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Sound Decision

by Jonathan Mays,
In case you missed it, here's the 2004 JPop concert lineup:

Sakura-Con (April 24 in Seattle, WA) - hiro
Anime North (May 21-23 in Toronto) - Atsuko Enomoto
Pacific Media Expo (May 28 in Anaheim, CA) - T.M. Revolution, Nami Tamaki, Psycho le Cemu
FanimeCon/GakuFest (May 30 in San Jose, CA) - Nami Tamaki, BLOOD, Camino, Duel Jewel
A-Kon 15 (June 4-5 in Dallas, TX) - Do as Infinity, Nami Tamaki, Camino, Psycho le Cemu
Anime Expo (July 2-5 in Anaheim, CA) - UNDER17

Stay tuned for JPop guest announcements at Otakon and AnimeFEST!

Neo Japan Series: Neo Soul Tofu Records

For once, the album title lets us know what to expect. A hybrid of blues and disco with some hip-hop on the side, Neo Soul is definitely the most mainstream collection to come out of the young Tofu Records, and the one farthest removed from the "anime" sound.

All the artists, from multi-million-seller Toshi Kubota to Korean-American sensation Crystal Kay, are among Japan's best and most established, so professionalism and polish are a given here. Kubota's "No Lights...Candle Light" opens the disc with a smooth, romantic groove, followed by an active but controlled rendition of Sowelu's "Fortune." Amon's "Song of Happiness" is rather dull, but things pick up again with a fantastic soft-rock tune from the male duo Chemistry.

The Japanese version of "Candy" from Crystal Kay is an odd choice, as she sings plenty of songs in English. "Step to the New World" is as groovy as you can get, but the disc loses some momentum with Miss Monday's uninspiring "Curious" and Goku's "I Shut You Down," which never really gets started.

"Jump" from michico is a great piece—viritually indistinguishable from Destiny's Child's hip-hop tunes, and it's even in English. "Y.E.N." and "Dream Drive" are good dance pieces, but you probably won't listen to them more than once. Loop Junktion's "My Life" would be a welcome injection of jazz if it hadn't already been done twice on the same CD. Fortunately, the disc ends on the highest of notes with "Life Is...Another Story" from Ken Hirai, a classic piano ballad from one of Japan's richest male voices.

This is a good start. Unless your tastes are incredibly eclectic, you'll probably feel compelled to skip over two or three tracks, but any music fan will be able to latch onto at least a few of these. Tofu's brought us the best dance and lounge music from across the Pacific. Let's hope they keep it coming with the rest of the "Neo Japan" series.

Best used as: dancin' samplin'.

Nami Tamaki: Greeting Tofu Records (2004-04-20)

Exactly two months after fifteen-year-old Nami Tamami's debut album hit retail stores in Japan, a domestic version of the same CD is available stateside. Kudos, Tofu; if you can keep this up, you'll delight many a JPop fan. I only wish you'd chosen a different artist to get this treatment.

The "princess of JPop," as the Tofu promotional material calls her, isn't quite ready for prime time. Throughout the disc's thirteen tracks, Nami shows plenty of potential, but as a whole, the strength and confidence of her sound doesn't compare to most of JPop's more established artists. In the two Gundam Seed themes, "Believe" and "Realize," she's pushing too hard, which makes her shrill voice ever harder to swallow. Some, like "Destiny" seem to have been written without regard for Nami's vocal range. In each case, she'd be much better off bringing the whole thing down a notch and into a more comfortable octave.

Slow ballads like "Never Stop My Heart" and calm, jazzy tunes like "Be Positive" are much more suited to Nami's voice. Without having to stretch her range or dynamics, she sounds as if she's actually having fun. On the instrumental side, the arrangements are mostly run-of-the-mill pop, except for the final track, a beautiful soft remix of "Believe."

In all, it's an admirable effort for a fifteen-year-old, but she's still outclassed even by young acts like Koda Kumi. (Hey, Avex, how about a domestic Koda CD?) Still, keep an eye on Nami Tamaki. With a little more experience, maybe she'll fulfill that potential.

Best used as: opening act.

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