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.

Monday, February 8, 2010

On Kamiki Aya, Avex and GIZA

Apologies for skipping a week (technically two, but I told you about one of them first!).  I've been waiting for some CDs to arrive, but the shipment has gotten messed up.  For now, some scattered, incoherent musings.

Among those CDs are the two new Kamiki Aya albums: one an original album from her new record company, Avex, and one a best album from her old company, Being/GIZA.  I've been thinking a lot about this move between record companies recently.  What makes this move so significant? Her original record label was Being/GIZA.  Although Being/GIZA has acquired a sort of reputation for producing genuine artists as opposed Avex (in particular through the emphasis on GIZA and its indie label background), essentially both are pop factories: pretty faces singing songs not written by them, despite ventures into lyric writing.  Does this movement mean that Avex made a good offer (probably)? It's fascinating to think about (and certainly Avex's higher production values and marketing costs are clearly seen on the inside and outside of Kamiki's new album, particularly in contrast with the best album put out by Being/GIZA at the same time.  Furthermore, since Kamiki only switched to Avex as a record label and not as her artist management, it will be interesting to see how Avex markets her.  Will she be forever doomed to obscurity like the artists on the SONIC GROOVE sub-label, all graduates of Okinawa Actors' School? Or will it turn out that she was just signed for a promotional boost for the company, much like MISIA was notably signed in order to help kick off Avex's Rhythmusic sub-label, and quickly moved back to BMG JAPAN immediately after her contract was up.  Whatever the reason, and despite Kamiki Aya's somewhat marginal status compared to B'z, Kuraki Mai or other artists at Being/GIZA, this is definitely a move that sends a strong message to Being/GIZA, whose emphasis on their image as a producer of real musicians has often been used to preclude or explain things like negligible artist promotion or low quality product.

Tangentially, it is interesting to note that calling both Avex and GIZA pop factories at the same time separates them from being idol factories, which ironically Zetima has subsumed for itself by the "domination" of the Morning Musume franchise.  In an incredibly Raymond Williams-esque turn, their appearance on the music scene in the 90s has realigned the way that idols are thought of in the music industry, so that, except perhaps for their "rivals" of AKB48, even the most idol of idols in today's music world can be given slightly more credence as "pop musicians."