Album Review: BENI – “Lovebox”

Tracklist:
1. Lovebox Intro
2. ユラユラ (Yura Yura; Wavering)
3. サイン (Sign)
4. 瞳とじて (Hitomi Tojite; Close Your Eyes)
5. ギミギミ♥ (Gimme Gimme ♥)
6. Girl’s Night feat. JAMOSA
7. a million jewels
8. 君じゃなきゃ (Kimi ja Nakya; If It’s Not You)
9. bye bye
10. MOVE
11. break the rules
12. he is mine
13.マイフレンド (My Friend)
14.
Message
15. ずっと二人で unplugged version (Zutto Futari de; Together Always)

This is BENI’s second album under the Universal Japan label, which was released on June 2, 2010. The album reached #1 on the Oricon Weekly Chart (wow!) and has sold around 45,000 copies.

She’s seriously too pretty. I really like these covers by the way. They’re so soft and inviting.

~

The intro for BENI’s last album, BITTER & SWEET, was an unusual opener, and Lovebox Intro is similarly weird. It starts with what sounds like a carnival happening in the background, and then some twinkling keyboards with BENI singing. Things get considerably better from here, with some nice vocals and cute lyrics (“So open up your heart, it’s called the Lovebox“). I’m not entirely sure what BENI was trying to do with this intro, but it ended up pretty cute, so I can’t say I didn’t like it.

Back when I reviewed the single on which ユラユラ was featured, I distinctly remember finding this the weaker of the two A-sides. However, by no means does that mean that this is a bad song. The quick tempo and bright synths make it a good first full track for this album, so we’re not bogged down with a ballad right off the bat. I’m not ready to say that this is a standout track or anything, but it’s honestly rather good and appropriate for an opening song.

サイン is one of my favorite BENI songs, and there are a couple reasons for that. For one, it’s got a great instrumental, with a simple piano line, poignant-but-not-overwrought strings, and a pleasant beat. It’s pretty without trying too hard. Then there are the vocals; this is one of BENI’s few songs in which I feel her voice is spot-on the entire time. I sometimes feel she gets too breathy, but she seems to have kept that to a minimum here, and when she is breathy, it almost kind of fits. And third, BENI proves her ability as a songwriter with simple but elegant poetry (“I will not lose to anyone/ Even though I love you more than anyone else/ Don’t look away, notice me/ I’m sending you a sign right now“). It’s a classy and beautiful song, and my fondness for it is really strong.

The fourth track, 瞳とじて, is a simple, feminine R&B love song. It’s also pretty obvious filler. The biggest perks about it would probably be the pleasant melody and catchy chorus, so it’s not horrible or anything. It simply is not very remarkable. I actually found myself getting a little bored listening to it. So if you’re not a fan of this one, you’re not the only one.

I still love ギミギミ♥ every bit as much as I did when I first heard it. Every time I hear that beginning flourish of synth and BENI singing, “Gimme gimme your love, softly,” it’s an instant mood-lifter. Aside from the cute lyrics, definitely the best thing about this song is the total ear worm chorus. Seriously, give it a listen and I bet you’ll have it stuck in your head, big time. This is a really nicely done track, and I can see it standing out in the album’s track listing already.

Sometimes you just need a night out to forget about all the stuff that’s been getting you down. If that’s your situation, Girls’ Night feat. JAMOSA should suit your mood perfectly. I ended up enjoying this song a bit more than I thought I would, since I normally find this kind of song a bit cheesy (with a few exceptions). The music is upbeat and exciting, and the chorus with its call-and-response effect is catchy in a way you don’t really see coming. BENI sounds perfectly relaxed and comfortable with her part, and JAMOSA holds her own in her solo section. Fun song!

Next we have a million jewels, another R&B affair, and a nice one at that. Although I can’t say there’s anything oh-my-god-absolutely-spectacular about this song, BENI’s performance is quite beautiful, and the beat has plenty of swagger to go with the appropriately twinkling synths. It makes for a nice setup for the next track.

君じゃなきゃ is the second ballad on this album and it is a killer. BENI’s voice is so filled with longing throughout, it captivates you. The wintry feel of the song is really made clear through the small chimes in the chorus. I’m normally really picky about strings in ballad-type songs, since I feel like it’s easy for them to become too much, but the balance between the strings and everything else was virtually perfect. Overall, I just feel that this is a really beautiful song and I definitely recommend it.

Ah, bye bye. It’s so catchy and easy to sit back and enjoy. I’ll always think of this song as a song I can listen to when I’m in a relaxed mood, with its breezy synths and impassioned vocals. In reality, the lyrics are about lovers parting ways, so it’s not as cheerful as it may sound. However it’s no less of a pleasant song  for it.

MOVE is one of the more aggressive songs on the album and definitely one of my favorites as well. It begins with that “pew-pew-pew” sound that’s been used a lot lately, and kicks in with some synths and pretty decent bass. BENI’s vocals are appropriately taken up a notch and fit well with the song’s dance style, but do seem a bit tame at times. In terms of dance tunes, MOVE may not be your best bet if you’re looking for something heavy, but to a certain degree it is dancefloor-appropriate. Those looking for a light upbeat groove will find it here.

If MOVE left you feeling dissatisfied, look no further, for break the rules is here to fix that. By far more aggressive and sexy than the previous track, break the rules makes excellent use of BENI’s naturally husky tone against dark bass. The whole song is really catchy, but the harmonies in the bridge deserve special mention. Definitely a strong track.

Gotta be honest, I’m not a huge fan of he is mine. It’s very standard R&B fare, and it does not go beyond that. BENI sounds lovely, but not even that can save this song from its sleepy sound. And what’s that weird noise that plays every five seconds? This is just a sub-par song, and I always skip it.

マイ・フレンド is a big step up, a sweet song about friendship. Since the theme of Lovebox is the various types of love that exist, it makes sense that there would be a song dedicated to platonic love between friends. It’s a bit on the long side, just short of five minutes, but the general pleasantness of the melody more or less make up for that.

The problem I have with Message is the same one I had with he is mine: it’s just boring. This really is no fault of BENI’s but she doesn’t exactly help either. So even though I didn’t enjoy this song much at all, I had to at least be grateful for the fact that it was much shorter than it could have been.

I’m just going to put this out there: ずっと二人で unplugged version is the single most beautiful song on this album, bar none. What it does is transform an already pretty song into a sweeping live track with bells and whistles stripped away, leaving nothing but strings, piano and BENI’s lovely voice. Granted she gets a little pitchy at times, but hey, she’s only human. I was quite pleased and impressed with the decision to make this song the album closer, since it did the job very well and left me with relatively good feelings about the album as a whole.

Summary: Well, first off, let it never be said that BENI hasn’t improved – she has, and nowhere is that more evident than on songs like 君じゃなきゃ and ずっと二人で unplugged version, two very lovely but simple ballads that show off her strengths as a songwriter and a vocalist. That said, however, this is not the kind of leaps-and-bounds improvement that hurls a singer like BENI into a whole new artistic plane. It’s more subtle, and requires a patient listener to sit through the dud tracks (瞳とじて, a million jewels, to name a couple) in order to get to the gems (サイン, bye bye). In short, this is a very accessible release, accommodating old listeners and welcoming new ones, but it is nowhere near perfect.

Album Grade: B+
Recommended Tracks:
ギミギミ | 君じゃなきゃ | サイン | break the rules

Single Review: BENI – “ユラユラ/ギミギミ♥”

Tracklist:
1. ユラユラ (Yura Yura; Wavering)
1. ギミギミ ♥ (Gimme Gimme ♥)
3. bye bye DJ HASEBE REMIX
4. ユラユラ (Instrumental)
5. ギミギミ♥ (Instrumental)

This is BENI’s eighth single under the Universal Japan label, which was released on May 5, 2010. It peaked at #20 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 5,200 copies. The song ギミギミ♥ was used as the commercial song for Kao Biore Body Deli (lol wtf?).

Extremely pretty covers. I really like her hair!

~

I’m going to start off by saying that I think ユラユラ is a nice song. It’s kind of, like, a girly, upbeat song about breaking up, and it’s got a nice melody and beat. However, as I was listening to it, I couldn’t help but feel like it was a bit…generic? Maybe that’s harsh, but I was strongly reminded of BENI’s previous single bye bye and therefore this newer song didn’t feel as fresh as it was intended to. That’s just my opinion. /shrug

I immediately fell in love with ギミギミ♥. I think it’s probably because school is basically over for me, but I really like the breezy, summery feel of this song. There’s nothing quite like a clapping beat and twinkling synths to get you in the summer mood. I also felt that this song was more musically interesting, since the slow bridge provides a nice contrast to the rest of the song. So basically, of the two new A-sides on this single, I would choose this one, hands down.

BENI has been featuring remixes of her songs by DJ HASEBE for her past couple singles, to varying effects. bye bye DJ HASEBE REMIX turns the original song, bye bye, into a laid-back beach tune. I think this is a nice remix because it’s simple and it doesn’t try to make any drastic changes to the song. The single on the whole, I think, could have done without this remix, but it made a nice addition to this collection of songs.

Summary: It’s been over a month and a half and the album’s out already, but I’m still reviewing this single. xD Overall I think this single was pretty fair. The opening song, ユラユラ, was a little blah for me, but I really liked the simple breeziness of ギミギミ♥. BENI tends to deliver very good singles, and this is no exception. Great single for summer!

Single Grade: B+
Recommended Tracks:
ギミギミ♥

Single Review: BENI – “bye bye”

Tracklist:
1. bye bye
2. Stylish
3. サイン DJ HASEBE REMIX
4. bye bye (Instrumental)

This is BENI’s seventh single, and was released on March 10, 2010. The main song is the ending theme for the program Hey! Hey! Hey! Music Champ. The single peaked at #57 on the Oricon weekly chart and has sold 1,171 copies so far.

This cover is not evocative enough. It doesn’t catch my eye. Sorry, BENI.

~

bye bye is BENI’s first upbeat song in a while, and it doesn’t disappoint. The easy beat and light synths, providing a lovely backdrop for BENI’s husky voice, make this a very appropriate song for the spring season. It’s still a bit cold outside, but BENI manages to make it feel like spring again with the jazzy, laid-back feeling of this song. Very, catchy too.

I was a bit turned off by Stylish initially, because one of the first things you hear is BENI exclaiming “Gimme a beat!” I thought that was a little random. Things got a lot better throughout the verse and chorus, and it didn’t take long for it to grow on me. The whole song exudes a young, fresh air, with a bouncy melody and cute English phrases like Let me tell you, I’m crazy in love with you. If you liked bye bye, then you’ll DEFINITELY like this song.

サイン DJ HASEBE REMIX takes the original song from BENI’s previous single and gives it a breezier, more upbeat feel. Nothing is too drastically changed about it, so if you liked the song in its original state you’ll probably like this one. However, for the same reason, it may not appeal to you because it’s pretty similar. I personally enjoyed it, but you may have to listen to it yourself to decide your own opinion.

Summary: Here, BENI has given us three songs that are pitch-perfect for getting into the spring mood. Each has a different charm but none strays very far from the R&B/pop arena. Fans had been griping for a while about how BENI seemed to refuse to release an upbeat song, but this single remedies that issue and then some. To be honest, I’d be surprised if BENI fans didn’t enjoy this single because it has everything they’ve been asking for. I dare say this single has turned me into a bona fide BENI fan!

Single Grade: A
Recommended Tracks:
bye bye
| Stylish

Single Review: BENI – “サイン”

Tracklist:
1. サイン (Sign)
2. Gon’ luv u
3. KIRA✩KIRA✩ (DJ HASEBE REMIX)
4. サイン (Instrumental)

This is BENI’s sixth single under the Universal Japan label. It peaked at #50 on the Oricon Weekly Chart and sold 1,596 copies.

This cover is class-ay. I love her hair and outfit. It almost seems like a high-fashion magazine shoot.

~

Oh, wow. サイン is such a pretty song. Like most of BENI’s A-sides since switching to Universal J, it’s an easy R&B song that makes plentiful use of BENI’s lovely voice. I like the fact that this song has a more polished feel than BENI’s previous singles. It’s very mature and womanly. Furthermore, I wasn’t noticing as much of the weird diction/pronunciation that I did with 恋焦がれて and ずっと二人で, which was awesome. BENI’s voice sounds so much better when she’s crisp and clear.

Remember the song Brand New World by Yuna Ito, from her DREAM-era? Well, take that song, make it several times better, and bam. You have Gon’ luv u. Catchy beats, bright synths and a very charming vocal performance by BENI make this a really strong B-side.

I made it no secret that I didn’t like KIRA✩KIRA✩. At all. This hasn’t really changed, but I will admit that the DJ HASEBE remix version is an improvement over the original. I still don’t care for it very much, but it’s not as bad.

Summary: All in all this was a very nice single.. The remix? Eh. I could have done without, but it wasn’t bad. I’m going to have to disagree with what other bloggers have said about being tired of BENI released midtempo songs – with サイン, I didn’t mind at all. After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

Single Grade: A-

Album Review: BENI – “Bitter & Sweet”

bitter & sweet 1 Tracklist:
1. Bitter & Sweet Intro
2. Kiss Kiss Kiss
3. ずっと二人で (Zutto Futari de; Always Together)
4.
恋焦がれて
(Koi Kogarete; Longing for Love)
5.  抱きしめて feat. Dohzi-T (Dakishimete; Hold Me)
6. Anything Goes!!
7. stardust
8. KIRA☆KIRA☆
9. GO ON
10. 信じさせて (Shinjisasete; Make Me Believe)
10. nice & slow
11. STAY
12. Beautiful World
13. もう二度と...(Mou Nido to…; Never Again…)
14. Kiss Kiss Kiss (DJ HASEBE REMIX)

BENI’s debut album under Universal Japan was released on September 2, 2008. The album peaked at the #5 position on the Oricon Weekly Chart and sold 29,581 copies.

As far as introductions go, Bitter & Sweet Intro is kind of hard to nail down. We’ve got BENI singing how it’s her “time to shine“, some obvious R&B flavorings, and even the sound of a thunderstorm in the background. I’m not exactly sure what to make of this intro, but it sounds nice, so I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt.

Kiss Kiss Kiss is one of the most American-sounding non-American pop songs I’ve ever heard. BENI’s vocals are so smooth, and the thumping beats and finger-snaps sound like they were ripped straight out of some top ten hit on Billboard. Even though I was practically waiting for Kanye West to pop up at any time during this song, BENI sounds truly great and the simple, yet repetitive hook does half of the work for her. Definitely a standout track.

Up next we have BENI’s most recent single, ずっと二人. Although it still sounds like a winter song to me, this track has really grown on me. Regardless of the season, this is just a really pretty song, and the control BENI has over her voice, especially the vibrato, is quite admirable. She tends to get kinda smudged on the pronunciation at times, but it’s nothing too serious. At the very least, this is a very enjoyable song.

恋焦がれて is another lovely R&B song with a very laid-back atmosphere to it. Once again, BENI’s voice is pitch-perfect, tailor made for this genre and this song shows it. I guess the only complaints I have are a) again, BENI, you’ve got to watch that pronunciation. You can give a strong vocal and pronounce everything correctly at the same time, and b) the music itself is a little on the generic side. I enjoyed it, but I will admit that it does get a bit stale after the second listen or so.

Taking things down a notch, we have 抱きしめて. The arrangement is notably different from that of the first few songs, leaning more toward the jazzy side of the spectrum than to straight-up R&B. BENI’s voice, with the whole sleepy feeling of the song, sounds a bit pillow-talkish and very sultry. Reinforcing this sentiment is the rather buttery sounding rap section courtesy of Dohzi-T, which fits in snugly with the hazy, flowy sound.

Anything Goes!! tries to bring us right back into the swing of things with some upbeat synths and vocals. Unfortunately for BENI, this rather obvious filler track does little to quell the listener’s desire for something, anything that can be considered special. Listening to this song, I honestly felt kind of bored. Here, it’s totally acceptable if the listener acts on the urge to press skip.

One of the B-sides from BENI’s latest single, here we have stardust. I still pretty much feel the same way about it as I did when I first reviewed it, but I must say that it sounds light-years more catchy and interesting next to the lackluster previous track. Whoever was in charge of this placement decision deserves a pat on the back.

KIRA☆KIRA☆ brings us yet another knockout dose of boring. I mean, I’m sure BENI thought she was being cute when she decided to write about some guy making her world go all sparkly “kira-kira”, but really? That’s just silly. It’s a shame, since the hook would actually be really good if the lyrics weren’t so darn stupid. If you’re going to listen to this song at all, let it be for the soothing music and not for the words.

bitter & sweet 2What a relief it was to hear GO ON and actually like it. I enjoyed the fact that it has a nice pop song, which BENI did very well (not that that was a surprise). The lyrics, written by BENI herself, were, I believe, dealing with the topic of moving on from a defunct relationship. This too was a pleasant change. Overall, I approve of this track and recommend it.

信じさせて brings us back to the R&B. It sounds a bit filler-y, and there’s just something missing between the vocals and the music that would make the whole picture stand out in my mind. BENI sounds pretty, and the somewhat spastic synths during the verse were entertaining, but I found myself forgetting this song a few minutes after I listened to it.

This is more like it. nice & slow could not have been given a better title – the beat is calm and relaxed, and the rippling effect of the synths make you feel like you’re sitting in a dimly lit club. Lucky for the listener, BENI doesn’t overplay the vocal here, sticking to the theme of relaxation and chilled-outness. The English lyrics, like Move your body close to me, are a nice touch and don’t feel out of place. This one was very nicely done.

Next, we have STAY.
I am yawning here, BENI. Yawning. The only truly entertaining thing about this song were the incredibly American-sounding interjections of ” ‘Eyyy!” during the chorus. That is it. I promise.

My chances of enjoying the rest of this album were looking pretty shot, but to my utter surprise and relief, Beautiful World ended up actually sounding kind of…worldly.  I don’t know if it’s the unnamed, uncredited male singer in the background or the slightly ethereal sounding music, but there’s something interesting and relevant about this track. Not to mention the fact that BENI sounds very strong during the chorus, like she’s actually giving a little bit extra. A round of applause for this one.

もう二度と… brings us back to the beginning of the Bitter & Sweet era, BENI’s first single under Universal J and her new name. Despite largely sounding like most of the songs from this album, this track in particular sounds a lot less like BENI is trying too hard, which I can appreciate. Her voice also sounds absolutely fantastic and she manages to inject the perfect amount of sentimentality into her performance. Very, very nice.

Kiss Kiss Kiss (DJ HASEBE REMIX) is a somewhat lame way to close the album, as it sounds pretty similar to the original but for a handful of changes. The listener needn’t feel obliged to listen to this one, although it is certainly decent. Just not great.

Summary: Suffice it to say that BENI’s singles off of this album were some of the nicest, prettiest, most enjoyable I’ve heard in recent months. There wasn’t a single one that I didn’t enjoy listening to on some level. That’s why I was more than eager to give this album a listen, but a bit disappointed when it started to fall ill to the dreaded same-ness syndrome. Like most albums, this one has its highs and its lows, some brief glimpses at excellence and minor dips into mediocrity, but all in all it was a very coherent and pleasant listening experience. Hopefully in future efforts, BENI will find it in her to branch out and explore some genres that lie outside of her comfort zone, but for now this is more than sufficient.

Album Grade: B+

Single Review: BENI – “ずっと二人で”

zutto futari de Tracklist:
1. ずっと二人で (Zutto Futari de; Always Together)
2. stardust
3. With U
4. The Boy Is Mine feat. Tynisha Keli

BENI’s fourth single under Universal Japan was released on August 12, 2009. The single reached the 67th position on the Oricon Weekly Chart and has sold 1,251 copies.

First of all, I’ll start off by saying that ずっと二人で is, indeed, a very pretty song. The arrangement is soft and lovely and compliments BENI’s deep, husky voice quite nicely. However, there’s something about the music that’s very wintry, which makes it sound a little out of place considering it was released during the summer. BENI’s actual vocals are kind of average, although she tends to do this breathy thing during the chorus that can be distracting from time to time. I definitely enjoyed the laid-back elegance of this song, and I definitely recommend it.

stardust takes it up a notch from where ずっと二人で left off, with a faster beat and some delicious synth. I was very impressed at how well BENI’s voice suits the dance genre, as she never slows down or loses energy even in the high-paced (and brilliantly catchy) chorus. I found myself swaying in my seat because of the cool, slick production. Needless to say, I enjoy this song.

The next B-side, With U, has a more acoustic feel to it, and wow. BENI’s voice is really damn good on this particular song, and I love it. The lyrics are pretty standard J-Pop fare, but the English sections had a certain charm to them, due in no small part to BENI’s fluency. Oh, and that electric guitar at the end? Awesome. It disappoints me that this song won’t be on BENI’s upcoming album, because it’s really good.

Up next is The Boy Is Mine feat. Tynisha Keli, a cover of the R&B classic by Brandy and Monica. Considering that this is a cover, I was impressed at how faithful to the original this version was while still bringing it into the 21st century. BENI’s voice sounds great, and although Tynisha’s is a bit too high-pitched and childlike to truly mesh with BENI’s, its uniqueness made their rendition endearing and memorable. Their take on the dialogue in the beginning is also so cool and interesting to listen to. Whether you’re familiar with the original or not, I think this song has a lot to offer to everyone.

Summary: I’m really pleased to say that BENI is a real find. She’s just got a terrific charm to her, and her talent is pretty much undeniable. ずっと二人で, even with its seasonal impropriety, is a lovely song, and its subsequent B-sides do a good job of keeping the energy up throughout the single. I’m very excited to review BENI’s new album, as I’m quite sure that it won’t disappoint.

Single Grade: A