Artist: Hinouchi Emi
Product code: KICS-1414
Release date: 2008.12.03
Highest Ranking: #64
Limited Edition: CD+DVD, Alternate Cover
Aside from hardcore M-Flo fans, few people probably would have heard of R&B sensation, Emi Hinouchi. Having been acknowledged by working with several highly notable acts such as M-Flo, The Teriyaki Boyz and Epik High, Emi has proven time and time again her outstanding attributes to Asian music fans around the globe. However, despite this exposure poor sales continue to plague her career with her solo works failing to make a considerable mark on the Oricon charts.
Born in Osaka on September 7, 1982, Emi lived in Taiwan between the ages of 4-14 before returning to Japan. Soon afterwards, she joined the indies band, Buranko, which focused on contemporary black music. It was during this period that she composed her first song, Painful, completed at the tender age of 16. Around that time, Taku Takahashi was holding an audition in which she entered presenting Painful, and won. Takahashi, enchanted by the young talent, took her in under his own recording label, Tachytelic Records, and released her first single, Magic/World, on November 11, 2002 although it is rumoured that Emi had wanted to debut with Painful.
Over 2003, Emi released a plethora of singles, all of which were self-composed, but none managed to have any significant impact on the charts. Her first year of her career as a recording artist was rounded up with her first album, Dramatiques, which again was a commercial disaster. This resulted in Emi taking a break from recording and focusing on live gigs in events such as Tachytelic Night. Five years later, after a number of collaborative works and a few recent singles, Emi finally released her sophomore album, ME….
O’Kay was Emi’s first single after a four year hiatus. It was supposed to signal a fresh new start to her career and this was reflected by her changing of record companies to King Records, dropping the kanji in her first name in favour of katakana and updating her normally conservative image to something extremely pretentious. Emi’s change wasn’t limited only to aesthetics however; O’Kay features a much more updated sound that expands beyond her regular R&B works.
The track opens up with a tropical sounding guitar riff that is carried on throughout the song and is soon followed by the rest of the instruments. The song’s light-hearted nature should create an atmosphere of easy listening but the heavy beat thudding in the background does not seem to mesh in. Listeners already used to this style should find it instantly likeable but for most others, O’Kay may take awhile to grow.
2. Music Of Love
Music of Love is the first new track we are introduced to and is a fusion of latin and jazz. Featuring SOFFet, Music of Love only serves to be another testament to Emi’s ability in collaborations, causing little wonder as to why she’s one of the gems of the Global Astro Alliance. Throughout the song, SOFFet’s slick rap lines skilfully run through the verse’s while Emi Hinouchi provides her fantastic vocals during the build up to and during the choral segments.
The mixing of rap and jazz often makes for an interesting combination due to its relative rarity and Music of Love is no exception. The delivery from SOFFet is flawless though at times, GooF can tend to sound like VERBAL. The main downside to the song would probably be the saxophone. Though the solos are fairly good, it feels like it is being drowned out by the rest of the instrumentation. Its whiny tone doesn’t really help either and the drawn out conclusion to the song leaves a bitter impression. Aside from that, Music of Love is certainly an entertaining track and a nice opening to the new works Emi has to offer.
Kataomoi was Emi’s latest single, released just a month before ME… was due to hit shelves. With its relatively standard J-pop sound, Kataomoi was certainly among the least inspired of this album at least, stylewise. Despite being a really fun song to listen to, its lackluster character ensured that few people would hear anything new from it. The strain also heard in Emi’s voice at the end of the second verse ruins the build up to one of her esteemed “adlibs” and does little to improve the listener’s opinion of her. What is surprising is that Emi performed this song live on Venus-B Night and managed to pull it off without the strain.
Interestingly, the song’s title means “Unrequited Love” which contrasts against the warm, upbeat mood displayed by the arrangement. It certainly is an enjoyable track to listen to but being the standard J-pop song it is, there are a huge range of other artists one can find similar works from.
4. Koi wa Rirurari
Koi wa Rirurari is another clear cut example of Emi’s new sound. While the track doesn’t exactly border the experimental genre, it does defy convention in several aspects. Structurally, the song stands in line with most others but timing and melody is another story. An infectious piano riff is the only melodic accompaniment to Emi’s voice during each verse making it feel really thin. The song fills out during the build-up to the chorus but there is a complete absence of a transition between the build-up and the chorus. Transitions from the chorus back to the verse also don’t exist and the fluid movement back to same initial piano riff causes the song to sound as though it is filled with holes. Overall, this song had one mistake repeated too many times. One could argue its uniqueness (for the want of a better word) but ultimately, the effect simply fails. Had those small gaps been filled then Koi wa Rirurari could have been something very different.
The B-side to O’Kay, the album suddenly takes a turn for a heavy urban sound. With a lot of layering and syncopated rhythms, Chocolate can be a difficult song for many to enjoy. The bulk of the arrangement is made up of synthesisers and percussive instruments which creates a rather cluttered backing and by some fluke, Emi somehow manages to hold it together. Despite this, Chocolate can grow on the listener even if it may not be a song you can listen to on any occasion.
Following the same mood of Music of Love, Natsukoi sees Emi Hinouchi pair up with fellow Global Astro Alliance member, Ryohei. The success of pairing the two was already seen in M-Flo’s hit, Summertime Love, and this song successfully continues that legacy. The laid back, tropical island feel of Natsukoi is quite attractive but the simple and rather generic arrangement causes it to feel a little like a fail-safe formula. Ryohei’s unmatchable, wispy voice perfectly complements Emi’s throughout the entire song although Emi’s power consistently puts Ryohei into a backing role. Aside from the generic nature of the song, perhaps the only other pitfall is how the richness of the sound tends to fluctuate, most notably during the climax. In the end, the virtue that renders Natsukoi really attractive is due to few other artists having actually tapped into this sound. Should Natsukoi stand amongst its peers then its inconsistencies would most likely see to its downfall.
7. GOODIE MEMORIES
GOODIE MEMORIES was the second single she released after her return as a recording artist. Following a similar formula to O’Kay, GOODIE MEMORIES is also a light urban track but with a more mediocre arrangement. A synthesised riff is prominently featured in this song and its high pitched, nasal-like quality tends to create an extremely annoying disturbance. Emi also sings in the higher octaves of her vocal range causing her voice to often lose the power and expression she has in the lower ranges. Out of all the singles Emi has released so far, GOODIE MEMORIES was definitely the biggest let-down. It’s difficult to comprehend how so many people can actually enjoy this song yet not enjoy her obviously superior works.
8. Get up!
Get up! is the second out of three tracks that seriously focus on heavy percussive beats. Contrary to the previous song however, Get up!’s catchy phrases and high paced rhythm make for an easily addictive and fun song to listen to. The layering and percussion is much sharper and snappier than Chocolate though, making Get up! not only a much easier song to love but also a superior song overall.
9. First Date
First Date somehow follows the lead of Koi wa Rirurari. It was easy to write this track off as the weakest one on the album but several more listens allowed me to appreciate this song a little more, even if it was just to no longer view it with contempt. First Date’s arrangement is extremely simple and uninspired and the nasal quality of her vocals is clearly aggravated in the chorus. The piano lines are also expendable as its sound does not suit the mood of the song. When comparing First Date with Emi’s other works, one wonders how she managed to create such a strange song. The song’s enchanting sound does eventually grow onto the listener however. Its child-like quality successfully reflects the uncertain but magical feel about a first date between two shy teenagers. While First Date is definitely a filler track, its bubblegum pop sound is intriguingly enticing in a very subtle way.
10. I Love You
Emi concentrates heavily on a natural, acoustic sound over the next few songs and I Love You kicks that theme off to a gentle start. The song is significantly tuned down in terms of synthesized sounds and the acoustic guitar and percussion star as the only backing to Emi’s serene voice. Through this, I Love You creates this incredibly honest and heartfelt aura. Emi’s inhibition certainly keeps the song’s acoustics well balanced throughout but the absence of a powerful climax once again causes the song to sound relatively dull for its entire duration.
11. Heart feel vacances
Heart feel vacances has a beach-side theme to it and this is recognized through the ukulele reminiscent guitar riff played throughout the song. Simple percussion instruments used in the backing also further add to this atmosphere. Unfortunately, this track could probably be written off as the least interesting song of the album. Even Koi wa Rirurari had its strong points and a reasonably likeable melody; it only failed in its overall delivery. Heart feel vacances just falls flat and is dead boring the entire way through the whole track.
12. Ai Dake Ga
Her first single of 2008, to veteran fans it’s clear that Ai Dake Ga draws its roots from Dramatiques’ You were my everything. The arrangement to Ai Dake Ga is now simplified with only an acoustic guitar and some strings accompanying Emi throughout the song. The layering of minute details and the glossing of sounds present in You were my everything was avoided in Ai Dake Ga making for a much more pure, natural sounding song.
In terms of vocal ability, Ai Dake Ga could well have been one of Emi’s best performances yet. Delivered raw and emotionally, her improvised sections spoke for themselves. Worthy of being a signature song of Emi’s, few singers produce a song as high a quality as this one.
13. Interlude ~in my dream~
A simple interlude featuring Emi improvising along with the piano.
Following the interlude comes the ballad, Grow. A serious contender for the title of best ballad, perhaps the only factor capable of distinguishing between whether Ai Dake Ga or Grow is better is personal preference. Grow features a sole piano played by Gakushi who accompanies Emi throughout the entire song. Her soft voice is balanced perfectly by the piano through each verse and she unleashes herself during the climatic moments of the chorus. The utilization of the reverb effect also helps convey the image of Emi singing alone. Upon first listening to it, Grow feels a lot like the stereotypical piano ballad but what takes this song a step above from the rest is purely one thing; Emi Hinouchi.
The final urban sounding song, the conveniently titled song E·S·C·A·P·E being placed near the end of the album could very well signify the cutting off and the completion of Emi’s transition from urban to mainstream pop. E·S·C·A·P·E’s sound is very similar to Chocolate’s but it features a much funkier beat. It’s also a lot less cluttered in terms of the activity taking place within the backing, rendering E·S·C·A·P·E to sound a little like a blend of Chocolate and Get up!.
16. TWINKLE STAR (SHINE ON ME ver.)
The black sheep of the album, Emi collaborates with DJ MAKAI for the dance-inducing track, TWINKLE STAR (SHINE ON ME ver.). Apart from the odd remix of a single, house music is not a style that Emi’s name is normally associated with. Despite this, TWINKLE STAR (SHINE ON ME ver.) is a gratifyingly addictive song and Emi pulls it off really well.
TWINKLE STAR (SHINE ON ME ver.) being a Japanese spin-off of the original DJ MAKAI composition merely features a re-recording of Emi singing in Japanese plus the added vitality of new vocal improvisations. Also, aside from the obvious difference of singing in Japanese, Emi sings a lot brighter in the SHINE ON ME version suitably matching the bright tone of the violins. Having said that, while TWINKLE STAR (SHINE ON ME ver.) is not the original version, it surpasses its predecessor and brings this rather exciting package to a strong and satisfying (if not typical) end.
Emi’s new album ME… definitely shows a vast change in her sound compared to Dramatiques. Losing the focus on just urban music, Emi’s transition to more mainstream J-pop could lead to mixed results. With her expanding repertoire of genres, there is no doubt that there is a lot more material for a larger range of listeners to enjoy however, she will also be sacrificing any hardcore R&B fans accumulated from her early works. Loyal fans of Emi however, will no doubt enjoy a lot (if not all) of the new works Emi has to offer. Furthermore, the photography featured for both the CD and the CD+DVD edition is of A-grade quality and would certainly appeal to many. On a side note, it is interesting to note that Emi’s current behavior is somewhat mimicking a certain Hitomi Shimatani’s who also underwent major style changes in recent times.
While ME… may not necessarily be better than her first album, it certainly does have greater potential in increasing her recognition as a recording solo artist outside the J-urban community. I definitely enjoyed her new album and most listeners of Emi did too. ME… also did a lot better than her previous album and her future seems brighter than before. Even so, its highest ranking wasn’t very good and I sincerely hope that it won’t serve to be the catalyst to her career’s hiatus once more.
- Music of Love
- Koi wa Rirurari
- GOODIE MEMORIES
- Get up!
- First Date
- I Love You
- Heart feel vacances
- Ai Dake Ga
- Interlude ~in my dream~
- TWINKLE STAR (SHINE ON ME ver.)
- GOODIE MEMORIES
- Ai Dake Ga