Album Review: YUI – “Holidays in the Sun”

Tracklist:
1. to Mother
2. again
3. Parade
4. es.car
5. Shake My Heart
6. GLORIA
7. I do it
8. Please Stay With Me
9. Summer Song
10. Cinnamon
11. Driving Happy Life
12. It’s all too much
13. Kiss me

This is YUI’s fourth studio album, which was released on July 14, 2010. The album peaked at #1 on the Oricon Weekly Chart and has sold 184,952 copies.

She’s so pretty! The simplicity of this cover is what really gets me.

~

The album opens with the soft piano rock piece to Mother, a pleasant surprise since I considered it to be one of the better singles YUI released during this era. While YUI’s strength normally lies in various shades of rock, this sort of sentimental fare really highlights her strength as a vocalist, in my opinion. YUI’s vibrato is more present and in control here than most of her rock songs, and her upper range really shines. Plus, it’s nice to hear her sing about something so special as her relationship with her mom. All things considered, I think this was a really good choice for an opening track.

Next up is again, my other favorite of YUI’s singles from this album. As one of those hard-hitting rock songs YUI does so well, it’s not hard to see that she’s right at home here. Even two years after having first heard this song, it still captivates me – the hushed, subdued verse, the unbelievably wordy pre-chorus, the soaring chorus and pre-chorus all join together to create an enthralling piece of music. If you have any doubt as to how great this song truly is, please give it a listen. I’m willing to bet you’ll be impressed.

Parade is next on our list, a much slower and more laid-back track that lives out the in the sun part of this album’s title. Although it’s fairly short, Parade is such a sunny and warm song that it’s hard to have any real grievances about it. YUI’s voice is soft and sweet and the breezy sound compliments her perfectly. One might say that this is a filler song, and while that’s probably true, it might also count as an example of how filler isn’t always a bad thing. You definitely won’t find me complaining, at least not in this case.

I think es.car (if you don’t understand this title, don’t worry, I don’t either) is a nice happy medium between YUI’s normal rock style and the new softer sound she’s been courting on this album. Fundamentally, this is a song about having a crush on someone, and the confusion that accompanies such feelings, and I think the uptempo rock instrumental fits this well. YUI’s vocals are solid, although I couldn’t help but notice that her voice gets a little screechy toward the end of the chorus. Not perfect, but well above average.

Soft, sentimental and sweet almost to a fault, Shake My Heart is exactly what I’m loving about YUI and this album. On this song, YUI really shows her romantic side and to tell you the truth, it’s not cheesy or silly at all. She even knows to put her pipes on cruise control for a song that’s on the gentler side, something that makes this track really nice. The title drop in the chorus, although not sung by YUI herself (it actually sounds kind of like a gospel choir-type group) deserves special mention for its catchiness. I think Shake My Heart is a perfect example of the style of this album and how great YUI can be when she takes a new direction.

GLORIA is an upbeat rock-ish number much in the style of the songs we’ve heard so far on, so it neither slips between the cracks nor sticks out like a sore thumb. With an exciting instrumental, above average vocal performance from YUI and a strange but catchy “yai-yai-yai” hook, this song settles nicely into the track listing, but doesn’t widen the scope of the album much. In other words, this is a good track, but not excellent.

Curiously enough, YUI originally wrote the song I do it for the Japanese girl band Stereopony, who released the song as a single. I’ve not heard Stereopony’s version, but I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and say they gave it a fair go. In any case, YUI tears into her performance here with a tenacity that makes it clear just whose song this is. This is the particular flavor of rock where YUI proves herself the most capable, and happily, her vocals remain in control pretty much the whole time. As the halfway point in the album’s track list, this song does an excellent job of keeping the listener energized and keeping their attention.

Please Stay With Me is probably the most melancholy song on the album so far, but to say that this is a bad thing would be the furthest thing from the truth. YUI’s voice is kept very soft during the verse only to reach a mezzo-forte in the chorus, so it’s not your typical loud YUI song. That said, her voice can get a bit breathy at times, but I think that’s just me being nitpicky. The instrumental, on the other hand, is truly gorgeous. I’m very happy with this song and I think it’s a favorite.

For all intents and purposes, Summer Song is exactly what it says on the tin. YUI, some guitars, and simple summer-themed lyrics are basically the point of this song, and although it works, it’s leaning more towards bland than fun. But eh. It could definitely be worse.

I was originally afraid Cinnamon would follow in the steps of its predecessor and be kinda boring, but it actually has a really interesting melody line and a fairly catchy chorus. YUI’s vocals are goodish but nothing extraordinary. I’d say this song is an improvement from Summer Song but still not as strong as the first half of the album. But it is pretty short, so that’s good.

Driving Happy Life is really cute! Honestly, I think this song is adorable and exactly what I liked about the first couple tracks on the album. YUI’s voice is light but never loses its control, and the lyrics are really sweet too (“Happy life, isn’t it nice? / I can go anywhere I want“). This is the type of song I’d want to drive to on a summer day at the beach – or, as we say in New Jersey, down the shore – and for that reason, I enjoyed listening to it a lot.

On the pop-rock spectrum, It’s all too much is situated snugly next to again, only more towards the pop end. It’s got the same prog-rock sound, but it’s not nearly as aggressive as its preceding single. I enjoyed that aspect of it, but I also felt that YUI’s vocals could have been a little stronger. They do, at times, get a little thing. I don’t really think this is the best song on the album, but certain parts of it, like the short bridge, are very nice.

For a couple seconds, I really thought Kiss me was going to be a cover of the song by Sixpence None the Richer, whom you may or may not be familiar with. Well, it wasn’t, but it did prove itself to be a really nice song in its own right. This may be the poppiest song on the entire album, but to be honest, I felt that using a lighter track to close the album was a shrewd move. Soft and sweet, I felt great about this album after having listened to this song.

Summary: Alright, listen close, because I’m going to be totally honest with you for a minute – I wasn’t really looking forward to reviewing this album. Not because I don’t like YUI. I was more afraid that this was going to be a collection of songs that sounded the same, and that I’d need to give my full attention to each one despite being bored senseless. Whoo, I could not have been more wrong. Not only do I now love this album, I believe that its relative “sameness” – the songs with similar sounds – actually contribute to the cohesiveness and flow, which were quite good. Although the softer, more mellow shade of rock YUI’s played with on this release are a bit of a departure from her normal style, the experimentation suits her fabulously. If she decides to do more like this, I can’t wait.

Album Grade: A
Recommended Tracks:
Shake My Heart | to Mother | Please Stay With Me | again

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