Sunday, January 8, 2012

Albums Revisited: Utada Hikaru's Ultra Blue

If you haven't been able to gather by now, I am an album person. I love strong albums where you can pretty much listen to every song on it, and it's cohesive. But even albums that are a bit more unpredictable can be fun too. This is a series I will call albums revisited, which is pretty much exactly what the name implies.

Since mid-2008, I've been slowly testing the waters of j-pop (Japanese pop) and k-pop (Korean pop). Now, a lot of people may wonder why others listen to music in a language you can't understand. For me, it's because I believe music is universal. Many of the themes in music such as love, heartbreak, happiness, anger, desperation, and sadness are emotions we all experience. Melodies, and the way lyrics are sung can be felt beyond the barrier of language. You can get a general feel of a song just with those things.

This brings me to Japanese-American artist Utada Hikaru. She does have a couple of English-language albums, but her primary (and best) music is in Japanese. Today I'm revisiting her 2006 release Ultra Blue, which is a gorgeous ballad-based j-pop album. I love listening to Utada's voice- it's very soft and beautiful while remaining expressive. The album intertwines many different genre influences such as electronic, rock, and r&b. This makes the compositions of the songs interesting, and some even feel unexpected to me. It might have something to do with the way Japanese pop music is crafted. While many complain that it takes too many elements from American music, I think they also give their songs special touches like the chord changes. The album starts out with This Is Love, an upbeat song that Utada says is about how "love is like a mix of extremes: anxiety and peace." The song Blue starts out like a typical ballad that calmly deals with feelings of depression before erupting into a more desperate but gorgeous chorus. 日曜の朝 (Sunday Morning) is a relaxing and carefree r&b-ish song. Three songs on the album, 誰かの願いが叶うころ (When Someone's Wish Comes True), 海路 (Sea Route) and Be My Last drop most of the electronic instrumentation in favor of orchestral, piano, and acoustic arrangements. Be My Last also has one of my favorite vocal performances from Utada, with her emotion at a delicate peak in the song. Wings and Colors make me think of walking through a forest in the Fall and the latter's experimental nature also reminds me of a video game soundtrack (particularly Tekken) in parts. Speaking of video games, if you've played Kingdom Hearts (which I haven't) you've probably heard the wonderfully atmospheric Passion (or the English version Sanctuary below) since it's one of the game's theme songs. It's an amazing album from start to finish, but I think my favorite song is Keep Tryin', which may also be one of my all-time favorite songs. This song features the most unique structure and the melody is just divine, especially in the pre-chorus. I've looked up a few translations (this one seems to make the most sense) and from the few English words (and title) in the song and from the music video I can gather that it is about trying to be better in life, but not trying too hard and not worrying too much. I'll post the music video below since it's really cute to watch and fits well with the song's lighthearted theme.

Utada hikaru-sanctuary by Raid081

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