鬼東ちひろ ~ LAS VEGAS

  1. Sweet Rosemary
  2. bad trip
  3. 蝋の翼 (Rou no Tsubasa; Wings of Wax
  4. 僕等 バラ色の日々(Boku-ra Bara-iro no Hibi; We, Rose-coloured Days)
  5. amphibious
  6. MAGICAL WORLD
  7. A Horse and A Queen
  8. Rainman
  9. Angelina
  10. BRIGHTEN US
  11. everyhome

ONITSUKA Chihiro (鬼東ちひろ) stunned the j-pop world with her alto voice and transcendental lyrics in 2000 with her first single, Shine. The piano had always been an integral part of her songs and their arrangements and has won several prestigious awards for her music. She was inspired by western music since her childhood, and this influence is readily heard in her songs. However, her career was interrupted when she became infected with colitis and had to have throat surgery. During her three-year hiatus, many thought that she had left the music business altogether. While she was sick, she struggled with suicidal urges and at one point in her recovery weight only 79 pounds. Even with these difficulties, she came back with two amazing singles before releasing this album.
LAS VEGAS is Oni’s 4th album and was released on October 31, 2007, one day after her 27th birthday. Of its 11 tracks, 7 are new, and two of the old ones have new arrangements. It reached 6th on the Oricon weekly album chart.

Oni wrote the opening track, Sweet Rosemary, while watching the move What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. This is a classic example of a sad song in a major key. The opening acoustic guitar lick is like a walking bass that persists throughout the song and keeps it moving. Despite the mellow tone of the music, the lyrics conjure surreal images about the course of life, such as the closing 「きっと小さな胸を焦がすのだろう」 (surely a small heart is scorched). Oni sings “rururu,” the Japanese onomatopoeia for teardrops falling, to the melody of the chorus. This simple arrangement really compliments the emotion of the song and transitions pleasantly into the next track.
Language: Japanese
Mood: sad, pensive
Tempo: moderato
Composition: A-
Arrangement: A-
Overall: A-

bad trip is a beautiful song that illustrates the theme of a trip well but doesn’t get obnoxious with music that sounds like it’s crazy acid-induced. Oni wrote this song with American film composer Billy Corgan in mind. Essentially a voice-cello-piano trio with some accents, this song presents an interesting worldview in the metaphor of a trip gone wrong. The melody, which consists of the piano and vocals echoing each other, is entrancing, and its rhythm is creative, especially with the ties. The piano solo in the middle of the song touts jazzy strains, but it’s smooth jazz that lacks any grating chromatics. As with many Oni songs, the music itself evokes vivid images even independent of the lyrics; this one is reminiscent of a despondent person sitting in a bar in a small town on a summer evening with tears falling down their cheeks. The low-register cello solo at the end seems a little odd musically, but it aptly fits the song and leaves a sense of unsettledness lingering. Oni’s English grammar is lacking and her accent makes it harder to her, but I think the odd grammar adds to the song’s theme, with lines like “the sun got melt” and “one sweetest fusion comes up slowly,” and the hallucinatory imagery is strangely beautiful. Although trips/drugs are almost like “deus ex machina” techniques to legitimize anything in a song, Oni does not take advantage of this and instead gives us a controlled, emotional piece.
Language: English
Mood: depressed, lethargic
Tempo: adagio
Composition: A
Arrangement: A
Overall: A

Oni said herself that the next song, 蝋の翼 (Rou no Tsubasa; Wings of Wax), is about “the emotional high of being in love.” Of course, she had the myth of Icarus in mind when writing this, and thus the song instantly becomes a profound metaphor for love. Musically, this is very mainstream for an Oni song, and the lyrics of the chorus are more simplistic as well, as compared to the complex and surreal ideas in most of her other works. The band-style arrangement with omnipresent percussion and electric guitar and bass give the music energy, while the near-constant acoustic guitar offers a textural contrast. The piano is really brought out in the mezzo chorus. The song ends well musically with a resonating major chord; however, I would have liked to hear some sort of fall from the sky, but that is more of less granted in the transition. Oni’s voice seemed rather strained in this song even though the notes are not at the edge of her range, and the lack of vocal vibrato is a little disappointing.
Language: Japanese
Mood: carefree
Tempo: allegro moderato
Composition: A-
Arrangement: B+
Overall: B+

僕等 バラ色の日々 (Boku-ra Bara-iro no Hibi; We, Rose-coloured Days), the single released before this album, is a stunning second-half of the love story; after the novelty and high of love subsides, we look back on those cherished days with ambivalent nostalgia. In all facets–musically, lyrically, and metaphorically–this performance impacts the mind, heart, and soul. The minor key suits the song well and does place too dark of a tone over it, and the melody of the verses interestingly begins on beat two. Even though the strings are arranged horizontally, the song moves vertically and as one, even as all parts–conuntermelody, harmonization, power chords–overlap and weave together. The passion is heard equally in Oni’s vocals and the supporting arrangement, which is so full that seems to fill a blank canvass with beautiful shades of rose. A woodwind in the second repeat of the song sounds like ululations echoing in the distant hills. The lyrical piano, guitar, and strings all sing with Oni, and even those who cannot understand the words should feel some sort of emotion evoked within them. Nonetheless, the words are rich in insight and wisdome, such as 「うそをつき過ぎて本当になった/この世界で」 (in this world, the lies told too many times became the truth); in fact, I could easily quote the whole song. The ebb and flow of this song is not contrived in the least, which allows it to move the listener, who won’t second-guess it. “Boku-ra” is not only a gem on this album, but also in the discography of the whole j-pop world combined.
Language: Japanese
Mood: nostalgic, melancholy
Tempo: andante
Composition: A+
Arrangement: A+
Overall: A+

amphibious, whose title is actually supposed to mean “androgynous,” surprises with an opening brazen, loud, pounding bass drum, keyboarded accordion, and electric guitar riff that is relentless throughout the whole song. Oni admits that this arrangement-adaptation was risky, and I don’t think it was worth it. The constant banging gets grating, this experimentation with nontraditional instruments could have been worse, but it turned out far from well. The “ah”s before the bridge actually have a pretty melody and vocals seemed estranged from the rash arrangement. Apart from this, Oni seemed lazy with her vocals, as though she did not care about intonation. I was both stunned and surprised to hear her swear so shamelessly; I have no crusade against vulgarity, but her songs are usually so much more meaningful. The vocals are especially explicit near the end, but the instrumental coda actually has an interesting sound. Overall, the instrumentation was rather poor, and in my opinion, this is the worst Oni song to date.
Language: Japanese and English
Mood: brash
Tempo: vivace
Composition: C
Arrangement: C
Overall: C

MAGICAL WORLD was the first B-side off Oni’s everyhome single. This should be subtitled “album version” because this arrangement differs slightly from that of the single version with added high strings and percussion that really color the music where it was lacking before. The song, about human warmth, opens with the piano and warm low strings. The piano, which remained unchanged, carries the melody well. This new arrangement is vastly better, even though the single version was respectable in and of itself. It spans all registers and feels lush and warm, and thus deeply conveys the theme of song. Even the simple descending and ascending strings’ half notes contribute to the balance. The questions that Oni poses in the chorus, such as 「涙だけが 雨のようになぜ溢れるの」 (why do only tears overflow like rain?), add depth to the song lyrically and recognize that not all is perfect in love.
Language: Japanese and English
Mood: warm, dreamlike
Tempo: adagio
Composition: A
Arrangement: A+
Overall: A

A Horse and a Queen is another Oni song with a more mainstream sound with a distinctly more western style, such as Beautiful Fighter, but even better blended with the Japanese. The opening of guitar and brass instantly sets the tone. The contrast of these two instruments seems awkward, even dissonant at first. I am not a fan of brass outside of its conventional use in symphony, but it seems to work well in this arrangement. The long chorus as an addictive melody, and Oni’s vocals are noticeably crisper throughout the whole piece. The melody fluctuates and thus remains interesting, but it remains under control. The jazzy piano solo encompasses the musical idea of the piece and induces and infectious beat. The ad-lib at the end adds flavor and spice to round out the sound. This song is well written, but I don’t like it as much as her other music. Although the arrangement is strange for her, Oni takes her core songwriting skills to make a firm and refreshing piece.
Language: Japanese
Mood: assertive
Tempo: andante moderato
Composition: A-
Arrangement: A-
Overall: A-

Rainman is another song that should have “album version” attached because it differs greatly from its original version as the B-side on the 2004 Sodatsu Zassou single. The same walking quarter-note piano accompaniment remains, but added are percussion, guitars, and strings; the guitar can be heard mashing in the right speaker, but it seems a little like an afterthought. The chimes that open and close the song seem a little silly, but are reminiscent of dewdrops shining after a rain shower. All of the added instruments really bring life to a song whose original arrangement was rather dull. The drone strings especially provide the much-needed texture as the pitch percussion continues to accent in the chorus. I believe that Oni’s English pronunciation has also improved, but they lyrics are still unchanged; they sound like Japanese ideas merely put unidiomatically into English, but it does produce some cute lines like, “But only be my side like this / So wonderful above all things.”
Language: English
Mood: chipper, teasing
Tempo: allegretto
Composition: A-
Arrangement: A
Overall: A-

The oldest and longest song on the album, Angelina, was named after American actress Angelina Jolie. The arrangement, which includes piano, cello, guitar, and others, builds throughout the song and swells at the second chorus with added bass percussion. The mellow electric guitar plays the special role of countermelody and has a few slick ascending runs. The music rises even more in the final choruses with background vocals and an arrangement so full it seems like to burst with emotion, especially when the rumbling percussion enters. The second part of the chorus’s rhythm builds momentum as Oni sings about the complexity of relationships. Each phrase repeated mounts in intensity. The short piano and cello duet interlude adds even more to the musical theme. Oni returns with her epithetical surreal lyrics, and she sings of survival of life and its miseries, illustrated by the repeated line of 「私はまだ死んではいない」 (I still am not dying). This ballad is so resonate and somewhat diverse in instrumentation, but it remains collected to astoundingly and lyrically present an emotional worldview.
Language: Japanese
Mood: lachrymose, struggling
Tempo: andante
Composition: A
Arrangement: A+
Overall: A+

The short BRIGHTEN US is Oni’s first a capella release and is meant to sound like a hymn. This song is a more joyful counterpart to her other songs with Christian overtones (e.g. 月光 [Gekkou; Moonlight], Borderline) as she sings of God’s amazing creation and the joy Christians have in glorifying Him. I believe the song does sound hymn-like, but I have noticed that many hymns end with the major pattern semitone down, semitone up (e.g. in G major, G-F#-G). Although the ending is distinct, this could be a potential endless song. Nonetheless, I suggest this hymn be added to all Catholic missiles for 2008 ordinary time. ^_~
Language: English
Mood: praising
Tempo: andantino
Composition: A-
Arrangement: n/a
Overall: A-

The closing track is the apropos everyhome, the first single Oni released after her hiatus. She was inspired to write this while watching the American movie Forrest Gump with the sound muted, which can be seen in the simple line 「列車を待つ」 ([I] wait for the train). Also, she believes that this is the song of hers that can withstand the test of time. (Anecdote: This song is 5:50 long, so whenever I look at a digital clock and see the time 5:50, everyhome comes to mind; I guess it has withstood the “test of time,” at least in regards to me!) The arrangement is comprised of merely a piano and vocal duet, but the piano part is so dynamic that it more than makes up for the lack of other instruments. Oni and the piano, played by her new arranger KOBAYASHI Takeshi, rise and fall in synchronization, and the dynamics are masterfully executed, especially when they are terraced. When she hits the climax notes, the piano sings in octaves, but neither part seems to be accompanying another, and therein lies the depth of this duet. Even though each part is “doing its own thing,” the two always remain coordinated. So much of the world can be seen in images the lyrics of this song evoke as it sings out confidently.
Language: Japanese
Mood: sad, observant
Tempo: andantino
Composition: A+
Arrangement: A
Overall: A+

All in all, this album offered some very impressive songs and a couple disappointments, but as many have noticed, something was lacking on this album. Too many have complained about Oni’s voice, which has not been the same since her surgery, and even her arranger, Kobatake, says, “Chihiro used to be a singer who was characterized by the gap between the daring words depicting the ‘corrupt world’ and the lyrical melodies and her looks. Now she is turning into a rocker who is realistic and life-sized.” Whether this is accurate or not, I think Oni evinces that she is still trying her best to make quality and moving music. She has gone through so much, and though her voice many never again be the way it once was, I think we should all do our best to appreciate her efforts and be patient as she strives to improve.
Overall: A-

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