Shouta Aoi has finally released “S” his first Best Of album. Counting with his top hits since his major debut, Shouta dazzles his listeners with dance beats, power vocals and energetic performances.
Album: S Label: Broccoli Release date: 18/05/16 Genre: J-Pop
1. S 2. ブルーバード 3. Virginal 4. True Hearts 5. 秘密のクチヅケ 6. UNLIMITED 7. Murasaki 8. Brilliant Moon～月つき白炎かげろう～ 9. 絶世スターゲイト 10. 汝の言霊 11. START! 12. 汝の言霊 Ballad Ver.
Track by track analysis:
Powerful guitar riffs lead the way in this rocking intro. Mid tempo snary drums, a prominent bassline and aggressive guitar riffs lead the way in what is an unexpected opening track for this Best Of. Shouta is not known for rock tracks, instead he’s known for his danceable pop, but just as we’ve said when we reviewed “HIMITSU NO KUCHIDZUKE“, Aoi has a charisma and talent that fit with the rock genre. Instrumental wise this track sounds like a toned down GRANRODEO style take on a rock track and we couldn’t help but to be impressed by how good it sounds or how impressive is Shouta‘s vocal performance and fit within the genre. Vocally Shouta is all over using either his vibrato or falsetto, enriching the overall performance. 4.5/5
Back in 2014, Shouta released his first mini-album. Titled “Blue Bird“, that mini-album paved the way for the following dance floor oriented singles that we’ve received. This track relies on a mix between rock and dance elements, with addictive synths leading the way, ELEMENTS GARDEN added a little edge to it and that’s where the poweful guitar riffs complete the rich instrumental. In the end the track has hits and bits of electronica, dubstep, pop and rock, and while reading this will give off a wrong impression, the result is actually good. The track has the edge that only rock can add, it has the energy lent by the synths and synthetic drums and dubstep elements and has a soulful touch from Shouta‘s vocals and delicate piano parts. A bundle of energy. Few have a major debut song as powerful as this one. 4.5/5
[Previously reviewed] “Virginal” shows Shouta’s voice at it’s best. Starting off slowly and sweetly the song progresses to a dancefloor anthem as soon as we reach the chorus. Vocal wise the work is of the best quality, if there’s one thing out of many that Shouta is good at is at singing, the highs, the lows, he catches everything making the vocal track shine. Regarding the instrumental we get the typical up-tempo pop song with some mix between dubstep and the synths / piano leading the main pop track. An interesting mixture. 4/5
4. True Hearts
[Previously reviewed] A fantastic way to kick off this track with Shouta‘s angelic highs that doesn’t disappoint at all. That intro goes towards a mellower vibe, a slow beginning leading to a burst of energy provided by the synths and drums. TRUE HEARTS is a track made for the dancefloor with its addictive bassline and synths. The instrumental piece is clearly electronic pop oriented with little to no guitar work on it until we reach the outro where the guitar has its time to shine but only again we put every single instrument away and set the stage for Shouta‘s mesmerizing vocals leading up to yet another chorus. Solid pop track winking at the listener to set his foot on the dancefloor. 4/5
[Previously reviewed] Kicking off with a lovely piano, Himitsu no Kuchizduke is a track that’ll immediately grab your attention with it’s impressive instrumental consisting of the main engine – the piano – plus a highly noticeable bass, electric guitars, unstoppable drums – a mix of instruments that will make you want to dance from the very first second. But attention! It’s not a dance track. It’s just a highly addictive track that shows a different side toShouta‘s music, a more pop-rock edge that was missing in the previous releases. The vocal performance is of top tier class. The range that Shouta has developed and improved in these past few years still impresses after all these years. 4.5/5
[Previously reviewed] UNLIMITED is a dance-pop track reminding us of the good old T.M.Revolution‘s sound. The electronica elements provided by the synths and synthetic drums alongside with the guitars make this instrumental only – worth checking out. Regarding the vocals, Shouta keeps his signature highs in check with hits and bits of flawless vibrato dropped in the track. A flawless vocal performance in one of the strongest title tracks Shouta has released so far. Addictive from start to finish. 5/5
[Previously reviewed] Mixing traditional japanese elements with danceable pop, MURASAKI is a one-of-a-kind track in Shouta‘s repertoire. With the shamisen as the main base for this track as well as the addition of synths and synthetic drums, we get a pretty interesting and unique instrumental piece. With the necessary power – provided by the pop elements such as the drums and synths – but also with a gentle, refined sound provided by the traditional elements – we know how the shamisen does wonders for pop tracks if well implemented -, MURASAKI is one fierce track from start to finish, although it might be way too peculiar for most tastes. On the vocal side we need to point out that Shouta is really give his all in tis track with a astouding performance. Ranging between a pop and enka approach to the lyrics, Shouta seems to be able to do everything perfectly (although enka usually requires a singer with a slightly rougher voice than his, he still fared well in his approach to the genre). In the bridge he delivers mesmerizing high notes with an impressive control – that left us with our jaws dropped in awe. Powerful, danceable, addictive unique and with a befitting vocal performance, MURASAKIimpresses a lot. 4.5/5
8. Brilliant Moon～月つき白炎かげろう～
Rock meets traditional japanese music. “Brilliant Moon～月つき白炎かげろう～” gives off a GACKT vibe right from the start with its quiet, delicate intro soon breaking into a rock track with the shakuhachi flute and strings pretting the track up. This delicate power ballad has everything to be the best new track featured on this Best of. Melodic guitars, emotional strings, slow paced drums, the piano’s gentleness, the timeless beauty from the shakuhachi and the romantic acoutic guitar performance in the bridge. Vocals aside, this instrumental has a beauty and perfection hard to explain, it’s as if everything fits perfectly right from the start. There are no flaws, you just can’t criticize a song of this caliber. Putting our focus on the vocals we only have praise for Shouta‘s performance. With a song that requires a high vocal register to draw out all emotion, he not only manages to effortlessly hit those notes, but even make them shine even more resorting to his trademark falsetto. This song right here is a gem, a flawless gem that needs to be treasured. 5/5
[Previously reviewed] “Zessei Star Gate” is an interesting piece. Kicking off with soothing synths and a delicate piano melody, Shouta‘s high notes add to the sweetness of this intro. But if after these 15 seconds you think the song is keeping that ballad vibe you’ll most likely be surprised. The track gets grandiose as strings, and upbeat synthetic drums make this song ascend to electro pop land. This is a fun track to listen to – the synths aren’t overbearing or tacky, on another note it’s also great to have some guitars enriching the overall instrumental piece. Vocally Shouta is with his register incredibly high so if you’re a big fan of his angelic high notes, you’ll love this. Still it’s a track that screams “I’m featured as a opening theme” just from its instrumental. 4/5
Pretty pop rock leads the way on this track. It’s not a cheesy song, if that’s what you’re already thinking about. This bright instrumental featured a piano at its core, adding the necessary delicate touches into the track. 汝の言霊 lends its brightness to the instrumental from its core, mixing up with the mid-tempo bassy drums and melodic guitar riffs in the background. Shouta‘s vocal performance is on point to give us hope and brighten up our days. 4/5
Ethereal guitar notes lead the way in a track that keeps up with the rock trend. A reverberating bass leads the way while the mid-tempo drums and guitar riffs in the background add energy into the track. “START!” is penned by Shouta and the message is self explanatory (we won’t spoil it for you). Shouta‘s vocal performance is rich and modulated, fitting like a glove into the raw rock instrumental piece. 4.5/5
12. 汝の言霊 Ballad Ver.
Putting aside all rock elements of the original, the Ballad version is completely stripped off fancy guitar riffs, strong drums or anything of the sort. It’s just Shouta, strings, acoustic guitar and a piano and the combination couldn’t be a better one. It’s delicate and emotional, giving us a different side of the track with this approach. The pace is slowed to convey the emotions in a powerful way to the listener. Comparing with the “regular version”, this track obviously takes the upper hand easily. A decent upgrade. 4.5/5
A solid best of that encompasses Shouta‘s solo career. Revisiting several of his hit tracks we get the feel of the constant improvements Shouta has been doing to his sound. Starting with “Blue Bird“, a track that mixed dance pop with rock, passing through “virginal“, a full on dance track, shifting to rock with “Himitsu no Kuchizduke” and mixing rock with japanese traditional music in “MURASAKI“, Shouta has done a little bit of everything. Each time he improved his vocal performance all the while also contributing with his lyricist skills into the mix. The instrumentals have been getting more carefully crafted with the last few singles shining more comparatively with his first ones.
Regarding the new tracks: it’s as if Shouta went all out to make sure those would be the highlights of this release. “S” takes on a rocking road showcasing heavy guitar riffs, mid-tempo drums and power vocals to go with, “Brilliant Moon～月つき白炎かげろう～” is impressive with its attempt to mix rock and traditional japanese music. The attempt had already been successful previously with “MURASAKI” but this one really solidified the greatness of this mix, where east meets west and dazzles everyone. That track really lacked any flaws be it in vocal execution, instrumental composition or even arrangement. It’s a straight “A” in our books. 汝の言霊 was a track that lacked a bit of punch in its regular version but the ballad one is really something that catches our ears. Delicate, emotional and with a poweful performance, Shouta elevated the track to a top tier, proving just how much difference it makes when opting for music genres or vocal approaches to certain songs/lyrics.
In the end this best of was more than a mere best of, it was also a way for Shouta to showcase what he’s been working on and the direction he’s headed next.
“S” is available for purchase on CDJAPAN for all overseas fans.