× The Beach Boys The Beatles David Bowie BUCK-TICK The Cure Fleetwood Mac HYDE Janne Da Arc Laputa L'Arc~en~Ciel LUNA SEA MALICE MIZER MUSE The Police Porno Graffitti Rayflower S.O.A.P. Sting SURFACE TETSU69 Brian Wilson X (JAPAN) ZIGZO


L'Arc~en~Ciel has been my favorite band since I first heard them in middle school as I just started studying Japanese. I love their sense of melody, their blending of pop and rock styles, and how they provide each song a fresh set of sounds. From their huge number of songs, there are maybe only a handful I actually don't like. Everything they produce seems to be masterfully crafted. I was privileged enough to attend three of their concerts when I lived in Japan, and they were amazing live performers, too. Their melodies will probably continue to live in my head for as long as I live.

Album Reviews

Laruku distinguished themselves from the start. Already, they have a blend of rock music with catchy, pop melodies. This album has the classic Voice, which sounds like it could have been written at any time in their career, as well as Dune, which is a rock song but with an almost sing-song chorus. As if in a dream is also an incredible song for such a young band, really showing their talent as songwriters and musicians. The sound of this album is pretty bare; electric guitar and bass and drums comprise the sounds, with an occasional acoustic guitar. A lot of DEAD END influence can be heard here.

Best tracks:
1. As if in a dream
2. Floods of tears
3. Voice

With their major debut, the band expanded their sound to include layers of keyboards. Further, they expanded their musical horizons, dipping into a bossa nova with nemuri ni yosete, reggae with Wind of Gold, prog-rock in Inner Core, anime theme pop with Blurry Eyes, and even a little grunge with All Dead. As is clear from the rating, not only do they greatly expand their horizons, but they do it extremely well in each song. All the tracks are exceptional. Even the hyde and piano only track, hitomi ni utsuru mono, is a big step up from their previous attempt at this on DUNE. Finally, the opening and closing tracks bind the whole thing together. In spite of the variety of styles, this whole album feels like one, cohesive listen. Tierra is probably Laruku's greatest artistic achievement, with the closing song, White Feathers, at the height of their abilities.

Best tracks:
1. White Feathers
2. Blame
3. Inner Core

After their masterpiece Tierra, L'Arc pursued a different direction. The music on heavenly is largely upbeat and positive, continuing their infusion of pop melody into rock music. The opening two songs demonstrate this perfectly. Nonetheless, variety abounds: GARASU dama is a slow, quiet piece with huge, epic choruses and a brilliant guitar solo. Secret Signs blends jazz rhythms with rock sounds, Cureless is a great DUNE throwback, and shizuka no umi de provides a 7-minute swelling conclusion, featuring chanting background vocals and great vocal/guitar interplay at the end. Strangely, it doesn't end the album; The Rain Leaves a Scar, a straight ahead rock song, is the final track, but seems out of place, ending the album on an unusual note.

Best tracks:
1. Vivid Colors
2. Still I'm With You
3. GARASU dama

With True, I feel like Laruku enters their "golden age." Everything they write seems to turn into a classic, and their unique style is firmly established. True is so full of hits and classic songs that it almost feels like a best-of collection, yet somehow it isn't. It's incredible. The music goes full pop this time around, with synth pop tracks like Caress of Venus, the Fourth Avenue Cafe which features Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, and even a disco track, Lies and Truth. Furthermore, the acoustic pop flower has become one of the band's most beloved and memorable tunes. Although Tierra is definitely stronger as an album, True has too many great songs to be denied. I think it is the best of their albums.

Best tracks:
1. flower
2. Lies and Truth
3. kaze ni kienaide
4. Every other song

Another classic album from the band, featuring a number of live staples and classic songs. Although it is their first to feature new drummer yukihiro, musically it doesn't skip a beat. The band is as strong as ever. HEART emphasizes the rock side of the band much more than True however. Songs like LORELEY, Shout at the Devil, Promised land and niji are definitely serious rock. Nonetheless, winter fall and milky way continue the band's excellence in poppier music. The concluding track, anata, is the first of many orchestral ballads composed by the band, and most people consider it unmatched by any of them.

Best tracks:
1. winter fall
2. fate
3. anata

In spite of the lowest rating for a Laruku album yet, this is still firmly in Laruku's "golden age" as I see it. Why? Well, it's a double album with its brother, ray. Now, consider what these two albums would be like if mixed into one and with the filler dropped. It would be True level amazing. However, instead we got them as they are. ark is the more schizophrenic of the two releases, featuring songs of drastically different styles, jumping from one to the next abruptly. It feels like possibly the least cohesive of the band's albums. While it features some of the band's best work at their peak, it also has Perfect Blue and shinjitsu to gensou to, which are lower quality than what we've seen from the band in quite some time.

Best tracks:
1. Driver's High
3. forbidden lover

As the other half of ark, I often feel as though this one was compiled first. It features a much more unified sound, and thus feels more like a cohesive album than its twin. However, of the two, I think I prefer ark anyway. Honestly, the unified sound of ray is just straight, unadorned rock, which for a band like Laruku just seems too plain. The songs are about evenly matched with ark, but I'll take the schizophrenia of that album over this one's uninspired sound, I think. The third track, HONEY, is also probably Laruku's biggest hit ever. Everyone in Japan seems to know this one, and it's the first one they mention when you bring up the group. It's one of hyde's best catchy rock tunes ever, that's for sure.

Best tracks:
1. snow drop
3. ibara no namida

After the huge success of ark and ray, the band just doesn't seem to know where to go. REAL is just as messy as ark, if not maybe moreso, due to the noisy nature of the album. The album is mixed WAY TOO LOUD and there are also just a lot of loud songs. The album starts with a quiet build up into electronic noise with get out from the shell, a new direction for the band. It is quickly followed by the band's heaviest and loudest rocker ever, THE NEPENTHES. NEO UNIVERSE briefly settles things down with its heavily synthesized sound and calming melody and soaring vocals, but then it's loud loud loud until the last three tracks. The sudden downshift with TIME SLIP and the remaining songs is quite jarring. Although a rather messy album, the songwriting overall is quite good. a silent letter, however, is probably one of the band's worst songs.

Best tracks:
2. finale
3. ROUTE 666

The band took what seemed like a needed break after REAL to recharge and pursue solo activities. Unfortunately, their "triumphant return" mostly feels like a collection of songs they brought from their solo careers to be L'Arc-ified. kuchizuke sounds like S.O.A.P.'s GRACE and Lover Boy is also clearly related, while eien sounds like something off of HYDE's 666 and tetsu's Time goes on also sounds like his solo work (probably due to the fact that he played the guitar solo himself, rather than ken!). Let's not forget the mega old Spirit dreams inside, which came pre-hiatus and sticks out like a sore thumb. Few of these songs are bad, but their origins are obvious, and SMILE sounds like the result of the band trying to figure out how to sound like a band again. On a personal note, hearing READY STEADY GO come out is an unforgettable memory of mine; that feeling of fresh music from the band had seemed so remote and distant for so long. I am always taken back to that moment when I hear the song.

Best tracks:
1. hitomi no juunin
3. Time goes on

AWAKE feels like the last album that L'Arc really did as a band. SMILE was sort of a rough start after coming back together, but this time it was the band really putting together their next album. Since then, L'Arc albums seem like a brief detour from their solo activities rather than a true progression as a band. It's full of fantastic songs; all the singles are great, as are the dramatic hoshizora, the nostalgic and catchy twinkle, twinkle, and the beautiful electronic ballad My Dear. But there are a couple of tunes I'm not as fond of: the heavy AS ONE is too slickly produced to feel genuinely heavy, and the jazzy Ophelia I could do without. It is not the best of L'Arc's albums, but it stands as the last time they were serious about continuing together as a band.

Best tracks:
1. New World
2. Killing Me
3. jojoushi

I remember a lot of hype about this album being the next True coming from the band. As you can imagine, this excited me. Unfortunately, I was really let down. Sure, KISS starts and ends with some catchy, pop tunes, but the middle is gloomy! Every song from the excellent sunadokei onward until the bright Link is a dark and/or heavier rock tune. I don't see the comparison to True at all. Furthermore, there are some songs on here that don't do a lot for me. Pretty girl is one of ken's "party rock" songs, and it's OK, but I'm glad it's short. yuki no ashiato is a decent ballad, but cannot stand up to the likes of anata or hitomi no juunin. umibe too falls short in its category of slow, dramatic rock songs. That's not to say that this album is without its bright spots, but it has become one of my least listened to albums from L'Arc~en~Ciel.

Best tracks:
2. sunadokei
3. Link

I highly rated this album because every song is of exceedinly high quality. There are virtually no low points on the album, and it basically ends up sounding like a singles collection. That's because it nearly is! BUTTERFLY scoops up a lot of older material released since KISS, peppers in some new singles, and calls itself an album. Over half of this album is made up of singles. So it ends up not sounding much like an album in the way Tierra does, but it also has an undeniable sampling of great songs. Even yukihiro's songs, which tend to be my least favorite, are really great this time around. BUTTERFLY features some great songs from each of the songwriters and provides a great new addition to Laruku's discography.

Best tracks:
2. wild flower
3. NEXUS 4

Top 10 Songs

  1. Driver's High
  2. As if in a dream
  3. White Feathers
  4. flower
  5. Blame
  6. winter fall
  7. hitomi no juunin
  8. Lies and Truth
  9. natsu no yuuutsu [time to say good-bye]
  10. kaze ni kienaide