This album… it’s definitely an interesting one.
Yo and welcome back to yet another J-Music Exchange/Rate post! This is a little segment I do alongside my good friend/fellow Japanese music fan Leap250 where we both choose a J-music album, exchange them with one another, and ultimately review them on our respective blogs towards the end of the month. It’s been a blast doing these album reviews for the past year or so, as they definitely help me improve in my writing and reviewing abilities… even though I tend to get lazy when it comes to actually doing them lol
And if you’re already familiar with this segment, you would know that every month, Leap and I base our album choices on a specific theme. Some examples from prior months have ranged from singular genres to more in-depth topics such as ‘hidden gems from popular artists’. It just keeps things fresh each month. As for this month’s theme, Leap thought of a good one, with it revolving around the Spring season again. Because Spring is known for being the season of ‘new beginnings’, we thought it’d be cool to pick an album from an artist we’ve only discovered within the past couple months. It’s always cool whenever I find brand new artists so this month’s theme is definitely a fun one.
That said, here are the albums we both picked out: Leap tossed over DUO by singer-songwriter Ieiri Leo while I went ahead and gave him Wata Megumi’s 2015 release, Sainandawa.
Let’s jump right in!
…alright, when Leap told me that Ieiri Leo reminded him a lot of a voice actress named Yano Hinaki, I assumed they both expressed a similar style of music. But I guess he also meant that in regards to… appearance 😛
Ieiri Leo (家入レオ) is a Fukuoka-born singer-songwriter who got her start in music at an early age, playing the piano and participating in her elementary school’s choir. Ieiri also garnered an interest in drama which led to her beginnings in songwriting, expressing the experiences and emotions from her youth through poetry and lyricism. By the age of 15, she wrote what would eventually become her debut single, “Sabrina”, and ultimately decided that she wanted to pursue music seriously.
The release of “Sabrina” would end up becoming a hit, with it reaching #9 in the Oricon Weekly singles chart. Her first studio album LEO also saw success, with it taking the #1 spot on the daily Oricon album charts (it sold over 32,000 copies in the first week!). Since then, Ieiri Leo has released a total of six studio albums and many singles, with a good handful of her songs being used in various types of media such as anime, TV dramas and commercials. Ieiri was even awarded Billboard Japan’s “Best New Artist” at the age of 18. (all info from Generasia)
Ieiri Leo – DUO
- Prime Numbers
- Aishitenai Nara / 愛してないなら
- Moshi Kimi wo Yurusetara / もし君を許せたら
- Neon Nights
- Kono Sekai de / この世界で
- Sansanqua / サザンカ
Leap’s thoughts on DUO:
Ieiri Leo was, at one point in time, one of the hottest young prospects to ever come out in the contemporary Japanese Pop scene. After an explosive debut in 2012, everyone was quick to realize the immense potential that the then-15 year old carried with her singing, owing to her innate lower vocal register and her crystal clear vibrato. These, along with her now-trademark “sharp”-looking eyes like that of a lion, and her headstrong attitude towards the arts, was more than enough for her to be crowned the Best New Artist award in the 54th Japan Record Awards held in that same year. In the time since then, Ieiri has matured ever so gracefully into a premier songstress, with the fruits of her growth being ever so present in what would be her sixth studio album in Duo here.
The album brings with it a lot of what made Ieiri such a promising talent from when she first broke into the mainstream, primarily of course being her strong and commandeering vocal presence, as exemplified by; the lead-in track “Prime Number”, the hard-hitting ballad “Moshi Kimi wo Yurusaretara” or the just the absolutely beautiful “Kono Sekai de”. Interstitched between them are Rock-laden tracks such as “Overflow” and “Bicolor” that show off Ieiri’s intensity, as well as songs like “Bouquet” that conversely showcases the more gentle side to her sound. All in all, Duo is a wonderful release that shows the many facets to Ieiri Leo, perfect for those wanting to get into her music.
When it comes to overall style, DUO takes on an interesting approach. In my opinion, this album doesn’t really have one singular genre you can categorize it in. It’s kind of all over the place. Not to say that’s a bad thing; I mean, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this album. I guess I was just a bit surprised.
And when I say ‘it’s kind of all over the place’, I really do mean that. Usually when I listen to an album for the first time, the very first song that plays creates an image in my mind where I believe that’s the overall style I’ll be hearing throughout these 11+ songs. I don’t know if many people have that same approach when listening to music but I think that’s pretty natural. “Prime Numbers”, the opening song on DUO, presents to us a loud, emotional track that has a hint of charming piano sequences mixed into it. But a few songs into the album, you’re hit with a brand new style of music with “Overflow”: a rock track with a super fast pace and a beat that seems reminiscent of something you hear in a old school hip-hop song. And a few songs after that, “Neon Nights”, probably my favorite track in the album, does a complete 180 and gives us an authentic-sounding, 80s-inspired tune that’s heavy on the synthesizers.
I know I may be rambling at this point but the great amount of variety in this album is something worth talking in-depth about. In fact, it’s probably one of the most notable characteristics about this album. To be honest, when an artist takes these sharp turns in regards to styles for each of their songs, it’s kind of a hit-or-miss for me. Drastic changes like those can have the potential to mess with my preference of consistency; something I feel like most music fans favor/expect when listening to an album.
But I feel like in Ieiri Leo’s case, the amount of variety she expressed was super intriguing to experience. Sure, there are songs that are completely different from each other and yes, at times, some tracks can feel a bit out of place. But in general, this interesting mish-mash of dissimilar styles was well-executed, I’d say, and the fact that it’s being expressed by one artist/person is pretty cool. It’s not everyday you get to listen to an album that goes from a 2000s emotional rock-like song (“Aishitenai Nara / 愛してないなら”) to 80s synth pop (“Neon Nights”) to an incredibly bright acoustic track (“Spark”). Even if the consistency was, more-or-less, thrown straight out of the window, you have to appreciate how Ieiri Leo showed how musically talented and versatile she can be.
Instrument-wise, given that this album displayed a lot of various styles, there was a pretty damn good selection of different instruments that certainly conveyed each genre effectively. I really loved “Prime Numbers” (as well as some other tracks like “Moshi Kimi wo Yurusetara / もし君を許せたら”) and the way the soft and almost magical-like piano paired well with the overall intense atmosphere. “Overflow” and “Whenever” had those hip-hop/rap-like beats but something interesting I noticed is that they both take on a different variation of that specific genre. “Overflow” felt more old school mixed with rock while “Whenever” felt like a more modern hip-hop song with its slower, electronic-based and thoroughly thought-out beats. And of course, I really enjoyed the simpler songs such as the acoustic guitar-based “Spark” and “Sansanqua / サザンカ” with its relaxing tone, thanks to the easy-going performances from the piano and drum brush-focused percussion. Overall, the instrumentation for all of the songs on DUO were done fantastically, especially when it has this much variation, stylistically.
The vocals in this album were outstanding. Ieiri Leo seriously has a fantastic voice and it’s apparent that she is able to take on and accommodate many different musical styles. Whether it’s her rapping (which, on another note, her performance in “Overflow” reminded me a lot of another J-artist named Reol) or making us feel like we transported back to the 80s with her catchy vocals in “Neon Nights”, her vocal abilities were super fun to listen to. Especially in songs like “Bouquet”, we’re able to hear her raw and gorgeous voice when she did these beautiful love ballads.
I feel like I sounded like a broken record throughout this review, as the overall theme of this album and post was ‘variety’. But like I said, that truly was one of, if not, the most noteworthy and interesting thing about DUO.
Now I’ve never heard of Ieiri Leo or her music beforehand but after taking a quick peek at her other releases, I noticed that having a vast sense of variety when it comes to creating music is simply her own unique style. I’m not too sure if that was her intention but regardless, I believe she conveys that specific approach in a very, very nice fashion. It was impressive to hear all these genres which have little to no relation to each other, be present on this single album and for Ieiri Leo to do a good job at taking on each and every one of those styles in an authentic and enjoyable way… just makes for an intriguing album. Plus, her vocals in general are fantastic to listen to.
And like I said, some people may not particularly like the drastic changes in styles throughout this album but if you’re interested in an almost, experimental-type album, this one could be one to check out.
Aaaand that’s all I got for you today! Hope you enjoyed this one; it was great to discover a brand new artist and especially one that had a different process when creating music. I’ll try my best to check out her other releases, cause she is most definitely talented.
Well, that’s the end of this post but if you haven’t already, definitely go check out Leap’s review of the album I gave him: “Sainandawa” by Wata Megumi. If, by chance, you’re familiar with IDOLY PRIDE multimedia franchise, Wata Megumi (who now goes by Yuki Moeko) actually voices Hoshimi Productions’ Ichinose Rei! It was fascinating to hear what Moemoe was up to prior to being casted in the AiPura series and seeing Leap’s thoughts on that will be fun to read. Click here to read his review!
Thanks for reading!! 😀