Album Review: Stephanie – “Colors of my Voice”

colors of my voiceTracklist:
1. 言葉なんかいらないほどに (Kotoba Nanka Iranai Hodo ni; So Much that I Don’t Need Words)
2. Changin’ feat. Roma
3. FUTURE
4. 禁断のKnockout (Kindan no Knockout; Forbidden Knockout)
5. Together
6. Forever
7. Pride ~A Part of Me~ feat. SRM
8. KISSES
9. キズナ (Kizuna; Bond)
10. A Song For You
11. 大好きなみんなへ。feat fans
(Daisuki na Minna e. feat fans; To Everyone I Love feat. fans)

Stephanie’s second album was released on June 17, 2009. The album peaked at #102 on Oricon.

Stephanie brings the album to a nice start with 言葉なんかいらないほどに, an uplifting love song. The music can be described as a passionate R&B ballad, with no shortage on strings or piano. Stephanie’s voice, as is to be expected, is showstoppingly brilliant. She starts out gently on the first verse, but build up in passion and intensity after the halfway mark. This song definitely sets high expectations for what the rest of the album has in store.

Changin’ feat. Roma is a ballad in a more traditional sense. I don’t feel like I need to comment on Stephanie’s performance, and Roma does a pretty good job, although his voice doesn’t compliment Stephanie’s very well. They sound great in unison during the chorus, although you can hear Stephanie a bit more. When combined with the grandiose arrangement, complete with cascading strings, it makes a very beautiful ballad to say the least.

FUTURE brings us to the first real pop song on this album. It’s very upbeat and Stephanie sounds passionate and earnest in her performance. The instrumental is fast and dramatic, if a bit unoriginal. By this, I mean that it sounds like the same song every J-Pop artist has made at some point during their career. This part I’m not too happy about, but I can’t bring myself to complain about Stephanie herself.

Those who are fans of music in the style of Avril Lavigne will love 禁断のKnockout, a mid-tempo rock number. It’s a song that’s got both sweetness and sass, not to mention acoustic and electric guitar. The power in Stephanie’s delivery during the chorus is pretty much standard for her at this point, but the distortion of her voice in the phrase AFTER the chorus is a great touch. The fact that it brings the track to a close just makes it that much better.

At first I thought Together was just going to be another ballad. On the contrary, Stephanie actually does a little bit of experimenting with jazz on this one. All I’ve got to say is that it’s very impressive how easily she can slip in and out of different genres. I really dig the jazzy keyboards and how smooth they sound against the guitars and background vocals. Sometimes, a simple and relaxing love song is all you really need.

am5a1vForever takes things up a notch, a fiery dance track and also the obligatory all-in-English song. It’s got a lot in the way of club beats and a shining, sexy set of lyrics to go with them. The electronic vocal distortion works brilliantly with the disco-tinged arrangement. Long story short, catchy song is CATCHY.

Feeling in the mood for another ballad? Say no more. Pride ~A Part of Me~ feat. SRM has got you covered. In terms of arrangement, it’s eerily similar to the last ballad we heard, which incidentally also had a featured artists. Although SRM sounds great and often tends to sound like Stephanie herself, the song never lets us forget who the real star of this show is. Another masterful performance from Stephanie.

KISSES is a different song. It alternates between soft rock and electronic pop, giving the listener the best of both worlds. This makes me, a fan of both genres, happy. Stephanie’s voice is great, blah blah blah, is it just me or are the gospel chorus-style background vocals starting to sound a little overused? On this album, at least. Other than, that I have very little to complain about. The music is so relaxing, especially toward the last minute, that I forget anything I had to gripe about. Well, until the gospel choir comes back. orz

I have a soft spot for キズナ because it makes wonderful use of the orgel. In addition, it’s one of those R&B-styled-not-quite-ballads that I just can’t resist. The chorus is mesmerizing in its beauty, especially when Stephanie almost goes up into the whistle zone but keeps it toned down. Very nice. There are a couple times in the bridge when there’s a male singer in the background, singing in unison, which is a bit distracting. The song on the whole, however, compliments the previous track nicely and I like it very much.

A Song For You is a ballad. Whoohoo. Okay, that’s unfair of me. It is a very lovely song as far as ballads go, which may not be that far after you’ve heard four of them already. I guess I wouldn’t be so sore when it came to this song if it didn’t follow the formula of all the other ballads on this CD so closely. You could listen to any one of them and know what A Song For You sounds like. I must say, though, the English sections, which are most of the song, are beautiful.

What to say about 大好きなみんなへ。feat fans? Well, let’s start with the obvious – it’s a big fat THANK YOU from Stephanie to all her fans. It’s great that she would address all her supporters in such a direct fashion, going so far as to include them in one of her songs, and I’m sure they must have appreciated it. Rather than going the typical, weepy, emotional route, Stephanie chose to make this track as upbeat as possible. The only thing I don’t get is the feeling that any fans were actually involved with making this song. Seriously, where are they? Someone point them out to me, please. Anyway, minus that point, it’s a nice track and ends the album on a high note.

Summary: After a spectacular and highly promising debut album, Stephanie pulled a Yuna Ito and included just one too many ballads on her sophomore effort. This isn’t to say that the aforementioned ballads aren’t good – they are – it’s just that they are good in a way that is too similar-sounding to one another. The more energetic numbers, on the other hand, are outstanding pieces that showcase Stephanie’s undeniable talent in a way that’s sure to get your attention. I wasn’t blown away like I was by her first album, but I felt reassured that I had found a very special artist.
One final note: Stephanie. What is going on with these covers? What in God’s name are you wearing? And why are you holding a pineapple? Please, for all of our sakes, fire whoever is designing these covers immediately.
With love, Daniella.

Album Grade: A

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Album Review: Stephanie – “Stephanie”

stephanie Tracklist:
 1. 君がいる限り (Kimi ga Iru Kagiri; As Long as You’re Here)
 2. フレンズ (Friends)
 3. Life 
 4. ANGEL GIRL
 5. Fallin’
 6. Shiny Days!
 7. Smile and Turn Away
 8. Beyond Myself
 9. Truth
 10. To.Be.Me.
 11. Winter Gold
 12. because of you

Stephanie’s debut self-titled album was released on March 5, 2008. It peaked at #16 on Oricon and has sold 12,516 copies in total.

Whoa. Okay. So, 君がいる限り starts off by Stephanie hitting one of those super-high notes – you know, the kind that can normally only be heard by dogs? Clearly, she is wasting no time in making her talent known to everyone. Move aside, Mariah. All jokes aside, 君がいる限り is one of the best ballads I’ve heard by a J-Pop artists. I found myself swept up in the grandiose chorus, at the end of which she hits another one of those dog-whistle notes. And to top it all off, at the end of the song there’s a gospel chorus! Cliché and kind of schlocky, yes, but somehow it just works.

フレンズ is a rock song. Sweet. It also is the second ending to the anime series Mobile Suit Gundam 00, which is where I first heard it. It’s got a very upbeat, uplifting arrangement, and the lyrics even include the lyrics We’re friends forever at one point. I’m very fond of Stephanie’s voice in this one, as it compliments the rock genre while never straying far from pop. Her range is also brilliant – the ending verse was awesome. In layman’s terms, this is a great song.

In Life, we get essentially the same rock-type arrangement as the previous track, only faster and more ubpeat. So far, we’ve heard Stephanie sing a ballad and some rock, and she does both really well, so I’m not complaining yet. The piano in the introduction and instrumental break is pretty neat, giving a bit more of a pop feel to the heavy guitars and drums. Miraculously, the end result can be described in one word – “cute”. Go figure.

Oh wait, I was wrong. ANGEL GIRL is definitely the cutest song so far. This is the first track on which we hear Stephanie give full-on pop a try, and while the song itself is nothing to rave about, her voice compensates for whatever mediocrity may be offered by the instrumental or lyrics. It’s got endearing, sassy, and of course, it’s got the whistle range. Also, it’s worth mentioning that there’s a TON of English in this song, which is fine because Stephanie speaks it fluently and without an accent. 

And we’re back to rock again with Fallin’, which contains no Japanese at all. Contrary to what the title depicts, this song is about moving on from a relationship that’s going nowhere. This song, to me, indicates that Stephanie could be very successful in the American market if she so desired a crossover. It’s got that Kelly Clarkson-esque rock chick feel, which to my knowledge still works. As always, her voice sounds great.

Shiny Days! is pure sugary pop, no doubt about it. It’s a cute song, and sure, it’s fun, but if you’ve heard it once you’ve heard them all. I’ll give you a hint as to the song’s atmosphere by saying it bears a huge resemblance to Yuna Ito’s “Brand New World”, only less electronic and more retro-sounding. Probably the most boring track so far.

I really dig Smile and Turn Away because it’s primarily acoustic, something we haven’t heard yet on this album. The arrangement is very relaxing and almost reminiscent of American country music (in a good way, I promise). There’s a certain wistfulness in Stephanie’s voice that breathes a kind of life into this song; it’s very beautiful and different from what we’ve heard so far.

Beyond Myself is probably my favorite song on this album. It’s a mid-tempo pop number with a smooth R&B beat. Stephanie’s voice sounds great against this kind of backdrop, and I especially enjoyed the disembodied voices who sang English phrases like, I keep on going, keep on going, going on my long long journey. This is by far the most unique song I’ve heard so far and I was impressed immensely by it.

Ooh, a somber ballad? Get outta town! Truth can be seen as a huge bucket of angst, or a gorgeous attempt at the melancholy, both views are technically correct. Personally, I prefer the latter description, as the gentle and ethereal piano provide a mesmerizing backdrop for the beauty of Stephanie’s voice. Sometimes on the verge of being creepy, this song gave me the chills. That’s saying something.

To.Be.Me. reminds us once more that this is a pop-rock album. It’s a bit too similar to Life for me to give a serious opinion, but I will tell you that it sounds a bit like a rehash of every rock song we’ve already heard on his album. I’m not much a fan of this one.

Okay Stephanie, WTF. Are you just rehashing every song you’ve already done? Winter Gold sounds exactly like Shiny Days! and quite frankly, even though I liked that song, I’m not sure if I want to hear it twice in the span of one album. Major downgrade.

The final song, because of you, brings us full circle to the beginning of the album, as it is another uplifting piano ballad. However, rather than sounding like exactly the same song we once heard, it is a beautiful track in its own right. From what I understand, it is a sort of tribute to her parents, which I think is very sweet. I can’t really complain about this one because, simply put, it’s gorgeous.

Summary: I find it interesting how this album started off really strong, and then sort of tapered off toward the end. On the whole, however, I can’t bring myself to criticize Stephanie’s debut effort any more than I already have. It covers virtually every genre and she manages to pull them all off nicely and without any noticeable effort. In the end, I can’t recommend Stephanie enough, and I do believe that it is a true travesty that she’s not more popular.
I really must include something on the album cover, though. I simply can’t stand what she’s wearing – what is she wearing? Some kind of baggy leotard jumper-type thing. And what’s with the confetti? She looks like a party clown gone wrong. Ugh. Not good at all.

Album Grade: A-