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Thanks to a recommendation at All In One Place*, I met this fun singer. It would be a shame if I haven’t, because I would be missing out on a lot. Tsuji Shion‘s music has been more or less on my active playlist for almost a month since the time I found her and thus I think she deserves a thorough review from me.

Tsuji-san started playing the guitar at 15, and then composed music to fit lyrics which she had written at nine. She recorded her first demo CD at 17. This is her only studio album for now.

(To clear things up a little, Shion is her first name.)

Catch! is a bright, upbeat and lively collection of tracks, fitting these adjectives well and more so than any albums I have heard. The majority of these songs are cheerful, with a handful of ballads to even things out when you need a respite. It resounds with optimism and summer feelings, like the opening song/playlist of a Japanese campus movie or school life anime. Despite its relatively calm-looking, conventional album art, its name right down to the last exclamation mark belies the surprises in store.

Surprises which are very pleasant.

Pronounced drum beats and a electric guitar dominating the music backdrop to her voice makes Runaway a definite summer song. Listening to it, I can’t help but imagine a movie sequence when teenagers race barefoot along the beach on a hot afternoon with the sun hounding them overhead. Her vocals come out strong in this song and a perfect match for the demanding beats. Runaway has a pop-core with music tending towards the ‘Rock’ end with the very apparent use of electric guitars to drive the music. From this number it is apparent she fits the genre in which she sings. As a first track of the album is makes a strong impact by truly highlighting her abilities as a more than competent pop-rock singer.

Candy kicks has less of the impulse to dance. It is softer than the opening track but retains enough energy to be catchy and happy. Less rock influences prevail in Candy kicks. She sounds especially nice when she prolongs the last syllable in the second stanzas. I notice voice tends to change to a slightly sharp-cum-airy sound at some high notes, depending on how she sings, which I find jarring on my part. However it does not ruin the song.

Hello Goodbye is more acoustic than the previous two tracks, paired with louder music at a slower pace. I like the quieter lull where her voice is clearly heard amid the acoustic guitar’s light strumming before the heavier drum playing enters a few seconds before the chorus kicks in full force. The chorus was a little too loud – it drowns out her voice a little and I couldn’t decide if I ought to turn the volume up to hear her singing or turn it down. Near to the end when she goes ‘dadada…’, her voices regains a more nasal quality that I find hard to describe in its entirety but I find very unique.

Take Me Home is a more reserved song – not as driven by a catchy tune as it is by the emotional content. At this point in the album the tone takes a slower, more deliberate pace. I am not sure what the producers meant by Album Version – I suppose it means she might have had a single with a different version of this song. I like this one, though. It strikes me as more melancholy and introspective in expression (I am only going by the tune) since the previous three sound more lively. Take Me Home is almost more ballad-like; I speak relative to the others aforementioned since they are pretty much like portable concentrated live concert atmospheres. There are a few lines sung in English; while her pronunciation is not entirely perfect, I managed to figure out her words without consulting a lyric sheet. Admittedly I didn’t know they were English until the third listen… From this song it’s clear she can do emotional pieces as well as up-beat. I didn’t like how it ended at ‘you take me away’, where I felt she was singing in her spoken voice a bit too much that it sounded throaty. Her attempt to end on a breathy note sounded like she was out of breath.

Popcorn Night opens with drums and the electric guitar joins in before the entire song gains a faster tempo with her voice. Prominently are changes in tempo which happen for a few seconds, but she easily sings the lines at those points without missing a beat. Before listening to the song I thought it would be a ballad from the title and was surprised when it wasn’t.

Breathe With You is a tiny bit more beat-intense than Take Me Home, but I feel they belong to the same ‘variety’. The slowness of Hello Goodbye with the intensity of Candy kicks coming together in a song. This is one of my favourites within the album as she did much better in conveying the slightly moody expression than she did in Take Me Home. The higher notes she encounters in this were more controlled and thus well-sang than Take Me Home.

Shoudou Jet has traces of the laid-back mood in Breathe With You though the album begins at this song to pick up the pace yet again. The catchy melody makes this immensely likeable. She maintains strong vocals throughout the entire song; at higher notes she may turn airy.

With Sky chord ~Otona ni Naru Kimi e~, the album reverts to a more pop-ish feel especially with the sole electric guitar playing each note deliberately at the beginning of the song, which I thought matched with her lighter (pop) sound beautifully. I liked how innocent she sounds in this song which is most apparent in the chorus; this is probably because of the arrangement of the song as well. I’d label this as a summer song of another variety – the sort where one lies on a mat under the shade of an umbrella, listening to the waves.

Colorful was strange in the beginning; frankly I found the opening shouts a little…annoying? Anyway thankfully it leaps straight into a lively tune with electric guitar strumming in-between drum beats. This is fast-paced yet again, a little like Popcorn Night.

Comparing M/elody with the other songs covered through the album, this was a plainer. It has a definite pop-feel to it, unlike the harder drum beats driving songs such as Runaway. It sounds to me like a standard pop song, with vibes I received from listening to Ayaka’s songs.

As the name suggests, Digital Mode is dressed in light electronica but is thankfully retains the distinct flavour of Tsuji-san. I loved it from the beginning, from the subdued electronic beats which announce the opening of the song to her lower voice when she starts singing. The chorus was catchy, due in part to the lyrics as she repeated some words back to back and her high slightly breathy notes here were appropriate, somehow. The electronic accents tone down the Rock of this song so that it leaned more heavily on ‘pop’.

From Rain Song onwards, I did not pay much attention to the other songs (to do this review I had to listen to the following songs twice). Here and onwards the album seems to officially settle for its pop roots and definition. This is pleasant and light – her singing was gentler, bright but not too intense and hence completely suits the requirements of lighter, more neutral and near-ballad pop songs. She reminded me of Horie Yui at certain points of the song. The pace of the song is made for swaying – I could imagine her audience at a live concert waving their light sticks left to right in unison and in time.

Hoshii monou starts off so quietly I barely noticed it did – with almost shy acoustic guitar playing against a void backdrop. Compared to Rain Song, Hoshii monou takes on a slightly more upbeat tune with the constant, repetitive beat of the drums. I liked her ‘oh’s during the bridge of the song – neither too airy that they were in danger of disappearing, nor too loud to ruin the mood of the song. Overall a decidedly more simple-sounding but relatively relaxing and enjoyable song – like a train ride.

The album closes with Chikyuugi ni Kiss. It is fully acoustic, with her singing jovially and casually to the strumming. The combination works even with her usually sharp voice. Here she sounds sweet and innocent, like a small child. A tambourine enters the music at the last 20-30 seconds before the song ends, adding a bit of brightness before it comes to a quick ending (it is only 2+ minutes after all). It does not sound rushed, but it gives off the impression of a nursery ditty.

Overall, a gregarious, impressive first studio album that tapers off to a more subdued but still very positive note. It strikes me as paralleling that of maturity. Wonder if anyone else felt the same way.

Rating: 4.5/5

* All In One Place is a new Asian discography community over at livejournal, with artist recommendations and tracks. It mainly covers musicians who sing in Japanese, Korean or Mandarin. Chances are you’ll find something new there as it is fairly eclectic. Entries are locked to members only.

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