Tetsuya Kakihara “Circle of Life” (Review)

Credit: Kiramune
Credit: Kiramune

One of the most anticipated releases last year in December was Kakihara’s new mini-album “Circle of Life”. The impact that “Susumasero” had on the public opinion created a hype about this release that was met with a stunning performance yet again.

regular
Regular edition
Title: Circle of Life
Release date: 21/12/2016
Label: Kiramune
Genre: J-Pop/Rock

Tracklist:

1. Start of LIFE
2. AGAIN AND AGAIN
3. ドラマ 
4. 聴かせて 
5. リングオブドランカー 
6. Hikari-Winter ver.

Track by track analysis:

1. Start of LIFE

Gospel choir leads this mix of funky, 70’s jazzy tune with a pop punch and meaningful lyrics. The instrumentalization for this song is rich. We’re not with the typical christian rock foundations or trully following the gospel kind of roots neither we are totally endeavoring in jazz’s funkiness. This song picks the best parts from each genre, blends them carefully and the result is this instrumental piece that, although not that upbeat, it still manages to pack a lot of energy with it – good energy. A funky bass and a rhodes piano set the foundations to this song, being joined by the splashy, slow tempo drums and melodic guitars. This simple formula was enough to pass the message and leave a sense of satisfaction to the listener. Kakihara‘s vocal performance impressed us with his control over high notes – attacking some of them with falsetto and vibrato -, and solid melodic mid-tones. The presence of a choir gave an extra bit of emotion to this song as whole – mainly to the chorus and bridge parts. “Start of LIFE” is an anthem, a beautiful song that is as simple as impressive. 5/5

2. AGAIN AND AGAIN

Synths mix with guitar riffs in what is an unusual instrumental. And if you were thinking that this song was going to go straight out dance oriented, sorry, you’re mistaken. This song reaches the chorus, exploding into a typical 90’s pop-punk tune. The instrumental is youthful, entertaining and much more energetic than the first song – despite it’s oddness. Vocally Kakihara impresses once again – and the chorus parts are certainly the main reason. His vocal performance is pretty much stable throughout the song, challenging higher notes without wavering or cracking (like he did in the past), and the chorus is just so filled of falsetto that it’s almost like paradise. The only problem with this song is the big contrast between the rather quiet, synth driven verses and the all out rock chorus. A bit more balance between both elements would have made this song perfect. 4/5

3. ドラマ 

And because something released by Kakihara is not always conventional here we are. “Drama” is a latin oriented song. Yes, you read it well. The verses feature latin percussion which was a major surprise for us – doesn’t mean that it sounds out of place or anything, we’re just genuinely surprised. The guitar work is reminiscent of mexican guitar god Carlos Santana (although it isn’t on par with it), melodic, emotional and incredibly danceable. The rest of the instrumental has splashy drums, funky slap bass, brass and acoustic guitars, to even things out in the chorus taking into account that the verses are a bit overwhelming on a first listen. This song is actually a good surprise. It shows the range and versatility that he now possesses. Solid. 4.5/5

4. 聴かせて 

After the danceable “Drama” we’re presented with a slow-tempo pop-rock ballad. 聴かせて (Let me listen) is a sweet song with a simple instrumental rooted on a whole band sound. Bassy drums set the slow pace for this song. The acoustic guitars lay a couple of laidback riffs in the background while the bass carefully trails his notes. Then, when people maybe start to think that this song was getting boring, there’s a guitar solo with a sliding pick technique – giving that country rock vibe that was missing in the instrumental. Laidback and sweet, “Let me listen” is yet another song in which Kakihara doesn’t shy away from showcasing his vocal skills. A down-to-earth song that will leave a warm feeling with you. 4.5/5

5. リングオブドランカー 

Jazz takes over this incredibly speedy song. With classy instrumentalization including brass, contrabass, fast paced drums and playful guitar riffs we find Kakihara spitting fire – and no this is not a pun. In “Ring of Dranker” he’s litterally speed rapping the first verses without showing signs of slowing down. This song is just so addictive and fun to listen to that, by the time it ends, you’re still trying to understand just how fast can he rap. The vocal performance has a bit of everything. There’s rap and there’s singing. The verses are usually fast paced so singing doesn’t cut it whereas the chorus slows down a bit, giving an opening for some singing. We need to point out that the lyrics have quite a bit of english which he tackled rather well. As a whole this song is an energy pill, or drainer – depending on your mood. It’s an eventful song that will certainly make an impact on you. 4.5/5

6. Hikari-Winter ver.

Who doesn’t remember this song? “Hikari” was released back in 2012, included in the mini-album “CONTINUOUS“. Back in 2012 he was still a rookie singer and despite his lacking vocals the song stood out with ease. “Hikari” was already one of his best songs but this version of the song… Wow. Just wow. We don’t even know where to start talking about this song. Well, this new arrangement fits with Christmas (or wasn’t this a Winter version) with a haunting acappela featuring a backing choir during the whole song. This new arrangement took the song to greater heights. We can’t even express just how much we love the song with the emotional strings in the background, claps and minimal bass and drums. And Kakihara‘s vocals sound so heavenly that it almost brought us to tears. It’s no joke when we say that this arrangement, this song even after five years sounds so fresh and relatable. Listening to the original version and this arrangement is more than enough to notice just how much his vocals have improved, the lyrics now pack a punch that didn’t at that time, and that is thanks to the more invested vocal performance that has a lot of ad-libs and falsetto. A beauty of a song. 5/5

Final rating:4.5 stars

There’s no signs of slowing down his growth. As a solo artist Kakihara continues to impress, delivering all kinds of songs with the most unpredictable instrumentals we could think of. He’s keeping his repertoire fresh and dynamic, adding jazz, latin inspirations, punk-pop and even acappella to the already colorful set of songs he’s released. There’s little to no complaints about the instrumentals – maybe just a bit more balance in AGAIN AND AGAIN, but other than that everything was either surprising or flawless.

It’s so enjoyable to listen to him singing. If you told us in 2010 that he’d grow to be this kind of artist in 2016 we would have scoffed at the statement. He was unstable, lacked confidence and didn’t knew how to approach his singing.

Things carefully started to improve and by 2015 he was already impressing us with his songs. Of course that was done with a complete revamp of the music genre he presented for most of his songs. He was initially a dance pop/electronica artist. That’s how Kiramune marketed him – with Daisuke Namikawa impressing with rock there was no more place for yet another artist like that. With “Generations” in 2013, we saw something changing and by the time we reached “Dandigi dan” (2014) we were certain that he was endeavoring in a new route. As he shifted to rock, Namikawa shifted for dance and all of sudden Kakihara was able to impress the listeners with his vocals. That managed to fit better with his vocals and the results were quick to achieve with “SAICHAINA” and “ORANGE” in 2015, two solid releases with good vocal performances. That’s when we find “Susumasero” in 2016 and we were impressed beyond words. To complete the year he surprised us yet again. “Circle of LIFE” is easily his best mini-album showcasing not only strong vocals but a versatility beyond what anyone could have expected from him – best example is the performance for “Hikari“, one of his old songs that really shone in this release.

We couldn’t predict that he’d grow so much in his solo career. He’s known for his total deliverance to his craft and that can be easily heard with this single. He started off as yet another seiyuu turned singer but he has earned the respect and praise he has been receiving lately regarding his singing. He matured and is in peak form vocally. He’s a complete singer with a strong, clean falsetto and a rather interesting vibrato – that he doesn’t use that frequently but still manages to appear in some songs to impress us.

With all being said, we can only recommend this release to everyone. It’s a complete mini-album full with entertaining songs in the most various music genres. A beautiful piece.

Circle of Life” is available for purchase on CDJAPAN for all overseas fans.

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