How’s it going guys? 🙂 Hopefully y’all are doing well, as I welcome you to yet another installment of the J-Music Exchange/Rate for this month of April and man, can you believe it, it’s already the second quarter of the year! Crazy how fast time flies sometimes, and by that same token, it’s almost surreal how many album reviews Al and I have done between the two of us, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
Before anything else though, if this is your first time here on the blog and/or if this is your first time seeing this series – the Exchange/Rate is the tandem album review series conducted by myself and Al over at Omunibasu.Blog. Each month we go and “trade” Japanese music albums from our respective libraries to one another based on a theme that we decide on beforehand for the other person to listen to and talk about. This project has been a way for us to both recommend some of our favorite albums to you guys as well as for us to discover new artists ourselves. Our hope is that by through these reviews you too might find a new favorite album or artist, or at the very least one that you end up wanting to try out after hearing us talk about them.
As I mentioned, our album choices for these reviews are dependant on a theme that we establish prior to making our picks, and going back to what I said about how long we’ve been doing this for (around two years now which is kinda insane), Al thought it’d be fun if we can try and recommend albums based on the other person’s known tastes and preferences. That is to say, the album that I pitched is one that I think Al would like going off of what I know about the kind of music he likes and vice versa.
To that end, I went ahead and recommended that he listen to TEAM SHACHI’s TEAM, which I do think is a nice little intersection of a good handful of things that I believe are to his liking (you can check out his review here!). Al on the other hand figured I’d like the latest album of the one and only Utada Hikaru in BAD Mode.
Let’s see how much I end up liking it 😀
Utada Hikaru (宇多田ヒカル) is an artist that I would surmise needs no further introduction, being one of the most well-known Japanese artists in the moder era worldwide, with a career spanning multiple years of notoriety for their involvement in widely popular works; most notably that of the Kingdom Hearts franchise and later the Rebuild of Evangelion movie series to name a few.
０２・君に夢中/kimi ni muchuu
０３・One Last Kiss
０６・気分じゃないの/kibun janai no
０７・誰にも言わない/dare ni mo iwanai
０９・Face My Fears (Japanese Version)
１０・Somewhere Near Marseilles ーマルセイユ辺りー/marseilles atari
１１・Beautiful World – Da Capo Version
１２・キレイな人/kirei na hito
１３・Face My Fears (English Version)
１４・Face My Fears – A.G. Vook Remix
Ａ ｌ : Despite me being a Japanese music fan for well over 4-5 years now, I’ve only recently jumped on the Utada Hikaru train. While I have heard some of her other popular hits like “Simple and Clean” (cause of Kingdom Hearts) and her collab with Sheena Ringo in “Nijikan Dake no Vacance”, Utada’s involvement with the Evangelion Rebuild film series (especially the latest movie) really sparked my interest in her stuff.
“One Last Kiss”, like with many others, was one of my favorite releases from 2021; not only cause of the context it has with 3.0+1.0, but it is yet another incredible display of Utada’s voice and how amazing of a singer she is. I know Leap has featured Utada Hikaru on a couple of his yearly roundup award posts, especially when it comes to the vocal side of things, so I thought he’d enjoy her latest album release, BAD MODE.
As someone who has only scratched the surface with Utada Hikaru’s discography, it’s fascinating to see how different BAD MODE is compared to her much earlier releases. She takes on a much more low-key and emotional approach with her music, as heard in a ton of the featured tracks like “PINK BLOOD” with its mellow beats or the gorgeous acoustic version of “Beautiful World” (which was originally heard in the first two Rebuild movies and later re-recorded for the latest film). While I did have some small issues with this album, such as the fact that there are three versions of “Face My Fears” which I didn’t think was necessarily needed, I feel like one important thing to take away from BAD MODE is the fantastic display of Utada’s vocals throughout the whole album. Especially when she sings in full English, I had a fun time listening and re-listening to some of these great tracks.
＜Ｓｏｎｇｓ ｏｆ Ｉｎｔｅｒｅｓｔ＞
０２・君に夢中/kimi ni muchuu
Now, before I formally start this review of BAD Mode, I would like to bring to your attention the existence of a special playlist on Spotify called Liner Voice+. Liner Voice+ has been a thing for a while now and what they are is that they’re essentially commentary tracks made by the artist themselves as they talk about songs of a particular album of theirs included in the playlist. However, as neat as these are, they normally aren’t readily accessible by people who don’t understand Japanese. Luckily though, Utada Hikari is a native English-speaker, and as such was able to provide commentaries in English and I HIGHLY recommend listening to it.
Something that I found interesting when Utada was talking about the first couple of tracks of BAD Mode in Liner Voice+ was that they were trying their hand at making City Pop music for this album. City Pop of course, as you all know, is a genre that had recently come into vogue in contemporary Japanese music, best characterized by groovy and lively Electro/Synth with a 70’s/retro sort of feel to it. Why I find that interesting is that I actually wouldn’t really have thought to classify Kimi ni Muchuu (as well as the title track BAD Mode before it) as City Pop with how modern they otherwise sound. I reckon a lot of that might have to do with the very lackadaisical mood that the songs give off.
Though I say that, you do have tracks like Time here which, for all intents and purposes, does feel like it lends itself to being more of a dance track so there’s actually this weird sort of dissonance to the album (in my opinion) that I’ll get to later in a bit. This song is also one of the more aggressive ones of of BAD Mode, at the very least from a vocal standpoint, where Utada gets to make some faster and punchier runs as opposed to the gentler and more sweeping ones that a lot of people have come to know her by. The final chorus leading to the outro in particular might be one of if not my favorite segments of a song out of all the ones in the album.
In as fun-sounding as this track is, somewhat of a recurring theme in Utada’s Liner Voice+ commentary of BAD Mode is the melancholic origins behind most of the songs on the album. For this song, they talk about how “time” is actually a contraction of the original title that they had intended for it; “temozolomide“, which is medication used to treat cancer, and is medication that one of their friends take. How this relates to Utada as an artist is that you actually get a glimpse here of how much they wear their heart on their sleeves when writing and conceptualizing their music. Something that you wouldn’t otherwise get just by listening to the song by itself I’d imagine.
０８・Find Love | １２・キレイな人/kirei na hito
Perhaps that sentiment rings the most true for Find Love, which is a song that Utada dedicates to those (and she points towards herself as an example) who have at one point in time found difficulty in being able to love themselves; a feeling that’s for the most part fairly universal (especially in the current social climate) and something not at all unique to just the Japanese culture. In line with that, this would also be the first and probably one of the few times that I’d get to talk about a song alongside a version of it that’s sung in a different language side by side like this, with Find Love here and the twelfth track Kirei na Hito being sung in English and Japanese respectively.
While it does help that the melodies and the overall musical composition of the two songs are largely if not exactly the same, I’d still argue it takes a special talent like Utada and the people around her for something like this to even be possible. Going back to the Liner Voice+ commentary tracks, Utada talks about almost not releasing Kirei na Hito as singing it felt “off beat” to her compared to when she sings Find Love. I surmise it’s because of the difference in vowel extension between English and Japanese, with English having more room for vowel extensions in the middle of words than with Japanese and its more multisyllabic words.
１０・Somewhere Near Marseilles ーマルセイユ辺りー/marseilles atari
Another “first” for the J-Music Exchange/Rate, and I wanna say for the blog in general, is the presence of a 11+ minute-long song, so of course I have to talk about it (XD). While not the “longest” that that I’ve had the good fortune of listening to (the honor goes to DotsTokyo’s Tokyo at a whopping one hour and twelve minutes, although granted a lot of it is just straight up white noise, lol), I did find its existence in BAD Mode thought-provoking to say the least, more so too because its technically the last “new” track of the album as the rest of the bonus tracks towards the end are alternate versions of already existing songs, so I’m treating it as the real closing track in my head.
Though I suppose rather than being “thought-provoking”, Somewhere Near Marseilles is more so a track to get lost in your thoughts into, and in some ways is a song that I believe best encapsulates the overall mood of BAD Mode both tonally and thematically. It continues to be a song that borders being a chill dance track that you can vibe to at a club, but there are spots where it feels like it’s trying to evoke the feeling of drowning out everything around you while you hang back to the sides and watch other people dance as you let the music take you in. The way the song just winds and ultimately fades out is also just the perfect way to end the album on.
＜Ｗｈａｔ Ｉ ｔｈｉｎｋ ｏｆ ＢＡＤ Ｍｏｄｅ＞
Utada explains in the Liner Voice+ commentary tracks that the origins of the album title “bad mode” as being a descriptor she had thought of that best describes the opposite of feeling great, and is ultimately what serves as the overarching theme for the album. At the very least the concept of feeling down about things and not really being in the mood is a good way to sort of frame one’s perception of this album. Something to note with regard to that is the fact that a lot of these tracks were written and made during the height of the global pandemic, and Utada states that, much like many others, that period of time was particularly rough for her.
In that light they offer BAD Mode as one meant to be a comforting one first and foremost. Comforting in the sense that it aims to not necessarily dismiss but to more so acknowledge these realities we all face in our everyday lives. That it’s perfectly normal and okay to be *in* “bad mode” and that the mental space that the album provides for the listener is one where they can be comfortable letting out these thoughts and emotions that we all otherwise keep buried at the depths of our minds and hearts. Utada presents herself as a kindred spirit in that regard, with this this album serving as proof that even someone like them goes through the same things as me and you.
Perhaps the most important takeaway from BAD Mode is in how… human it is and how much it in turn humanizes Utada Hikaru as an artist, at the very least for me who’s only really experiencing as much of her musicality as I have here despite knowing about them and their music for well over a decade now. Though I will admit a lot of why I feel this way about them and the album is because of what I was able to learn through the commentary that Utada provides for through Liner Voice+. If you find yourselves wanting to listen to BAD Mode in full after this review, I again highly encourage you guys do so via the Liner Voice+ playlist here.
４.５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ ５
９ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ １０
Utada Hikaru is pretty much a known commodity when it comes to Japanese music, so you right now reading this review don’t need me to tell you how good of an artist they are. Granted I have no experience with the whole breadth of their discography prior to BAD Mode so I can only say as much about how much better or not the compositions for this album are compared to their previous releases. That being said, I’m always down for Chill Pop so in isolation this album is really just a fun listen overall. And I say that even with me purposefully neglecting to talk about One Last Kiss for the entirety of this review, and you guys know how much I love that song.
I have to give a shoutout to MrsNobodyIsHere over on YouTube, as their *review* of BAD Mode was what clued me in on the Spotify Liner Voice+ commentary tracks in the first place. They’ve been doing album reviews longer than Al and I, and their discussions of music albums are a good listen so do check them out.
What are your guys’ thoughts on Utada Hikaru’s BAD Mode? Let us know in the comments section down below! Likewise, what are some albums you think *I* would like based on *my* tastes and preferences? I’d be curious to know 🙂
Before I let you go, again don’t forget to check out Al’s review of TEAM SHACHI’s TEAM. I personally found that album to be a ton of fun, and I’m pretty confident Al would think so too, but I suppose you and I both would have to see if that’s really the case (XD)