The co-founder of last year's rocky Japan Expo 1st Impact talks about all the dramatic changes to this year's event, what went wrong last time and what to expect from this year's show at the San Mateo Event Center.
Sound Decision Tamaki Time
by Jonathan Mays, May 5th 2005
Nami Tamaki: Make Progress —Sony (May 11th in Japan, probably July in America)
The first time I heard Nami Tamaki described as the "Princess of J-Pop," I rolled my eyes. But in the two years since her debut, Tamaki has slowly grown into the role. Even if her vocals are still flat and songs unoriginal, Tamaki's ties to the Gundam franchise and penchant for embarrassingly catchy songs (Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star? Seriously?) make the Hilary Duff comparisons all too hard to resist.
And as with Hilary Duff, I have some difficulty explaining to my friends why I'm listening to a peppy sixteen-year-old who sings about love and happiness in a foreign language. But I can't help it. Tamaki's new album, "Make Progress," is chock-full of so many addictive songs that I'd be singing if I weren't listening, and trust me, the former would be much more humiliating.
Shut up with the anecdotes and tell me about the CD, you're shouting. Okay. Here's the deal: some of the songs, like "Truth" and "Reason," sound so similar to tracks from Tamaki's last album that I actually went back and checked to make sure they weren't duplicates. These are typical Gundam tracks—heavy, heavy synthesizer beats and little regard for melody or even a bridge from verse to verse. Tamaki also has a way of speaking these lyrics instead of singing them. Sometimes she gets really lazy and slides around a note or two. None of these songs will make your "repeat" list anytime soon.
And then there's the good stuff. "Heroine" has the Eurobeat thing going on, coupled with some clean, irreverent inflections from Tamaki. Never underestimate the power of a loud guitar riff in the middle of the chorus! "Distance" sports some refreshing variety, even if it does remind me why that funny "n" character should be removed from the Japanese language. Nothing kills a good chorus like a few ill-timed "n"s that relate an unpleasant swallowing sound.
Saving the best two for last, I am delighted to profess my love for "Story of Darkness," which had me hooked from its very first '80s rock beats. Its haunting chorus shows Tamaki's range and gives her a rare chance to set her own mood rather than relying on the synth arrangement. And finally, "Daitan ni Ikimasho-Heart & Soul" is a song I know I will someday regret recommending, if only because thirty years from now some obnoxious friend of mine will Google me and buy the song and make me the laughingstock of the party. But I must be honest: I absolutely love this silly, juvenile, clichéd-to-the-brim-and-then-some song. Partly it's the fluffy pop-rock beat, partly Tamaki's cute but genuine singing. But most of all, I love the nutty lyrics, like "Let's go! Hang in there!" and "Boys and girls! Heart and soul!"
In an attempt to prove that I haven't fallen completely off my rocker, I submit that Tamaki's harmless vocals and the playful backbeat are a refreshing break from the cynicism that has plagued the pop scene recently. So take a break, be happy, and accentuate the positive. To that end, "Make Progress" is perfect.
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