Friday, April 5, 2013

Album review: Ieiri Leo "LEO"

Welcome to my first album review!  I hope to be able to do lots more of these (and acquire lots more albums in the process EEEE!) in the future.  I plan on reviewing S/mileage's latest, as well as a couple non-idol related albums: Bahashishi's "Luminescence" and Sweet Vacation's "pop save the world!!"

It's been a long time coming for this one, but I wanted to give it its due no matter how long it took.  "LEO" is Ieiri Leo's debut album, released on October 24, 2012.

Track 1: Sabrina (サブリナ)

What better way to kick off the album than with this beauty.  Her debut single, released in February of last year, introduced listeners to Leo's distinct, bell-clear vocal style and quirky-fast vibrato.

There have been very few singers who at first encounter have caused me to stop and say, out loud even, "Wow, who is THAT?"  Hamasaki Ayumi and Amy Winehouse were among the first.  Because of this song, Ieiri is now in that group.

Rating: 4.5/5

Track 2: Last Stage

I mentioned before that this song was my favorite of Leo' repertoire so far, and I am happy to say that it still is. I grew up listening to a lot of 70s folk and rock, and while this song certainly doesn't fall into the "just like that" category, there are a lot of elements to it that remind me of just such tunes, like the viola and the minimalist, thumb-picked sounding guitar.  This song also has some sexy swells of orchestral goodness.  I really can imagine her doing this song with an orchestra.  Not a full one, perhaps, but a decently-sized one.

While this is probably not the strongest track on the album, it is my favorite because of how much energy it exudes when Leo performs it live.  In the couple of live performances I have watched of hers, this song was the most intense and alive of her set.  I'm looking forward to watching her perform this on her Quattro Club Osaka performance.

Rating: 4.5/5

Track 3: Say Goodbye

"Say Goodbye" was released as a digital single a week before this album's release, but I kinda wish it had gotten a physical release too, if for no other reason save my WANT MOAR GOODS!! impulse.  (don't we all, though?)

This song is a powerful yet calming ballad--a mix Ieiri does very well with.  I can see this song being very good live...we shall see now, won't we?

Rating: 4.8/5

Track 4: Shine

Chances are, this is the song you think of when you hear mention of Leo's music.  Her best selling single by far, this track was used as the theme song for the drama Kaeru no Oujo-sama (which features AKB48 center Oshima Yuko in a prominent role).

Rating: 4.6/5

Track 5: Ashita Mata Hare Masu You ni (明日また晴れますように; Tomorrow As You Shine)

A LiveJournal translator of Ieiri's lyrics commented that they liked this song "more for the lyrics than the music."  I can agree with this assessment.  This song is very lovely and very simple in its construction.  One feature I really like is the little almost-leitmotif at the end of the chorus, used mostly to highlight the thematic title of the song.  It's really quite lilting, and provides a nice transition.

The lyrics are lighthearted and spiritual, but in a somewhat eccelsiastical way (LERN SOME WORDS OF THE DAY!! :P ), like many of her spiritual themes are.  In learning her lyrics, I've found myself wondering more than once whether Ieiri is Christian.  Christianity is not a huge thing in Japan, but there are so many little skywardly-directed spiritualisms in her lyrics that I can't help but wonder.  Cool stuff!

That being said, I think this is a song you have to be in the mood for.  It's a little simplistic for my regular listening habits.

Rating: 3.8/5

Track 6: Second Dream

On of the greatest challenges I've found with reviewing this album is the problem of favoritism.  Not just "playing favorites," but the -ism that arises from deeming material and ideas which you feel are the most comfortable and perfectly palatable the best and the strongest.  Since some very harmful "isms" have arisen from having this attitude toward other ideas (e.g. thinking that all hip-hop and rap is about thuggery and bitches), my goal in reviewing this album was not to let favoritism dictate which tracks I deemed the strongest in terms of musicality/ology.

Is my thinking little too scholastic for an album review?  Eh...yeah, maybe :P

After a lot of thinking, I've concluded that "Second Dream" is the strongest track on the album.  The instrumental arrangement is damn clever.  In true Leo style, never is one group of instruments or one motif overused or exaggerated.  While exaggeration is not always detrimental, in this song it would have been because of how key the lyrics and the vocals are to the song.

In some of her other songs like "Fake Love" and "Ijiwaru na Kamisama" (b-side to "Bless You"), the instrumental and the vocals drive each other equally, but not so with this one.  The instrumental, while detailed and gorgeous, is still meant to live in the background.  And that's why it's damn clever, kids.

Rating: 5/5

Track 7: Kimi Dake (キミだけ; Only You)

The best words I can find to describe this track are "absolutely freaking lovely." (Very technical and musicological terms, mind.)  This lilting track features a fairly modest instrumental backing, which highlights Leo's voice in a way many of her previous songs have not.

Rating: 4.8/5

Track 8: Bless You

Ieiri's 3rd single, while being a strong track, flows more abruptly than many of her other songs.  Be that as it may, I still hesitate to call it a weak song.  Because it's not.  Leo's vocals have a kind of raw power not seen in her previous singles.  This song clearly has some deeply personal meaning for her, yet she conveys it in a way that draws listeners in and helps us to relate.  (Seriously, go watch the PV...)  That and the octave-jumping is quite impressive.

"Bless You" is a fantastic song, but the abruptness threw me off the first few listens.  I very much like Leo's edgy songs, though this one is not one of those I could put on repeat for hours.

Rating: 4.4/5

Track 9: Fake Love

Is it just me, or do angry songs suit Leo exceptionally well?  This driven, brightly colored track is my second favorite off the album.  Her vocals do get quite gritty...and it's mighty sexy.

Beyond the musicality, my favorite feature of this song is Leo's clever wordplay with "You lie" and "kirai" (basic crappy translation: I hate you).  "Fake Love," more than almost any other song in her current repertoire save "Hello," demonstrates Ieiri's ability to be quite creative, and shockingly deep, with the English language.

Rating 5/5

Track 10: Hello

Hello is the b-side to "Shine."  I have waxed lyric about this song before in a previous post, and I still feel much the same about it.  When up against  many of the other tracks on this album, it comes out as being one of the weaker ones, but that is not a bad thing.  The fact that this popular song looks a bit dim compared to the other tracks on the album is not a bad sign for the song--rather, it serves to show how Ieiri has grown as a composer and songwriter since this song's original release.

Rating: 4.2/5

Track 11: Mister (ミスター)

"Mister" is cute.  Terribly cute.  Almost too cute for Ieiri.  But she pulls it off.

 When the song first started in, I wasn't really sure how much I'd like it, but of course, I turned to the dark side eventually. It's very cute and flirty, which is a quality I tend not to like as much unless it comes from Ga In.  But with all of her songs being so mature and worldly, it is safe to say that Ieiri had to take a break and just be lighthearted for a bit.  She is only 18, after all, yeesh. (^ω^)

Rating: 4.4/5

Track 12: Lady Mary

This song, as you can see by the title, is one of those ecclesiastical-ish pieces I was talking about earlier.  The lyrics are quite tragic and moving, but even those with no connection to the Virgin Mary, whether by lore or by religious practice, can connect to this song.  As well you should.  It's kind of amazing.

That being said, I thought long and hard about whether this track and "Mister" should switch places on the album.  It originally felt like the transition from this kanashimi ballad to the girl-anthemy, kinda punkish sounding "Linda" was too abrupt.  But going over it again and again, I had to concede that my initial feeling was wrong.  This song has such gravitas to it that you really need something completely, antithetically  different to pull you out of the experience afterward, and "Mister" just doesn't fill those shoes.

One of my favorite songs of hers by far.  I actually recorded a cover of it at one point, but I took it down because it was hastily thrown together and I ended up hating it :P

Rating: 5/5

Track 13: Linda

If you needed any more proof that Leo can indeed ROCK OUT, listen to this.  This is one of those songs to listen to when you need a pick-me-up.  It's 3 1/2 minutes of no-nonsense badassness, guys.

Vocally, I would have to say that this song best demonstrates the scope of Leo's skill.  She can hit all those notes spot on, she can gliss all over the place, she can wail, she can...yeah you get the picture.

I am very curious about her use of the word "Linda," though.  Is it used as a name?  Is it used in the Spanish/Portuguese meaning?  INQUIRING MINDS, IEIRI-SAN!!

Rating: 5/5

That's a wrap, folks!  Now you know why this album will probably be on my Recommended Listening list for the rest of time :P Forgive me for wandering off into bookish nerd land at's just how I get my music appreciation groove on!  (Not to mention my undying love for this girl.)