Aiko is a leading figure in the roster of Japanese singer-songwriters. Active for more than 15 years, she has captured the hearts of the Japanese audience with her pleasant vocal personality (perhaps drawing resemblance to artists such as Corinne Bailey Rae) and her ability to express personal emotions through her gifted lyrical and melodic writing.

Aiko’s voice has a sweet jazzy nuance that sets her apart from other female singer-songwriters in Japan. Hearing ‘カブトムシ’ (‘Kabutomushi’, meaning ‘Japanese horned beetle’) for the first time, I felt a deep affection for her delicate, but equally powerful voice.The cradle-rocking rock ballad arrangement, occasional jazzy licks from the piano and that heartfelt singing tone makes it a perfect tune that would stir the listener’s emotion.

‘恋のスーパーボール’ (‘Koi no Superbowl’, meaning ‘love superbowl’) portrays a more chilled sensation. The song opens with some bubbly strings, setting the lively tone for this mid-tempo number until the electric piano and organ enters in the first verse, which tones down the mood and takes us to glimpses of 50s/60s soul vibes (I almost imagine this song as a Japanese version of Aretha Franklin’s ‘I Say A Little Prayer’), and a lullaby-like verse melody swaying up and down the scale. The chorus carries a sprightly disco-like drive, just enough to lift the song’s energy but also retaining a sense of friendliness and easy-going nature.

(a live bossa nova version which I came across recently)

‘くちびる’ (‘Kuchibiru’, meaning ‘lips’) is another upbeat tune where Aiko is playing around in a slightly retro style that is perhaps closely reminiscent of Marvin Gaye: the lush, smooth string melodies and typical jazz/soul style comping from the rhythm section, married with the charming vocal quality of Aiko is plenty to project a breath of fresh air through the listener’s ears.

Appealing particularly to young girls (singing mainly about love), Aiko stands as a refreshing sparkle in the musical culture of Japan. One can mention that as a listener, she is easy to approach and admire simply because she looks as though she passionately and honestly enjoys what she does.

Other Listening:

  • ずっと ‘Zutto’ (‘Always’)
  • KissHug
  • アンドロメダ ‘Andromeda’

© Isaku Takahashi