Track listing: Frozen, A Year to Live, Backyard, Wonderful LifeWhen listening to this EP, one can't help but focus on the vocals. Ai sings in a clear, expressive voice that works very well with her honest, unpretentious lyrics and mature musical style. Her ability to convey subtle emotion with her voice is most evident on "Frozen," by far the standout track on the disc. When she sings "I seem confident/ and I look just fine and I sound real good," her voice betrays the insecurities she's hiding before she even admits "but I'm terrified."
The trouble with this 4-song collection is that the music seems only to play a supporting role to Ai's vocals. This arrangement has worked for many vocalists; however, Ai is also a songwriter, and the music here is not the slickly produced radio-ready material that is commonly found on releases which highlight vocal performance. On her acclaimed earlier release History, the raw feelings exposed through her voice eclipsed the simple instrumentation and allowed her vocals to stand alone in a way that felt like nothing was missing.
While evident on "Frozen," Ai's intriguing ability to use her voice and her words as both the foundation and centerpiece of her songs seems lacking here. There is more instrumentation on this release, yet it seems to take away from the power of the songs rather than add to it. "A Year to Live" and "Wonderful Life" both build upon Ai's message of living for today in spite of the past and the hang-ups it has left her with, first put forth in "Frozen." The lyrics on these two tracks, however, seem more like they were pulled from inspirational greeting cards or self-help books (e.g. "If I had a year to live then I'd start living/ I'd stop using the excuse that I'm too fat" or "Thank you God for every little thing/ 'cuz it's a wonderful life/ kind of morning.") When combined with the simplistic music that accompanies them, the songs seem better fit for an animated Disney movie or the opening credits of a sitcom than for the adult audience Ai is trying to reach.
Despite the overly-sentimental bent Ai has taken on this release, she clearly possesses a great talent. Hopefully on her next release she will dig deeper and explore more complex territory both musically and lyrically.