You’d think I would’ve already done this on my own but here we are XD
We’ll get to that in a bit, but for now, welcome back to yet another installment of the one and only J-Music Exchange/Rate!
If this is your first time here on the blog and/or are seeing this series for the first time ー the Exchange/Rate is the tandem album review series conducted by yours truly alongside Al from Omunibasu.Blog. Each month we “exchange” albums from our respective music libraries based on a particular theme that we decide on beforehand for the other person to then go and review. This project has been a way for us to broader our horizons so to speak in terms of what we listen to as well as being a platform for us to share albums that we both personally like and enjoy ourselves. If you’ve ever been curious about a particular album, try heading on over to the J-Music Exchange/Rate page which houses links to all of our reviews thus far. It has since grown into a decent-sized collection so there’s a slim chance you might find what you’re looking for there 😀
The albums we pick out are based on a specific theme as previously mentioned, and this is something that Al and I take turns deciding on each month. This time around it’s Al turn to decide on a theme for this month’s reviews, and he thought we could talk about albums we have in our backlogs. That is to say, albums we haven’t gotten the chance to properly finish or even start. I mean, it can’t be helped, right? There’s new music to be listened to coming out every day, and the more bands and artists we choose to follow, the more releases there will be to keep track of and, as a direct consequence of that, some albums end up just being lost in the mix.
One such album for me is The GARDEN by the peggies (catch Al’s review for it here!), whereas Al’s backlog of choice is none other than Aida Rikako’s Curtain raise.
Aida Rikako (逢田梨香子) is most notably known for being part of the Love Live! franchise’s crop of second generation talent, taking on the role of Sakurauchi Riko as a member of the group, Aqours. She made her artist debut on June 19, 2019 with the release of her first mini-album, Principal. Her song “ORDINARY LOVE” was also used as the ending theme for anime Senryuu Shoujo earlier that same year.
（＊Spotify link to the full album)
０６・光と雨/hikari to ame
１０・ステラノヒカリ/stella no hikari
Ａ ｌ : As much of a Love Live seiyuu fan I am, I do have to confess that I haven’t fully listened to a lot of the solo albums from some of the franchise’s voice actresses. Suzuki Aina (voice of Mari), Kitou Akari (Kanata), Liyuu (Keke) and even one Saitou Shuka (You)… it’s bad, I know. But out of all of the LL seiyuu-related albums on my backlog, I figured that I would give Leap one in particular: Curtain raise by Aida Rikako. Ever since I met Leap a few years ago, I’ve known that he’s a Rikyako fan/oshi (at least when it comes to the Aqours idol unit) so obviously, I thought this album choice was fitting.
While a good amount of the tracks on this album can remind Aqours fans of the calm and polite personality of Sakurauchi Riko, like “Stella no Hikari” and “ORDINARY LOVE”, I guess I also never expected Rikyako to display a more powerful tone in some of the other songs that are featured on Curtain raise. Hearing her evoke a ton of emotion through her vocals, as well as the dramatic-sounding atmospheres of some of these tracks, such as “Mirror Mirror” and “for…”, I personally think it shows off a much different side to Rikyako and her talents as a singer-songwriter. Especially since, according to an interview she did with Ongaku Natalie, she had a ton of creative input regarding the overall album composition and lyricism; Curtain raise is a heck of an album debut for Rikyako and I enjoyed how she was able to express herself in new ways.
And you know, I’m not gonna lie… I’ve been curious about what Leap, an Aida Rikako oshi, thought about this album as a whole, and this month’s Exchange/Rate review gave me the perfect opportunity to finally get his opinion on it (lol).
＜Ｓｏｎｇｓ ｏｆ Ｉｎｔｅｒｅｓｔ＞
Before I get to talking about Mirror Mirror here I wanted to quickly bring attention to the lead-off track for the album (which is also the title track) Curtain raise. Unlike what you would normally expect from a title track, Curtain raise is full-on instrumental, and really serves to “raise the curtains” so to speak for the rest of the album. In a lot of ways Curtain raise as an album is itself also one raises the curtains on Aida Rikako’s career as an artist, with it being her first full-length album. I thought the symbolism it provided was neat, and on the whole it does set the tone for the rest of the album quite nicely with its short showcase of dulcet tones and symphonic electronica.
More than anything it’s an interesting way to start things off considering how Curtain raise directly leads into Mirror Mirror and how tonally different the two tracks otherwise sound. Now, although this is an album that I’ve already listened to two or so years ago, I honestly feel as though I like this song more than I did in the past after listening to it again for this Exchange/Rate. Specifically, I find myself having new found appreciation for the crushing drum work and the symphonic rock that accompany Rikyako’s clear and sure-handed singing. I was actually belatedly reminded quite a bit of Suzuki Konomi’s anison classic CHOIR JAIL the more I listened.
To those unaware and have yet to notice the entire page I have here on the blog that’s dedicated to housing my JP-EN translations of articles and interviews on Rikyako, I’m something of a fan of hers (XD) primarily due to her involvement with Love Live! franchise, of which I am also a fan of and is a franchise that occupies a fair amount of my regular media consumption. That includes being exposed to online communites for the franchise and the many discussions that they have pertaining to both the project and the many seiyuus that are part of it. One particular talking point pertaining to Rikyako specifially has stuck with me ever since I came across it.
This is one of those things where once you notice it and start hearing it for yourself, it’s actually a bit hard to “unhear” it at times, but there’s somewhat of a tendency to Rikyako’s vocalizations. I picked out REMAINED to have you guys listen to what I mean as she does it here a bunch). Listen closely to the pre-chorus->chorus section from 00:40 to 01:30. Notice how she sort of “glides” or “slides” up her voice to reach a higher note when she ends a line with long vowel extension. This plays into her sure-handed singing that I brought up earlier in that, for better or for worse, Rikyako is very consistent both in how she sounds and the manner in which she sings.
０６・光と雨/hikari to ame
Not to say that that’s necessarily a bad thing, nor does she *always* do it whenever she needs to sing a little higher, just that she goes to it more often than other vocal techniques. Hikari to Ame is an instance of Rikyako utilizing her vibrato and her falsetto more and on conjunction with her upward-sliding pitch, and it’s a world of difference when we compare it to what we’ve heard from her so far over the course of the album, now six tracks in. In fact, I’m actually gonna go so far as to say that this song might actually be my favorite vocal performance of Rikyako’s out of all the tracks in Curtain raise, and perhaps even out of all of the songs I’ve heard by her period.
Suffice it to say, it’s my far and away my favorite track of Curtain raise. The complete-ness of Rikyako’s singing here aside, I really like the instrumentation for Hikari to Ame (which is predominantly acoustic guitar) and is unlike anything else on the album, having a more chill pop sort of vibe to it. The only thing I would change or add to this song, as good as it already is, is actually something that’s already present in it anyway. If they could have just brought forward the backing vocals that it has (like in the 01:06 mark) just a touch more or added more backing vocals altogether in the chorus to make it come alive and give it that extra pop, this track would have been insane.
Something that I’ve learned to do, in the times that Al has had me talk about and review and album by a seiyuu is to check out the lyricists and composers for the tracks. While it’s not entirely unheard of for a seiyuu to write and compose their songs, more often than not the album is a product of multiple collaborators. Admittedly, I don’t know *that* many lyricists/composers/producers, but I still do so on the off chance that I do recognize someone. It’s always a nice surprise whenever that happens, and as was the case with Tiered here, I was pleased to know that the song was written, composed, and produced by the one and only yanaginagi.
Granted, yanaginagi’s involvement in Curtain raise was something I already knew about in the past thanks to LL! communities, but I had to check for which song it was just in case. That said, yanaginagi’s handiwork would’ve clued me in eventually I’d imagine, given the atmospheric nature of the song. The track also serves to reinforce a belief I have in that, much how I thought Hikari to Ame worked immensely well, I think Rikyako does her best work with songs that have a calmness to them. Not to the point that the song becomes balladic, but more about it being airy and light with minimally invasive instrumentals are what allow her voice to truly shine.
＜Ｗｈａｔ Ｉ ｔｈｉｎｋ ｏｆ Ｃｕｒｔａｉｎ ｒａｉｓｅ＞
Although there are most certainly exceptions, in the times that I’ve gone and talked about albums by idol seiyuu or seiyuu performers here, you would’ve seen me use the term “grab bag” on more than one occasion to desrcibe the variety of sounds for their songs as a result of having worked with multiple collaborators. I also make it a point to say that that’s not necessarily something I look at as a negative whenever I do my reviews. While I’m personally more used to albums that stick to a single genre of music (as I mostly listen to bands), I do acknowledge that there’s something to being able to sing to different music styles and sound good doing it.
I would surmise that a lot of that is anchored in the voice more than anything, which is of course, a seiyuu’s main tool of the trade. In line with that, an interviewer for Natalie.mu mentioned something interesting when they specially asked Rikyako about the multitude of genres present in album as part of a special interview promoting Curtain raise. When inquiring about the variety of the songs in the album, the interview uses the expression “[having] a strong core” to describe Rikyako’s singing as the unifying factor and glue that holds everything together. This ties in to what I brought up earlier regarding the consistency with which she sings.
In as much as I made it seem as though her seemingly habitual singing tendencies are a detriment to her an artist, looking at it under a different light, we can see this as merely an extension of her identity. Obviously she knows what she has, and over the course of Curtain raise, we too are made to know what she’s capable of. Curtain raise gives you this feeling that by the end of the album you can be sure that it was undeniably Aida RIkako singing these songs despite the different styles and genres in it, and as an introductory album, it couldn’t have done a better job at doing just that – raising the curtains as we are introduced to the artist taking the stage.
４ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ ５
８ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ １０
I mean, the truly neat thing about these “grab bag” sort of albums by idol seiyuus and seiyuu performers/artists is that you are very much free to just pick and choose to listen to the songs that you like depending on what you’re in the mood for. Of course, it helps if you’re also just a fan of the seiyuu in question, and to be completely honest my rating of this album here does indeed reflect that. As I mentioned as part of the review, I have been and always will be a fan of Rikyako’s and Curtain raise in particular is an album that I already enjoyed in the past (I literally own a Curtain raise promotional shirt, LOL) so as you may or may not have expected I was admittedly coming into this one a bit biased. That being said, and for what it’s worth coming from me, the album still definitely holds up two years removed from when it released in my opinion.
What do you guys think of Aida Rikako’s Curtain raise? Lemme know down in the comments down below! I tried my best to be as objective as possible here too so let me know too how I did in that regard (XD).
I don’t get to plug this a whole lot nowadays but I suppose now’s actually a good time to do so again; if by chance you wanted to learn a bit more about Aida Rikako after this review, feel free to head on over to my Feature Translations page where you can see translations some of her interviews that I made a few years back. She’s great 🙂
Also, you may have noticed that I’ve added CD Japan Affiliate links at the top there. I’m pleased to announce, and as you may have already able to infer, Leap250’s Blog is now an official CD Japan Affiliate!
If you wanted to purchase Aida Rikako’s Curtain raise above or the peggies’ The GARDEN down here, do consider using any of these links 😉
Lastly, don’t forget to check out Al’s review for it over at Omunibasu if you haven’t yet!