Crystal Kay

Color Change!

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Timed to coordinate with her graduation from college, Crystal Kay's Color Change! was already her eighth album. Though the album's opener, "Namida no Saki Ni," has a bit of standardized rock-infused J-pop sound to it, and Kay's vocals are at just the right level of strength to carry an otherwise standard composition. She's not quite thin enough to be left behind, but not so dominating that she overshadows the arrangements. The follow-up is a bit singsongy, even by J-pop standards, but is itself followed by "Good Times," a much stronger R&B entry, which is more in keeping with Kay's usual aesthetics, and also provides a better showcase for her range of speed and delivery. The arrangement itself sounds a bit dated by American standards, but works well in the setting nonetheless. This type of dated R&B continues into the next track, but is buoyed there by an intriguing bit of code-mixing (Kay deftly switches languages back and forth mid-sentence here, belying her dual-parentage). "Itoshii Hito" stands out on the album as something both entirely contemporary, with subtle electronica mixed with some basic piano riffing, something perhaps less stereotypical, and something more universal (the song was produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis), working its way toward a Mariah Carey-sort of timelessness. Kay's vocals truly get their chance to shine in this format, with little competing orchestration and a freedom of delivery that doesn't constrain her specifically to clipped or extended phrasing. There's a traditionally based ballad ("Kaerimichi"), a contemporary ballad ("Toki no Kakera"), and a basic, higher-energy J-pop anthem ("Shining"). In between those, though, there's an interesting switch in form in "Time Goes By," where the verses give Kay a chance to show off her vocals greatly while a chorus falls horribly flat, and there's a hyperproduced American-style R&B piece in "I Can't Wait" (again from Jam and Lewis) that shows off a more modern and versatile form of Kay's vocals, lilting, chanting, crooning. The album finishes with a bit of Autotunes mania in "It's a Crime" and a surprisingly cool loping showcase in "History." Kay started young and has recorded prodigiously, but Color Change! shows off a lot of facets of her talent and a lot of promise that there's still far more left in her bag of tricks and abilities than most singers with half her discography.

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