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Sound Decision
Final Fantasy XII

by Jonathan Mays,

Angela Aki: Kiss Me Good Bye —Tofu Records

Get it now on iTunes USA!

Fresh off her Final Fantasy concert in Chicago last month, Angela Aki brings her latest single to America, and for once, Tofu has it on iTunes.

Singled out by Nobuo Uematsu to co-write and sing the Final Fantasy XII theme, Aki's Kiss Me Good-bye is of course the cornerstone of this digital album. As I callously told her this week, I was slow to warm to the song, mostly because of its shameless '90s ballad arrangement, but the timeless melody improves each time you soak in her radiant expression. I believe Angela Aki has the best ballad voice in J-Pop right now.

Aki replaces the exoticism of Faye Wong's Eyes on Me (from Final Fantasy VIII) with a grounded piano solo cover, focusing less on mood than melody. It would have been swallowed up in the video game. Lucky, that's beside the point; as a coffee house tune, Aki's arrangement is raw and bold.

Speaking of coffee houses, it is too easy to neglect Santa Fe for one of its more celebrated companions, but this song is a fine reminder that, in her heart, Aki will always be a classic singer-songwriter. All the trappings of a pensive pianist with a nearby drum set are here, and it plays about as you would expect, aside from the inspired ending.

It would be dumb not to mention that Aki moved to Hawaii when she was sixteen, and that all the songs are in English, except for, obviously, the Japanese cut of Kiss Me Good-bye. Candidly, I worry that anime land will ignore her because she eschews too many J-Pop stereotypes, but if her lyrics are any sign, she couldn't care less:

Go if you must move on alone/I'm gonna make it on my own.

Younha: Te wo Tsunaide —Sony (June 7)

Samples from Younha.net

Let's get this out of the way: Younha is Korean, just like BoA. Younha is popular in Japan, just like BoA. Now, anything else comparing Younha with BoA is more about what people impose on them than what they really are, okay?

The title track of Younha's latest single (also Jyu Oh Sei's ending theme) gets off to a fantastic syncopated start and strays into piano rock before settling into a smoothly produced pop piece. That she plays piano while singing is impressive but adds little here; perhaps if she were to show off her technique in the same way the short a cappella bits confirm her good ear and firm vocal chords.

The 18-year-old is styled in the bratty, rebellious mold of Ashlee Simpson and Avril Lavigne, and probably would have been a good Nana Osaki had diva Mika Nakashima not taken the role last year. Instead, we have Rock Star, a poorly written tune with an awkward chorus that is too goofy for her melodramatic image. Maybe someone mistakenly pulled this one from Ai Otsuka's "work in progress" pile.

Homegirl says more about Younha's potential than either of the first two songs. Her measured piano strokes lead into a wistful theme that makes full use of her stunning falsetto strength. It is maybe even more important that she sounds calm and genuine, like she's never trying too hard. Anything less would make that harmonica sound even more ridiculous.

Younha's material is clearly worth an import order, but if we're lucky, we won't have to do that for long: She's on Sony, which means Tofu Records can and really should bring her over soon.

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