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THE WINTER ALBUM (Japan Version)
the brilliant green
THE WINTER ALBUM (Japan Version)
This professional review refers to THE WINTER ALBUM (Japan Version)

The Brilliant Green's previous release, Los Angeles, found the Tokyo power pop trio at the top of their game, finally fulfilling the potential demonstrated on their first two records. Darker and heavier than previous outings, vocalist Tomoko (Tommy) Kawase's trademark sugar-sweet melodies were backed with a heavier rhythm section and a full-blown pop/grunge guitar onslaught that packed enough punch to elevate the band above the legions of J-Pop lightweights.

Now with their fourth full-length release, entitled The Winter Album, the Brilliant Green shows that they have further matured in the period since Los Angeles, keeping their sound fresh while mining power pop's past for inspiration. As on previous albums, the basic sonic equation for most tracks on The Winter Album is the same - honeyed vocals over tight, guitar driven music penned primarily by bassist Shunsaku Okuda. This time around, though, the band has tossed in a few more intimate touches like strings, organ, and keyboard to mix up the sound, and in a return to the style of their first two records, several of the songs feature English lyrics. The result is a more well-rounded album that will likely serve to increase their already large fan base both in Japan and abroad.

The album's rockers showcase the Brilliant Green's ability to crank things up with the best of them. Holidays! features a warm, blurry West Coast pop feel, contrasting nicely with Tommy's chilly lyrical image of a frozen train window on which she scrawls "I love you" with her finger. I'M SO SORRY BABY (album mix), the heaviest track on the album, blazes out of the gate with Ryo Matsui's guitar in overdrive and a bottom-heavy rhythm section, only to shift into a gloriously ringing chorus that sends chills up the spine. The slower tracks are equally strong. That boy waits for me and I'M JUS' LOVIN' YOU (album mix) invoke the spirit of Juliana Hatfield in her glory days. Day after day, possibly the prettiest track on the record, meanders along at a lazy pace apropos of Tommy's blue mood, defined by chiming guitars, tinkling piano, and a tasteful slide guitar solo. The ethereal, exquisitely crafted Rainy days never stays (album mix) is also sure to be many listeners' favorite track, despite some vocal over-emoting that seems to be the style du jour for divas on both sides of the water these days.

The Brilliant Green's trump card has always been their ability to juxtapose Tommy's vocals with meaty, well-honed riffs, and when the band decides to rock out, there are few pop outfits in Japan that can match their mix of pure power and pop sense. Informed by the likes of Juliana Hatfield, the Stone Roses, and Ride, the Brilliant Green know how to both craft a hook and express it sonically - a gift that sets them apart from the masses. While Time Magazine's September, 2001 ranking of the Brilliant Green as one of the top ten contemporary music acts outside the United States is debatable, it is safe to say that they are one of the best things happening in mainstream Japanese music these days. Deep messages and philosophical insight are definitely not on the menu, but if you are looking for an undiluted shot of power pop to add to your Christmas eggnog this year, pick up The Winter Album and play it. Loud.

Reviewed by BH

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