If you don’t know who Utada Hikaru, one of Japan’s top soloists known to millions as the simple and clean Kingdom Hearts musician, is, you have clearly been on some other planet.
Oddly enough, that’s where Hikki, as her fans lovingly call her, is for her mid-2002 release ‘SAKURA Drops / Letters’. In this single, Hikki goes all-in on her journey through experimentalism, transforming her original R&B sound from her First Love and Distance days to an avant-garde artistic style reminiscent of Björk, albeit less wacky. Does this transition, which she had introduced even as far as ‘traveling’, pay off as the sakura leaves flutter and drop, or is this change similar to a poorly-written letter to her fanbase?
“SAKURA Drops” makes its introduction with a drum-roll before extending itself into a twinkly soft vocal intro blessed with dripping noises representing the drops of its namesake. Following this is the soft-pulsing delivery of a verse that transforms itself into a fluttery and swift chorus that takes you through the breezes of nature. “SAKURA Drops” is the purest example of Hikki’s growth into a new experimental sound, taking on the sounds of heavy breaths and vocal unison, causing a harmony not heard in her prior catalog. When it hits closer to the end, a heavy bass riff expands on this, turning this into a cacophony of sounds that somehow seem to blend altogether. Let the sakura drip onward.
The second A-side, “Letters“, is my favorite of the two, and perhaps it is because it contains a powerful energy to it that is unlike some of the songs in Hikki’s discography. With its booming bongo beats overlaying other ethnic instruments in the background, topped with a subtly looping piano and gentle guitar strums, “Letters” feels like you’re being taken in the sky, much like floating paper in the wind, where the wind will be soft before rushing at high speed. Hikki’s vocal delivery makes this even better, where she must belt when the sounds all join together for a powerful chorus representing the speed in which the wind picks up. Hikki then does a subtle outro quasi-rap in English that closes the song in an odd but enjoyable fashion. Let the letters make their journey for our enjoyment.
Hikki’s growth from a budding R&B-pop singer to an artsy and deep songwriter is no joke. Both songs are good examples that she embraces change with meaning in her songs, and while it is a vast difference, her songs all still feel like they belong to her. From the mixture of sounds from both songs, Hikki transformed the production of her songs, making her a talent of all sorts of styles. This song is a love letter written on paper made from sakura leaves… it’s a treasure to behold.
MUST-LISTEN: Letters, SAKURAドロップス