Review: Sugar High

Suiboku, or Indian ink painting, is known as one of the traditional Japanese painting techniques. Though only water-based black ink is used, you can see "colors" in these paintings. There is nothing flashy about it. Instead, you are impressed with the sober, restrained elegance presented by these works.

The same is true with Sugar High.

Thanks to the simple arrangement, Chihiro's voice is set off nicely. Having an inclination toward classical music, she used to say she didn't much care for singing to a rock band and expressed her wishes to sing in a hall with a pipe organ (this dream of hers came true last year when she sang at Suntory Hall). This album is basically in line with these ideas.

Regarding the structure of this album, I have a hunch that it displays symmetry centered around "Castle · imitation", the track right in the middle. "NOT YOUR GOD" is paired with "BORDERLINE", "Koe" with "King of Solitude" and so forth.


As soon as I first heard this prelude, I was reminded of John Lennon's "God". And with the persistent A chord, this is as monotonous as the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows". I realized that something new happened.

But don't get surprised. When she wrote this song, she was only 17 or 18. Mr. Haketa reportedly commented that her voice here sounded like Karen Carpenter's, which made Chihiro pleased.

2. Koe

This is a fine work. It's beautifully rendered. It seems like a piece of finest quality pop music of good old days. I wonder if it's too good to be true.

I still don't have a slightest idea
Where this road leads down to
All I know is that it would be sadder
To stop here and lose sight of you

3. Rebel Luck

The organ sounds sweet and nostalgic. But at first this number didn't appeal to me. Only gradually I came to like it as I listened to it over and over. (This is not unusual with her songs.)

Notice that it's played by familiar faces that took part in the INSOMNIA recording session, specifically "edge", "We can go", and "call". I could tell she was singing in a fairly relaxed manner.

4. Tiger in my Love

This is one of her early works, too. I once had a chance to hear its demo track. It sounded slower and much gentler. This song's lyrics are a series of quizzical images, just like "Castle · imitation".

Because you're scared at your own ugliness
You wished everything was [a reflection in] a mirror
The tiny footprints always ripped up an old sore

Apparently she sang this number often onstage even before the release of this album. As I already mentioned, she has a liking for classical sounds. Nonetheless, this song, like any other rock music she makes, blows my mind. I'm impressed with the simple and stoic arrangement for it. I wonder how would it have sounded if it had been included in INSOMNIA as initially planned.

5. Castle · imitation (album version)

Despite the low profile, this is, in a sense, the highlight of Sugar High. You could tell how Chihiro favors this song by the fact that she often sings it as an encore and that two versions are available in the initial lot of this album. As always, this album version sounds gentler, accompanied by strings. Just like "Rebel Luck", it didn't come home to me at first but now this is my favorite.

6. Hyoryu no Hane

This sounds like a chic French chanson (this is especially noticeable with the ULTIMATE CRASH version), making a good contrast with the rock sounds in "Tiger in my Love".

For example, if you choose to drift, the rail won't have to break
For example, if you choose to yield, your fingertip will stay in touch

It seems like a song about a conflict between a man and a woman, and despair.

7. Suna no Tate

I'm impressed with the forceful mass of bass sound that swells at the very beginning. (Is it a gong rolling?) This is a fantastic intro.

How about laying your gun on the ground
When you have no intention to shoot?
The resistance I got is a sand shield that is now crumbling
What covers the false crown is the sand shield

This song share a common character with "Rasen" in INSOMNIA and "Shadow" in This Armor. These are all typical Oni songs. Incidentally, the word "fragile" or "fragility" is included in both "Rasen" and "Shadow".

8. King of Solitude

This song is characterized by its exceptionally warm lyrics:

Come nearer
Now by supreme magic
I will turn the snow that will stay into wings
And I will warm you on the shoulder
Until you fall asleep

This kind of tender words had never been heard from her music earlier. Although solitude is generally associated with negative images, Chihiro puts great value on it because she believes this is a very positive situation. The intro and outro are sweet, too.


A new breed of J-pop with a peculiar atmosphere.

Now lick the finger of the god

You can only see the low-temperature weight
Then you can't possibly share a secret

Toward the end, the extended piano tones linger as if to offer a prayer.

You are warmed by "King of Solitude" and then chilled again here, said Chihiro, jokingly. She also commented that the entire song appears to be a progression of breaths.

Extra: Castle · imitation (8-cm RPG version)

This is the original version. I'm so glad I came by this brilliant extra track, but unfortunately this does not match the entire tones of Sugar High.

On the whole, this album is a well-organized collection of both "colorful" and fine quality music. Now I'm anxious to know what she is planning to sing for us next.

(All quotations are given from respective works listed above. Original text copyrighted by Chihiro Onitsuka. Translated and quoted by Folia in compliance with the Japanese Copyright Act. The above translations may be superficial rather than deliberate, and are intended for your information only.)



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