Ai Otsuka

Love Letter

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On her fifth album in a series of "Love"-related titles (Love Cook, Love Jam, Love Piece, etc. -- the name Ai also translates as Love), Ai Otsuka returned with more of her specialty: straightforward, unapologetic J-pop anthems and ballads. In Love Letter, she really plays up the childlike vocal quality that she's developed over her previous albums, not just higher-pitched, but something of a naïve or untrained quality in the timbre. The bulk of the compositions are simple ballads and love songs, some more poppy than others, all revolving around Otsuka's simple vocal technique. Nothing to recommend these ones over those of any of her other albums, however. There are some nice piano-driven pieces instrumentally here and there, and a refreshing tendency to stay away from the electronic drum kits and keyboards for the most part. It's toward the end of the album that something new starts to pop up. In "Shiyachihata," a strong bit of piano jazz and swing lets Otsuka explore not only a much deeper register of her voice, but a long extended foray into swing scatting, which comes off astoundingly well (despite a comical devolvement into turkey gobbling at one point). A couple of ballads finishing off the album give her another chance to show off an aesthetic not entirely standard for her, but well performed. The album offers little surprise for anyone who's heard Otsuka previously, but "Shiyachihata" alone provides a nice departure from the norm.

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