Album review: Miliyah Kato - Liberty

Album review: Miliyah Kato - Liberty | Random J Pop

When Miliyah started out, she was one of the dime a dozen artists in Japan attempting to ride that J-R&B wave, which we know has left many bitches washed up on the shores of Shirahama. But Miliyah, despite being so nondescript, is STILL HERE BITCH.

Part of Miliyah's staying power has been in her image. She went from pretty run of the mill by J-music standards, to moody hipster who don't give a fuck. But whilst Miliyah's fashion sense went through a metamorphosis and became a clusterfuck of different styles and muses, her music never really followed - up until Liberty came along.

Liberty is Miliyah's longest album and one of her most varied musically. Most artists go through this phase much earlier in their career, when they're at a point where they're trying to assume control over their music, prove a point and show they're more than whatever their management team and / or record label made them out to be. So it's a bit bizarre to get this type of album from Miliyah 10 years and 8 LP's into her career. More so because these types of albums are usually indicative of the artist themselves and sets the course for all that they release from there-on after. But Liberty doesn't give me a sense of who Miliyah is or what she's striving for in the same way that Hikaru Utada's Deep river, P!nk's Missundaztood, Namie Amuro's Style or Christina Aguilera's Stripped did.

Liberty feels like a bunch of ideas that were never really edited down or thought through. There was no goal with this album other than just doing everything and anything, because a bitch could.

The up-tempo songs on this album smother Miliyah. The production on these songs is often so dense that Miliyah gets completely lost in them. Album opener "Liberty" feels off as a whole. Miliyah is struggling to sing on beat and her thin vocals do not marry up with the frenetic production style. The Daft Punk sampling "Future lover ~Mirai koibito~" is a nice song, but Miliyah doesn't bring enough energy or vocals to it in order to really own it. The "One more time" sample is so prominent that it takes over the whole song. The chorus would have been better off being re-written to include the words 'One more time' and to be sung by Miliyah herself. This wouldn't have saved this song, but would have given her a bit more presence on it. There was a reason why Daft Punk built their entire song around just 3 words being repeated for a chorus and left everything else instrumental. Trying to slap that sample into a song and build around it was never going to work. Sampling Daft Punk is a risk generally.

Namie Amuro has managed to make a career out of giving us bangers whilst sounding as though she really doesn't give a fuck about a single thing. But Namie has become the master of giving us JUST enough to make shit work. And she always sings on beat and gives us backing vocals, layers and ad-libs here and there. She contributes enough to a song that she owns it. Miliyah under-performs on and sounds as though shes featuring on her own songs as opposed to really owning them and making them hers. It also doesn't help that the material that she's been given to work with is so weak and runs like a checklist of sounds. Hi NRG? Check. EDM? Check. Club house? Check. Faux K-Pop sounding Hip-Pop? Check. And not one of these sounds is done a justice.

When Miliyah channels her inner Namie though, we get bops like "Fashion". When Miliyah is singing about Louis Vuitton boots, high heeled shoes fashion being her passion, I don't buy it. Because she sounds like she'd much rather lie beside her kotatsu under a blanket, smoking cigarettes and watching TV; and for this, I'm living. But the beat on "Fashion" is so poppin' that you could have Mr. Snuffaluffagus sing it and I'd still work my waist to it.

The mid-tempos and ballads are the highlights on this album, because they showcase Miliyah's vocals so much more and there's enough space in the production to prevent Miliyah getting lost in any of the songs. There's a fragility, a void and a sense of sadness to Miliyah's voice which lends itself so well to the slower songs, because they feel like they are a truer reflection of her. Behind the fragility of her voice is also a real strength, and this contrast is what makes these songs work.

The production across this album is weak as fuck. Every song feels like it's lacking or as though it's been diluted in some way. The ballads never really soar. The mid-tempo's never really set a mood. The up-tempo's never really pop. Every song hits that 'almost' mark and just stays there. Miliyah also sounds wholly disinterested on half of the songs. There is no spark to her voice. None of the partial energy or conviction that she had on albums like Ring. Energy is a stretch for Miliyah, but she's definitely it to us in the past.

Liberty generally suffers from a lack of conviction and focus. There are too few instances over the course of this 17 track album of Miliyah owning a sound, finding her voice or truly selling a song enough to make it her own. 90% of this album sounds like a collection of B-sides and unfinished songs. The vocals are unrefined and sound like one takes. The production doesn't feel tight enough and there are 5 too many songs on this damn thing. There is nothing about Liberty that makes it unique or sells Miliyah's brand. Beni has delivered this type of album several times and did it better each time, despite not being the most distinct of artists herself.

Liberty marks a departure from Miliyah's previous albums, but in the wrong direction. Loveland, True lovers and Ring may have been pretty non-distinct albums, but they were at least wholly consistent. Liberty feels far too loose and liberal of an album from an artist who never had the most distinct sound to begin with. Greater care should have been taken with this album to distil who Miliyah is. Not leave her unravelled at the seams, as the case is amongst these 17 tracks. I'd like to believe that Miliyah has more to offer and that she could deliver it in the right hands. But after 8 studio albums, I'm still left wondering who Miliyah is and Liberty goes to no lengths to really answer that.

RATING: 3 / 10

Album highlights:
■ Future lover ~Mirai koibito~
■ Utakata no hibi
■ Fashion ★ J's fave
■ Megami no hikari