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Good Things Come in Threes: Three Women and their Pianos – Angela Aki (Home)

December 3, 2008 2 comments

This is the second part of the second article in my series “Good Things Come in Threes”. In the previous article, I looked at

  • Fayray, a Japanese singer and pianist brought up and raised in the US before finding major success in her home country, Japan with the album Hourglass.

The third article looks at

  • Angela Ai, an American Born Chinese, raised in Columbus, Ohio who is and an actress, on Broadway, a singer and a talented pianist.

Angela Aki, Home

Angela Aki

Angela Aki’s upbringing might be considered a mirror image of Fayray’s:Born to a Japanese father and Italian mother in Shikoku, Japan, she emigrated with her family to to the US, Hawaii at the age of 15. Later she moved to Washington DC where she attended and subsequently graduated from the George Washington University with a double major in Politics and Music.

More than anything else, Angela Aki is renowned for her no-holds-barred, powerful voice: with full control over its entire, wide range, who like many Asian pop singers has been influenced heavily by the queen of Canto-pop Wong Faye.

To a much greater extent than Fayray, piano or keyboard take the lead on her ballad laden debut album, Home. And although many songs have a string accompaniment, with minimal percussion and electronica.

The album starts Kiss Me Goodbye, the most well known single on the album, made famous for being the theme song to Final Fantasy XII.

“Kiss Me Goodbye”, although being popular and catchy enough to put it number 1 on the album doesn’t really show Aki’s voice off in its best light, and she drew criticism from some quarters for “shouting rather than singing.”

Certainly there are moments when all you hear is the power and nothing else, but it is still a fine Wong-esq pop song.

Incidentally, she performed a cover of Wong Faye’s Eyes on Me, the theme song to Final Fantasy VIII.

“Love is Over Now” is a more archetypal Aki affair and she is given much more room to explore the extents of her vocal talents which take centre stage in this, a far more emotional number.

“Kokoro no Senshi” has her shouting again for another powerful, bestselling single.

There’s no denying the impact of her orchestra backed pop and this, more than any other song on the album defines a young and energetic Angela Aki with a memorable number that stays with you long after the album has been put away.

“This Love” starts off suggesting a gentle ballad but progresses up the scale, much like Kokoro no Senshi into yet another shouty, full orchestral climax of the ridiculously catchy chorus.

Whereas most albums would be content with a 1, 2, 3 Punch. Aki outdoes them by adding her fourth single to the front loaded album. that made this album a 600,000 disc seller.

After the first four groundbreaking singles, “Music” the fifth song has a difficult job to feel anything other than a slight disappointment in its lack of distinctive hook and ends up as just a pop song.

Any feelings that the album may have lost steam however are blown out of the water by the dark, deep piano strings and heavy drum section that open “Uchuu,” the sixth song on the album. In terms of composition and orchestration alone, Uchuu is by far the tightest on the disc. It’s a one song opera, dark powerful and fearsome one moment transitioning to beautiful, drifting solitude the next with Aki taking on the role of the entire cast with her adept voice and pulling the whole ensemble together beautifully. It’s beautifully dramatic in the way songs by Queen tend to be and feels much fuller and longer than its sub five minute length would suggest.

Uchuu is probably the understated highlight of the whole disc.

“Onegai” comes as blessed respite after the heavy “Uchuu” and signals a pause for a breather before the start of the last half of the album as a slow, gentle piano solo ballad.

The last half is less remarkable than the first, which can’t really be helped considering how this album starts off.

“Rain” and “Kiseki” and “Hallelujah”  return to Aki’s regular pattern of fully rounded and powerful chorus backed by strings and a band without ever loosing the piano from the front and centre, with the final song of the album, “Home” being a rather strong closing song to this pattern. There is a suggestion that she may have been struggling for inspiration at several points during the album with these four songs being very similar, pulling influences from late 90s domestic stars such as Onizuka Chihiro, Yaida Hitomi and others. Still, if you like one, you’ll probably like all four.

“Oogesa ni Aishiteiru” (“exaggerated love”) is stuck in amongst the above four songs at #10 on the album and takes a very different turn, ebbing and flowing at a gentle pace with Aki at the piano, where she belongs.

This song would do well as a showpiece for her voice and piano playing, displaying them both in their best light and would do as well on a stage in the East End or Broadway (were it sung in English) or backing up Tom Waits in one his more mournful moods. It is also slightly reminiscent of late 90’s Japanese group Hana*Hana’s acoustic numbers.

“Your Love Song” is a placid closing ballad in similar vein to “Oogesa ni Aishiteiru” above but is sung in English and makes a beautiful, restful close to the album.

Aki is a young powerful talent who hasn’t quite found her comfort zone, although perhaps its at the edge with songs like Uchuu, Your Love Song and Oogesa where she shines the most.

There are hints of brilliance on her album Home, but one gets the feeling that two or three songs could have been shaven off to lift the overall average.

Angela Aki – Home

aki-home

  1. Kiss Me Good-Bye
  2. Love Is Over Now
  3. Kokoro no Senshi (心の戦士, “Kokoro no Senshi”? lit. “Soldier of the Heart”)
  4. This Love
  5. Music
  6. Uchū (宇宙, “Uchū”? lit. “Universe”)
  7. Onegai (お願い, “Onegai”? lit. “Wish”)
  8. Rain
  9. Kiseki (奇跡, lit. “Miracle”?)
  10. Ōgesa ni ‘Aishiteru’ (大袈裟に「愛してる」, “Ōgesa ni ‘Aishiteru'”? lit. “Exaggerated ‘I Love You'”)
  11. Hallelujah (ハレルヤ, Hareruya?)
  12. Home
  13. Your Love Song
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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.