Monday, February 15, 2010

Periodic album review: Kamiki Aya

Kamiki Aya 上木彩矢, "AYA KAMIKI Greatest Best" (GIZA, 2010)
Kamiki Aya 上木彩矢, "INDIVIDUAL EMOTION," (Avex, 2010)

Now that I actually have the physical products in my hands, it seems like Kamiki Aya's transition from GIZA to Avex has been incredibly smooth. As I mentioned in my previous post, I believe that this is because her managing agency has always been and remains BOX CORPORATION, who must have been the primary orchestrators of the transition. The albums in question, "AYA KAMIKI Greatest Best" (GIZA, 2010) and "INDIVIDUAL EMOTION," (Avex, 2010) reflect this smooth transition: there is a cross-promotion for consumers who purchase both albums, the same fonts are used for the promotional labels on the plastic shrink-wrap, and, most notably, the insides themselves are surprisingly judicious. The first press of "INDIVIDUAL EMOTION" comes with a second disc, "AYA KAMIKI fan best," which contains fan-selected songs from Kamiki's GIZA period. It's definitely the first time, as far as I can recall, that I've seen songs written by GIZA's stable of in-house songwriters, most notably Ohno Aika, on an Avex album, and Kamiki certainly thanks a lot of GIZA people in the liner notes. I suppose the point is that I am amazed at Avex's generosity in all this; it will be interesting to see how this contract plays out in the future.

That being said, it is also interesting to see how "INDIVIDUAL EMOTION" itself acts to juxtapose GIZA's songwriters with those of Avex, as some of the usual suspects, such as tasuku and Hara Kazuhiro, make appearances in the album. Ironically, the album leans on Kamiki's first release with Avex, "W-B-X 〜W-Boiled Extreme〜," the theme song to the new Kamen Rider (which, admittedly, is a posh deal and a good way to promote her out of the gate), which was written by people who are more associated with, well, writing the theme songs for the tokusatsu franchises than writing music for "established" musicians. In terms of the music, as you might expect from a move to Avex, the music seems to lose just a slight touch of the rock style that characterized Kamiki's GIZA period and gains a slight touch of the pop style that is the standard of Avex artists (damn you, Masato "MAX" Matsuura). In particular, there is an overemphasis on synthesizers and a "crystalline" sound on some tracks that is most reminiscent of, for example, Hamasaki Ayumi's music. On the other hand, production value of the music appears to be more lush, with more layers to the sound. Lyrics as usual remain written by Kamiki, though, and to be fair, there was already a gradual movement towards a more poppish style on Kamiki's part that only was rethought offhandedly on her last album, "Are you happy now?" At any rate, "INDIVIDUAL EMOTION" is interesting to check for the industrial back story, but as an album itself, it feels more like trading six of one for half a dozen of another. Perhaps time, then, will tell if Kamiki is able to carve a more distinctive niche for herself among the many other Avex artists who rely on their in-house music production staff.

On the other hand, Kamiki's transition from rock to pop and (slightly) back is the focus of her GIZA best album, "AYA KAMIKI Greatest Best." It moves in roughly chronological order from her rock beginnings (her second single, "piero ピエロ," was a cover of a B'z song, albeit released first), towards a more pop-influenced sound that centered around her second album, then back to a rock sound (presumably after someone realized what a mistake it was), with some songs from Kamiki's "indies" days thrown in. Highly recommended, as all best albums should be, for someone who is interested in learning more about an artist in a short period of time, but nothing really new to write home about for someone who owns Kamiki's other albums.

I should also note that my previous mention of MISIA was slightly erroneous: while Rhythmedia Tribe was created at Avex in 2002, the 2007 move back to BMG JAPAN was not just of MISIA, but the entire Rhythmedia Tribe label. Rhythmedia Tribe is the label of Rhythmedia, the managing agency for MISIA, and she is the only artist under that label now, the label having shed all its previous artists by around 2008. I had gotten mixed up because while at Avex Rhythmedia Tribe had its own label numbering scheme (RXCD), whereas upon moving back to BMG JAPAN returned the sub-label to the larger numbering scheme there (BVCx), and Rhythmedia Tribe is less overtly a presence in MISIA promotion than it was during its Avex days.

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