summary: I review every Aira Mitsuki album in order
words: ~3,500 😶
content: Can you spoil albums. Is that a thing? Also language.
Aira Mitsuki is an electropop singer and probably my favourite solo artist. Over the years, I have accumulated a lot of (broadly positive) opinions on her discography. I have so many thoughts I decided it was about time to compile them into one post. As you can see from the word count, it's pretty long! This is because I wanted to cover everything and give her music the revaluation I think it deserves.
Tbh, my overall goal with this article is whatever the opposite of gatekeeping is. I tried to write it so if you aren't familiar with Aira Mitsuki or even J-pop, you can understand what I wrote. I hope I can convey my love for her music in this post, and maybe even convince someone to give her music a try.
Ok, no more pre-amble, let's just jump right in!
This was Aira's first album. Like most of her albums it was produced almost entirely by one guy who goes by Terukado. He was the head of the label D-topia, which Aira was on from 2007-2013. In addition to this, Aira wrote all the lyrics to the songs that aren't covers. Although it's her debut, in my mind it feels more like a compilation, since it includes lots of b-sides from her previously released singles. In my opinion, this makes it too long and the tracklist is to be blunt, absolutely fucked. It doesn't help that there are two versions of this album: the regular edition and the limited edition. And the tracklist is extremely different depending on which version you get. You actually got more songs at the end if you bought the regular edition which was also more expensive (?). The sequencing is weird for the entire album though. For example, there's a remix of a previously heard song right in the middle for some reason.
(I'm going to review the regular edition and treat the extra tracks as just part of the normal tracklist rather than bonus tracks)
Leaving the track order behind though, many of the individual songs themselves are great! Songs like Beep Count Fantastic and the Rock'n Roll Is Dead cover have a kind of rough sound, which I like. They sound buzzy and almost threatening. Like the synths are trying to kill you or something. They also give a good set up for what comes on the next album.
Meanwhile, China Discotica and Colorful Tokyo Sounds No.9 are more pop leaning and as a result are pretty good earworms. These songs are very likely inspired by Perfume. Aira was compared to Perfume a lot when she debuted, and was occasionally referred to as a rip-off. Personally, I think Aira's music can measure up with Perfume's best material. They don't really come across as knockoffs or anything. Although, if you like plagiarism drama, don't worry. That will come soon.
Anyway, another notable song is Galaxy Boy, which is a great opening track. I feel like it combines the two "edgy" and "pop" styles of the album well. I also like Fantasy Candy for the sheer cognitive dissonance you get from listening to the song then reading the lyrics (content warning for themes of abuse??)
However, as I mentioned there's a lot of filler songs that they could have left off. For example, High Bash somehow feels longer than five minutes and doesn't really go anywhere. There's also Darling Wondering Staring, where the drums sound kind of atrocious. The remix of it right at the end sounds much better in my opinion, but I think both versions of the song should have stayed on the single.
These kind of tracks make the album really drag. Even though I said I like the roughness, this doesn't go down as well when the song is extremely one-note. Plus I have to mention, I'm not one to notice bad mastering but pretty much all of Aira's D-topia era albums are compressed to hell. So if that kind of thing bothers you, this album (and most of her discography tbh) is going to be rough for you.
Overall, in terms of being a cohesive statement on Aira as an artist it kinda falls flat. I can't say I enjoy listening to it from beginning to end. By the time I'm halfway through I tend to feel kind of exhausted. But from a purely "does it have good songs on" metric the answer is an overwhelming yes!! I would recommend putting the best songs in a playlist and listening to them on their own.
My favourite of all Aira's albums (and therefore, probably my favourite album ever). I truly think everything about it is perfect. Maybe if you pushed me I would admit that removing one or two songs from the tracklist could have streamlined it for the better, but idk. I think the full 1hr+ experience is great.
My favourite thing about this release is how it embraces the earnestness and cuteness of J-pop and contrasts this with a harsh electronic sound. For example, there are great hooks and Aira's voice has the classic "not actually that technically good but still charming" idol quality. There are also random robot vocals, lyrics about depression and climate change, Aira's voice is extremely autotuned and tracks will often just "glitch out" halfway through and restart.
There's a bit of this with C.O.P.Y. , but Plastic just feels much more interesting. I think part of this is due to the fair amount of features, which add a bit of variety. In addition, not every track is as "full on" as with C.O.P.Y. Songs like Time is have a bit more empty space that let you breathe. There's also distant STARS which is basically Darling Wondering Staring but better.
Plus, the opener Robot Honey is basically just a normal J-pop song. It's super catchy and cute and I actually love that they chose this as the first track, since it's more satisfying as things begin to go completely off the rails. And man, does this album truly shine when it gives into the madness.
I think BAD trip exemplifies this. From the title, I feel like you can tell how this song is gonna sound. Right at the start it hits you with some super buzzy and aggressive sounding synths and panicked background vocals. When I heard this for the first time I was so amazed. How could an album that started so normally have devolved into this?
I also want to highlight HiGH SD sneaker. I feel like it's become really common in music reviews nowadays to proclaim that certain songs "predicted hyperpop" or whatever but no for real I think this song actually did. There's something distinctly gecs-like about all the screaming noises at 3 mins 18. I'm serious.
I could talk forever about pretty much any track on here, I want to leave the rest of the songs as a surprise if you do decide to listen. To end this section though, I want to talk about my absolute favourite track, the 8 minute long Re:✝. Fun fact: The title is a reference to Justice's first album! You can definitely tell in the second half of the song with the baseline and fake violin sounds. However, before that point, it's more like I've Seen Footage by Death Grips with nonsense vocals (3 years before that song was released, though)
Re:✝ is Plastic's final track. It's also the most divisive since it sounds so strange. It's not out of place in my opinion, it's just a very self indulgent track that is a culmination of everything up to this point. Every time I put this song on it hits me in a way I can't explain. It sounds like a robot nightmare and I love it. Although I truly think the album is consistently great, part of why I'm so fond of it is the lasting impression this song has.
The word underrated gets thrown around a lot, but I truly think Plastic deserves the title. If you listen to one Aira album, I would make it this one. I think it's a truly unique release.
Aira had a lot to live up to after Plastic. While I don't think Three Questions is as good, I still think it's a great album and I find myself coming back to it all the time. It seems less edgy than Plastic and less experimental. But if you like solid electropop, I don't think you can hate this. The structure of the idividual songs is also way more conventional. Plus, the pacing of the album is pretty good and I appreciate that they kept the tracklist shorter this time.
Firstly, I love the album opener Train Train, it's super high energy and fun. I like the hand off between the featured rapper 環ROY and Aira. He's the only feature on the album, and he definitely adds a coolness to the track. I don't think they could have chosen a better first song, it just exudes confidence.
Meanwhile, WHY TWO has a more melancholic feeling. This is definitely another one for Perfume fans. I also love the transition from the short intro rainy tone to HumanFuture, even if the bad compression on rainy tone is so extreme it even bothers me. I wonder if the sheer crunchiness of it was deliberate. Even if it was, it's really distracting to me. Despite that, these tracks have a nice bittersweetness to them. The lyrics to HumanFuture feel really sincere and beautiful too.
I like the title track ??? since we're back to the high energy again. It's a great song to yell to I think. Unfortunately, I think smile is weak, pretty much nothing about it stands out to me. I skip it every time and probably should have just been left off the album. However, the final track Love:Re brings it all together well. I actually don't know what the lyrics to this song are, but it has a really hopeful and happy vibe to me, which I think is always a good way to end an album. Hopefully it's not a Fantasy Candy situation and the lyrics are actually hopeful and happy...
Up until this point, I think this is Aira's most consistently solid album. The lack of experimentation stops it from being my favourite, but it feels like they perfected the formula for her music.
This is technically a mini album. One half of the album is produced by the electronic group Sawagi, as opposed to mostly by Terukado. I actually don't know why they chose to do this but I guess it adds some variety to her discography. Tbh, I could have got away with not reviewing this one, but it used to be in the album section of the discography page on her official website so it felt wrong to leave it out.
Anyway, I love pretty much all of Terukado's tracks here. They're not breaking new ground or anything, but they feel distinctly "Aira". All three are very upbeat except for lie days which is very low tempo and nostalgic. Still, I like it a lot as a change of pace and I think Aira's voice fits quite well.
Unfortunately, weird release perks were destined to follow Aira everywhere. The song display toy was exclusive to the regular edition, while Yellow Submarine (not a Beatles cover) was exclusive to the limited edition. Both these songs are equally as good, although display toy is more complex lyrically. Personally, I would have preferred if they'd just put both of them on the album and not fucked around with the track order. But it's not the end of the world. Thanks to the magic of the internet you can listen to them both.
As for the Sawagi tracks, they're a bit more basic. It kind of reminds me of what most idols sound like when they try to go for a more "rock" sound ie. There sure are guitars now. Plus, sometimes the electronic elements sound like it's someone's first time learning what a synth is. This is a bit weird, since Sawagi were an established act at this point. But I don't dislike any of the songs.
A good choice they made is a lack of autotune on Aira's voice. I love over the top autotune, but the more natural sound works, it's just nice to hear something different. My favourite song from this part of the album is Turkey, maybe cause of the strange title and equally strange lyrics. It starts off kind of... bad, but it quickly picks up and I like how the synths and guitars sound together.
Overall, I am very fond of this release. It's basically two EPs smashed together but I can accept that. I think both sides make for an interesting listen overall. Plus, if you want to try Aira's music without committing to a full album listen, the Terukado half gives you a good taster of her sound at this time.
This was a collaboration album between Aira and her labelmate (and fellow underrated legend...) Saori@destiny. At that time, they shared an audience and Terukado as a producer. Plus, they were actually friends. Basically, it makes complete sense as to why this album exists.
As much as I love that the besties got to make an album together, here is where we can see the weakness in Terukado as a producer. At least four of the songs on here heavily (and probably illegally) borrow from existing songs. See, this is the plagiarism drama I was talking about. Now, I am mostly pro-sampling and I think that people need to chill out when it comes to immediately diagnosing any song that uses a sample as a rip-off. However, the songs are soooo similar. You 100% get a sense that this album was made in a rush, or that Terukado was out of ideas. Both?
Although, if for some reason you wanted to know what Breakbot's song Fantasy would sound like with completely different vocals and lyrics then Wowtown is a must-listen lol. Yes, they managed to shamelessly rip off Breakbot before it was cool. In addition to that, GATE or EXIT samples Tell 'Em by Sleigh Bells, PANAMA samples I Think I Like U 2 by Jamaica and Animal Daydream samples Feel It All Around by Washed Out.
The problem I have is that part of the charm of Aira and Saori's music is that they had very obvious influences but still managed to create unique songs that can stand on their own. Meanwhile, these songs are only as good as their influences. They chose great songs as influences don't get me wrong, but I want something more than just a cover album (J-pop already has enough of that...).
Luckily, the songs that don't rely on heavy sampling (as far as we know) are pretty great. I love Special LINK since it's just cute. I also love DAMAGE, which is the token chill track. It's great to listen in the evening during a heatwave. Like, if you were wondering. My favourite track though might be Discovery, since the drop is so massive sounding. It never fails to get me hyped up. How do I get them to play this at the club.
After all of that, it's safe to say Park of the Safari is the weakest album in terms of original ideas. I actually still like the album though, and listen to it a lot. The plagarism moments are more funny to me than anything else.
The adjective that comes to mind when I think of this album is "shiny", and not just because of the cover. Rather than wallowing in distortion like her previous releases, this seems fresher and brighter somehow. I think there was more of a modern electropop influence as opposed to french electro. It's also really cohesive which is impressive, since multiple producers were brought onboard this time.
None of the songs are bad at all, but there are only a couple of real stand out tracks for me. Like they don't hit me in the same "wow" way that Plastic does. But it's fun to listen to all in one sitting. I think this was the intended listening experience, since there are interludes this time. I'm normally not a fan of this but they aren't very long or distracting. My favourite is Interlude #3. It's just Aira repeating "I'm a human" but there's something kind of haunting about it. The immediate, almost jarring transition from this into I can fly works really well.
The opener Mysteric honestly sounds like something that could have been on the charts over here at the time it was released. I kind of like that though! It makes me wonder what would have happened if she'd been a more mainstream artist. I also love make new world. It's guitar based and funky, but it feels more natural than what we heard on 6 Force. (probably since the guitar doesn't completely dominate everything). It also pairs so nicely with tell me.
The bonus track, Hound Dog, once again takes a lot of liberties with an already existing, probably better track but I still love it a lot. It has a really nice groove but ends up also sounding sad somehow. Unfortunately, it was also Aira's last release before going on hiatus (hence the title). The final track time machine samples Robot Honey from Plastic, and I always feel myself get slightly choked up when it comes on. Despite the title of the album, many people really thought we would never hear from Aira again after this. As a send off, it is very effective.
True to her word, in 2017 Aira did come back!
Since Aira was no longer on the D-topia label (it arguably didn't even exist at this point... It's a long boring story) the album was produced by a guy who goes by ize-mac. He has an interesting backstory as a member of the short-lived "tech-rock" group Nuxx. I'm only mentioning this to tell you that you should listen to their second album "lettre mois". Anyway, I think he did a great job with this release. It's her most cohesive album (and mastered way better). It's also pretty short. I wouldn't say any track is really "filler".
If you don't like dance music that's more mainstream adjacent, you'll probably find yourself disappointed with Pyramidal. There is mostly none of the "fuck around and find out" spirit that makes her previous albums so interesting. However, the songs are catchy, fun and danceable, which means I love it.
As for my favourite tracks, I love nabwa cause it has those buzzy synth sounds I love so much. I also love Days cause it's super bouncy, I can't not dance a little when I listen. I have to mention though, the album flows so cohesively that if I'm on Spotify and listening to one track, I normally end up just listening to the whole album. I don't think I really have a least favourite song.
Overall, it makes me sad that this album was not even slightly successful when it came out, since I genuinely think it's really strong. I feel like the lack of success has made it unlikely that Aira will return to music again. Despite this, I can't be too sad as Pyramidal is a strong note to end her career on. Personally, I would rather she end her career with a solid album, than something average that she wasn't as passionate about.
In her only English interview she states she only creates music when her "heart wants to". I hate to think of her continuing to do music only because she felt she had to, so I must respect her decision.
I listen to Aira's music pretty much everyday and I never get bored. For an artist with so many songs I think that's a huge achievement. I really liked going through every album and trying my best to articulate my thoughts on each one, even if it took a while. It reminded me why I love Aira's music so much. She is by no means a super experimental artist or anything, but her weird blend of indie idol aesthetics and a willingless to not shy away from the "electro" part of "electropop" make her truly unique to me.
If any of these albums sparked your interest, you might be wondering how to listen to them. Unfortunately, only Pyramidal is available on streaming services. Since D-topia is dead, her other albums will likely never have a wide release or remaster. HOWEVER, you can find the rest of her discography on archive.org and on YouTube!