Album review: Kaze Fujii - Help Ever Hurt Cover

Album review: Kaze Fujii (藤井 風) - Help Ever Hurt Cover | Random J Pop

Kaze Fujji did a livestream last year where he sang a bunch of covers of songs whilst lying on his living room floor with a keyboard. He didn’t do full songs, and there didn’t seem to be much of a set setlist. He was just fucking round. Some of the songs he covered sounded so good that I thought ‘He should release these’. And unbeknownst to me a whole album of covers was packaged with limited pressings of his 2020 debut album Help Ever Hurt Never. But only in May of 2021 was it made available to purchase separately and released to streaming platforms.

It’s an easy release to miss, because the cover looks identical to that of his debut album, and they share similar titles with the exception of one word. I came across Help Ever Hurt Cover because I opened up Spotify to listen to Help Ever Hurt Never and was like ‘Why are all of the song titles different!?’.I can’t be the only one who discovered the album this way. Or maybe my ass is just dumb.

Kaze actually gained popularity and a sizable portion of his following via uploading piano covers of songs to YouTube. He even toured performing them. So it’s fitting that he’s released an album of covers so early into his career. And pretty generous for him to have made it available as a cute bonus with his debut album. Although making Help Ever Hurt Cover available for purchase separately now is clearly somebody at the record label realising that it’s probably what they always shoulda done.

Kaze is a really interesting artist, because his style spans a bunch of different genres, making it difficult to pin down. Kaze has a love of music generally, and no style or genre seems off limits. Whilst his debut album showed the breadth of Kaze’s eclectic music tastes, his cover album is probably a better and more telling example of it.

Help Ever Hurt Cover spans artists, genres, time periods. All of it. This album goes from The Carpenters to Taylor Swift, to Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Alfie” to Ariana Grande’s “Be Alright”, to The O’Jays. Kaze jumps around so much that you’ll have whiplash by track 5. Despite each one of the 10 songs Kaze covers being so different from one another, he manages to tie them together. All of the covers here are piano covers, which helps unify the sound, but there’s also the arrangement choices and approaches taken with each song.

Album review: Kaze Fujii (藤井 風) - Help Ever Hurt Cover | Random J Pop

Kaze shifts the energies of each song accordingly to have them better match one another. There’s a really masterful and also unique approach taken with these covers, which is refreshing to hear in a music market where so few cover albums feel original. Cover albums either fall short because the covers are so close to the originals that there’s no added value in the renditions, or because artists and producers go so far left that they lose all the spirit of the original and don’t bring anything worthwhile to the table with that’s new. Kaze manages to find a sweet spot, by honouring the originals; having a clear understanding of the context of what the original artists were going for, but reshaping them through his own lens - making them his own.

When I saw “Shake It Off” on the tracklist my mind immediately went to the Mariah Carey song. Also, it does feature a piano, so I had a whole arrangement in my head. But nope. It’s Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off”. And hearing it reinterpreted on keys and done so well is such a mouth agape moment for me, because the original song is so percussive. So hearing it on keys was a mind fuck, but Kaze did it. And not only did he do it, but he dials the song right back into something which is really chilled and laid back compared to Glee jazz hands vibe of the original. Kaze transforms the song to such a degree that it feels new. I’d barely even call this a cover. It’s more like a reimagining, which is how I’d describe half of the covers on this thing.

The energy of some of these covers and how Kaze’s wrangles them separates them from the original to such a point that it’s hard to say whether Kaze’s version is better or not, per se. But there are definitely instances where Kaze shits on the original song. Exhibit A. “Shape of You”. I am not a fan of Ed Sheeran’s music. I think most of it is trash. And constantly wonder how in the hell he is so popular. I didn’t like “Shape of You” at all. But with how Kaze tickles dem keys and how he sings the song, he has me actually liking the damn thing. Ed Sheeran’s version of the song? I don’t know her. I only know Kaze’s version now.

Something which really comes through on this cover album, more so than his studio album, is Kaze’s voice. I liked his voice on Help Ever Hurt Never, because his style of singing is so different to a lot of male Japanese singers out at the moment. Kaze really embraces how low his voice is, when the Japanese music trend has always favoured vocals which are high. Even singers who have natural low set voices be fucking up their vocal chords to sing high. But there’s a whole layer of richness to Kaze’s voice and vocal arrangements that he taps into on this album - something which is especially evident on his cover of Ariana’s “Be Alright”. Also, let us acknowledge Kaze’s taste. Because we all know “Be Alright” is one of Ariana’s best songs, and that her team done fucked up not releasing it as a single. But these covers also really showcase Kaze’s vocal range, in ways his original songs don’t. Japanese pop music for the most part isn’t arranged to showcase vocals, much akin to pop music on the whole. Even if an artist can sing and do all of the things, the material won’t always reflect that. There’s a sense of freedom that Kaze has singing English songs and you can hear in how he sings them. His cover of The O’Jays’ “Back stabbers” and Amy Winehouse’s “Stronger Than Me” have Kaze going places with his voice that he doesn’t on Help Ever Hurt Never, and he sounds great. So I really hope that Kaze explores his voice more for his second studio album.

This sense of freedom also extends to what Kaze is singing about across these songs. Japanese songs can sometimes be quite dense and indirect. Where-as US pop is the complete opposite. There’s a directness and frankness in US pop that you don’t get by default with a lot of J-Pop. Even songs which have seemingly simple lyrics can have this whole other greater meaning behind them. Kaze revels in being able to sing about a variety of things that he’d probably never get to with his own Japanese material. Amy Winehouse’s “Stronger Than Me” was a choice though, given the point in time we’re at now in regards to gender roles.

English isn’t Fuji’s native tongue, so his enunciation isn’t perfect on certain songs. Fuji’s English doesn’t ruin any of the covers by any means. Not by the longest of shots. But unless you really know the song that he’s covering, there may be odd lines or words that aren’t all that clear. Something that I really would’ve liked Fuji to have done is what Angela Aki did for her cover album Songbook - which is to rework sections of the songs in Japanese. But his decision to say ‘Fuck it’ and sing all of the songs in English despite his English not being perfect is Kaze all over, and I respect it. Even if it means that some songs aren’t as strong as they could have been otherwise.

Album review: Kaze Fujii (藤井 風) - Help Ever Hurt Cover | Random J Pop

Kaze was an intriguing artist to me from the start, but this cover album has really made me lean into him a lot more. Not only does he have a great sense of musicality, but there’s a type of fearlessness to how he approaches these covers. Most wouldn’t touch some of these songs because they are either popular, distinct or the artists of some of these songs have fervent fanbases who would drag his ass clean out of Japan. But Kaze took them on regardless. It takes a certain amount of balls to even do a cover album in the first place. But to cover a bunch of English songs when you’re not a fluent English speaker, and then rearrange the shit out of them AND not flip the genders!? (Yes. “Shake It Off” has Kaze saying ‘My ex-man told his new girlfriend’ and Kaze is not...ya know *Limps wrist*). I can’t knock the hustle or the audacity. Especially when the end result is a fun and consistent album which leaves you wanting more or whatever Kaze has to offer.

VERDICT: ARE YOU GAY?

Highlights:
■ Shape of You 🔥
■ Back Stabber 🏆
■ Be Alright 🔥
■ Shake It Off
■ Stronger Than Me 🔥

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