By Paris365 on February 20, 2013

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Kana Hanazawa is a popular voice actress known for her leading roles in dozens of anime series and movies. Her 2013 credits include Blast of Tempest, Kotoura-san, Monogatari Series Second Season and Nagi no Asu Kara. Claire is her debut album and comes a mere ten months after her first single. To that end, all four of her singles, which were about the four seasons, appear here along with 10 entirely new songs. She collaborated with several writers and producers on the album including ROUND TABLE's Katsutoshi Kitagawa, Shinya Kogure, Reiji Okii, Dan Miyagawa and Yasuhiro Nakamori.

Before Kana even started singing the opening track, "青い鳥" (Google translation: "Blue Bird"), I had a pretty good idea that I was going to love this album. It begins with light but gorgeous orchestration and lovely bells, very warming sounds that leave you feeling as though the music is casting a spell on you, and they sound spectacular, full of color and life. As Kana starts singing, a fast beat enters the mix, but it isn't any louder than the many other instruments. Normally, I'd complain about that, wanting the beat to be more prominent. But here it's fine just the way it is because it actually gives the song breathing room so you can appreciate the lush orchestration, bass guitar and other instruments. And, more importantly, Kana's precious voice, which is very soft and pretty here. Besides, this song is rather attention-grabbing without any punchy beats, as the orchestration grows in intensity as the song progresses, almost as though you're hearing score from a playful chase scene in a Disney movie. And playful is the perfect word to sum up this song.

"Just The Way You Are" -- no relation to the Bruno Mars' song -- has a more prominent pop beat but it also has funky bass guitar, wind instruments and all sorts of other sounds, mixing modern pop with a mature and organic sound splendidly. Kana sings the chorus of this one so softly she's practically whispering it and it's adorable.

As the album progresses, Kana's voice often opens up, revealing a range you probably wouldn't have suspected after the first two songs. A good example of this is "Silent Snow." It starts off gently with what sounds like a child's instrument and acoustic guitar but then a fast, organic-sounding beat is added along with various loops and instruments. When it hits the chorus the strings grow louder, which calls for Kana to sing louder and she does so just fine. Likewise, the catchy "眠るサカナ" (Google: "Fish Sleeping") calls for her to sing resonantly to be heard over its snappy beat and she does so with ease.

While Claire is clearly an album that relies heavily on organic live instruments, it does have one song with a slick modern pop beat and that song is "Melody," which also features bright flourishes of synth. It should be said that the production here is just as spot on as the rest of the album, allowing the funky bass guitar and other instruments to be heard clearly. More importantly, Kana proves entirely capable of singing this sort of pop just as well as she sings everything else this exquisite album. It seems there's nothing she can't do, which one might have guessed from the extensive list of film and TV credits she has as a voice actress. -Michael McCarthy

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