Album Review: Kana Nishino – “to LOVE”

Tracklist:
1. Prologue ~What a nice~
2. Best Friend
3. Summer Girl feat. MINMI
4. Hey Boy
5. もっと… (Motto…; More…)
6. love & smile
7. このままで (Kono Mama de; Like This)
8. MAYBE
9. WRONG
10. Come On Yes Yes Oh Yeah!!
11. Dear…
12. 会いたくて会いたくて (Aitakute Aitakute; I Miss You, I Miss You)
13. You are the one
14. Epilogue ~to LOVE~

This is Kana Nishino’s second album, which was released on June 23, 2010. The album reached #1 on the Oricon Weekly Chart and sold 290,048 copies (those are AMAZING sales by the way).

This cover is really sweet. Kana looks like such a flower child.

~

What a nice surprise to see you wishing on a star.
The title seems random at first, but Prologue ~What a nice~ is a fittingly sweet intro. With cute lyrics and an atmospheric sound, this track allows the listener to get re-familiarized with the type of pop Kana specializes in, all the while setting the mood for the rest of the album. Cute, simple, if a bit forgettable – but it gets the job done.

Best Friend, basically, is a much improved-upon rendition of Kana’s typical upbeat pop songs. It’s a bright, sunny track, with optimistic lyrics and a really catchy beat. The truly great thing is that Kana shows off her range and it’s evident how much better she’s gotten since she debuted. Really good song to kick off the body of the album!

I’m undecided as to how I feel about Summer Girl feat. MINMI. On one hand, it’s got an interesting retro-pop sound that fits Kana’s voice, and both Kana and MINMI deliver really solid vocal performances here. On the other, the music itself is a bit on the obnoxious side, and as I listened to it I couldn’t get used to it for the life of me. I’m not sure if this song is a grower or if I just plain don’t like it, but one thing I know is that it’s kind of disappointing next to Best Friend.

Thankfully, I ended up loving Hey Boy. There’s nothing quite like a pop-rock track to cheer you up, is there? Hey Boy is extremely light-hearted, playful and flirty, and to be honest I think it suits Kana really well. I mean, you can only do so many weepy ballads, after all. I do feel as though if anyone else had done this song, I’d be annoyed by it, but Kana’s youthfulness really makes it enjoyable.

もっと... is one of those “missing you madly” songs Kana’s become famous for, and I’d say it’s one of the better ones as well. There is the slightest tinge of sadness in the music and vocals, but neither ever gets to the point of being weepy or annoying. The beat and synths prevent that. My one issue with this song is that Kana’s voice gets a little thin at times, as it is prone to, but those incidents were only occasional and didn’t detract from the song as a whole.

I feel bad saying that love & smile is boring, even though it is, just because it tries so hard. My guess is that it’s supposed to be a cute, feel-good song, but it goes a little too heavy on the sugar and ends up being viciously dull. And don’t even get me started on the children’s chorus (if it can be called that) that comes in towards the end. Long story short: lackluster track, feel free to skip.

このままで is another song that tries really hard, but doesn’t quite achieve its goal. A standard R&B ballad with a slovenly beat and typical keyboards, the problem with this track had very little to do with Kana herself. In fact, Kana holds up her vocals pretty well throughout. The fact is, this song is fundamentally snooze-inducing and nothing particularly special. It takes a key change to breathe life into this particular number. Anyway, if I seem like I’m being to hard on Kana, make no mistake – it’s not her this time. It’s everything else.

I must say that MAYBE is a refreshing pick-me-up after those two sub-par tracks. This electronic-influenced midtempo piece is an entertaining listen because of the juxtaposition between its unexpected verses and more conventional-sounding chorus. It’s a bit of a departure from the typical sugary pop Kana is known for, but it’s just left-of-center enough to be special, without crossing over into weirdness or obscurity. Overall, I’d say this is one of the stronger tracks on the album so far.

WRONG surprised me more than I was expecting it to. The verse begins pretty standard, with light feathery synths and a clapping beat, nicely supporting Kana’s confident vocals. Then comes the chorus, a rock-tinged tempest with a really catchy hook (“You got me, got me all wrong, wrong, wrong“). Aside from the fact that Kana’s vocal performance on this song is very strong, it’s also worth noting because of how atypical it is for genres to be blended like this, at least as far as Kana is concerned. Honestly, I really like this song and I think it’s going to find its way into some of my playlists from now on.

I can’t be the only one who read into the title of Come On Yes Yes Oh Yeah!!. I mean… come on. Needless to say I went into this song expecting something different from what I got – something more Koda Kumi-esque, I suppose. I was a bit thrown off by the beginning of this song, which is kind of reminiscent of reggaeton or 4minute-type hip hop, but this part of the song quickly melts away into the actual melody, a cute and fun dance track reminiscent of 90s pop and the B-side 今夜はPARTY UP. It’s light fare, with a danceable beat and catchy tune, and sometimes, that’s really all you need.

Initially, I was going to complain about the placement of Dear…, a sentimental winter ballad, right after Come On Yes Yes Oh Yeah!!, but because this song is so catchy in its own right, I really can’t bring myself to do it. The melody otf this song is sweet and very accessible, and in all truthfulness, Kana’s vocals are quite remarkable. Definitely recommended.

Sadly, I no longer find 会いたくて会いたくて as charming as I did when I first heard it. Although it is catchy and well-produced, I think it’s missing something. There really is no warmth in the instrumental or in Kana’s voice. I’m hoping that I’ll eventually grow to like this song again, but right now I’m just not feeling it.

You are the one actually came up one day on shuffle before I had heard it in the context of this album, and I was surprised at how much I liked it. It’s a simple song for the most part, but its powerful chorus is what did me in. Kana’s belting voice is put to great use here, and the cascading synths are just too euphoric to pass up. I’m not sure if this is exactly a standout track on the album, per se, but it is definitely a personal favorite.

Epilogue ~to LOVE~ is essentially the same thing as Prologue ~What a nice~. Same melody, same lyrics, everything. It’s pretty, and it effectively brings the album full circle.

Summary: Kana Nishino is one of the biggest rising stars in J-Pop, and I’d be lying if I said the hype weren’t mostly true. All of the singles on this album are well crafted, catchy, and instantly likable songs, and many of the B-sides (WRONG, Hey Boy, You are the one) are worthy of such praise as well. But aside from just having a great production team behind her, I think one of the foremost appeals of Kana is her earnestness and sympathetic qualities. Is she a perfect singer? No, far from it. But she does try hard, and her heartrending vocals showcase this the most. This is a very solid sophomore album, and I feel no hesitation in saying that I’ve finally bought into the Kana Nishino hype.

Album Grade: A
Recommended Tracks:
Dear… | MAYBE | Best Friend | WRONG Hey Boy

3 thoughts on “Album Review: Kana Nishino – “to LOVE”

  1. I agree with your review, and I do quite like this album overall, despite the downs.
    I agree 会いたくて会いたくて is definitely missing something in the instrumental. It’s screaming for a passionate violin!! One that has a great range – above and below her vocal. I can just hear the violin in my head when I’m listening to it. (I quite like her voice here – it’s one of the better ones.)
    Sadly, my favourite is the epilogue/prologue, then comes Best Friend and others…

  2. Nice to see you back~

    As always, a well-thought out and written review. I liked the summary when you talked about what makes Kana likeable as a singer.

    Though I like her, I’m still a little sceptical about Kana for the time being (not really being a fan of the ‘missing you madly’ songs you mention she’s famous for) but I think her voice is pretty and if she keeps making awesome upbeat songs like ‘WRONG’ and ‘MAYBE’ as well as pretty ballads like ‘if’ and ‘You are the one’ I will definitely grow to love her even more.

    • Thank you for your comment. It’s nice to be back haha. As with any artist, Kana has her hits and her misses, but I do think she has a great formula for her songs, whether they be of the “missing you madly” variety or lighter fare. I think as long as she doesn’t tinker with that formula too much, she’ll be on the right track.

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