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Aya Hirano Scandal Pictures – When I decided I wanted to “explore” some of my favourite seiy?’s careers as singers, I knew I would have been often disappointed, along the lines of “great voice, shitty songs”: I had expected them to be mostly pop/dance stuff, so probably not something I would’ve liked (don’t blame me, I was new to this whole J-pop thing back then!). Impressed by her performance in “Suzumiya Haruhi no y?utsu”, I had decided to start with the beautiful Hirano Aya, in particular with her first full-length, “Riot girl”. This album proved itself the first of a long series of surprises (not only from Aya) shattering all my expectations into dust. Not only I liked the album: I LOVED it.

The songs are much more guitar-driven than synth-driven, and the synth drum I so dreaded is almost absent. As typical of Japanese music, the genre is an almost indefinable mixture of various influences (I hate definitions based on nationality like “J-pop”, but I must admit that it’s easier and faster than the “Symphonic jazz gospel pop” I had to classify one Ogata Megumi album with…), but if I had to try and describe it, and I do, I’d say it’s a soft, mostly unoriginal, but still very enjoyable punk-rock-pop with occasional grunge influences and lots of keyboards.

At times I find it reminiscent of Bon Jovi’s “Crush” years. The melodies are good and catchy, and Hirano’s voice is exceptional: she has a decent range, she clearly shows her training with a surprisingly solid vibrato, and she’s as expressive with her voice as she is as a voice actress, ranging from cute and childish to deep and strong, from soft and emotional to dark and even pretty hard-rocking. As for some reason typical of these genres, the bass has a lot of very interesting lines and passages. The guitar is given some solos here and there, but most of them, with one exception I’ll name later, are a bit insipid (at least, for someone like me who’s used to such players as Andre Olbrich, Steve Vai, Syu, Ritchie Blackmore or Brian May).

I’d say the album’s highlight are the opener, “Love gun”, with its catchy vocal lines, heavy palm muting and epic chorus (that in my mind keeps begging for some double bass drumming and crashing power chords, but I know it’s just me), “Yorokobi no uta”, with its bittersweet, melancholically optimist feeling, “Harmonia vita”, with its surprisingly dark keyboards and nice chorus, and “Hoshi no kakera”, a beautiful piano-driven ballad with nice lyrics, orchestrations and a simply wonderful guitar solo at the end. Other songs worth noticing are the EXTREMELY “Smells like teen spirit”-influenced “Maybe I can’t good-bye” (yeah, I know…), the somehow jazzy, reggae-influenced, upbeat number “Breakthrough” with its brass section and great bass line, “For you”, the title track “Riot girl” and, of course, the classic “B?ken desh? desh??” from “The melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya”. The only track I can say I didn’t like is “Hero”.

In conclusion, if taken without expecting any masterpiece of neither musical complexity nor pure rock, this album can be a pleasing listen even for people who generally don’t like pop music. Never original, but enjoyable and interesting throughout. Of course, for those who instead are already into this genre, this album and generally Hirano’s career will be a nice treat, with catchy melodies and a great vocalist, especially for anime lovers who’d squeal just for the fact of hearing Konata, Haruhi and Misa singing

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