Monday, January 23, 2017

Music review: SCAR LIGHT EP by Yuma Asami

This review is from a fan in the United States who does not read or speak Japanese, so there won't be any comment on lyrics or the liner notes, I have not yet asked my Japanese friends to help me understand them.  This review is about how her music speaks to me directly, without interpretation or lyrical overlay.

This is Ms. Asami's second release following her serious illness and it continues in the vein of renewal and recovery.  It contains a live version of her previous single which really highlights the power and maturity of her voice, so much more than the studio tracks, which seem engineered post-production to put her sound closer to a J-pop formula.  I hope I can see her in live performance one day, I like her voice so much more on this last track.

Overall, this EP is a major step forward for her musically.  Each track has an original feel, explores a different side of her talent, which is substantial.  This is truly a conceptual whole, not just a string of tracks released together for convenience.  It hangs together musically and tells the story of a young woman still coming to terms with the things that have happened to her.

SCAR LIGHT, the title track is up-beat and energetic.  I like her voice on this one too, she explores her significant vocal range and demonstrates her mastery of lyrical timing, her voice is a almost a percussive instrument on it's own.  The production is quite good.  I thought Re-Start, her previous single, was a bit over-produced, those mistakes aren't repeated here.  This is a highly professional pop music track, deserving of being the title of the EP, even though it is not my favorite track.

MY WAY ventures a bit more into being a dance track, it is quite upbeat and encourages movement.  The lead and coloring guitar work of her collaborating band is quite good.  The bridge is a pseudo-rap spoken interlude and provides a nice bit of levity to the intensity of the tempo, as if one needs a little break from the dancing frenzy the song otherwise inspires.

LET IT ROLL opens with a languid set of slide guitar work, and then jumps with a country feel into what sounds like story-telling to a non-Japanese ear. This is another toe-tapper which demonstrates again Ms. Asami's ease with musical performance and interpretation.  She makes performances like this one sound very easy to do.  There's a bit of chance for audience call and respond toward the end which should get her crowds going in concert.

TRY AGAIN is my personal favorite, it begins with a few contemplative chords, and then runs into a series of verses which include lyrics in English, but that's not why I like it most.  It's the chorus, a series of high straining phrases which drop into "keep on trying" and "try again," delivered with much sincerity, as if encouraging a discouraged loved one.   I find this song inspirational and I only understand a small portion of the lyrics.  The sound is up and hopeful, capturing the persistent optimism that has been a part of Ms. Asami's presence on screen since the very earliest part of her career.  In a way, this song captures what I like so much about her personality, she always displays optimism, kindness and concern.  You can find it in this track, that's why it is my favorite.

CERES is another favorite of mine because of the authenticity her voice registers as she sings more like a ballad crooner than a J-pop idol.  I hope this represents the direction her career is going, she really has a talent for authentic up-beat hopefulness and good cheer.  This track displays that as well as any on the EP, I think this one could stand as a single all on it's own, it feels a little buried at the end of this outstanding EP.

DON'T LOOK BACK opens with an urgency that distinguishes it musically from the other tracks.  She really has something to tell you here, and the message in the English lyrics is "Fly away,"  I presume from the things that hold you back.  It has the plaintive urging of such an imperative message and I am really happy with the relatively sparse production on this track, letting her vocal performance dominate.  This track is another example of the wide variety on this EP, she doesn't write or perform one kind of song.  This track has the feel of musical theater on Broadway in my home town of New York City.  It's a great way to wrap up this excellent EP.

Like I said in opening, this live version of RE-START which ends this EP is the best of any I have heard.  I am actually quite familiar with this tune because I sing my own version of it myself with English lyrics I composed.  This is a really nice recording with a responsive crowd.  I'm really happy as a fan, particularly one on the other side of the world, that she included this track.  There's much in this version that the more produced previous release lacks, in my view.  She seems to be taking control here, and her hand is steady and sure.

I bought the Premium package of the release, which included a bonus poster, a behind-the-scenes film production on DVD (fun for fans like me) and an admission ticket to her release events.  It also has a fold-out photo book, which is gorgeous.  Ms. Asami has always been very good in front of a camera and this package does not disappoint.

Buy it.  It's good.  It is available (and eligible for shipping to the US) on Amazon Japan.