We had some absolute stellar album releases this 2020!
Welcome back to the J-Music Exchange/Rate! This one’s effectively going to be the last one that we will be having for the year, and what better way to acknowledge that fact than by talking about our favorite albums to have come out since.
Before anything else though; the Exchange/Rate, as some of you might already know, is of course the tandem album review series between myself and my good friend and fellow J-music enthusiast Al from Omunibasu.blog, wherein each month we “exchange” each other albums from our own respective libraries for us to then talk about and review on our respective blogs. It hasn’t exactly been a full year of reviews between us two (seeing as we only started the series back in May), but I think I speak for the both of us when I say that the Exchange/Rate has been a fun journey of discovery all the same, and I hope it has been for you guys as well 🙂
After a little bit of back and forth, Al and I decided that it would be fitting for us to pick out our favorite albums of 2020 for this month’s Exchange/Rate as a way to sort of close out this year of Japanese music that we’ve had. Now, I already had a pretty good idea which album I wanted to put forth as my choice given how much I’ve been listening to it since it first dropped, but looking back there were definitely more than just a handful of standout releases that have since come out this past year which did make me second guess myself for a moment. In the end though, I think there was just no way I would be picking any other album than the one I did.
If you’ve been following the Monthly Recommendation Roundup for some time, you might’ve guessed that I would pick Tousaku by Yorushika for Al to listen to and talk to you guys about (go check it out!). Al, in turn (and, well, as you can see, lol) gave Kamishiraishi Mone‘s album note for me to review.
Primarily a live action actress than she is a singer, Kamishiraishi Mone is arguably the biggest crossover star to have come to prominence in recent memory, having won the “Seiyuu Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role” for her breakout performance as the voice behind Miyamizu Mitsuha from the record-breaking blockbuster anime film “Kimi no na wa. (Your Name.)”.
(＊Spotify link to the full album)
０１ 白い泥/shiroidoro (white mud)
０２ 土砂降り/doshaburi (downpour)
０３ 永遠はきらい/eien wa kirai (I hate eternity)
０４ From The Seeds
０５ あくび/akubi (yawn)
０６ スターチス/sutachiisu (statice)
０７ 夜明けをくちずさめたら/yoake wo kuchizasametara (if you hum the dawn)
０８ ハッピーエンド feat. 内澤崇仁 /happii endo (happy end)
０９ Little Birds
１０ 一縷/ichiru (singular)
Ａ ｌ : When I first heard Kamishiraishi Mone sing Mitsuha’s version of “Nandemonaiya” (from the film Kimi no Na wa/Your Name), I was absolutely taken back by her performance in that song. I’ll always appreciate the original RADWIMPS version but to hear Mone’s incredible vocals and expression of pure emotion made me look at that track in a whole new light.
While Kamishiraishi Mone is mainly known to be a live action actress (and occasional voice actress), she also has her own music career that began around the time when Your Name was released. So naturally, I was curious about how her own music was like… and I certainly was not disappointed. Her youthful voice was put on display in her 2017 album, And…, with songs like “Cassette Tape” or “The Voice of Hope” bursting with emotion, whether it be happy or sad. That said, the same can pretty much be heard in her most recent album release, note. It has a very similar atmosphere, compared to her older works, but you can tell that Mone wanted to experiment a bit with other styles. Given that she collaborated with a few different, well-known producers such as Ohashi Trio (“Little Birds”) and Yorushika’s n-buna (“Eienwa Kirai”), it’s clear that the variety of music was there and the fact that she perfectly embodied each individual style with her vocals was one of the best parts… other than the genius decision of “Ichiru” being the album’s closing song. All in all, note is a beautiful LP that should be appreciated by more folks, especially ones who discovered her talent from that one Shinkai film.
＜Ｓｏｎｇｓ ｏｆ Ｉｎｔｅｒｅｓｔ＞
０３ 永遠はきらい/eien wa kirai (I hate eternity)
We’re gonna start out this review of note with a song that I actually ended up already featuring as part of the Monthly Recommendation Roundup in Eien wa Kirai, which comes in as the album’s third track. I first came across this song almost as a matter of course, given Kamishiraishi Mone’s surging popularity that made her somewhat of a ubiqutuous presence in my YouTube recommendations page. I talk about it as much in the Roundup, but it wouldn’t be until I actually tried listening to the song that I’d find out that it was composed by none other than N-buna of Yorushika fame and, as I consider myself a fan of the latter it can’t be helped that I would be intrigued.
Now, in as much as I did find it enjoyable to hear N-buna’s compositions accompanying a singer other than suis for a change, I also do think that this might be the song that Kamishiraishi Mone performed the least well at. It feels weird to start things off here with somewhat of a negative take, more so when I know (and I’m sure everyone else knows) just how incredibly layered and clean Kamishiraishi Mone’s singing can be, but it’s in understanding what exactly felt off about this song that I in turn feel like I understood (what I at least believe) is so special about Kamishiraishi Mone as a singer, as well as note as a whole. I’ll get to that later.
０４ From the Seeds
Following right after as the fourth track of the album is From The Seeds, which stands due to its being the opening theme for the Netflix anime adaptation of “7 Seeds”. I don’t think I need to remind anyone that Kamishiraishi Mone is no stranger to the world of anime and anison given the indelible mark she had left fans the world over with her riveting perfomance in the critically acclaimed “Kimi no na wa. (Your Name)” as the voice of Miyamizu Mitsuha. She also sang theme songs for some long running and well-received series such as “Kyoukai no Rinne” and “Major 2nd”, with her songs Puzzle and Shiroi Doro (the album opener for note) respectively.
That being said, I also think that the song does set iself apart from the rest of the tracks on the album by a fair bit because of how it sounds. It shouldn’t take much for one to realize how almost unchracteristically Rock-oriented the instrumentation was for From The Seeds, and as far as I was concerned at least, it was around this point in the album that I felt compelled to check out who it was that composed this song as well as the rest of the songs for note. I had an inkling it could’ve been someone of note (much like how Eien wa Kirei was with N-buna), and sure enough this song in particular was composed by none other than Japanese Rock icons GLIM SPANKY (!!!)
０９ Little Birds
A name that caught my attention while I was looking at the many different composers that note had (which would total 9 all in all) was Ohashi Yoshinori, better known by most as OhashiTrio. I thought it was a nice little coincidence considering how the first J-Music Exchange/Rate for this year was for one of his EPs, and in line with that I figured it would be fitting that I feature the song he ended up writing here in Little Birds. Of course, that’s not the only deciding factor as to why I cherrypicked this song to talk about over some of the others, as I genuinely do enjoy hearing OhashiTrio’s Folk-y Bluesy Jazz mixed in with Kamishiraishi Mone’s beautiful vocal work.
Moreover, the song is almost if not textbook OhashiTrio down to the laid-back melodic singing style that Kamishiraishi Mone chose to employ here. It’s as if, rather than making the song her own by sticking to her classical roots, she is singing in a way that feels as though this is exactly how the composer meant for it to sound. Now, that must sound like a no-brainer for a lot of you. Why wouldn’t it, right? But when you think about just how different OhashiTrio’s sound is, tonally speaking, from both GLIM SPANKY and N-buna, then you might come to understand why I’m so genuinely amazed at what Kamishiraishi Mone is doing here.
１０ 一縷/ichiru (singular)
If I had to say though, the sound that best suits Kamishiraishi Mone’s voice would be that which is more orchaestral in nature as with Ichiru here. I’m sure a lot of that though is in large part due to the fact that I have spent an inordinate amount of time (lol) listening to Kamishiraishi Mone’s rendition of Nandemonaiya prior to picking up note. Nandemonaiya, as some of you might know, is one of the theme songs used in “Kimi no na wa.”, and is originally performed by Japanese Rock band RADWIMPS. The song was written and composed by the band’s lead vocalist Noda Youjirou, who himself makes an appearance as the composer for this last track of the album.
What I got from listening to Nandemonaiya as many times as I’ve had, and now Ichiru subsequently thereafter, is that the wide and spacious sound that orchaestras give off really maximizes the breadth and depth of Kamishiraishi Mone’s singing. There’s a resonating sort of quality to her voice that feels as though it belongs in an auditorium, and while that might just be the result of her musical upbringing, I think there might be a little more to it. I hadn’t planned on talking about Nandemonaiya as much as I already have, but Ichiru didn’t give me a choice once it reached the 03:30 mark. It’s almost uncanny how much the two songs began to mirror each other after that point.
＜Ｗｈａｔ Ｉ ｔｈｉｎｋ ｏｆ ｎｏｔｅ＞
I want to now go back to what I said at the start of this review about how Eien wa Kirai felt a bit off to me in an attempt to concretize better why that is, and how that dovetails into my overall thoughts on the album. See, one of my major takeaways after having listened to note in its entirety a couple of times over is that Kamishiraishi Mone seemingly has this ability to sing in a manner that makes it sound as though she’s always singing exactly how the composer envisioned. There’s a confident weight in her voice that gives life to the compositions of the songs she sings. Not merely accentuating it, but instead letting it breathe and take its own shape.
That is to say, there was no mistaking N-buna’s handiwork in Eien wa Kirai. The same goes for the rest of the songs on this album. There was never a point where their identity was taken over by Kamishiraishi Mone’s expansive vocal work, which to be honest was contrary to what I expected going in to this album. Being the breakout star that she is over the past two years or so, she’d already proven herself to be a bonafide songstress, and it shows in her sure-handed delivery. Just when you think her voice is going to thin out, it comes back rich and whole, but at the same time it also doesn’t overwhelm as much as you would think.
I never really shy away from acknowledging magic whenever I talk about music, as I do think it’s one of those things where you really just have to hear it for yourself to understand. Not so much in the mystical sense of the word, but in the experiences and sensations that it evokes. In line with that, what listening to note made me realize the most was that there’s an almost magical vastness in the way Kamishiraishi Mone’s singing sounds. A quality of roominess, perhaps brought about by the beautiful use of her harmonic range, that I do believe puts those that compose songs for her at ease knowing they can be themselves.
４.５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ ５
９ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ １０
Ultimately, what made Eien wa Kirai feel so off to me personally, was that it was too much of a stylistic contrast. Kamishiraishi Mone’s vocals thrive in the open space that it seemingly generates, and in that regard N-buna’s faster paced instrumentation quite literally “cramped her style”. Of course, as you can see, that didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of both the song and note as a whole. This was definitely one of my favorite albums to have come out in 2020, an excellent showing for Kamishiraishi Mone (I just love typing her name out, lol), and is really just a testament to how much of a talented individual she is.
What do you think of Kamishiraishi Mone’s note? Let us know in the comments!
Likewise, what are some of your favorite albums of 2020? Al and I know how hard it is to narrow it down to just one, so feel free to tell us all of ’em! (XD)
As always, if you ended up going here first, again don’t forget to check out Al’s Exchange/Rate album review over at Omunibasu.Blog!
Lastly, and as a quick little reminder, I do have the 2020 Roundup Awards coming up soon as well so stay tuned for that as well 😀