The Soothing Sound of “Sekai no Yakusoku” Will Calm Down Your Busy Day

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My nine-day “staycation” started last Friday at 6 pm. Many around Japan went overseas, did various activities around the country, or visited loved ones. Yet, I decided to do a “staycation”. Yes, it seems boring: me staying inside my apartment and surroundings for about a week. But, I love it since I could stay in bed for long periods of time, read various materials, be minimalistic, and deep clean.

That Friday, I pondered on what should I do on the first night of freedom: Should I do something or go to bed early so I could start my vacation off right by waking extra early on Saturday? Continuing to think about, I checked the TV Guide to see what was going to be the movie of the night. And by chance, it was going to be one of my favorites.

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Enter a Dream-Like Electronica World with Fey’s “Y Aqui Estoy”

Before online streaming music sites became popular in the late 2000s, discovering new tunes back in the day was done in two ways: mass media (like TV and radio) or the internet, either illegally or legally. With music being spread like wildfire all over the internet, how we listen to music changed. More and more people also got curious about various musical genres from around the world. One way was through blogs. I remember reading each week on various LiveJournal sites about tunes I had never heard before, listening to each one, and then falling in love with new favorites.

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A Puzzling Pop Tune from the early 00s

The early 2000s was a haven for bubblegum pop. Tons of bands popped up almost overnight during the late 90s, and early 00s as fans couldn’t get enough the generic, fun, and upbeat music genre. Or maybe, they were going crazy only for the members of the groups. I remember the teenage girls’ chatter between classes about which Backstreet Boy member was the hottest like it was yesterday.

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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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Making Your Week “Happy Go Lucky” with Steps

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A week ago, I started to listen to television and movie soundtracks once again. One soundtrack that I listened to was the one for Disney’s “The Princess Diaries”. One of my favorite movies and book series when I was in junior high school, “The Princess Diaries” had a pretty solid soundtrack featuring known and unknown artists like Myra, Backstreet Boys, Steps, and others. Many would remember such songs like Myra’s “Miracles Happen” and Krystal Harris’ “Supergirl!”. Who didn’t sing “I’m Supergirl, and I’m here to save the world” out loud when the movie came out?

One of the less prominent songs off the soundtrack is “Happy Go Lucky” by the English pop group Steps. Formed in 1997 by music manager Tim Byrne and the writing team Steve Crosby and Barry Upton, Steps featured five members; Claire, Faye, H, Lisa, and Lee. The group released their debut single, “5, 6, 7, 8”, a year later with some success. This techno-flavored single caught the eye of one of my favorite producers, Pete Waterman, who signed them to Jive Records in hopes to create a new ABBA. Doesn’t that sound familiar? A*Teens?

The group released more singles, a mixture of covers and originals, before the end of the millennium. The group’s most successful single was “Heartbeat / Tragedy” featuring an original ballad and a cover of a Bee Gees’ song. The single went onto be the number one single of January 1999 and charted for over thirty weeks. The group released their debut album, “Steps”, and the follow-up, “Spectacular”, while going on tour in America with artists like Britney Spears and Youngstown.

Sadly, the success didn’t last long as the band started to slip when their third album, “Buzz” was released in late 2000. Relations also became fracture with Claire and H leaving the group in 2001 as they said they became miserable. The group official split quietly after the release of the single “Words Are Not Enough / I Know Him So Well” in 2001. The split angered fans back then for various reasons including capitalizing and lying.

The group reunited in 2011 to release new music. During this time, they released an album, “Light Up the World”, and hosted a small Christmas tour. The group also appeared on various talk shows and had their own reality show, talking about the past and why did they break up. However, the reunion was short-lived as the group announced a hiatus in 2013 with many of the group’s members resuming their solo careers.

I never really knew about Steps during the whole pop band epidemic of the late 90s. All I knew in terms of pop bands was the ones featured on Disney Channel or TRL; Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, Youngstown, B*Witched,  and 5ive/Five. It was when my mom bought Steps’ debut album from a thrift store during my high school days that I really noticed them. Sadly, I wished I had paid attention to them in the late 90s as they are pretty talented and buoyant group. I really like the fact that there were both male and female members with each one playing an important part in every song.

“Happy Go Lucky” plays on Step’s signature sound of bubblegum synthpop despite “Buzz” being a more mature-sounded album. I feel like the song starts off in a minor progression as the beginning is “a bit under the weather” in terms of a mood. Throughout the verse and pre-chorus, the progression somehow goes major as the chorus is a bit chipper. This cycle of sad to happy to sad keeps on going throughout the song until the ending.

Or, maybe I just imagining this?

The lyrics are a bit sad though. The character laments that she tries to pull off being happy and makes everyone believe that she is ok. However, it’s a lie. Under the emotional mask, the character is truly sad as she just experienced a break-up with a man mentioned in the song. She does her “happy-go-lucky dance even if I am foolin’ myself” in order to make people believe that nothing is wrong. “Happy Go Lucky” makes me feel a bit sad for the singer as the lyrics and melody paints the internal emotional struggle of the main character.

Even though the atmosphere isn’t so happy, the song is definitely a hidden gem in Steps’ discography. The vocals are a perfect match for the song as they aren’t too strong or sweet. In fact, this song is a perfect song for the The Princess Diaries or even anyone’s playlist as it’s an easy-listening tune. The best part for me is the chorus because it’s memorable with the lyrics, which I remember easily and sing them out loud randomly on occasion. Nonetheless, the song is a winner as it’s catchy, displays how skillful the group is with the lead and backing vocals, the lyrics’ plot, and the fervor.

Take a listen to the song below and tell me what you think.

Painting the World “In Living Color”

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Woah, it’s been a month since I updated this blog! I am soooooooo sorry! Things became busy at work, the weather has been awful lately (and that’s affects my energy levels), and I been binge watching TV shows during my free time.

One of my latest obsessions is the provocative 90s’ American comedy show “In Living Color”. For five years, this sketch comedy show entertained viewers weekly with a diverse cast featuring various members of the Wayans family, Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, T’Keyah Crystal Keymáh, the hip dancing squad The Fly Girls, and other amazing people. Although “In Living Color” was broadcasted when I was an infant, it’s refreshing to see how now-famous stars looked before they got their big break.

The theme song of “In Living Color” is another masterpiece that the program shares. Have you ever listened to a TV theme song and thought “I wish they created a longer version of this” or “I wish there was an album/single version of this somewhere”? That is exactly I feel when I listen to the theme of this show. Playing the one minute and fifty seconds version of the intro doesn’t satisfy my musical taste buds! I need more!

The theme, ironically also called “In Living Color”, is performed by the hip-hop group Heavy D & the Boyz. Formed in the late 1980s, the band was composed of four members; the Jamaican-born rapper Heavy D, the DJ Eddie F, and the two dancers T-Roy and G-Wiz. They released their debut album, entitled “Living Large”, in 1987 with huge success. It has been ranked as one of the top ten rap albums of the 20th century.

The only song that I actually knew from the group, before I discovered “In Living Color”, was their 1991 hit “Now That We Found Love“. I came across the song when I was trying to find if the “In Living Color” theme was available for purchase on iTunes. I didn’t know that Heavy D performed “Now That We Found Love” until that point. Like, I have heard it a million times on the radio when I was young. But, I didn’t make the connect until that point. I honestly thought when I was younger that “Now That We Found Love” was one of those eurodance songs by artists like Real McCoy, Culture Beat, and 2 Unlimited.

However, the hip-hop driven “In Living Color” is completely different from new jack swing “Now That We Found Love”. Yes, “In Living Color” does feature some of the instrumentation found in a new jack swing song; sound effects, probably a Korg M1 keyboard, and a Kawai Drum Machine, However,  “In Living Color” leans more towards hip-hop as the instrumentation is bare and rough, only featuring the bare necessaries of a song. Instead, it features more of Heavy D’s rapping. The key point of the song is how Heavy D makes it more captivating by the way he shapes the phrases with his rhythm. The other key point is the deep male “In Living Color” and female  backing vocals. These parts, even though small, are important as they breathe life and enjoyment to the song.

“In Living Color” is a rejuvenating theme song from a hip-hop great that will sure enough bring back memories for many readers. Like the musical side of the song, pay attention to the lyrics with the video below. I feel like Heavy D presents a critical message, even though it’s a TV theme song. However, like the song, “In Living Color” was a show about breaking barriers (including the color one) through it’s entertaining and sincere sketches. I take the song’s message to heart as I feel it is very important in the world we live in. Especially at the verses:

“And how would you feel knowing predjudice was obsolete,
and all mankind danced to the ‘xact beat,
and at night it was safe to walk down the street?
(In Living Color)”

“Everybody here is equally kind
(In Living Color)
What’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is mine.
(In Living Color)
And how would you feel knowing everybody was your friend
From thin to thick, and through thick and thin
and egotistical trips were put to an end?”

What was your favorite “In Living Color” sketch? I like many however I think Jim Carrey’s parody of Snow’s “Informer” was one of the best sketches. Jim Carrey is a brilliant comedian who can carry a heck of a tune. He should of had a singing career! Don’t miss out of his Popeye impression too.

New Discoveries: akai SKY

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Remember last month I said that I was going to start a brand new segment on this blog? I am able to start that now due to a hectic schedule I have. I might just make this segment into a bi-weekly or monthly segment because I am just so behind on other stuff.

Let me introduce the first artist for New Discoveries: akai SKY. A Jrock-style band from the United States that has been around for ten years. They started to perform covers of Japanese rock songs and anime themes until one day, they wanted to start producing their own music. According to the bassist Umi, the band “combine(s) Japanese and English lyrics to create a new and unique sound”.

Here is a short bio about the band that I received from Umi:

Ten years ago, we were a bunch of kids who formed a band to play covers of our favorite Japanese Rock and anime theme songs. We quickly discovered that playing covers just wasn’t enough and strived to create something entirely new. Influenced by a wide breadth of musical styles and genres, we combine Japanese and English lyrics to create unique music that bridges the gap between American and Japanese music while representing the Rock music we fell in love with so many years ago.

They released their first album entitled “Tokyo Beat Riot” in 2010. They become internationally recognized when they contributed to the L’arc-en-Ciel tribute album “Vivid Covers”. Now, five years after their debut album,  akai SKY is back with their third album “Chasing Lights” on August 23rd.

One song off the album is “Marionette”:

The song starts off somewhat softly with a strong bass line supporting the drums and the calm vocals. Then, the intensity grows throughout the first verse and pre-chorus. This is because this song is described as a “dramatic waltzy rock song”, according to Umi. That is why one of the best parts of the song is at the chorus when the guitar and vocals parts are blaring with lots of emotions. The guitar part eerily reminds me of Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me” as they have the same loud and rigid tone. These tones and emotions help to bring out the song theme of “never having someone control your life” very well.

My favorite song from akai SKY has to be “Break Down”, a song from their 2013 EP “Heart, Attack!”. I think the reason why I like it so much because its high energy. I always had a soft spot for pop-ish rock songs like this one. I looooooooove it’s sound, from the guitar to the vocals to just about everything else. It’s a great contrast to “Marionette”‘s deep and melancholy character.

The song is also unique because I don’t really hear this kind of song in today’s Japanese rock scene. A lot of today’s popular rock groups are acoustic bands or infuses electronica into the rock sound. However, “Break Down” is totally different from the modern J-rock scene as it’s so fresh and upbeat. It makes you crave more of that pop-rock sound in a J-rock setting.

akai SKY’s discography is a tasteful opus, featuring several different musical genres that can appease the listeners’ diverse taste buds. Their songs have strongly shown the band’s main focus to listeners; providing an original sound that is unique and one kind.

You can find more information about their new album or the band here at their official site.

By the way, the band will have a special masquerade themed live performance in San Francisco to celebrate our 10th Anniversary and EP release on Aug. 23rd. They will also have an upcoming show in Dallas, TX at AnimeFest.