Hirahara Ayaka [Path of Independence] (Fifth Album)

February 20, 2009

Path of Independence
Hoshi Tsumugi no Uta (星つむぎの歌; Entwining Stars Together Song)
Kodoku no Mukou; The Other Side of Solitude
Sora ni Namida wo Kaeshitara
Sayonara Watashi no Natsu; Goodbye My Summer)
Ima Koko Watashi
Tenshi no Hashigo
Ima, Kaze no Naka de; Now, Inside the Wind
Ame no Sasayaki
Campanula no Koi ~Acoustic Version~
To be free

The album starts off with the self-empowering Path of Independence. I’m one of those people who like albums to start of with a bang, but I like this too. This is no ‘chikai’ or ‘jupiter’ but its a pretty good song. Its rather typical and the arrangement plays without being heard, which makes everything quite dramatic and intense. Hirahara’s vocals are good, but then again, when are they not? This is a worthy title track and a nice start to the album.

The next track on the album is the cold Nocturne. I did not expect this song to go like this, but after listening to it seems very appropriate and actually matches the title, in some form. The arrangement is a very dramatic; intense if almost non-existent piano piece, that plays rather coldly. I got such an isolated vibe from it. Hirahara’s vocals also seem to be detached even though the words she’s singing in English are sympathetic. This is a strange and rather haunting song. It may pass over a few heads, but it just stuck with me and left me feeling rather unsure.

The next track on the album is the down-tempo Hoshi Tsumugi no Uta (星つむぎの歌; Entwining Stars Together Song). This song is still gorgeous, but it just seemed more emotionally felt on the single. I didn’t feel so drawn to it this time around, but mostly detached. Its still a good song though and such a nice listen.

The next track keeps the down-tempo’s coming with Kodoku no Mukou; The Other Side of Solitude. This song is a bit underwhelming, but still a nice listen. A simple and rather elegant piano arrangement and soft, soothing, somewhat breathless vocals from Hirahara make this a nice listen.

The next track ups the tempo a little with Sora ni Namida wo Kaeshitara. Hirahara has a voice suited for ballads, so its always strange when she does a song other than that. This is nice though. The arrangement seems almost festive and at first listen it doesn’t really seem to match, but it just works. I really liked Hirahara’s vocals. This song is pretty all right.

The next track on the album is another a-side Sayonara Watashi no Natsu; Goodbye My Summer). Hirahara decides to keep the slightly up in the tempo tracks coming with this one, though I’d say its more around the mid-tempo mark. The arrangement is nice, nothing overtly interesting but its consistent and I like the sound. Hirahara’s vocals are fine, a bit aggressive, though it fit. The song can get a bit tiring after a while, but its still a good listen.

The next track on the album is the somewhat mid-tempo Ima Koko Watashi. Ah, like I said before Hirahara’s voice is better suited for ballads, but that doesn’t mean she can’t pull off up-tempo. Hirahara came across as awkward to me vocal-wise in this song, but I thought this was a rather catchy tune, with a nice and simple arrangement. The high light is definitely the chorus.

This was a nice transition. The next track on the album is Akane. This song is so very dramatic and intense, you hardly notice the arrangement, but you know its there and its nice even if it doesn’t really do much. Hirahara gives forth a strong and at the same time weak vocal performance, but all an all she did good and put a lot of emotion into this making it rather dramatic and seem like the opening to a period piece.

The next track on the album is Tenshi no Hashigo. This is pretty much just there and really plays like a filler track, because it offers nothing. The beat is rather simple, cliche even and somewhat sparkly. Its nothing I haven’t heard before and better. Hirahara’s vocals are fine, but nothing to write home about and I felt no connection with her whatsoever. This is a stale and rather forgettable song.

The next track on the album brings the pace back down with Ichibanboshi. After the filler track we get one that isn’t much better, but still a nice listen. This song seems to follow the whole slow theme this album has going for it and though it doesn’t stand out, I still liked the whole soft flow of it.

The next track on the album is the windy Ima, Kaze no Naka de; Now, Inside the Wind. Hirahara really gave this song a fitting title, because it does give you that feeling. I just love Hirahara’s soft vocals, they really just compliment the gentle churning of the arrangement. This song like I said, doesn’t really stand out, but it is a really nice listen.

The next track on the album keeps the slow and somewhat windy pace coming with Ame no Sasayaki. This is a pretty typical Hirahara song, you know you have a nice simple arrangement and a good vocal performance, which makes a borderline dramatic song and though I’ve heard enough of this type of song on this album, its still a pretty good listen. I don’t know I like songs like this most of the time and Hirahara does them well, though it did seem more like over five minutes instead of four.

The second to last track on the album is Campanula no Koi ~Acoustic Version~. I’m going to guess that this is the Japanese counterpart to ‘nocturne’ because they are the exact same song, difference being ‘nocturne’ is in English and this is an acoustic version. This is nice, I wouldn’t have minded the album ending on this track. It seems rather dark and way longer than its over four minutes running time.

The last track on the album is the rather inspirational To be free. I think this song has grown on me, I can honestly say I like it now and it doesn’t sound so long-winded either. The only problem I had with this song was those swiss noises I kept hearing at one point, the brushes. I mean it freaked me out because it didn’t sound like it was coming from my speakers, but from behind me… creepy. Anyways, this is a good song with a good vocal performance from Hirahara, nice end to the album.

Rating: ** stars

Hirahara Ayaka’s fifth album Path of Independence is pretty so-so. I mean I only disliked one track on this album, but just because I liked all the songs on here does not mean this was a good album. I mean I look at quality over quantity and that could be why I’ve been giving out so little A‘s and so many B‘s. I mean I kind of expected this album to play like this, but it got a bit tiring after awhile. The majority of the tracks on here are down-tempo, no surprise there, but I was kind a hoping for a bit of variety, maybe a couple up-tempo tracks to liven the album up a bit, instead I got a couple of mid-tempo’s that still seemed to play like they were down-tempo. I mean I know Hirahara’s voice is best suited for ballads, but I was really hoping for something different, every down-tempo song and even the good ones seemed to all sound a like. It was all pretty disappointing, especially considering that I honestly liked all her singles leading up to this. Path of Independence is the perfect album for those who like their music slow, smooth and oh so nice. Hirahara fans will be mostly unimpressed, it offers nothing new, not really. Though Nocturne stands out, moreso than the rest.


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