Ayaka Hirahara

Path of Independence

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Originally a classical crossover artist, Ayaka Hirahara takes on a whole series of ballads on her fifth album. Luckily for the listener, Hirahara's voice is outstanding and ballads are perhaps the best showcase possible for her talents. Unluckily for the listener, there isn't much here beyond the ballads; there's very little variety. The album opens with the title track, a nice canvas on which Hirahara can show off her softer, more tender side vocally and really explore the shapes of her sounds. The follow-up, "Nocturne" (in English) continues this trend, giving her more room to cover different dimensions of vocals, from soft and vulnerable to powerful and dominant, all while accompanied by a sparse piano. It is in this light that Hirahara's vocals really get a chance to shine, and the reason she's a star is made clear. However, aside from an interesting flirtation with the vibraphone in "Sora ni Namida wo Kaeshitara" and an attempt to be a little gruffer in "Ima Koko Watashi," an alt rock style piece, the the songs are almost always straightforward ballads. Over and over, the arrangements are just a bit saccharine, though the vocals are always outstanding. Hirahara could use a bit of expansion in her repertoire, but what she's got down, she most definitely has down.