Because it’s not always lonely being alone 😉
How’s it going everyone? 😀 Hopefully well, as I now go ahead and welcome you guys to yet another installment of the J-Music Exchange/Rate!
If you’re unfamiliar as what this is and/or this is your first time seeing this segment here on the blog ー the Exchange/Rate is the tandem album review series between myself and my very good friend and fellow Japanese Music enthusiast Al from Omunibasu.Blog. Every month Al and I “exchange” albums that we pick out from our respective libraries based on a specific theme that we decide on beforehand. After given the albums a listen we then “rate” and review each other’s picks on our respective blogs. This project has been a great way for Al and I to not only broaden our horizons in terms of artists and bands that we both listen to so to speak, but it also provides different perspectives between ourselves in possibly learning new ways to appreciate albums that we already love and enjoy. Our hope is that this venture does the same for you 🙂
Al and I take turns deciding on the themes that we use to determine which album we give to each other, and for this month of love, it was my turn to do so. Now, it’s no secret that couples tend to get all the shine come February (LOL), so for this month’s Exchange/Rate I figured we’d get away from that and instead review albums by artists who went and started a solo project after previously being part of a band or group. … This is of course tongue-in-cheek coming from me, but I do honestly find it very intriguing whenever an artist makes this specific transition from performing alongside other people to doing their own thing. More often than not (at least in my own experience) it ends up being somewhat of a pleasant surprise for fans of their work prior, but we’ll see if that holds true with this month’s album picks 😛
I noticed Al has been having some Kinoko Teikoku in his heavy rotation so I figured now would be as good of a time as any to introduce to him vocalist Chiaki Sato’s solo work with her debut album PLANET (catch his review here!). Al in turn gave me up-and-coming artist and former RINGOMUSUME idol JONAGOLD’s debut work WEEKEND which dropped just last month at the time of writing.
Formerly a member of the idol group RINGOMUSUME, JONAGOLD (ジョナゴールド) began her solo career on March 2022. Despite having graduated from the group, she has opted to keep her stage name “Jonagold”; a kind of apple (ringo) that’s a staple product of her hometown of Aomori. The proud native aims to let people know more about Aomori by listening to her music.
(＊Spotify link to the full album)
CDJapan Affiliate Link(s):
Weekend / Jonagold
０７・ 祭りのあとの、あの風は/matsurinoato no, ano kaze wa
Ａ ｌ :
I first found out about JONAGOLD after Spotify recommended a song of hers, more specifically her debut single in “Route 7”. I absolutely loved everything about that track and it was one that almost made it to my ‘favorite songs of 2022’ list, as the sweet guitar licks and JONAGOLD’s gorgeous vocals made for a really vibe-y track that also had a nice touch of melancholy to it. Since then, I found out that JONAGOLD was previously a part of an apple-themed idol group and later made her solo debut shortly after graduating from said unit. (also her name is literally the reason why I know about jonagold apples now lol)
Her first full album release, titled WEEKEND, was a solid introduction to who JONAGOLD is and the kind of music she performs. I really enjoyed the overall fun, memorable and old-school themes heard in a lot of the tracks, like the funky electro sounds in “WAVY BABY” and “Yeah-Yeah” having an infectiously catchy chorus. The way these songs use certain instruments extremely well is something that I loved hearing throughout, and add on JONAGOLD’s deeper and consistent-sounding vocals… you can tell that she’s got a really good sense of trendy pop music and this album is one reason why JONAGOLD is an artist everyone should look out for in the coming months/years.
＜Ｓｏｎｇｓ ｏｆ Ｉｎｔｅｒｅｓｔ＞
In the Monthly Recommendation Roundup for January just last month, I talked about how I had already been debating featuring JONAGOLD some time last year but ended up not doing so in favor of showcasing fellow up-and-coming talent ao instead. In actuality, this was for when I first came across the opening track for WEEKEND Hajimarhythm here which came to me in the form of a YouTube recommended video. I remember being surprised more than anything when I listened to the song back then, primarily because I didn’t really expect JONAGOLD’s singing to sound the way it does, both in terms of the quality of her vocals as well as her singing style.
She has a very warm and rich tonality to her voice, which is something that I, and I’m sure a lot of others would also point to as being desirable for a female artist to have, especially for Japanese music where it’s even more of a unique trait given how Japanese female vocals generally tend to skew towards being lighter. Now, what’s interesting with regard to that here is that this also rings true for JONAGOLD herself, as her natural speaking voice is also on the higher side (or at least higher than what you would’ve thought). What this tells you, and this is something that I’ll stress repeatedly in this review is that she has the ability to modulate and transpose her voice.
We’re actually going to hit my favorite (or at least ony my favorites) from the album very early on in Suki Mitai here which, in all honesty wasn’t a song that got its hooks in me the first couple of times I listened to WEEKEND. That being said, the more I sat down and played through the tracks the more I started to enjoy these slower balladic songs in the album (of which there are just a few). A lot of that is because I personally think you can really start to appreciate JONAGOLD’s vocalizations in these kinds of songs in that there’s more air and room to work with so to speak in terms of the composition with which she’s free to use the full breadth of her singing.
While the song shows you what she can do with higher notes (which she does hit very cleanly and are for the most part very much whole) something you might notice while listening to the song is this slight tinge of vocal pitch correction. It’s not intrusive in the slightest though, and if anything just sounds like it was used to round out he pitch slides. This I attribute to two things; first is, again, JONAGOLD’s ability to modulate her singing voice to full effect, and second is this natural mellodic timbre of her vocals. Like, I imagine it must be a treat to executive produce her songs because of how well her singing plays off of electronic post-production.
The vast majority of WEEKEND is comprised of songs like Kazemachi Lip here, which is just this high energy style of J-Pop with a wide array sounds combining real and electronic instruments, the compositions of which at times bordering Idol Pop. This we can probably attribute to the fact that the composer for most of the tracks on the album, Tada Shinya, is the main sound producer for the idol group that JONAGOLD was a member of prior to her pursuing a solo career (along with other associations with idol acts, most notably the ever-popular AKB48). Interesting to note is that although she graduated from her group, she is still under the same record label as them.
I do wonder whether or not this kind of setup is somewhat limiting in a way as, after a good couple of listens you do start to feel some similarities in the overall song structure across these energetic Pop songs in the album. I wouldn’t say they’re glaring enough to warrant being called out on (though I guess I’m technically doing exactly that right now, lol) but it’s definitely noticeable. Your mileage may vary as they say on whether or not that’s a bad thing. Personally I think the album does juuuust enough in spacing these kinds of songs out with how the tracks are arranged so as to not make them too fatiguing when listening to them in sequence.
In as much as Suki Mitai might be my favorite off WEEKEND (in terms of how good I think the songs is compared to the rest of the tracks on the album), the title track WEEKEND here towards the very tail end might be the song that I’ve listened to the most so far. This is largely because you kinda also have to be in the right mood for the former (or at least I would think so), whereas the latter is a nice listen regardless. Then again the song does play into a lot of things that I myself also just like in general (lol). If you’ve been following the Exchange/Rate for some time you’d know by now that I’m a huge sucker for choruses that explode into backing vocals in particular.
I think it’s pertinent of me to mention as part of this review that I had already been listening to WEEKEND before Al went and gave it as his pick for this month. JONAGOLD has already been somewhat in my radar as I mentioned, but if I had to say, this was the song that sold me on her and made me try out the album. On the onset I really liked the approach here and how she carried herself, and on the whole the track in itself is very promising especially for an artist making her first album debut and the sort of confidence she brings in her performance. Not often you see a title track as the closer for an album but I thought doing so here was a nice touch.
＜Ｗｈａｔ Ｉ ｔｈｉｎｋ ｏｆ ＷＥＥＫＥＮＤ＞
It’s always fascinating (at least for me personally) seeing and hearing what a former idol does after choosing to embark in a different career path after graduating from that industry. Depending on their respective proficiencies, some move on to pursue careers in acting, modelling, or in some cases even voice acting work. Of course, there are also those that choose to continue in the areas of music in whatever form, whether it’s joining/forming a band or carving out their own paths as a solo artist. Why I find this interesting ties into this particular notion that I tend to bring up every now and again about how idols aren’t generally the best singers and dancers.
My favorite example of this is Fujikawa Chiai who, is herself another former idol turned solo artist in her own right, and is in a lot of ways cut from the same cloth as JONAGOLD. Both Fujikawa Chiai and JONAGOLD aren’t artists who I’d consider… remarkable, and I say that with respect to their individual abilities relative to more credentialed singers (of whom I always seem to use Kamishiraishi Mone as an example). However what these two do possess is, perhaps in acknowledgement even of their own capabilities, are these subtle but otherwise very nuanced things that they do when they sing that brings out the uniqueness in their performance and artistry.
Fujikaka Chiai uses a lot of patterned repetition in her song-writing for instance, which she uses in tandem with varying stresses and emphases in her delivery that make for a unique listening experience. For JONAGOLD, without a doubt it’s her ability to modulate and transpose her vocals, and that comes with a level of familiarity with her own vocals that I imagine she could’ve only gotten through hard work and putting the time in. WEEKEND feels like what would be the culmination of time spent as an idol and the things she learned along the way as she transitions to being a full-fledged solo artist. For what its worth, the end result is largely impressive.
４ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ ５
８ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ １０
Despite the sort of same-y-ness that some of the harder-hitting tracks might have, tracks like Rain Dance, Yeah-Yeah, and WAVY BABY are still good fun. Amelia, Matsuri no Ato no, Ano Kaze wa, and Nana Gousen are also greatly positioned and help offset the energy in the album. All in all a pretty solid release in my opinion. I do have my worries seeing JONAGOLD still be in the same record label as when she was an idol, but I guess only time will tell if that really ends up limiting her in what she can do. Regardless, she has a very bright and promising career as a singer ahead of her and this is one heck of a debut album to start it off with.
What are your guys’ thoughts on JONAGOLD’s WEEKEND? Let us know down in the comments section below!
Likewise, what are some of your favorite albums by artists who went and started a solo project after previously being part of a band or group? 😀
Don’t forget to check out Al’s review of Sato Chiaki’s Planet over at Omunibasu.Blog if you haven’t yet!
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