For a while, I have watched BiSH here and there, always disappointed by their actual musical output, growing tired of the lame gimmicks that WACK and team push out seasonally. However there has always been the one standout face in the idol troupe- and that is Aina the End. Every-time she has had chance to branch out on her own, she has been a joy to watch, whether it be THAT Mondo Grosso music video, or hearing her belt out Shiina Ringo classics better than Ringo can herself these days. For the longest time (and I don’t think I’m the only one), I was waiting for a true solo album- and finally, last week, Aina dropped her first original album, The End.
The most outstanding thing Aina brings to the table are her instantly recognisable vocals. She is one of them rare gems that comes along only every now and then. Raspy, soulful and forever memorable. If that’s what you want from The End, then you absolutely will get that here- where she is an undeniable powerhouse and lovely to listen to on every track of the album. If you’re more into the album for the song writing aspect- then, you might be a little disappointed by the returns (which I will get into shortly).
Let’s talk about the good tracks- the songs that rock, rock goddamn hard. There’s some absolutely amazing jams on this thing, the lead single “Niji” being an absolute face melter. Seiji Kameda had a strong hand in the production on many of these songs, and in particular you can hear it come out on “NaNa”, which sounds like it coulda come right off a latter era Tokyo Jihen album (yes, yes, THAT comparison again, but this time it’s absolutely apt). However, Aina is bringing forth an energy that we have missed from Ringo’s output for quite some time, making the well worn path of jazz rock a lot more playful and digestible. The other undeniably ‘Kameda’ touched song is the delightful “Saboten Girl” which is just bouncing with life and one of the best tracks on the record.
The album does, unfortunately, have one absolutely glaring weak point, which really drags it down to being fairly average overall- and that is… the absolute overkill of ballads. If this is your bag, then you’re gonna love it- but for me, it definitely drags, particularly on repeat listens. I mean don’t get me wrong, as a showcase of her vocal bravado, they really deliver, but as far as ballads go, they’re pretty inessential listening and slow the album down to a near crawl at times. (However, on the bigger picture side of things, some may prove to be karaoke favourites in time). This will be one of the major elements that Aina will have to improve on future solo releases if she wants to make people truly remember her albums as wholes, rather than a few choice tracks. For now, they’re truly distractions from the best parts of the record- the table water with your meal.
Overall, The End’s main drawcard is the potential on display here. It feels like a warmup rather than a full fledged effort. With some tweaking and focus, I feel that Aina the End has the edge to be a great, great artist in modern J-pop. Unfortunately, The End is not going to be the great album that elevates her to that higher level. Still, there’s fun to be had here. Maybe next time, Aina!
6/10– A potentially fantastic release bogged down by ballad hell.