Welcome everyone to my review of Sleepless Nights, which is R&B artist Aimer's first album.
Aimer made her debut (arguably the strongest of 2011) with the triple-A-side Rokutosei no Yori/Kanashimi wa Aurora ni/TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STAR, which was a very strong first single and contained Rokutosei no Yoru one of my favoraite of anime EDs and overall songs of 2011. She then released Re:pray/Sabishikute Nemurenai Yoru wa. Re:pray was hands down one of the best songs of the year and used as the ending theme of the Bleach anime.
Despite her first three singles being some of the strongest I've heard, there were some... oddities. Weird covers (Lady Gaga's Poker Face) and English language C-sides that were overly referential to motown and repetitive. She also has a huge advantage which is also a disadvangage, her voice is uniquely draggy, which is an oddity on the J-pop scene. This worked for her very well in her early days but soon turned into a curse.
Yuki no Furu Machi/Fuyu no Diamond was Aimer's first iffy single for me (Poker Face's appearance on Re:pray doesn't count since the rest of the single really pulls it up to par. She likes to do covers (in fact, her first indie release was all covers) but her ORION cover wasn't very good. I haven't listened to the original, so I'm not sure if that wwas her fault or the original singer's. As I've mentioned, Re:pray's single was strong enough to carry Poker Face (Which, from a proffessional perspective is a good cover as well) "Fuyu no Diamond" sort of brought down the release as well, leaving a single song A+ worthy. She then released her most dissapointing A-side yet, Anata ni Deawa Nakereba ~Kasetsu Toka~. I can't count Hoshiziku Venus as part of this release in terms of content since it also got it's own digital single release, but I do count it in terms of tracklist. While the TV Size of ~Kasetsu Toka~ is very strong and listenable to, the A-side and B-side are slow and annoying to listen to and Breaking Up Is Hard To Do is boring. It's supposed to be her follow up to TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STAR in terms of English songs but it doesn't reach that level.
Imagine my apprehension and hope when I heard she'd be releasing an album. On one hand, it could redeem ~Kasetsu Toka~ and Fuyu no Diamond. On the other, it could be terribly draggy, slow and have even more English that sucks and draws away from her vocal ability.
The first thing I'd like to address about Sleepless Night's is it's concept. It's very strong in both tracklist and the content of the album. Apparently, Aimer has insomnia or just can't get to sleep on some days. This leads to another one of the main themes of the album; reflection, as showcased by the re-worked songs and some of the new ones. So, how does an album based on literal sleepless nights and reflection show it's conceptual strength? It lists the tracks in an obvious emotional order.
We begin with a re-worked ~prologue~ version of TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STAR. It fits very well and is the best option for a leading track. While the repetitiveness might but off a first time listener it serves to remind us of this song's universal status as a lullaby. Why begin an album about failing to sleep with a lullaby? Because lullabies don't always work, of course.
Some may be bothered by Yakou Ressha being on this album, let alone being the first new song and the first song after the prologue. It's a guitar rife song with Aimer stretching her vocals in a way that might remind some of early-2000s American pop-rock princess Avril Lavigne. The reason behind it is reflection, it's right there in the song title "Night Train ~Nothing to Lose". It's about reflecting on the past to make decisions, the rush you get when you think up an amazing idea in the middle of the night. Taking a chance. I'd say it's one of the strongest tracks on the album.
Anata ni Deawa Nakereba is next, and while it isn't any less slow, draggy or overly long, it does benefit from it's placement. The chorus is still powerful and moving. The opening is also quite memorable, you just might not be able to remember 70% of the rest of the song afterwards. It's solid, but nowhere near good enough to be an A-side. As an album track it works.
The second strongest original song on the album is Egao ("Smile"). While it's quite long, it never feels as if it's dropped speed and her voice never gets too draggy. The chorus, while somewhat lazily repetitive, is unforgettable. As a piece of music and vocal ability, it's exceptional and the repetitive chorus also make it a fun song to sing a long to.
Re:Pray is Aimer's best song and might as well be her trademark single. It doesn't really have her showcase too much of her range, but it gives us just enough range to be beautiful and haunting. The lyrics are strong and the chorus is wonderful, used enough times to be satisfactory but not so many times that it becomes annoying. Unlike Anata ni Deawa Nakereba it uses English sparingly (She seems to have trouble with subject-verb agreement), just enough for those unwilling to learn the lyrics to sing along to. While Re:pray might be Aimer's best song to date, it's still a previous release, so on this album as a whole I can't say it's the best but it's definitely strong.
Next is a re-worked version of Kanashimi wa Aurora ni, which is one of Aimer's best songs. The re-worked version (arranged by Masakatsu Takagi) captures the beauty of the original and doesn't bother itself with changing around to much, adding just a bit more symphonic edge and is notably only a few seconds longer than the original which is somewhat rare for reworkings or remixes of songs (RAM RIDER and his annoyingly twice as long remix of sakura by nirgilis from the Eureka Seven movie being a great example).
Sabishikute Nemurenai Yoru is Re:Pray's paired double A side and can be described as Anata ni Deawa Nakereba done right. While ~Kasetsu Toka~ meanders along, looking for the next instance of the chorus, Sabishikute Nemurenai Yoru wa has Aimer lead the piano right until the end with a beautifully consistent voice. It's a melancholic song that still manages to capture just the right amount of hope in it's tone.
AM02:00 is hands down the best original song on the album. It's speedier than most of the album and has Aimer playing with the vocals a bit more than she usually does. Once again, the length can be surprising but it the time flies and the chorus is extremely enjoyable to listen to. The English is used in the same manner as Anata ni Deawa Nakereba (sadly with the same amount of grammatical correctness as well), to question a relationship that's obviously failing. The song uses it's beautiful instrumentation, a unique style on this album, to showcase what Aimer can do even when she's not in her element and that's what makes it so great as both an album original and a concept song.
The next song is Hoshizuku Venus, which benefits greatly from being moved far away from it's initial couple track. With the original, they bled into one and felt like a hulking pink (dark blue?) indistinctive pile of Aimer-ness. This might also be the reason it was later released as a digital single; it's a strong song. Aimer uses the opening lyrics to grab the listener and then proceeds to sing a that's right in her element. Instead of coming off as tired, repetitive Aimer, it's powerful and emotional. The only complaint, almost ironically, is that it might be too short for an Aimer song.
I've already spoken about how I find Yuki no Furu Machi A+ worthy and that I have a burning indifference for Fuyu no Diamond, so I won't speak too much about tracks 11 & 10. There is one big thing I should adress; why put them right next to each other in the exact single order they were released in? Of course, Fuyu no Diamond has been re-echoed or something by the Genki Rockets (Which makes it go from not very good to outright weirdly Kana Nishino-ey with the roboticness that's coming out of it, and trust me, Aimer's original is leagues above anything Ms. Nishino can attempt), but it's only a sad attempt at what the rest of the album has been doing well and much more naturally.
Aimer's entire sound is organic, why bring in any autotune, especially robotic autotune, to a song that wasn't very good to begin with? Is it supposed to signifty something I'm missing? In the end, Yuki no Furu Machi remains amazing while Fuyu no Diamond's re-echo becomes the black sheep of the album. I will admit though that Aimer's distinctive lyrics whenever not overtaken by her new robot overlord do sound very good, and it does as a whole have a very 'trapped underwater' or 'destroyed memories' vibe to it overall. So maybe it goes from not very good to still listenable and somewhat enjoyable.
The album closes up with the two songs that brought Aimer to the world. Rokutosei no Yoru, which is still as amazing as ever with it's haunting vocals, piano and wide-spanning backing track. The original TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STAR is the real last song of the album and brings us full cirle and I'm assuming, Aimer finally gets to sleep (In the AMs, since that's not techically night anymore.).
The album is great, I'd give it a 12/13 (Fuyu no Diamond's re-echoing was really... something though and must be heard to be believed, and it still has it's merits) with all the songs getting at least an A-. The tracklist, as I said, is emotional in nature. Beginning with the quiet lullaby TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STAR that merges into the upbeat and frantic Yakou Ressha, the album gets into full gear with an amazingly strong set of ballads and vocal pieces from Anata ni Deawa Nakereba to Yuki no Fuku Machi. While Fuyu no DIamond's re-echo does throw the album for a loop Rokutosei no Yoru picks it right up before it closes with the amazing lullaby (that actually lulls us to sleep this time) TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STAR. It's great for both a beginner and a long time Aimer fan and is a wonderful return to form for the R&B/Vocal artist.
If you're interested in Aimer and want to give her a listen or support j-pop artists in general, you can buy the CD from cdjapan (Don't worry, they think everybody with a weird name is a band) or play-asia. You can also listen to (some of) the songs on cdjapan and judge for yourself.