Alright, this time last year (or whenever it was I did my year in review for ’07) it was just my opinion here – but, now another writer has intruded upon this blog’s hallowed ground and violated the sacred be-all, end-all status of my opinions on what the year’s best and worst I’ve songs/albums/people/news stories/etc. were. A tragedy, assuredly, but one that had to occur to clear the way for change and betterment for the entirety of the empire. If anyone has the slightest clue what I’m talking about, please tell me because I’m very lost right now.
As with last year’s post I’m too lazy to dig up, the 2008 Year in Review will be structured largely as an ‘awards show’ of sorts, except instead of taking home golden statues, the people involved with the songs won’t even know that the awards are taking place. Nothing’s perfect. Unlike last year, however, it won’t just be me commenting – Hikaruhoshi (光星), my faithful co-blogger and newsmonger, will join in the fun to provide his picks as well.
Let’s get to the awards!
Album of the year:
愛撫: Mami Kawada – SAVIA
Sorry to all the Front Line Covers advocates, but for me it was SAVIA that truly ‘did it’ this year. Featuring an amazing roster of singles (such as the incomparable JOINT, last year’s single-of-the-year) and jaw-dropping originals, SAVIA found Mami Kawada coming into prominence in a major way. Possibly my favourite of any of the I’ve girls’ solo full-length releases, SAVIA is one of those albums you can put on, play through in its entirety (OK, so skipping the painful Iuchi contributions), and then press repeat to hear it all again. Also, it’s home to TRILL and HISUI, numbers 1 and 3 on my ‘top songs of the year’ list, respectively.
光星: Mami Kawada – SAVIA
I wasn’t kidding when I said that Front Line Covers (FLC) might be a contender for this award. SAVIA was the clear favorite coming into Comiket, but it all depended on how well I’ve could do covering their own music. In the end, FLC was for the most part a fantastic tribute to the older I’ve compilations, and to date the best 10th anniversary recognition yet. Still, I have to agree with Aibu, SAVIA is the best album of 2008. Mami’s sophomore album didn’t just contain her best singles from last year, it also contained some very memorable tracks (TRILL, intron tone) which would normally have just been uninspired filler. FLC’s covers lacked the same magic of the originals, and outside of the superlatively awesome Two Face, I don’t think it could. SAVIA is Mami’s new hotness, and we hope to see more like this in the future.
Single of the year:
愛撫: Eiko Shimamiya – WHEEL OF FORTUNE (Unmei no Wa)
Easiest choice on the whole list. 2008 in singles was defined largely by disappointment (PSI-missing, BLAZE and Special Life!), with only MELL’s “KILL” and WHEEL OF FORTUNE standing out. While admittedly the A-side isn’t really amongst Eiko’s best work (it’s sort of silly at times, to be honest), it’s the Tomoyuki Nakazawa-produced Diorama that seals the deal here. “Diorama” is a rarity amongst I’ve songs, an uncharacteristic departure from the middle-of-the-road safety so much of the collective’s work has fallen into: an acknowledgement from Nakazawa that the protective bubble I’ve has forced themselves into isn’t the whole world, and some very interesting things are going on outside of it. It’s a total departure from the traditional I’ve “sound”, but if Nakazawa’s new direction is sustained, the results would assuredly be far better than anything the collective is doing now. Of course, Nakazawa’s reliability as saviour is questionable when he ends up releasing garbage like “PSI-missing”, but everyone messes up sometimes.
光星: MELL – KILL
Slim pickings this year. KOTOKO decided to tread water with her efforts, and some would say she’s just sinking. Geneon decided Mami’s JOINT was too edgy, so they toned her down for PSI-missing. It comes down to Eiko versus MELL, then. Each single definitely deserves praise for kicking the ass of the generic garbage we’ve had to put up with, but I’m going to have to go with KILL as single of the year. MELL’s single takes full advantage of two of my musical weaknesses: hard-driving rock music and beautiful dramatic melodies. But it’s not just the arrangements of the two songs that beat Wheel of Fortune and Diorama, it’s the intensity MELL brings, from the way she grunts out “guns and the swords” in KILL to the way she breathes out “wata” in On My Own. Couldn’t ask for much more.
Song of the year:
愛撫: Mami Kawada – TRILL
Takase has been the very definition of inconsistency as of late, but with his work on TRILL he managed to make the past years’ many flops seem ultimately insignificant. Returning to the hard-trance sound that characterized his best work from the pre-Disintegration era while still managing to remain modern enough to make sure the song is more than just the empty throwback it could’ve been, it’s a rare treat that shows just how far Takase has come. And Kawada, too: her brilliant falsetto vocals on the chorus are some of the best I’ve has had in a long while, and her MELL-aping schtick with the breathy chorus vocals pays off brilliantly. All in all, an amazing track from an amazing album. If only the same could be said about the song’s master groove circle remix…
光星: MELL – Way Beyond There
My favorite parts of I’ve have come in two flavors: one is energetic hard trance rock and the other tastes like diabetes. When the two overlap, the result is phenomenal. I could have easily named a half-dozen other songs by either criterion, but I chose the song that fixed all the problems caused by Virgin’s High by managing to make MELL’s voice sound perfect whether she’s rocking out or passionately wailing. We’ve heard this before from MELL, but never with this sort of presence or impact. Way Beyond There introduced us to what long-time I’ve fans have always known MELL was capable of: music that’s just as willing to slice your ears off as make out with them. And that’s frickin’ awesome.
Artist of the year:
愛撫: Mami Kawada
Evolving unexpectedly from KOTOKO Jr. into a powerful vocalist with a style of her own sometime last year, Kawada’s SAVIA managed to continue that hot streak with an amazing album and a total bust of a single that doesn’t matter because SAVIA was just that good. Kawada, I salute you.
Mami took the album, but MELL stole the year. After 2007’s confusing array of singles, I figured that MELL really preferred her style in no vain as opposed to Proof, but could never break Geneon’s executive meddling. Well guess what? In 2008, MELL decided to go on a diet and cut out most the sugar in favor of raw emotion and powerful vocals. When SCOPE shined, it wasn’t with the retreads of tired old tunes, it was with the new songs that were built on 10 years of I’ve experience. After that she made the best I’ve single of the year, and shortly after there was… Two Face. If there was any song that renewed my faith in the quality of I’ve, it was Two Face, and boy, was it needed after mgc.
Producer of the year:
愛撫: Tomoyuki Nakazawa
Man gets this award practically by default. Did I ever mention he’s a genius? Because he is. He has the most consistency of any of the I’ve producers, and not the expense of range and variety. Granted, he was also responsible for one of the year’s biggest disappointments, but when compared with the failures Takase, C.G mix and Iuchi turned out this year, “PSI-missing” wasn’t really that bad.
光星: Tomoyuki Nakazawa
Nakazawa gets this award this year because he makes the least mistakes. I’m all for experimentation, trying new things, anything to stop the music from falling into a rut, but if we based this award on attempting new things, Maiko Iuchi would win this every year. Tomoyuki Nakazawa dabbles in different styles, refines his old styles, and does it right. The fact that he did On My Own, portamento, diorama, and — oh yeah — Two Face, just cements his place as producer of the year.
Worst song of the year:
愛撫: MELL – Utsukushiku Ikitai -10Years anniversary mix-
To celebrate I’ve’s tenth year in operation, the original I’ve girl’s debut song gets one of the laziest, most incompetent remixes this side of master groove circle. It’s not so much that the vocals don’t match the re-arrangement, it’s not so much that the re-arrangement isn’t even that good anyways, it’s not that both Kazuya Takase and Golden Boy Nakazawa got their hands dirty with this pile of shit. It’s the combination of all of these when considering that this is the best “10years (sic) anniversary” celebration anyone seems to be able to come up with; a terrible remix of a song that, honestly, wasn’t that great to begin with. The presence of the Blue Man Group at Budokan ’09 is almost tasteful by comparison.
光星: KOTOKO – BLAZE
In a vacuum, there were many songs this year less palatable than BLAZE, songs like Kanransha, capriccio, and the bulk of mgc. Most subpar I’ve songs like these can be treated like speed bumps: forget them once they’ve passed. BLAZE is a gaping sinkhole. If you haven’t been following the I’ve Sound Explorer poll, BLAZE made the top spot. These fans like BLAZE not because it’s well made, but because it’s a fitting opening to Shakugan no Shana. 2006’s being had the same effect: mediocre song, enthusiastic reception. What makes BLAZE worse than anything else this year is that Geneon will expect more like that in the future, not bumpy-Jumpy, not Swift Love, not even Real OniGokko. Though we haven’t seen the full extent of the damage yet, there are signs that the wheels are starting to come off of KOTOKO.
Worst album of the year:
愛撫: Various – master groove circle
I was really, really tempted to give this title to Eiko Shimamiya’s abysmal ‘Hikarinadeshiko’. HikaNade, as I’ve affectionately nicknamed the worst solo album in I’ve’s repertoire, is a stinker so bland and uninteresting that even ballad-loving boredom fetishist Hikaruhoshi has nothing but bile when asked about it. However, to give the dubious honour of ‘worst album’ to HikaNade would be to ignore the elephant in the room, the tin-encased monster looming over 2008 like some retarded version of the black monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. 14 perfectly good I’ve songs, taken over by a host of nobodies (SINE6, Shiva Joerg, soyuz project, etc.) and choice has-beens (Juno Reactor, Eat Static), stripped of their charms and cruelly paraded before the mourning eyes of the I’ve fandom for little purpose other than satisfying the whims of Geneon Records’ endlessly bizarre sadomasochistic tendencies. It made no sense from a marketing standpoint, compromised the artistic integrity of all parties involved, and above all sold like shit. Sales peaking with numbers somewhere in the range of 5000 copies, it’s doubtful that mgc even made back the money it cost to get the has-beens and never-weres involved with its ungodly creation to show up for work. A failure on every conceivable level, master groove circle is a textbook example of exactly why Geneon needs to back off and just let I’ve be I’ve.
光星: Various – master groove circle
What Aibu said. No, seriously, breaking the news that mgc would not be arranged in any shape or form by proper I’ve members felt about as bad as actually listening to it. For the record, Aibu, I don’t have completely negative things to say about Hikari Nadeshiko. This “ballad-loving boredom fetishist” thought the title track was quite touching paired with its PV, and Atlante exquisitely atmospheric. That said, yeah, worst I’ve solo album yet, and it still provided the best part of mgc when Eric Mouquet, my Best Guest Arranger Outside for 2008, paid attention to Eiko’s lyrics and did a proper remix of Hikari Nadeshiko. Master groove circle is so not-I’ve that it barely qualifies for this award, but since the only ones involved that put any effort into the project were the ones at Geneon that tried to convince us that mgc is an I’ve album, no album deserves this honor more than mgc.
Worst producer of the year:
愛撫: Maiko Iuchi
Hey, remember that totally awesome song Iuchi did this year? The one where the arrangement sounds more professional than a garage band recording augmented with bargain-basement synth riffs, the vocals are actually balanced with the background and the production is generally crisp and professional? No? Of course not, I was describing something that doesn’t fucking exist. With the exception of her fluke hit with “Under Superstition” off MELLSCOPE and admittedly enjoyable (if completely idiotic) denpa freakout “Swift Love”, Iuchi has been every bit as bad this last year as she was in 2007: only difference is that this time around nobody even bothered to give her a single.
In the interest of not stepping on Aibu’s toes who is certain to choose a certain female arranger, this one goes out to the one who was not only picked up out of even obscurer conditions than the other mgc artists, but also managed to surreptitiously find his way into The Front Line Covers. Would any arranger, upon listening to kicks!, have thought that “furetai” was the focal point of the vocals, and not supremely annoying when repeated ad infinitum? Visual Art’s seemed to think his thoroughly uninspiring rendition of Wheel of Fortune and butchering of kicks! merited an invitation to the Comiket party, where he pissed in the punch bowl, hit on Kaori, and broke C.G Mix’s keyboard. And there’s still a non-zero chance he’ll be on the Rideback single.
Finally, a word from 光星 to close out the year with:
Not much has been said of I’ve’s (former) premiere vocalist recently, nothing good anyway. KOTOKO got in two singles in the first half of 2008 that were either greeted with apathy or outright derision by Aibu and I. Her eroge themes encompassed all facets of The Good (I need magic), The Bad (Swift Love), and The Ugly (Joushiki!) cliche, and the crossover single U Make Ai Dream pretty much rounded out what could be generously considered an “off” year. Underlying her lack of musical successes is a robust fandom that inexplicably continues to worship the ground she walks on. This year, she unveiled a new Official website which acknowledged her complete vocal work, a better looking diary along with what I guess would be a revamped Fan Club section. It’s impossible for KOTOKO fans like myself who can’t understand her radio show or rationalize spending the money for her Fan Club to grasp the sense of her appeal to the fans when her music doesn’t cut it, and yet, she maintains her popularity. This sort of charisma will keep her from fading into obscurity for years to come.