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Jul 02

[vault review] Cocco: Sangrose

sangroseArticles about The Shins often mention the scene in Garden State in which Natalie Portman hands her headphones to actor-director Zach Braff and says, “Listen to this; it will change your life.”

In some alternate universe where Mr. Braff is a huge J-rock fan, he could have written the scene about Cocco, and music writers would cite it to describe the singer’s appeal.

So I implore you, in my best Natalie Portman impression (“All the kids looking up to me can…”), listen to Cocco’s fourth album, Sangrose: Its emotional power will change your life.

Take “Why do I love you,’” an English-language song about the complicated feelings associated with domestic abuse. In two brief verses, one delivered over silence, Cocco describes her lover’s violence and her confusing loyalty to him. “Take away the blood from my head ‘cause I don’t know how can I love you more,” she pleads. But Cocco forgoes wordy narrative lyrics and gets into the intensity of the emotion with cries of “Don’t kill me.” Each heart-wrenching repetition makes the listener feel Cocco’s terror more and more. A bridge with nauseous-sounding moans conveys a feeling of dizzy distress, one which Cocco threatens she may need to end in murder.

The song was an epiphany the first time I listened to it as a teenager craving artistic authenticity. It demonstrates music’s potential not just to portray emotion but to become it. Radio emo’s petty self-pitying tendencies may have made people hesitant toward emotional music, but “Why do I love you” restores dignity to it. At the very least, it will make you a bigger Cocco fan.

Sangrose was released in 2001 and billed as Cocco’s last studio album before she retired from music for mysterious reasons. In the end, Cocco just went on a four-year hiatus from commercial music; people speculate she took the time off to give birth and raise the son she kept secret until 2007. Sangrose is mostly softer and slower than the albums that preceded it, which made it a contemplative closing to Cocco’s career at the time. In hindsight, it also fits her overall her creative path, bridging the bitter, hard music of her early years with the gentle, folksy approach of her post-hiatus sound. Because of its gradual pace, Sangrose is an acquired taste. Cocco’s first three albums deliver more instantly gratifying heavy tracks, and are thus safer bets for introductory albums.

Yet if you give it the time, Sangrose reveals its strengths as a whole. Cocco has a remarkable instinct for restraint in composing her albums, containing the visceral moments in short bursts between pretty ballads, dreamy tracks and ironic children’s songs. She reached her apex with Sangrose. It was actually the first original Cocco album I bought, and at first, I was disappointed there weren’t more freakout songs like “Why do I love you” and “Wagamama na te.” As I listened more, I realized having more heavy tracks would dilute their specialness and reduce the emotional complexity of Cocco’s catalogue. Besides, Sangrose has a distinct flow, and by the time you reach Cocco’s passionate shout-singing at the end of the expansive “Coral Reef,” you feel like you’ve completed a journey.

And if some indie rock can change your life, Cocco certainly can, too.

3 comments

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  1. Tsuki

    Cocco = love. I own a huge chunk of her discography and Sangrose is one of my favourite cds. As far as I’m concerned she’s never really gotten the respect she deserves as an artist and songwriter.

    1. Victoria Goldenberg

      I think Cocco’s pretty well known and respected in Japan. Lots of admirable musicians work with her, and the acclaimed director of Daremo Shiranai (Nobody Knows) made a popular documentary about her. Her CDs regularly sell in the top 10; Rapunzel hit #1 and Zancyan was the #2 album in its first week, right behind Utada Hikaru’s Ultra Blue. That’s pretty good for an artist who’s threatening to men and doesn’t write mainstream music.

      Most Western fans of Japanese music don’t know about her.

  2. Kathy Chee

    Wow, you just summed up how I feel about Cocco in that first sentence.

  1. [vault review] Cocco: Best + Ura Best + Mihappyokyokushu « purple SKY – A Japanese Music Collaborative

    [...] Cocco album I bought, but I didn’t end up buying another—Sangrose—until almost a year later. That album’s cohesion and vision left such an impression on me that I had to get the three preceding it [...]

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