Holidays in the Sun

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After three nice but predictable albums with zero degrees of variation, Yui finally felt that it was time to diversify her airy guitar pop. The opening cut on Holidays in the Sun inspires a fear that she's got it all wrong, because it's a sugary but bland piano-led ballad of the sort that the J-pop scene produces too much of, but in the end, things work out well, with "To Mother" being the sole blunder on an otherwise engaging, if not groundbreaking, record. Yui does not ditch the things that made her a star from the get-go -- she's still got her childish voice, guitar lines that never trade catchiness for misinterpreted sophistication, and the sappy, sunny, sweet mood of a shamelessly adorable rom-com. However, this time around, she tries real hard to be more engaging -- mainly using bits of power pop (probably inspired by Bryan Adams, but reaching for the Gin Blossoms in places) and subtle electronica touches, some bluesy grooves, better strings than ever before, and all-around improved arrangements. Some of these things work better than others -- you probably won't even realize the music fading into a sonic background until the bombastic bluesy refrain of "Shake My Heart" snaps you to attention despite its silly wording -- but still, even that is an achievement. As prime guitar pop goes, Yui remains a featherweight -- the songs on Holidays in the Sun are catchy, but not the sort of pop you'll remember years down the line, even after hearing them more than once -- but within the J-pop framework, she is an artist to watch out for.

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