On BEAT SPACE NINE you’re nothing but a listener.
On Saturday the 22nd of September, I was supposed to go help out a friend and the New York-Tokyo office with the New York-Tokyo Music Festival, where the TERIYAKI BOYZ would be performing. That got shot down by something we call stomach problems. And the beginnings of a fever. (I’m sure you’re all rejoicing at being able to avoid another of my fangirl-nalist “reports”. AAA was that bad, huh?)
Much moping, sleeping, and a bunch of pills later, I decided to make up for missing out on the group live by listening to the most well known of them in studio recordings. So I started the post on the following Tuesday, when I began to feel better. Then Wednesday any blogging services I used decided to crash on me, and the rest of the week I was driven frantic by the upcoming SM Auditions (which, I’m proud to say, I bombed magnificently.) And then after that was school, a birthday mess (where, I’m less proud to say, I had my first ever shot of vodka), and more school.
Well, it took a while for him to get here (almost three weeks!), but ladies and gentlemen, heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny!
Johnny Astro, that is. Also known as VERBAL, currently half of Japanese urban/hip-hop/pop duo m-flo. The other half is Takahashi Taku, as we should know by now.
BEAT SPACE NINE, the particular album that I’m using to fulfull my rapper cravings, is m-flo’s fourth studio album, and the second of the collaborative studio albums.
With COSMICOLOR having been announced to officially be the last of the m-flo collaboration albums, BEAT SPACE NINE is pretty much the middle child in the series. Surprisingly, unlike most middle children, it’s neither neglected nor destined for complete mediocrity – in fact, you could say it put vocalists YOSHIKA and EMYLI on the map. The album caps in at a fairly impressive 17 tracks thanks to the three interlude-style piece at the beginning, middle, and end of the album. But even without them, that’s 15 songs, as compared to the 12/13 found on ASTROMANTIC and COSMICOLOR (both of which also had 17 tracks with the interludes) respectively.
Yeah, BEAT SPACE NINE had it good. It also has the distinction of being the last m-flo album (to date) to feature a new song with all three original m-flo members, LISA having been pulled back in for a track as well.
The opening interlude track is also the most fun I’ve had listening to an opener. Apparently m-flo agreed, using a similar thing to open up their Budokan concert for this album. It’s basically a female-voiced countdown with VERBAL rapping about m-flo’s chart career in between to the beats, but it’s a lot more interesting than most interludes out there.
o2/ Taste Your Stuff (m-flo ♥ BENNIE K)
One of the catchiest songs off the album – and very similar to CICO/YUKI’s songs of that time. When this album was released, BENNIE K’s Dreamland was the biggest thing on the airwaves in Japan. I stopped by Narita Airport twice during my trip to Hong Kong that year (with a month-and-a-half timespan in between), and both times the song would be playing in the entertainment stores.
Right, tangent. Okay. Basically, this is poppy. Perfect for going on a fun drive poppy. (That would certainly explain the lyrics and the version of it subtitled “Happy Drive”) CICO’s rapping gets a bit annoying in the first half of the song, when she starts a rising whine to match pace with VERBAL’s own falsetto whine, but YUKI’s vocal delivery picks up the pace with only one out-of-breath moments. Thankfully the second half is catchier and lacks the annoying rise.
o3/ Loop In My Heart (m-flo ♥ EMYLI & YOSHIKA)
It’s often a little question of mine, whether or not VERBAL/Taku had been a bit hard-pressed for collaborators on this album, especially when you consider the amount of times EMYLI and YOSHIKA were used. On one hand, you could argue VERBAL was seriously trying to promote both females. On the other, every single from this album featured them. We didn’t get to see the rest (except for MONDAY Michiru who got an EP/vinyl record) until the album itself was released.
Basically, by the time this single was released, you either hated EMYLI and YOSHIKA or loved them. (No prizes for guessing what category I fell into.) While I give them the credit of alternating vocals, neither EMYLI nor YOSHIKA sound especially suited for this generic pop song – YOSHIKA’s voice is too smooth and drawn out, EMYLI’s rougher but stronger voice has to resort to being a breathy pitch too high to stay in-key. The most interesting part is undeniably VERBAL’s rap – which isn’t all that great either.
o4/ SO EXCLUSIVE (m-flo ♥ Sowelu)
Sowelu’s voice and I haven’t been on the best of terms. I loved the vocals she provided in BECK, but usually her songs are too bland for me.
This song, though, is happily catchy and Sowelu varies her pitch fittingly. An addictive high in the chorus, smokingly low in the stanzas, and with just the right amount of attitude when she throws in her part for the raps. VERBAL, as usual, provides a nice vocal contrast. This exemplifies the ideal sort of m-flo collab song: fun, having the artist do something she doesn’t always do, and the little story of the lyrics is a fun scenario. It’s hard to listen to this and not think that both m-flo and Sowelu had fun.
o5/ I’M DA 1 (m-flo ♥ WHEESUNG)
I’m far from an expert on vocalists, much less Korean male vocalists. I can safely say, however, that after watching/listening to this being performed live in the Budokan concert, WHEESUNG has an admirer in me.
This is VERBAL’s Korean song injection (okay, okay, so it’s in Korean and English) for this album, and it couldn’t have been better. There’s a catchy dance beat, WHEESUNG’s vocals are soothing and soulful, and it’s generally a track that never gets skipped when it pops up on the music player. Any of them.
o6/ ONE DAY (m-flo ♥ 加藤ミリヤ [Katou Miliyah])
I’m not religious. Let’s get this out of the way first. I’m not religious, perhaps I may be agnostic, but for the most part I identify as atheist. Unfortunately for me, both VERBAL and Miliyah subscribe to Christianity, and Taku too I think. So while this song has a beautiful message in its lyrics, it’s pretty much lost on me.
Okay, yeah, that was just there to make sure you don’t hate on me too much when I tell you that this is, was, and may always be the hardest song for me to get through in the album. I mean, it’s a lovely song, and Miliyah’s voice is soulful enough that if you can’t appreciate at least the feeling that went into the song, you might be a robot. Hold on, I sense a glitch attacking my inner circuitry.
o7/ A.D.D.P. (m-flo ♥ MONDAY 満ちる [MONDAY Michiru])
The only song on the album to be released prior to the album itself that also didn’t feature EMYLI or YOSHIKA. If that sentence confused you, don’t worry, it confuses me too. I’m just glad that there’s no EMYLI or YOSHIKA in this track. (And then EMYLI went and sang it at Budokan… no offense to her, but I was glad there was a release off this album that hadn’t been touched by her. Yet. Oh my disappointment.)
Anyways. This is undeniably a dance track, where VERBAL’s rapping is yet again just vocal punctuations to go with the beat. I don’t think he actually says anything more than “Analyze, Dissect, Detect Process (Uh!)” and “Bring it in!” throughout the course of this 5 minute track. Which is perfectly fine by me, because Monday Michiru’s vocals are what makes this song shine more than just your ordinary clubbing song.
o8/ tO yOUR bEAT (m-flo ♥ YOSHIKA)
When I first heard this song, I hated it. The title (not that it should really be a point of contention), since one of my favorite tracks by move is FaLL iNTo DozE), the musical composition – which didn’t especially seem to flow, and it seemed like YOSHIKA’s singing was all that held this track together. Digging up my “review” from back when it was first released (yay for bad writing from 2005! As well as my still-current inability to distinguish musical genres!), I called it a “cafe-ish/bossa nova/partially-jazz song”.
I still don’t like this song all that much. But the music isn’t all that bad, YOSHIKA’s vocals are still pretty good, and it rather amuses me that VERBAL’s rapping seems to be thrown in as an afterthought.
The second interlude track has a man with an old-sounding voice talking about m-flo against what I presume is supposed to be a dizzying, time-traveling sort of background melody. I dislike it. Greatly. End.
10/ DOPEMAN? (m-flo ♥ EMYLI & Diggy-MO’)
Oddly enough, the thing that strikes me most about this song is how much a friend of mine complained about Diggy-MO’s accent. This is what happens when you are a singing whore (why yes, I am one) and your internet friends generally like to cover songs. But the question should really be – why and how the hell did Diggy-MO’ get that accent? I’ve heard it described as Texan, but regardless, as far as I know he’s never actually been out of Japan for an extended period of time. It makes my head spin.
Originally titled DOPAMINE, the biggest change to the album version of the track is VERBAL’s reworked rap lyrics. And I vastly prefer the original ones, they were a lot catchier. As for the rest of the song, though, Diggy-MO’ and VERBAL’s vocal combination works, oddly enough, and I think of this as EMYLI’s best song on the album. It’s fun and catchy thing that works perfectly with her vocals and attitude, though her voice seems to have deepened since the original studio recording.
11/ COZMO-NAUGHTY (m-flo ♥ Kahimi Karie)
I actually did not know Kahimi Karie was a Shibuya-kei artist until I looked up her Wikipedia entry and official website. But then again I haven’t been able to find any of her works outside of this collaboration with m-flo. Now that I know this though, I will work harder on that. [insert fist-pump and cheer]
This song is very hush-hush. That’s the only way to describe it. Kahimi has a light and breathy voice that dances barely above the music, and VERBAL does all his rapping in a whisper. It has a smoky lounge feel to it, though it deviates to light-hearted and dizzying in the choruses. It is still undeniably fun, especially compared to the abuse of big band in the previous track.
12/ The Other Side of Love (m-flo ♥ EMYLI)
Originally titled as being performed by “Sister E” – Sister E was later revealed as EMYLI, confirming the suspicions of many as we discovered both “E” and “Y” (who was always credited as YOSHIKA) dominating the m-flo singles for this album. The artist credit was really just paying homage to the original, which featured a “Sister M” as its vocalist.
A cover of a Sakamoto Ryuichi song, it’s got a catchy beat and EMYLI gives her best vocal performance here. (I’m solemnly swear I am
up to no good not contradicting my previous statement, DOPAMINE was indeed the best song for introducing EMYLI.) VERBAL’s song-rap helps make the song go along, filling up blank spaces and adding a little twist to the song, and it was certainly fun to rap along.
13/ Float’n Flow (m-flo ♥ Rie fu)
Generally, reactions to this song haven’t been positive. Probably because it’s so generic. Lazy tropical feel, Rie fu’s not doing any special with either her piano or her vocals (other than perfect English pronounciation), and VERBAL’s (song-)rapping doesn’t have anything going for it.
But that may be exactly why I like it – because it’s so bland it ends up as relaxing compared to almost every other track on this album, which demand your attention (whether in a good or bad way depends on the song). Of course, when I’m in the mood for something to get me moving it gets skipped, but Rie fu’s singing seems to have been made to lull me into relaxation, and VERBAL’s rap doesn’t strike out against the music, melding with the beats. Something I’d like to drift to if I were flying above the clouds – but I’ll settle for lying in bed.
14/ HEY! (m-flo ♥ Akiko Wada)
This is the single most awesome-but-unexpected collab to come from m-flo. Period. No, really. Who could’ve foreseen this? And thanks to this and Minna no Terebi episodes, Akiko (called Akko by fans) has a highly amused fan in me.
Strong, relentless, and unforgiving in all aspects, whether it’s the music, Akko’s vocals (at first I honestly thought she was male), or VERBAL’s rapping, this is fun and probably the ultimate big city song. I can’t deny I have fun listening to this rushing through the busy streets of Manhattan and avoiding cars. “Run for cover, it’s AKIKO WADA!”
15/ let go (m-flo ♥ YOSHIKA)
The first single off this album also provided what is undeniably one of the best showcases YOSHIKA’s voice as seen, one of the better introductory tracks for a lesser-known artist m-flo put through their washer, and one of the best (and most easily accessible) ballads to come from a Japanese group labeling themselves as hip-hop. The only negative statement I’ve ever seen regarding this song is directed towards VERBAL’s song-rap. And to be fair, he really shouldn’t be singing anyways.
Between the piano and strings, this has a lovely instrumental. Throw in YOSHIKA’s well-performed vocals and you have a winner. (I have no opinion towards VERBAL’s rapping for this song other than that it’s fun to do. Oh, and fine, it does provide a nice counterbalance to YOSHIKA’s singing so the song doesn’t actually send me to sleep like most ballads do.)
16/ TRIPOD BABY (m-flo ♥ LISA)
Psst. Hey. You. Yeah, you. You look like you appreciate a good bit of m-flo news. Word on the street is, m-flo’s found a new vocalist. That’s why the collaboration project is over. Wait, you knew that? Pah, what are you doing wasting my time? Get outta here!
Regardless, this means that this song may have been the last new track we see from the original m-flo trio. Now, I’m not an especially good m-flo fan. I like their works, but mostly the collaborations. I’ve never really bothered to give the two albums they did with LISA more than a quick twice-over. (Hello, lack of attention span.)
But this song strikes all the right chords with me – ignoring my blatant amusement at its tie-in with the Shadow the Hedgehog. LISA’s variation between her nasally high pitch and her lower regular tone works so well with the music, and the banter between her and VERBAL was clearly fun for both parties to do, something that’s only reinforced when I watch the live performance from the concert tour.
The final filler track sends us spiraling back down. It fits along with the opening lift off countdown track by imitating the mandatory flight attendant speech with every flight. While nothing special, it is sort of interesting to note that the entire album has taken place during the time it between takeoff and the safety speech (which is usually given before the seatbelt sign is turned off).