Friday, June 13, 2008

Kimura Kaela's "+1"

+1 / Kaela KimuraBuy +1 [w/ DVD, Limited Edition]
from CDJapan

I've posted about Kimura Kaela a couple times before - yeah, I'm a fan. She's got a "new" album (actually 2 months old) and book out, and I just feel like using that as an excuse to write some more about her. This isn't really gonna be a review, probably more of a rambling bunch of nonsense.

Some of you probably haven't read my previous posts and don't know anything about her. Well, she's a Japanese pop/rock star, with a twist of lemon. She's not like most Japanese pop/rock stars. See, popular female Japanese artists usually fall into one of two camps:

a) Technical vocalists who sing straightforward pop music that shows off their vocal range (Ayumi Hamasaki, Kumi Koda, etc.) - the equivalent to a Mariah Carey in this country.


b) Mostly untalented, untrained singers whose job it is to look cute while they dance around the stage, or in videos (Morning Musume, AKB48, Namie Amuro, Leah Dizon, etc.) - closest thing we have would be someone like Britney Spears.

There are just a few rare examples there of female pop stars with great natural voices and no real training, who are trying to buck the system by doing pretty much their own thing and not falling so neatly into one of those two camps. Kaela is one of them, and she's probably the quirkiest of all Japanese pop stars - she's a real weirdo and everybody knows it. She says things on national TV that make no sense, things like "I am a sexual urge". She dyes her hair funky colors and wears 1950's bathing suits. She usually doesn't wear much makeup (including, as my wife noticed and except for the photo above, a lack of painted eyebrows). She has refused to appear on some of Japan's most popular music shows out of protest. All of this stuff is kind of taboo in Japan. That's one reason why I like her. But a lot of her music's great too.

I got the "special edition" of her new CD "+1" for my birthday, which comes with a pretty kickass little DVD as a bonus. It also comes with a thick set of liner notes printed on really nice matte paper, and it's all bound up in a matte cardboard sleeve. All for about $5 more than the regular edition of the CD, which comes with nothing. The special edition even has a nicer cover photo (seen above) - the regular edition's got a similar photo but with a weird half-smile that actually somehow makes this tiny and beautiful 23 year old girl's face look fat and kinda old (see it here).

I really wish they'd do special editions like this in the USA. They've sort of started now, with things like the MVI DVD that I bought from Paramore a while back, which came with both a CD and a DVD in a cardboard sleeve. But the quality is just no comparison. When I buy a "special edition" of something, I want to feel like I'm buying something special. Japanese SE's always have that luxury feel, like you're driving a Bentley and all those peons with the standard CD are driving Chevettes. That's a big part of what buying a "special edition" is all about!

It seems like Kaela's mellowing out a little as she gets older, which starts with that cover art. No more mohawks (or even fauxhawks), no more tattoos either real or fake. She's almost completely left behind her punk background, although she does have a picture of herself on her blog from last month with her hair dyed pink and green in back. So hopefully she hasn't totally turned her back on her roots. (No pun intended.)

The music on the CD was actually a little disappointing at first, especially after her last album "Scratch". That album was amazing, barely a bad song on it (maybe one or two), and it really had its own personality. And it was a rock album, even though it did have a couple little nods to plain old j-pop. "+1" is not really as cohesive, and there are more pop songs and fewer rock songs. The rock songs that there are have a lot of little beeps and boops and other electronic bits that don't always really fit. Either that, or they just have no discernible melody, as is the case with the opening track "No Image", which my wife strangely likes a lot.

I don't feel like it's until the fourth track "STARs" that "+1" even really gets going.

One thing that also annoys me in general about the Japanese music industry, and this is not at all confined just to Kaela, is the practice of releasing three or more singles way before an album release. I had literally worn out five of the songs on "+1" before I even got it (3 singles plus 2 b-sides). That's like almost half of the album. I didn't have that experience with "Scratch", which was the first recording of hers that I actually bought, so I was going in fresh and that probably made a difference. But their industry is not like here, where a single usually comes out right around 2-3 weeks before an album release, then 1 or 2 singles follow *after* the album release to help promote its sales. In Japan, singles are treated like standalone recordings. The idea is to keep fans interested in between albums. That's a cool idea, but then I wish they'd just leave the singles *off* the albums - wouldn't that actually drive more sales of the singles? Then they'd have more room for a couple more actual new songs on the album itself.

But there are a few songs on "+1" that are both new to me and that really play to her strengths. Like all of her albums, there are multiple songwriters throughout, though she wrote all of the lyrics this time. My two favorites on the album are "Kagami yo Kagami" and "1115", even though the former may as well be an Ayumi Hamasaki song and the latter sounds a lot like PUFFY. No surprise on that one - it was written by Tamio Okuda (as I suspected before looking it up).

The DVD's got the music videos for the three singles ("Jasper", "Yellow", "Samantha"), some live clips including about ten minutes of Kaela just talking to the crowd at the end, and then an "experiment" program shot like a TV documentary that I can't really follow without knowing Japanese. It's a long DVD for a bonus.

I haven't yet picked up her new book, "Kimura Kaela Collection" (not "Kimura Kaela Kollection"?), which is probably just a cash grab on her record label's part, but I'm a sucker so I'll probably buy it at some point. I really don't know what's in it, although I'm sure a lot of it involves pictures. That should make it worthwhile.

By the way, some people are confused initially by both the spelling and pronunciation of Kaela's name (not to mention the order). It is correctly Kimura Kaela, just like it's written on the book cover to the left, and it is pronounced like "k-eye-la". It's weird, though, because it's not a Japanese name - she is half British, and that name comes from the British side of her family (that's why "Kaera" is wrong). It really should be pronounced like the name is spelled in English. But because she lives and was raised in Japan, she pronounces it with a Japanese pronunciation (really "ka-eh-la", but shortened it sounds like "k-eye-la").

As for the order, you could write it either way but in Japan it's family name first... and that's the only country where she's active.

I'll close out with the five videos released so far from "+1" ("STARs" was never a single but was a video, and "No Reason Why" was a B-side). I don't think any of these are the best songs on the album. "STARs" isn't bad, though, and I like the fact that the first three minutes is just her swimming laps. Quirky! Actually I kinda like all of these videos, it's the songs that aren't quite as strong as some others on the album, or as any of the songs from "Scratch". ("Jasper" especially is really pretty forgettable outside of the video.)





No Reason Why


  1. After I finished reading this I decided to check her out on Youtube using my iPhone. I saw her Jasper music video. I must say, I really like her music. I'll probably buy a CD off of Amazon or iTunes when I get the chance!

  2. Jasper's not her most representative song... even for this album. I'd say STARs is closer to what she usually sounds like (that video is above also).


About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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