Les Cinq Branches d’Une Etoile by French Girl Group L5

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Welcome back to ☆ai love music☆! I am sorry for the month-long hiatus! I really enjoyed the challenge of writing for NaNoWriMo, even though I didn’t reach my goal of 50,000 words (although I wrote past 40,000, yay!). Also, work and real life became severely busy recently with Christmas-related events and always catching some sort of virus or cold. Now that everything has sort of calmed down and I am healthy again, I am resuming my blog writing with a serene goody from the French girl group L5.

Formed in 2001 to compete in the French version of the internationally acclaimed talent search show Popstars, L5 was composed of five members: Alex Dana, Claire L., Coraly Emoi, Louisy Joseph, and Margie Nelson. The group eventually won the competition’s inaugurate season, leading them to score a record deal with Mercury Records. The band proved to be super popular as their debut single, entitled “Toutes Les Femmes De Ta Vie”, sold over one million copies and is currently the forty-eighth best selling single in France. They released their self-titled debut album a month later with moderate success. The group also released two follow-up albums in 2002 and 2006 with some success due in part to their relationship with Popstars.

However, that popularity soon faded as their last original album, Turbulences, sold only around sixty-five thousand copies due to a lack of proper marketing. The girls also felt like their time in the limelight was fading as they were considering future projects and life after L5. One of the first members to announce their departure from the group was Claire, leaving in early 2006. However, this didn’t stop the other members as they released a cover of The Bangles’ “Walk Like An Egyptian” as a quartet a little while after. The same quartet would eventually reunited in 2011 and 2012 for special live performances.

Though the girls tried to keep the group from breaking up, the walls eventually caved in as L5 announced their breakup on the French morning program Morning Coffee on December 20, 2006. The girls went on to do their own separate careers with a variety of success. Claire participated in the blind auditions of the French version of The Voice but was eliminated before the finale. Meanwhile, Louisy Joseph went on to pursue a solo career and was featured in the dance competition show Danse avec les Stars in 2014. At the same time, Margie and Alex appeared as guests on the reality show L’Île des vérités.

“Les Cinq Branches d’Une Etoile”, a track found on their first album, is a soothing yet uplifting tune. The diversity of the group’s vocal tones are accompanied well with the acoustic instrumentation of snaps, a drum kit, tambourine, a bass, and a guitar or two. One of the gems is found during the chorus part due to how the girls blend together beautifully. The harmonious blend between the different voices are excellent as no one really sticks out or there isn’t a sour note anywhere. In fact, I feel this arrangement is so fitting as it represents the lyrics perfectly. Judging by the partial translation of the lyrics from Google Translate, the words to “Les Cinq Branches d’Une Etoile” are so serene and features a positive message, just like the musical side.

Some might criticize “Les Cinq Branches d’Une Etoile” as a tedious piece as there isn’t a lot of variation since it features a light instrumentation, a heavy presence on group choruses, and a simple pattern. However, this song is a precious treasure with it’s tranquil ambiance and a harmonious balance between the girls and the instruments. The simplicity in “Les Cinq Branches d’Une Etoile” is what makes the song very beautiful.

 

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Music Reactions: Crystal Kay Refreshes Everyday Life with “Nando Demo”

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We are approaching the end of the year where we start to reflect about the events and people who influenced our lives. We might celebrate a new addition to our lives, mourn for a loss, or just go “Eh” as we feel like nothing really stood out. Each one of us ends each year with our own personal style. Crystal Kay is ending this year with a tune that is invigorating and optimistic.

Crystal Kay has been one of my idols since I was introduced to Japanese music about fourteen years ago. My first Crystal Kay song was “Girl’s Night”, a tune with a feel-good, teenage R&B sound that can be found in songs by Destiny’s Child, Christian Milan, and early 2000 R&B artists. I became an even bigger fan as she released two of my favorite Japanese R&B albums: “4 Real” and “Crystal Style”. Every song in her discography clearly displays Crystal’s diverse talent, for instance, the hardcore rap line in n “Bye My Darling!” to a sophistic ballad like “Motherland“.

Why do I like Crystal Kay so much? Besides the fact that we both share the fact that one of our musical inspiration is Janet Jackson, her music is revolutionizing yet remarkable. When Crystal made her musical debut in 1999, R&B and hip-hop music was still in infancy in Japan. Hikaru Utada just introduced the sounds to the Japanese market a year before with the ground-breaking single “Automatic / Time Will Tell”. This made Japanese fans wanting more of this intriguing sound.

Crystal met that demand when she released her first single “Eternal Memories” on July 1, 1999. Most of her earlier works, before the best album “CK5”, were styled similar to American R&B music at the time. Which is great because this helped the Japanese audience to more R&B. However, it wasn’t truly her sound. To be honest, I don’t think Crystal really released anything groundbreaking until her collaborations with m-flo in 2003. However, Crystal has been able to create her own sound over the past couple of years as she is more in control of her music and her image.

What else I love about Crystal Kay is that she is different from many of the mainstream artists out there. Instead of hiding it, she celebrate her diversity openly and inspires others to do the same. Before she made her debut, the public barely saw any half-Japanese artists, models, and entertainers. But it all changed as she seen more and more artists popping up, including Emi Maria who calls Crystal her idol and inspired her to pursue a career in music. Yes, she is Korean. Yes, she is a black American. Yes, she can speak fluent Japanese. Yes, her music influenced by Janet Jackson. That is what makes Crystal AMAZING! And she proudly shows that!

“Nando Demo” might remind you of Crystal’s best selling single “Koi ni Ochitara“. Sure, both songs features up-lifting lyrics, simplicity, and a positive beats. However, what makes “Nando Demo” different from “Koi ni Ochitara” is that it has some sort of a Christmas feel to it. Maybe I am just judging by the prominent use of bells and a bright piano melody featured in cut time. However, Christmas is more about Santa, the winter seasons, and presents. It’s really about being generous, hope, and love. And, “Nando Demo” displays these adjectives pretty well with the lyrics such as the “Nando demo soshite nando demo yume wo egaite wa mata kaki naoshite” during the chorus.[1]

Crystal Kay has has done it again with the splendid “Nando Demo”. You can watch below:

I am realllllllllllllllllllllllllllly excited to see Crystal when she stops in Nagoya for her new album’s promotional mall tour. I will update my blog about the tour after it happens. Stay tuned! 😀


References

[1] Crystal Kay – Nando Demo. (n.d.). Retrieved November 7, 2015. <http://www.chachajjang.info/2015/11/nando-demo.html&gt;

A Hip Take on a Timeless R&B Classic: “Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin'”

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As I travel deeper and deeper into the heart of my fanfiction for NaNoWriMo, it’s time to take a breather. During the endless marathons of typing away at plot changes and character developments, I have been listening to a ton of music on my music player, on video sites like Youtube, and from a couple of blogs. This post is inspired by one of my favorite blogs on WordPress, Mixed Tape Masterpiece. It’s a really neat site that features songs and radio snippets that were recorded on cassette about twenty years ago before the age of high-speed internet and iTunes. Please check it out if you have a chance!

At the beginning of the 1990s, it seemed like music was changing constantly.  New genres were added to Billboard’s Top 40 charts as previous established ones expanded their definitions. One group that dared to challenge musical genres in 1989 and helped throw “Detroit House” and “Detroit Techno” into the public’s eye was Inner City.

Inner City formed around the Detroit area in 1987 by accident. Kevin Saunderson, credited as a co-founder of techno and a member of the group Bellevue Three, was composing music with James Pennington one day at Pennington’s studio. One of the successes from this jam session was the creation of Inner City’s iconic “Big Fun“, which Saunderson described it as a song with “a chord, sampled, one note, spread through the keyboards and replayed, mixed down with a pad and a few other sounds”.[1] The duo continued to work on the song over the weeks, adding percussion done by Terry ‘Housemaster’ Baldwin and a keyboard solo by Art Forest. However, the song was missing something momentous.

James Pennington suggested Chicago-native Paris Grey to be the tune’s lead singer. Saunderson sent the track to Paris, who had the task to write the vocal melody and lyrics for song. She completed the job in one month and sang the finishing product to the producers, who fell in love with her voice and the song even more. That was when Inner City was born.

Over the span of the band’s initial run, they added two more members (including Saunderson’s wife Anne), released five albums, and a handful of singles. Their debut album, “Paradise” (renamed “Big Fun” in the United States), was a hit in UK where it reached number three on the charts. As Inner City rode on their moderate success, singer Paris Grey wanted to take a step back to raise her daughter around the mid-90s. The group took a pause after the release of “Do Me Right” in 1996, enabling Paris to take a break and Saunderson to go on to do more projects.

However, the group never really broke up as they gotten back together many times since their hiatus. They released two singles in 1999 and 2000. And another two in 2011 and 2014 with an updated techno sound.

As I continue to type countless words for my novel, I cannot stop listening to the Kevin McCord Club Mix of Inner City’s 1989 single ‘Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin'”. A cover of the 1979 Stephanie Mills’ song, Inner City updated it by adding jazz, a hint of R&B, and 80s’ house. The song captures anyone’s attention at the beginning when Paris starts off by singing the title with a blaring saxophone bit following it. I absolutely love how this horn instrument is used throughout the song, especially at the 6:08 mark. This particular instrument helps to paint a jazzy scenario with the disco-styled piano solos thanks to the Roland TR-909 (listen for an imperfect authentic cadence at around the 4:50 mark), the bluesy percussion beats, and the tone of the background vocals. But, listeners are reminded that this is still a (then) modern-day house and R&B song thanks to the funky bass synthesizer that serves as the backbone of the song.

Speaking of vocals, can we take a minute to talk about how amazing Paris Grey vocals are. Saunderson was right in a recent interview about how Grey’s vocals are “their own instrument”.  Her voice is warm, deep, and rich as she brings out each low note with a slight hold. She ends each line with style that embodies the texture of velvet, rich and silky, that leaves the listeners wanting more.  It doesn’t end at the chorus as she continues to sing in a soulful tone.

The Kevin McCord Club Mix of  “Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin'” is a tasteful mix of past and current musical genres. The tune is a spectacular blend of disco, R&B, soul, blues, jazz, and others. Anyone who is a fan of any type of musical genre will enjoy this musical gem.

If you enjoy to take things slow, you should listen to the original version. I find it too slow for my taste but still amazing.


References

[1] Saunderson, Kevin. “Kevin Saunderson, Inner City and the inside Story of ‘Big Fun’.” FACT Magazine Music News New Music. FACT Magazine, 2 Sept. 2014. Web. 7 Nov. 2015. (http://www.factmag.com/2014/09/02/kevin-saunderson-inner-city-and-the-inside-story-of-big-fun/)

Reporting Live: ANGERME promoting “Nanakorobi Yaoki” at Toyoyama’s Airport Walk (June 14, 2015)

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One of my dreams came true this summer when I was given a chance to meet a Hello! Project (or H!P for short) group. I been a Hello! Project fan for about eleven years now and I haven’t stop loving them as old members leave and new ones come in. I was also able to meet one of my favorite H!P members, Kanon Fukuda. Yes, I was able to meet ANGERME!!! 😀

ANGERME originally started off in 2009 under the name S/mileage with four members who were picked from the Hello! Project trainee program. Hello! Project is an umbrella group that represents very popular Japanese groups and acts like Morning Musume, Berryz Kobo, Aya Matsuura, Maki Goto, and others. Having a chance to debut in a group that is associated with Hello! Project is a tremendous honor as the groups under Hello! Project are considered top idols across Japan. In the past, new members for these groups have been picked through random auditions. However, producers and managers have been forming groups lately with members in the trainee program as these girls have been taught the ways of Hello! Project.

With a group name that blends together the words “smile” and “age”, S/mileage made their indies debut with the single “aMa no Jaku”. They released three more indie singles, including one of my favorites “Otona ni Narutte Muzukashii!!!”, before the infamous Hello! Project producer Tsunku announced that the girls would make a major debut if they completed a mission, collecting 10,000 photos of people smiling. The girls were able to complete their mission and released their debut single “Yume Miru Fifteen” on May 26. “Yume Miru Fifteen” was an instant success and fan favorite as it reached #5 on the daily Oricon charts. I even loved it as it’s strong, cute, and some different from the other groups.

Over the years, S/mileage added more members as two graduated from the group. In 2015, the group changed their named to ANGERME, a combination of two French words that meant “angel” and “tears”. Sorry guys, it doesn’t mean the group is angry at all. The group also changed their image; going from a girly cute sound with everyday teenage thoughts to a much mature one with hard truth lyrics.

I was very grateful to go this event thanks to my friend Petit Melon who told me about this event. And, I was also grateful for a couple of people in the Hello! Project fandom who bought singles through me so I could use their tickets for the handshake event. Meeting any member of Hello! Project is a dream come true because I loooooooooooooove Hello! Project. Yes, I’m a die-hard fan.

After I left early from the HR mini-live event, I caught a bus from Nagoya Station to a mall that is next to a regional airport outside the city. It took about thirty minutes to get there. But as soon as the bus reached the mall’s bus stop, I got off the bus and raced to the event space which was on the third floor. While on the way up, I bumped into the crew of the Solar Impulse 2 plane, who were grounded for a while in Nagoya due to weather problems.

I reached the event space and quickly bought the tickets and obtained the handshake tickets. I then went to the side as the staff were lining up people based on their ticket numbers. It took a while, but I got a spot in the middle section and next to a good-looking male fan who I was trying miserably to make small talk with him. I was shy as well as I didn’t know what to really talk about besides “Who is your favorite member?”. I missed my chance in having a boyfriend. 😦

The set list was:

1. Gashin Shoutan (臥薪嘗胆)
Introductions MC
2. Mahoutsukai Sally (魔法使いサリー )
3. Please Miniskirt Postwoman! (プリーズ ミニスカ ポストウーマン!)
4. Taiki Bansei (大器晩成)
Announcement MC
5. Nanakorobi Yaoki (七転び八起き)

Overall, it was a pretty good mini-live. I was really excited when they sang “Please Miniskirt Postwoman!”, “Taiki Bansei”, and ‘Nanakorobi Yaoki” as they are pretty awesome. So awesome that I joined the fans as I sang, danced, jumped up and down, and did other crazy (but appropriate) things. I had a blast!

As soon as the mini-live finished, the girls thanked everyone for coming and exited the stage as the staff prepared for the handshake event. There wasn’t much preparation; just put a couple of tables on the stage and make a line at the beginning of the event space. It didn’t take a long time until the girls came out and the line was moving.

I went through the handshake line four times, each time lasting barely a minute. I barely had a second with each girl as the staff hurried me along. General handshake events for Hello! Project are usually fast-paced as there is a lot of people to get through the line. The first time I went through the line. it was a mad rush to say a message to each girl like “Congratulations” to Kanon or “I Love You” to Meimi. My nerves and pacing got better gradually as I became relaxed by the fourth time. The members were starting to be more open as a lot of the members, especially the third generation, tried to speak English.

This event was one of the highlights of this year because I loooooooooooove ANGERME. I love Kanon (the Kago Ai look-a-like), Rikako, and Meimi. And, I love their music; both Smileage’s and ANGERME’s. It is so great, just listen to “Nanakorobi Yaoki” below. A haunting but uplifting song that talks about never giving up even if you fail many times.

And if you like that, check out ANGERME’s discography!

Reporting Live: HR promoting their debut single “Natsuiro Candy” at Nagoya’s Kintetsu Passe (June 14, 2015)

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Ah, summer! 

What comes to mind when you think of this fabulous season? Is it the beach? The heat? The heaps of ice cream you get to eat?

Whatever may be the case, as we head towards winter, you are probably missing those dog days of summer. HR can help by reminding you of those feelings with their debut single “Natsuiro Candy” (Summer-Colored Candy).

HR, short for Hakata Reboot, is an enormous idol group based in Hakata, Fukuoka Prefecture aka southern Japan. The group formed in 2010 with fourteen members with a simple motive; be an AKB48-like group for girls who want to become idols but can’t move to Tokyo. It sounds a bit fishy but plausible because, despite Japan looking like a tiny country on international news reports, the distance between Tokyo and Fukuoka is over five hundred kilometers (or over three hundred miles). That might or might not seem a lot. But, a hopeful idol who wants to make it big in the idol industry, it is.

Trying to keep their dreams alive, HR opened their own theater on the third floor of Box Town Hakozaki. Interestingly, a sister group of AKB48 performs in another theater near HR. Selective girls perform on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, which are the days that HKT48 closes their theaters in order to have members do promotional work all over Japan. Smart thinking, HR managers!

The group constantly adds members with countless auditions they hold throughout the year. And, like all mainstream idol groups, members graduate or leave the group. However, I feel like members in HR leave faster compare to other indie/not-so-popular idol groups due to the prospect of other, well-known, Fukuoka-based groups like LinQ and HKT48. If you take a look at HR’s Japanese Wikipedia page, there are more graduated members listed than active members. That is a bit surprising.

Nevertheless, the group persisted and released their debut indies single “Kimi ni Spark” on May 2, 2012. Three years later, they released their debut major single “Natsuiro Candy” on June 24 under the Columbia Records label. To promote the single, the group split up into “teams” and did various promotional store events across the country.

I decided to go see HR at Nagoya’s Kintetsu Passe before I went to see ANGERME at another mall because I wanted to kill some time. Like most of the groups I mention on this blog, I didn’t know about HR before I saw the mini-live. I actually briefly saw the music video for “Natsuiro Candy” and wasn’t impress. Seriously, the music video is basically having is girls dancing and singing in bikinis on some beach, I thought it was unflattering, boring, and a blatant ripoff of AKB48’s bikini fest music videos.

I arrived at Kintetsu Passe five minutes before the event started. There were a small number of male fans starting to queue their place in the event space. By the edge of the area, members were circling around, chatting with fans and non-fans while promoting the event to people passing by. No really approached me and tried to start a conversation with me sadly. I was a little disappointed because I was hoping that someone would want to strike a conversation with me. Maybe they were afraid to or that there wasn’t enough time to chat.

Once it was one o’clock, the members headed towards the stage and began to sing their opening number. I don’t remember which song they sang. But, I stuck around for three songs before I had to catch a bus to see ANGERME. I can’t recall what songs they song, what was their opening talk about, and can’t seem find a set list anywhere on the web.

HR isn’t my cup of tea since, like I mentioned above, their music videos and songs are an obvious ripoff of famous AKB48 summer songs like “Labrador Retriever” and “Sayonara Crawl”. Although they are AKB48’s most popular singles, I find them to be bland and tasteless as they feature simple vocals and basic instrumentation. Though “Labrador Retriever” has somewhat of a plot going through the music video, the primary focus is on the girls doing a plain choreographed dance in their bikinis. Maybe I am looking at these summer songs at the wrong angle but I don’t find them interesting at all. I am more of a “RIVER” and “Halloween Night”-type of fan.

In the same regards, that is how I feel about HR and “Natsuiro Candy”. The girls are pretty nice, cute, and ambitious. But, their songs are a snooze fest. There is no personality or taste in both the song and the music video. I understand that this is their debut single and they probably didn’t get a lot of money to get a great song or music video. But, for the love of all things good, put that money to good use by making something diverse. We don’t need ANOTHER AKB48-sounding group!

I would recommend HR if you like the 48 family or knock-off groups like Idol Kyoushitsu. If you aren’t, you could still enjoy them since they are pretty cute and have a feel good attitude. However, don’t expect too much as “Natsuiro Candy” isn’t much of a memorable song. HR just needs time to find their sound as they should stop copying a popular idol pattern and do their own thing.

They will release their second single, “Toy Soldier”, this Wednesday. It’s much better their debut single but still copying that bland idol formula.

Fun Fact: HR’s image color is “Mentaiko pink”. Mentaiko is marinated fish eggs from pollacks and cods. It is part of the Japanese cuisine. The group’s hometown of Hakata is famous for “spicy Mentaiko”. Thus, the group’s image color pays homage to their hometown dish.