and you might find yourself getting weird looks when you start humming, “you’re so gay and you don’t even like boys,” or sad, sort of pitiful looks when as a young man you find yourself singing, “I kissed a girl and I liked it!” on a train. But they’re not classics like “Unchained Melody” or “Help”.

Other songs on the album also include gender-provocative digs, with lines like “You change your mind like a girl changes clothes.”

Still, in my opinion, any song that gets 10,000 comments and votes polarised between either 1 or 5 is an oustanding success, regardless of its melodical merit.

“You’re so Gay” is another one. Purposefully aggravating title designed to catch the listener’s attention.This pop song is just catchy enough to keep you listening… If you like pop, that is. Again, polarised comments abound, some saying it’s insulting, others its just fun.

THIS is what art should be about. Raising questions, testing people’s mores and humour, making people LAUGH, SHOUT or SING. Making people EMOTIONAL (he says in CAPITAL LETTERS!).

IKAG: Progressive Metro Pop with a pro freedom-of-expression stance or Cheap Gag (TM) designed to titilate the boys?

YSG: Insulting to gays by implying that they are weak and pathetic or just a mild dig at a mincy/artsy boyfriend who spends more time preening himself than paying attention to his open minded girl, who would feel beeter if he just came out rather than string her along.

So, listen for yourself and decide.

Amy Winehouse, Back to Black

One word, “WOW!” This woman is a diva. I’d heard some of her songs in passing and only when my colleague told me that she wasn’t a large “Mama” from Louisiana, but instead a “waiflike druggie” (paraphrasing, slightly) from London did I really take notice.

This woman is (was?) unreal. Her first album Frank hinted at things to come and come they did, and quickly too. And, judging by her self destructive spiral into oblivion, her second album “Back to Back” may well be her last and certainly came just in time.

Just in time for the lucky listener to catch her at her drug induced dystopic best!  Listen and be treated to a unique musical fusion of edgy soul and jazz brought up to date with hard hitting and chameleonic lyrics that appear equally at home describing hazy days steeped in fine bourbon on the banks of the Mississipi as they do depicting realistic, personal images so intense they’re practically porn.

So there you are, then: Three divas from three different walks of life. One a metro pop queen, another an intelligent social commentator and of course, not forgetting the drugged out diva.

If you don’t listen to anything else this year, listen to these inspiring (!?!?!) ladies sing and realise your own world isn’t so bad, after all.