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Yaida takes off on flight of ‘flancy’

by Steve McClure

Why monkey with a winning formula? That seems to be the logic behind singer/songwriter Hitomi Yaida’s third album, “i/flancy,” which reached No. 1 on the Oricon album chart for the week ending Oct. 28.

Like her previous albums, “i/flancy” includes punchy rock numbers like the opening track, “Creamed Potatoes” and the brilliantly catchy “Andante,” delicate ballads such as “I Really Want to Understand You,” as well as midtempo tracks like “Ring My Bell.”

As with her previous album, “Candlize,” Yaida and her producers (the four-man collective Diamond Head) have done a great job in sequencing the songs on “i/flancy.” Deciding which song will follow which on a record doesn’t exactly sound like rocket science, but getting it just right — knowing when to alternate between “peaks” and “valleys” — can make all the difference in terms of an album’s success.

Some of the material on “i/flancy” was recorded in Dublin, and several Irish musicians add just the right touch of Celtic wistfulness to a couple of the slower numbers.

As much as I like her infectious, intelligent brand of pop/rock, I hope that Yaida varies the formula somewhat on her next album, maybe by working with some other producers for a change.

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Taking a precisely opposite tack from Yaida is the one-man unit known as Air (not to be confused with the two-man French group of the same name).

Air’s sixth album, “My Way,” sees the artist (Koji Kurumatani) abandon the rap/metal style he’s recently favored for a much more mellow, jazz-tinged pop sound.

On his home page ( www.air-net.mu ), Kurumatani explains that the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, had a big effect on his work, which probably explains the rather ruminative tone of the songs on “My Way.”

“It’s been a year-and-a-half since [my] previous release. I was able to take a lot of time to think about what kind of music I was going to make, and . . . the meaning of music to myself and to my life,” Kurumatani explains. “When I’m asked, ‘Why do you make music?’ I answer, ‘for you to listen to.’ . . . It feels great to be able to influence someone in a good way [as] a musician.”

I was impressed by Kurumatani’s smooth guitar playing when I saw him at an industry showcase event recently. His voice is still a bit weedy, but he writes good, hummable pop tunes, which is one reason why some of his songs have been used by companies like Levi’s and Nike for their TV commercials.

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This is the last weekly installment of J-Popsicle. From now on, the column will appear on the third Sunday of each month. There is a wealth of great music being made here in Japan these days, and it deserves a much wider global audience. I hope the weekly version of J-Popsicle has, in its own small way, helped spread the word about J-pop, and I’ll keep trying to do that in the monthly column.