Miliyah Kato

Ring

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    7
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Still in the thick of her run with J-urban music (rather than J-pop proper), Miliyah Kato uses Ring to showcase a few dance tracks and a surprising facility with modern R&B techniques, without resorting to the less glamorous aspects of her sound. At the core of Ring is a basic pop sensibility built on years of chart-topping pop and a hint of anime theme music (as in the opening "Sayonara Baby"). Where the album starts to provide more, though, is in the newest material. "Aitai" provides a canvas for smooth warbling and a strong vocal clarity from Kato, and (among unneeded outbursts from guest Shota Shimizu) "Love Forever" puts those same smooth vocals over a somewhat more standard urban beat. On tracks like "Love for You," she takes a shot at re-creating something of the mid-'90s American R&B sound (à la SWV) with fairly good results. Alternately, bombastic string intros give her cover for entirely contemporary showstoppers in the vein of some of Soul'd Out's work, though bedecked with the ever-present snap/clap R&B backing tracks. The real key to Ring is that Kato doesn't let herself get subsumed under the dance tracks, and gets to show off something surprising: she's got a very nice voice. A massive bonus on the album for fans new and old, though, might not be the straightforward dance tracks or the smooth vocals in the subdued numbers, but "Time Is Money," where Kato slyly intertwines shakuhachis into an electronic mix that mimics classic sho mouth organs and shamisens -- a modern dance offspring of classical gagaku music, as it were. And it doesn't just come off as a gimmick.