Hello and welcome back to another J-Music Exchange/Rate post! In case you don’t know what this is about, this is a little segment that me and my good friend/fellow Japanese music enthusiast Leap250 do where we give each other an album to listen to each month and later review ’em on our respective blogs. However, last month, Leap and I took a quick break and didn’t post reviews for the month of September. I had to deal with some school stuff but now that I’ve gotten comfortable with my overall schedule, we’re getting back on track with a review for October.
Which is a decent segue to the album theme for this month. It was my turn to choose the topic/theme and I decided to go with something along the lines of ‘unexpected genres/stylings from a particular artist’. Sometimes artists release music that don’t fall in line with their usual/well-known performed genres or styles. Even personality-wise, you may hear an artist come out with songs that you wouldn’t expect them to perform, based on how they are as a person. Hopefully that makes some sense but that’s our overall theme for this month.
That being said, here are our choices: Leap recommended to me Fujikawa Chiai’s 2020 album release HiKiKoMoRi, while I tossed over Nebula by voice actress/artist Ueda Reina.
Let’s jump right in!
Fujikawa Chiai (藤川千愛) is an Okayama-born artist who was influenced at an early age by her grandfather, an Enka musician, to become a musician herself. In 2015, she participated in a vocal audition and ended up passing, making her a member of an idol group called Maneki Kecak. After multiple music releases with the group, Fujikawa left in 2018 to pursue her own career in music. Among her first few single releases, one of them, “Kimi no Namae”, was used as an ending song to the well-known anime series Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari and quickly became popular/loved around the anime community (she would also later provide another ED for the show, “Atashi ga Tonari ni Iru Uchi ni”).
Since her solo debut, Fujikawa has released five singles and three albums, with HiKiKoMoRi being her latest full-length studio record.
Fujikawa Chiai – HiKiKoMoRi
- She’s Not Like Me / 私に似ていない彼女
- Yojohan War / 四畳半戦争
- Nobody Knows / 誰も知らない
- Arinomamade / ありのままで
- Waremono Chuui / ワレモノ注意
- Refrain / リフレイン
- Kioku / 記憶
- The Beginning and End of Emotions / 喜怒哀楽の最初と最後
- Bakemono to Yobarete / バケモノと呼ばれて
- Enjokosai / 援助交際
Leap’s thoughts on HiKiKoMoRi:
The theme for this month are albums by bands/artists who perform in a style that’s different from what you would expect based on your perception of them, based on their overall look, image, or any preconceived notions with regard to how they sound. There were a lot of ways that I could’ve gone with it, but I figured this was as good of an opportunity as any to feature Fujikawa Chiai, who people primarily know from her Pop/Rock ballads used as ending themes for the widely popular Rising of the Shield Hero. Unbeknownst to some, and as would be made apparent by her (at the time of writing) most recent release ‘HiKiKoMoRi’, the Okayama native singer-songwriter has Japanese Rock coursing through her veins.
Compare and contrast the aforementioned ED themes to songs like the album opener ‘Watashi ni Niteinai Kanojo’, and you’ll be quick to realise how much of a career band frontwoman she actually is. At the very least one would be hard-pressed not to recognize how much work she has put in into her craft: with how well she’s able to trill and roll her Rs the way she does in ‘Youjouhan Sensou; her nifty high-low modulation evident in songs like ‘Bakemono to Yobarete’; and her lively adlibs like the ones in ‘Enjo-Kousai’ that has become a part of hew songwriting. All these are things that are achieved more so with great effort than sheer talent alone, and is why I’ve since had newfound respect for her as an artist after listening through this album.
Well, as this month’s theme suggests, the albums Leap and I gave each other are supposed to show off a different side of an artist, in regards to style. A genre(s) that veers off from what people/fans are most familiar with when it comes to said artist’s music. And overall, I think Fujikawa Chiai and her recent album release HiKiKoMoRi definitely fits that bill.
With the Shield Hero ending themes Fujikawa did, arguably the songs that most people would know her for, they took on more of a ‘cozy’ feeling with its slow pace, acoustic guitar, emotional/ballad-like vocals and lyrics, and so on. Especially with “Kimi no Namae”, I enjoyed its soft atmosphere and even though I’ve never watched the anime, it seems like a great song to end off each episode with.
That being said, if the only Fujikawa Chiai songs you’ve heard of are from that Shield Hero anime, you will most likely be put off/surprised at a handful of the tracks within her HiKiKoMoRi album. Why, you may ask? Well, it explains itself right from the get-go with the first couple songs being much much much more rock-heavy, fast paced and almost doujin-like. “Yojohan War” is a great example of Fujikawa expressing that rock style with its high energy, fun mixture of instruments and strong vocals. And then right after that, “Nobody Knows” comes on and displays a brighter mood, having more of a pop song vibe with its use of trumpets and higher pitched vocals.
Whoa. What a drastic change, I’d say. Interestingly enough, there are quite a few stylistic changes throughout this entire album, going from rock to electro to even that acoustic style many people have heard from Fujikawa Chiai. In regards to albums like these where they have a bit of a ‘mish-mash’ of different genres throughout its tracks, I’m a bit indecisive about them. I’ve been on record saying, via some of the album reviews I’ve done in the past, that I liked when an album featured variety (Fullkawa Honpo’s Girlfriend from Kyoto) and there have been times where I didn’t particularly enjoy when an artist flip-flopped between significantly different genres (Ieiri Leo’s DUO). In the case of HiKiKoMoRi, I guess I just don’t mind the drastic changes within this album. Given that the majority of its songs are rock-based, I think it’s fine to sprinkle in a little variety, as long as the album has a general sense of consistency. Plus, it’s cool to hear Fujikawa go back to that softer vibe that she’s known to do, even if it was done in one track (“Kioku / 記憶”), since the Shield Hero EDs were enjoyable and I definitely would’ve loved to listen to another song under that particular style.
But yeah, in my opinion, some of those style changes were pretty intriguing and well-done. “Nightmare”, as the song’s title would sort of suggest, had that pop, spooky vibe (which coincidentally was fun to listen to, due to the fact that by the time this post comes out, Halloween is tomorrow). And “Nobody Knows” was a interesting change of pace but I could appreciate its catchiness and lively atmosphere.
As for instruments, a lot of the songs had your normal guitar-bass-drums combo, performed in a rock/heavy rock sort of fashion. But it also, at times, incorporated a keyboard/piano which, like I said earlier, reminded me a lot of the ever-so-popular doujin style music such as in the song “That Girl Looks Nothing Like Me / 私に似ていない彼女”. That track felt reminiscent of artists like TUYU, Eve, and ZUTOMAYO, which I found to be very enjoyable, given my appreciation for those groups. And because of that, I think I would love to hear Fujikawa Chiai compose more doujin-style songs since she absolutely sounds great when performing said style.
Other than that, the traditional rock songs sounded fantastic with its standard style of instrumentation. They were definitely done in an enjoyable and genuine fashion, such as in songs like “Bakemono to Yobarete / バケモノと呼ばれて” and “Enjokosai / 援助交際”. I also thought it was interesting with those two songs in particular; while they’re both rock songs, they each express a different nature (“Bakemono” has that strong, passionate tone while “Enjokosai” sounds like a rock song from a younger/more youthful group).
And then you have your ‘outliers’, I’d like to call them, AKA the songs that take on a significantly different tone. “Nobody Knows” had that liveliness with its joyful trumpets and percussion. And with a song like “Refrain” and its electro-based noises and beats… I liked Fujikawa’s take on a more electro/pop song.
Lastly, I gotta talk about Fujikawa Chiai’s vocals. They were just fantastic to listen to. One major thing I noticed was that she does a really good job of adapting her voice to the various styles/genres/atmospheres heard throughout this album. Whether it’s a more rough-sounding track like “Yojohan War” or one with a lot more emotion involved, Fujikawa was able to change her tone, pitch, and amount of passion within her vocals. And I think this album definitely showcased how great of a vocalist she is!
All in all, HiKiKoMoRi by Fujikawa Chiai was a nice album. Me being someone who has experienced and listened to a lot of rock within the realm of Japanese music, a great handful of the songs featured on here were really enjoyable and I could appreciate the different directions she went with each of them. Especially with that doujin-style track, “That Girl Looks Nothing Like Me”… it genuinely made me want more of that specific style from Fujikawa (lol). Plus, the songs that took on a much different approach were equally as entertaining and certainly surprised me at times, due to the fact that this was a rock-based album.
Add in Fujikawa’s tremendous vocals and the terrific instrumentation throughout, and you got a solid album that even those who are more familiar with Fujikawa’s anison side could find to be enjoyable.
Aaaaand that’s all I got for you today! I apologize if this review felt a bit off or lacking; given that I took a month break from reviewing music, that may have made me a bit rusty. But regardless, I hope you enjoyed this write-up and hopefully you also thought this album was a good one.
Now that you’re at the end of this post, you should go on to Leap’s blog and read his review for this month! I gave him Nebula by voice actress/artist Ueda Reina (which was one captivating album, if I do say so myself) and you can click here to check it out!
Thanks for reading!! 😀