Album review: MiChi - Therapy

Album review: MiChi - Therapy | Random J Pop

I wasn't overly impressed with MiChi's later singles post Up to you. Yet somehow, when placed alongside each other on this album they work. Songs I couldn't stand when they were singles, I now find myself playing and wondering why I didn't like them before-hand. Much of it is context. As stand alone songs the likes of "Tokyo night" and "Find your way" did nothing for me. But within a structured album chronicling stories of love, life, independence and reassurance - they click. Missing pieces to the puzzle that was an album. This album.

Therapy isn't as loud, in your face and cutting edge in many of the ways Up to you was, but it's not the purpose of this album for it to be. MiChi's intent with this album seems to be for you to take her as a woman and not the Indie grinding skank we got with her debut and B-sides such as "Jump on it". It works. You do miss that side of MiChi, as it was one of the many things which set her apart from her peers and also gave her that edge. But I admire her decision to streamline this album and define it without those types of songs. Something which may divide her fan base and loved everything she'd done pre-Up to you.

Where-as Up to you had a focus on having you get up on your feet, thrash your shit and pop dat p***y, Therapy is more about setting moods. The album starts off as MiChi's Indie release and debut album did, with a "Madness" intro (hence it being tagged as vol.3). A solid minute of electro punk, before MiChi interrupts the music and calls for things to turn Indian and the song switches into a sexual groove of Bollywood chants and flutes. This is as close to an underground club jam as you're going to get with this album, so savour it. There are no equivalents to "Why oh why" or "Shibuya de punch" here. So it's just as well the intro throws everything into the mix and starts the album off with a bang.

The first half of the album is uptempo and where most of the familiar songs reside. The singles "Tokyo night", "Love is", "Together again" and "Yeah yeah yeah!!!" all roll out of the starting gates, followed by the album cut "Special someone" - sounding like the type of song you'd hear as a theme to a high school based anime or J-drama. I'm a sucker for these types of songs, so I'm on this like a fly on shit. It's the most conformist song on the album and the one which MiChi stands out the least on. But I'll still whip my head back and forth to this as I'm cruising down the highway on a sunny day. The first half of the album indulges you with sharp and funky uptempo's which act as a tether between MiChi's Up to you releases and the more mellow and organic material which sit in the later half of the album.

The turning point in the album comes in the form of "Light up" which is the first sign of MiChi's sound transitioning into something a bit darker and more sombre than we're used to hearing from her. If anybody compares this to a Max Martin or Katy Perry joint, I will shoot them in the face. Opening up with a guitar riff and MiChi crooning softly, the song builds into a hook of ravey synths, big vocals and 80's chord changes. It's an easy song to get lost in and it's fucking amazing. It's a shame Sony cop block their artists from iTunes, because MiChi could have a hot worldwide digital release on her hands with this song. "Take it easy!" lifts the mood a sunny deposition, but keeps the guitar laden sound. This song make me want to prance around an white IKEA living room with the curtains blowing and shit. Wonderfully uplifting and care free. MiChi gets her Sheryl Crow 'n Natalie Imbruglia on with this one and leaves bitches bald in the process. "Therapy" is as the name implies...therapy. Musical bliss more-so. An ambient piece in which MiChi speaks and softly croons over a calming wave of synths and kicks which plod like a heartbeat before segueing into the song's non-hook of MiChi's distant chanting and an ascension of digital gargles and pulses. And just when you think you've got the song sussed, it switches gears again...and then again. "Therapy" feels as though it's living, breathing and taking on a life of its own. An unexpected, but welcomed moment in the album. The set reaches closure with "One", a song that MiChi had leaked herself a year ago in the wake of the Tōhaku earthquakes, which then went on to become a single months after - albeit in a slightly changed form with the whole thing being taken down a key. I prefer how MiChi sounded on the leaked version, because it highlighted a range she never sings in and it gave the song an ethereal quality. But the song is a winner regardless of which version you listen to. And the additional production gives the song more oomph and finishes the album as strong as it started.

The only weak link on this album is "Wonder woman", which is one of the worst singles MiChi has ever released. Because it was put out as a collaboration with The telephones and sounded more like one of their songs than hers, I wasn't expecting it to feature on this album. But lo and it is. The only redeeming factor of this single was its B-side "Strong man", which would have fit this album a heck of a lot better.

Album review: MiChi - Therapy | Random J Pop

MiChi's vocals have never been a striking point of her music. She has a distinct twang to her voice and the one thing I've always loved most about it is the clarity. Even if you cannot understand a word of Japanese, you can match what she's singing syllable for syllable because you can hear every single word she sings - which is often a common thing with J-music singers who are fluent in English. Up to you had MiChi adopting a free vocal style, riddled with angst, which often went through a selection of vocoders, filters and the dreaded auto-tune. On Therapy the vocal effects are stripped right back and MiChi sounds much more controlled and confident. Reaching for bigger notes, holding them longer and ad-libbing a heck of a lot more. Sounding less like she's reciting lyrics and actually singing. MiChi also adopts a slight country style twang to her voice in any song which features a guitar. I've no idea where it came from, but it enlivens the songs. Particularly on "Take it easy!", "Motto" and "Light up". There is a real sense of conviction and comfort to MiChi this time around, in that you believe what she's singing. The production isn't as corybantic as Up to you, which is a large part of what makes MiChi's vocals stand out so much more this time around. MiChi is a part of the music, not an accessory to it as she was on Up to you. But the production and the beats were so good that it was never something you could ever fault the album for. And you didn't have the likes of Therapy hanging around for comparisons sake.

This sounds as corny as fuck, but there's dream-like quality which permeates this album and stirs from track to track. From the acoustic textured honesty of "Motto", the ambient warmth of "Therapy" to the euphoric optimism of "Find your way". There is so much more to these songs than just amazing production and catchy hooks. It's more evident in some songs than others. Much of this is down to the chemistry of MiChi and her partner in crime Tomokazu Matsuzawa. These two make a great pair. Each others muses for sure. It was clear from Up to you, but there is no denying it with this album. Tomo and MiChi know their own sound and whilst they don't revolutionise it with this album, it has certainly evolved. If Up to you was the debut from a young girl just breaking into the mainstream, then Therapy is that of a grown woman who still has her edge, but has a bit more to say, something to prove and is 100% sure of her musical comfort zone.

Therapy is a great album, but it takes a few listens to warm to and doesn't hit you in the face as Up to you did. I wasn't expecting much from this album because I hadn't liked many of the singles. And those which I did like, got left off of the final tracklist. But upon listening to Therapy I can understand why. They all fall more in line with Up to you's sound and would not have fit what MiChi was going for with this album. It is an utter shame though, because some amazing songs were sacrificed. I am pressed that "All about the girls ~Iijanka party people~" got left off, because this is one of the best pop jams in the whole world EVAR. And the likes of "Perfect world", "Life clock" and "Dance dance!" would have fit in with the soundscaping of Therapy better than the likes of that "Wonder woman" nonsense. MiChi could release an album of her B-sides and left overs and still have herself an amazing and consistent album. Perhaps Sony will save that for when MiChi jumps labels. Which she will. Because Sony aren't doing a damn thing for her.

Therapy is not head-to-head as good an album as Up to you, but it is a stellar body of work. Up to you had a run of amazing singles and featured production and a sound which was so tight and consistent for a debut it was ridiculous. But Therapy feels as though it has more substance behind it and you feel as though you can listen to each song and take on MiChi as a vocalist and a songwriter and not just relish in the hotness of the beat which she just happens to be singing over. There is a level of integrity of this album which wasn't there with her debut, as great an album as it was.

Hot songs, artistic growth and a consistent album you can play without skipping is therapy indeed. It may take a few listens before your won over by this album, but give it a chance and you'll find that this is a worthy successor to her debut.

RATING: 7 / 10

Album highlights:
■ Madness vol. 3
■ Love is
■ Yeah yeah yeah!!!
■ Special someone
■ Light up
■ Take it easy! ★ J's fave
■ Motto
■ Find your way
■ Therapy
■ One