Tetsuya Kakihara “I for U” (Review)

Tetsuya Kakihara released his second full-length album in May. He put together an eclectic collection of songs and delivered stunning performances in what is now his masterpiece, “I for U“.

Regular

Title: I for U
Label: Kiramune 
Release date: 23/05/2018 
Genre: Rock/Punk/Ballad

Tracklist:

1.HERE FOR U 
2.Actors 
3.通り風 
4.カントリーロード 
5.始まりの日
6.Don’t Doubt! 
7.Last Lady 
8.五月雨 
9.Sing it! 
10.虹唄

Track by track analysis:

1.HERE FOR U 

HERE FOR U mixes R&B with the simplicity of pop-rock to create an uplifting song that touches the listener. Wah-Wah guitar licks, bass-driven drums, rhodes piano set an emotional tone for this song, all while atmospheric synths and a strings quartet had an additional melancholic touch to the instrumental. The chorus brings in a strings quartet, hi-hat driven drums and a delicate piano melody to create one of the catchiest choruses in Kakihara‘s career. On the vocal end, Kakihara continues to impress. Vocals are muffled in several parts (intro and bridge), giving this song a retro touch, as if the sound was playing on a vinyl. For this performance he fully embraced R&B and delivered an emotional performance filled with ad-libs, falsetto and his trademark smoothness. HERE FOR U might go unnoticed to some due to its quieter vibe, however it’s easily one of his best songs released to date and a beautiful opening track. 5/5

2.Actors 

The pace quickens up Actors. This pop-rock tune takes pride in its fast pace dictated by the guitar riffs in the intro and later led by the groovy slap bass line. But if you’re thinking that this is just another pop-rock song, you’ll be surprised to find elements from other music genres on it. Funk rock elements are present through the playful guitar licks in the chorus whereas jazz makes its entrance through the rhodes piano that playfully enhances this song’s pacing. All these elements blended to create a fast paced song with an addictive chorus and nice sounding verses, an instrumental in which bass is prominent instrument, making this song all the more funkier.

On the vocal end Kakihara did a little bit of everything. The verses has a bit of rap mixed with singing whereas the chorus is fully sang, with Kakihara bringing to the table a polished falsetto and consistency with both his high and mid tones. His performance is inspirational and energetic. If you’re looking for an energizer, this song will exceed your expectations. 5/5

3.通り風 

The pacing tones down for “Torikaze“, the first ballad the listener will encounter on this album. Delicate strings set a gentle tone to this song, then slow paced, washy drums, electric and acoustic guitars, a noticeable bass line and a melancholic piano melody neatly put the finishing touches. Longing and melancholy might be the first emotions that the listener will feel while listening to this instrumental, yet there is an underlying bright side to it that makes this song extremely comforting.

Kakihara excels in ballads and his performance in this song is proof of that. Showcasing his polished vocal arsenal, he tapped into his lower register for this song, register that ended up sweetening up this performance. When required, he went for high notes with the same ease that he tackled the falsettos, vibrato or his mid-tones. Even if the song primarily requires a low and mid-tones, Kakihara avoided delivering a one dimensional performance. This is yet another solid performance in what is a sweet ballad. 5/5

4.カントリーロード 

Gears change and “Country Road” takes on a trip that includes hyped up guitar riffs, fast paced punk-rock-ish drums, bag pipe melodies and a noticeable bass line. The song is mostly uptempo, although there are some interesting shifts in tempo throughout the song, especially within the verses. As for the chorus, it brims over with excitement and doesn’t shy away from going full throttle for the sake of satisfying the listener. A highlight in the instrumental is certainly it’s rich bass sound. As soon as the song starts playing, bass is a constant and dominant presence, it creates a deep and consistent base for all other elements within the instrumental. The odd yet unique part of this instrumental is the addition of bagpipe melodies. Usually an instrument with a sound that is not often liked due to its high pitched, metallic sound, however the insertion of those melodies was discreet and fit well with the song’s theme and vibe.

Energetic from start to finish, you could feel the excitement of a road trip through Kakihara‘s performance. Road trip anthem right here. 5/5

5.始まりの日

As we reach the middle of the album, we encounter “Hajimari no Hi“, song that takes us back to the 90’s with its skate-punk sound. Contrary to the songs above, this song has an incredibly simple instrumental, common within the music genre. Guitar, bass and drums, nothing more. Then we have fast tempos, essential to create a high-tension, exciting sound. Fast guitars, a driving bass line, surf-drums and catchy hooks made this song stand out. Regardless if you’re a fan of the genre or just now getting to know it, this song is an infectious bundle of energy to which you won’t be able to stay indifferent to.

Kakihara fit perfectly with the skate-punk sound, delivering once again an uptempo, energetic performance however, this time around it’s easily noticeable that he went for a rawer delivery, essentially what made this song feel like a proper nod to 90’s skate-punk. 5/5

6.Don’t Doubt! 

A muffled rhodes piano melody and blues-y guitar licks set the tone for this entertaining tune. “Don’t Doubt” mixes groovy bass lines with jazz piano melodies and drums, disco-like synths and a blend of funk and blues that shines through the various guitar licks, riffs and solo featured on this song, creating what is one of the most exciting and grooviest instrumentals on this album.

On the vocal end we have quite a few interesting things. First off, this song features female backing vocals/choir in the good old soul/R&B fashion. Then, on the spotlight, we find Kakihara delivering one of the smoothest performances in this album. Sweet, classy melodies and a laidback vibe won me over instantly. 5/5

7.Last Lady 

A loungy rhodes piano and a wah-wah guitar melody set the tone for this alluring R&B tune. “Last Lady” doesn’t shy away from being a suggestive and, at the same time, classy tune with a timeless instrumental. The verses are kept simple and clean, with bass, snare-y drums and rhodes piano being the main actors, setting a slow paced, alluring vibe to this song. The pre-chorus and chorus feature funky guitar licks with some wah-wah action, as well as retro synths.

Kakihara also didn’t shy away from impressing the listener. “Last Lady” is home to his best performance on this album, one in which he brought to the table sweet falsetto, vibrato, smooth mid-tones and unexpected R&B-ish ad-libs. Addictive and classy, “Last Lady” is the R&B tune you didn’t know you needed in your life (or playlist). 5/5

8.五月雨 

Traditional Japanese music makes its way into this album through “Samidare“. Simplicity is key to make this instrumental sound as powerful as it does. The instrumental engulfs the listener with its grandiose and refined traditional sound, a blend of shakuhachi, shamisen, vibes, a delicate piano melody and taiko drums. Strings are used to enhance the emotions in the song, being especially noticeable in the chorus. Now, the chorus. I got goosebumps with it. Whether it was due to the song’s progression, its vibe or the way Kakihara performed, I couldn’t help but to be overwhelmed by this song. Its grandiosity is not noticeable in the instrumental per se but on the feelings it transmits to the listener. It’s haunting and beautiful at the same time.

If the instrumental wasn’t impressive enough, Kakihara made sure the listener had even more reasons to be in awe. Aside from his sweet mid-tones, he performed the chorus almost on its entirety in falsetto, adding another layer of emotion to this breathtakingly beautiful ballad. Nothing on this album tops this song when it comes to presence. “Samidare” is this album’s highlight. 5/5

9.Sing it! 

Changing gears, we find “Sing it!“, a high-tension punk-rock tune. “Sing it!” has a youthful and upbeat vibe that is addictive from its very first riff. The instrumental counts with fast paced guitar riffs, uptempo snare-y drums and a thunderous bass line, the element that gives this song a laidback ska vibe.

Kakihara‘s performance was, on one side, playful and energetic, fitting perfectly with the instrumental’s tempo. On the other, it was still rather polished and filled with falsetto, something that is quite rare to find within the punk-rock scene. “Sing it!” is an entertaining tune that will have you singing along to it in no time. 5/5

10.虹唄

The album wraps up with “Niji uta“, song that brings to the spotlight atmospheric and washy synth pads, dreamy piano melodies and progressive drums, creating a grandiose and spacious soundscape. This is a quiet dance tune with sweet melodies, addictive hooks and a chorus that you’ll want to sing along to it. Kakihara‘s vocals are airy and filled with dimension, enhancing the soundscape that the listener is experiencing. Even if this is a dance song, Kakihara continued to showcase his vocals, delivering a rich performance filled with smooth mid-tones and his delicate falsetto. Perfect closing tune. 5/5

Final rating:

Tetsuya Kakihara delivered a unique collection of songs with his second album, “I for U“. Kakihara opted to stray away from the tradition of including previous released singles into the subsequent album, presenting fans with 10 new tracks to enjoy.

I for U started off strongly with the powerful rock imbued tunes “HERE FOR U” and “Actors“, two songs that are on the same wavelength, showing right off the bat an emotional side to this release, either in balladesque fashion or through the energy and fun of fast paced pop-rock. Regardless, emotional could easily be the perfect adjective to describe this release.

Torikaze” is the resident ballad, bring to the table a sweet tone and inspirational lyrics. “Samidare” embraced traditional Japanese music but it was still a ballad at its core. There’s something about its instrumental that is haunting and beautiful at the same time. The blend of traditional Japanese instruments and Kakihara‘s falsetto-ed vocals made this sound stand out as the album’s best song.

Kakihara excels in performing ballads – at least it’s something he has been proving time-after-time since 2016. He’s the kind of performer that connects with the lyrics, knows how to pass the message and make it resonate with the listeners. His singing breathes life into each ballad – the perfect example being his performance in “Samidare“.

Country Road” added a country rock meets punk-rock dimension to this release. The song introduced listeners to an exciting sound in which bagpipe melodies and fast paced punk-rock-ish drums coexist in harmony. “Hajimari no Hi” embraced a skate-punk sound that brought me back to the glorious days in the 90’s when skate-rock was the trend. “Sing it!” embraced a rawer punk-rock sound but with clearer and more polished vocals than both tracks. This song might go unnoticed, especially because it fits between “Samidare” and “Niji Uta“, two of the album’s strongest songs, however, it’s still an exciting addition worth checking out.

Blues, funk and jazz made their entrance on this album through “Don’t Doubt!“. Everything about its instrumental was groovy, the melodies were catchy and his singing was entertaining.

Last Lady” is yet another great addition to this fantastic album. This song although adopting an R&B sound still lends a lot of elements from funk, jazz and blues to create this unique and unexpected tune. The song demanded a smooth performance and Kakihara nailed it.

The album wraps up with the dreamy dance tune “Niji Uta“. When listening to this song after having listened the rest of the album, it feels like a proper closing song. After a surprising set of songs, I wasn’t expecting him to add a dance track to close this album – even if dance music is a common occurrence on almost every release of his.

If there’s something that Kakihara has been able to show in the last couple of years is that he’s continuously growing as an artist, proving to be one of the most consistent and reliable singers signed under Kiramune. As he is right now, he’s a singer with a great deal of control over his vocals, with a perfected falsetto, a solid vibrato, yet still showing a lot of potential for growth and improvement as a singer. His sound has matured as well. While he’s an exciting dance-pop performer at his core – it’s something he’s been doing since his debut and he still manages to release dance songs yearly despite having drastically changed his sound -, he has grown into a rocker, with punk-rock and funk-rock being two of the main music genres shaping this album. But there’s a certain delicate side to his sound, also a result of his growth as singer, with the addition of traditional Japanese music and R&B. A couple of years ago he wouldn’t be able to tackle songs like “Samidare” or “Last Lady“. He didn’t have the vocals polished enough for it. Now, the story is different. His growth on the vocal end has enabled him to tackle different types of music and showcase his versatility and maturity.

After listening to this album it’s safe to say that Kakihara is currently Kiramune’s best solo artist. Consistency and constant improvements have put him one step ahead of everyone within the label.

When it comes to ranking this album within his discography, there’s no other place for it than at the top. “I for U” has everything and more you could have asked from Kakihara. He showed his growth and put together the best set of songs and soundscapes in his career as a solo artist.

This is a flawless album, Kakihara‘s best work to date, a strong candidate for album of the year.


I for U” is available for purchase at CDJAPAN.

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