Welcome back to the J-Music Exchange/Rate! I hope everyone had a very happy Hearts Day this past week, whether you spent it with your significant other and/or your loved ones. or if it otherwise ended up being just another day. Whatever the case may be, I believe I can speak for Al too when I say that we love each and everyone of you guys who have been following this series 😉
IF, however, this is your first time here; the Exchange/Rate is the tandem review series between myself and my good friend Al (from Omunibasu.Blog), wherein each month we talk albums from our respective libraries that we recommend and give to one another based on a theme that we decide on ahead of time. In addition to being a venture born from our shared hobby of listening to Japanese music, this project has been a fantastic way of broadening out horizons so to speak in terms of what we both listen to. It is our hope that this series does the same for you in potentially introducing to you guys something new to listen to, if not even a new favorite.
The albums that we will be talking about are based on a theme as I mentioned, and as it was Al’s turn to decide on one, he thought it would only be fitting for us to go ahead and talk about albums that revolve around romance and love. Pretty self-explanatory, given the season, and if anything, it’s actually surprising that we actually haven’t gotten around to doing something like this in previous years (XD).
Al’s recommendation is Fujiwara Sakura’s good morning which we’ll get to in just a second, whereas I went ahead and recommended an album that at the time I myself haven’t even listened to yet (LOL) in eill’s latest release PALETTE which dropped at the start of this month. I knew in my heart that it was going to be a good album, but you can go check out what Al thought of it here!
Fujiwara Sakura (藤原さくら) is an actress/singer-songwriter. Her foray into music began when her musician father gave her an acoustic guitar when she was 10 years old. She would perform in cafes and restaurants before making her official media debut in 2016 with the release of “good morning”. In that same year, she was casted in her first leading role in the TV drama “Love Song”.
（＊Spotify link to the full album)
０３・I wanna go out
０５・How do I look?
０９・Give me a break
１１・You and I
Ａ ｌ : If I recall correctly, good morning by Fujiwara Sakura was an album that I discovered around the time when I was starting to REALLY get into Japanese music. I was already a fan of pleasant-sounding, acoustic, feel-good music from artists like Ohashi Trio and more Western musicians such as Ingrid Michaelson and Kina Grannis, so I had no trouble enjoying the works of the lovely Fujiwara Sakura.
I mean, once you listen to the first few tracks off good morning, you’ll quickly understand what kind of genre/style she’s going for: acoustic, raw, old-school and fun-sounding music. Having her acoustic guitar be the star of the show while these other cheery and lively instruments accompany her in a fantastic way makes for a collection of songs that are calmingly joyful and inviting. Tracks like “Kawaii” and “I wanna go out” really puts you in a great mood, while some of the stuff in between like the much slower “How do I look” can change things up a bit from time to time. Add on Fujiwara Sakura’s soft-yet-charming vocals, and dang… that’s one heck of a combo, in my opinion.
＜Ｓｏｎｇｓ ｏｆ Ｉｎｔｅｒｅｓｔ＞
０３・I wanna go out
If you’ve been following the Exchange/Rate for some time, you might be able to recall times where I talked about a particular genre, or combination of genre’s I should say, that I have since taken to calling ‘Blues-y Jazz-y Folk/Pop’ …for lack of a better term (XD). It sounds contrived, but it’s one of those things where it’ll make sense once you actually hear it. At the very least, I myself couldn’t help but recall previous album offerings by OhashiTrio and sumika (both of which, I’ve also reviewed in the past, which you can go ahead and check out over on the J-Music Exchange/Rate page ;)) after getting a chance to hear Fujiwara Sakura’s work here.
Perhaps more so the former rather than the latter in terms of the sort of mood Fujiwara’s music seemingly brings, being on the mellower, laid-back end of the Folk/Pop spectrum and, in the case of I wanna go out here specifically, accentuated heavily by dark Blues/Jazz undertones. While not the predominant sound that you’ll get out of good morning (keep this in mind for the rest of this review), it’s most certainly attention-grabbing, especially with how well it ends up working with Fujiwara’s naturally low vocal register, giving the song a nice sort of musical warmth to it. Of note too, is that the song, as with most songs off the album, are written and sung fully in English.
This stretch of songs from I wanna go out, to maybe maybe here, and How do I look after this one is actually my favorite section of good morning, for reasons you’ve probably already gathered above. I’ve done this in the past too when I talked about sumika’s Chime where I ended up featuring the tracks that showcased the more underlying sound to the album. In the case of good morning, you might be surprised to find out that more than half of the songs on the album don’t really sound like the ones I highlight for this review, wherein most of the other tracks do lend themselves to being a bit more peppier and cheerier, as opposed to these four songs which are otherwise more subdued.
In talking about sumika’s Chime, talked about the concept of ‘omote’ and ‘ura’ applied to Japanese music, and how bands/artist (especially those who perform J-Pop) have songs for the most part cater towards either Pop primarily or something else altogether; usually something closer to home for the band/artist if not exactly their musical roots. Being exposed to the world of music at an early age thanks to her musician father, interestingly enough, Fujiwara grew up liking bands and artists such as The Beatles and Norah Jones. You can definitely tell the influence that they’ve had in her artistry, though I’d argue more reflective in these slower tracks of the album.
０５・How do I look?
How do I look? is my favorite track off of good morning for a couple of reasons, but chief among them is that in my opinion it is far and away the best showcase of Fujiwara’s vocal prowess out of all the songs from the album, though perhaps not for the reasons you might have come to expect when the subject of vocals come up. Seeing as this is Fujiwara’s debut album from 2016, her singing might have already undergone some changes that run counterpoint to my thoughts about it here, but keeping it strictly within the context of this album alone, it doesn’t appear as though Fujiwara likes to put a whole lot of power behind her vocalizations.
Not to say that she can’t of course, as she may very well could, but as someone touted as being the ‘Japanese Norah Jones’, it’s safe to say that more than likely it’s a matter of preference with respect to the singing style she employs. Although not powerful, the beauty in Fujiwara’s vocal work on the contrary lies in its subtlety. Her airy yet melodious little vocal runs in the chorus here are oh so lovely, and just fit perfectly with the playful instrumentation in the track. I’m not the best at identifying instruments by ear, but I’m almost certain that’s a bandoneon that I’m hearing in the background, which isn’t something you come across that often, so that was neat too.
０９・Give me a break
A bit further down towards the end of the album is Give me a break which is a song that I do feel summarizes quite nicely almost if not everything that we have gone over about Fujiwara’s music over the course of the review thus far. We can hear the Blues-y Jazz-y Folk/Pop with darker undertones, the infliuence of a more Western sound, and the wispy yet melodic singing. While I went ahead and named my favorite track just a second ago, I’m personally very much fond of Give me a break too. Not for Fujikawa’s singing this time around (although still wonderful in its own right), but instead for the instruments being played and the overall composition of the track.
I say this a lot whenever it comes up, but I’m a sucker for brass accompaniment whenever I happen upon it, and Give me a break is chock full of it so if you’re like me and you love hearing trumplets blaring away in the background, then hey, this song might be for you too (XD). In all seriousness though, once you get to this track in good morning you would notice that there’s actually quite a wide array of instruments that were used in making this album. Apart from the aforementioned brass, and the bandoneon that was noted previously in How do I look, if you go back and listen to I wanna go out, you’ll be able pick up the sound of a kazoo of all things (lol).
＜Ｗｈａｔ Ｉ ｔｈｉｎｋ ｏｆ ｇｏｏｄ ｍｏｒｎｉｎｇ＞
In an interview with Nikkan Sports, Fujiwara Sakura talked about having a complex regarding her voice. Specifically, she thought that her low vocal register was not good for singing, and that she would much rather have a higher-pitched singing voice like her favorite artists; in particular the likes of YUI whose songs she grew up listening to and trying to sing herself, but found herself struggling to hit the higher notes. She entered a voice training school with that in mind, and even went so far as to ask the vocal coaches to teach her how to sing in that manner. However, they heard something special in her voice and let *that* fluorish instead. The rest is history.
*That* of course, being what the Japanese media calls the ‘natural smokiness’ of Fujiwara’s voice. Fujiwara herself would come to like this unique quality of hers after seeing how much people actually liked how her voice sounded, and we can only thank her teachers for recognizing what she had. Interesting to note with regard to that is that good morning would’ve come out when she just hit her twenties and just thinking about someone as young as her at the time singing with that kind of voice, I can only imagine just how floored those vocal coaches must have been when they first heard how she sings, and how baffled they were when she said she wanted to change it.
At the very least, that was my initial reaction listening to this album for the first time, and subsequently to Fujiwara for the first time. Listening to Japanese music for however long I have, I can at least tell you that someone with her voice doesn’t come around all that often. That ultimately is what good morning ended up being for me; an introduction to Fujiwara Sakura’s artistry. Of course, this being her first full-length album under a major record label, that would also be the case for everyone who picked up it up when it first came out, but I would argue that it still does just about as wonderful of a job doing as much six-something years after the fact.
３.５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ ５
７ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ １０
All that being said, you only ever get introduced to someone once, maybe twice, barring a reunion down the line. Not to say that the novelty of Fujiwara’s voice wears off, as it is still definitely one of the most pleasant voices out there in Japanese music, but the song compositions might for some. Despite the differences in mood as was mentioned at the start of the review, the tempo for the vast majority of the tracks on good morning are almost uniform in how slow and laid-back they are and coupled with her subdued and relaxed singing-style it does hit a bit of a lull at times as a direct consequence, especially when listening from the first track to the last.
What do you guys think of Fujiwara Sakura’s good morning? Let us know down in the comments! We’d love to hear your thoughts 😛
Likewise, what are some albums that you can think of that revolve around love and romance that you would recommend? Drop us a link and we’ll for sure give ’em a spin <3
Happy (belated) Valentines! and Happy Listening 🙂