I had not known quite what to expect when I first downloaded Angela Aki. I had heard of her but never heard her and I was surprised. I was surprised by the quality of the songwriting; surprised by the richness and timbre of her voice. She was a very pleasant shock from the JPop community. Overall her style centers on the piano and her Norah Jones-esque vocals.
The opening track and lead single [サクラ色] or [Sakura Colored] is a driven ballad with violins and a simple rhythm. She builds drama slowly, coloring her song with light harmonies with the instrumental sections but mostly it focuses on her voice which reverberates with passion and love for what she does. I know! All of that from the opening track? It’s true. Aki is excellent at what she does and each track that follows is an example in how to write convincingly beautiful pop.
The tumbling, cyclical feeling of [Again] flows seamlessly into the title track which continues the instrument line of the album. She rarely deviates from the piano, string section, basic drum set combination. But, unlike some artists such as Koda Kumi, she does not begin to repeat herself musically. The melodies fit without feeling pasted and the inspiration feels fresh yet coherent. The first true slow song is the engrossing ballad [愛のうた] or [A Song of Love] with beautiful language, even if you cannot understand it. One of Aki’s strongest points as an artist is that she makes Japanese, a very business-like and harsh language, sound very poetic and beautiful.
Third single, the uplifting Younha-esque song [たしかに] or [Surely], dances with lots of la-la-la’s and a more prominent rhythm section. [モラルの葬式] or [The Funeral of Morals] darkly lilts between classical and popular composition with fleeting discordances. Breathtakingly well sung scales flourish the already impressively complex melody and once again she finds a way to make Japanese speak as beautifully as Italian or French. Towards the end, military drums add a sense of finality to the closing song and then dangerously, eerily discordant synthetic and organic touches end the song with church bells to boot. It is perhaps the most moving song by a Japanese pop artist I’ve ever heard. It is deep and profound yet also catchy and beautiful. She absolutely shines.
From there we move onto happier territory with [乙女心] or [The Feelings of a Girl] add more pop into the complex equation of TODAY. The song is pretty and a perfect cure for the moodiness of the last track.
Second single [孤独のカケラ] or [Fragments of Solitude] is a more orchestral piece with French horns and a full string section but this improvement attempts to cover up a less engaging melody. Pounding towards the end, the up-tempo piano-fest of [On & On], a B-side for the first single, follows the aforementioned pattern of instrumentation but because it is so fast, the song rushes by in a flurry of chords and cymbals like a quick, welcome thunderstorm in the afternoon. The album closes with a full string quartet and, surprise, English. [Surrender] spins waltz-like through the accompaniment and gorgeous lyrics to end up gracefully ending with such emotion and teary-eyed-ness that TODAY feels completely actualized.
Angela Aki brings to mind old Disney music; that nostalgic trance of classics. She continues to produce beautiful works of musical art and sing them to their full potential. TODAY is a very mature album of wonderful music and it showcases a very talented artist with much more to give the Japanese music scene. I’m excited to hear her third album, entitled ANSWER, due out the end of this month.
Four and Half Stars