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Dec 24

[review] Cocco: Cocco-san no Daidokoro CD

cocco-san no daidokoro cdIt’s getting harder to call Cocco just a musician. Though she’s been a jack-of-all-trades (and a master of them, too) for years, she increasingly splits her time between her writing, art and environmental activism. On top of that, she’s raising a child and overcoming ongoing mental illness. So it’s understandable that the Okinawan artist has been slow on the music. Though she contributed to other people’s music—she sang for Kiyoshi Takakuwa’s solo project, Curly Giraffe, and wrote a song for the pop idol alan at her request—Cocco didn’t release something of her own until nearly two years after Dugong no Mieru Oka. Cocco-san no Daidokoro, a music accompaniment to the artist’s same-titled book, was initially released as a digital EP in August and then as a disc in September. It has just four songs.

But scarcity suits Cocco. The long wait (by the Japanese music industry’s fast-paced standards) helps listeners savor the beauty in her compositions. Cocco-san no Daidokoro CD is one of the best works in the mellow and optimistic approach the singer has taken since her 2005 comeback. Each track is themed around a season and Cocco’s personal associations with them.

Spring song “Kinuzure” is the kind of soaring, powerful ballad Cocco excels at, in the vein of “Ryuuseigun” and “San” without sounding like a repeat. “The end of Summer” is a peaceful, contemplative reflection on a summer night, with a performance centered mostly on Cocco’s acoustic guitar and soft singing in English. “Bye Bye Pumpkin Pie,” a song written and fleshed out over the Kira Kira tour, takes on autumn duties here. Similarly to the rendition on the tour DVD, it has a gorgeous melody and playful-sounding arrangement that incorporates a tin whistle, glockenspiel and euphonium. Cocco delivers an excellent vocal performance, tender in the soft moments and heart-wrenchingly passionate when she belts in the chorus and ad-libbed sections. Crisp guitar work makes winter tune “Ai ni Tsuite” the most rock song on the mini album. The ethereal backing vocals recall “Shinayaka Ude no Inori,” but the rapidly sung bridge is a first for Cocco.

The production has the airy sound Cocco has opted for since parting ways with longtime producer and bassist Takamune Negishi in 2006. Though Cocco penned a rocking song for alan, she’s clearly sticking with soft music for her own career. She seems, overall, less tormented than she did in the past, and her performances of turbulent songs like “Way Out” and “Kemono Michi” on the Kira Kira DVD feel less emotionally intense than older ones. Cocco’s always written music true to herself, so her new, easygoing style represents her personality these days. It’s understandable she wants lighter production to match her happier sound, but it’s still easy to miss how Negishi’s gritty production and bass used to contrast Cocco’s skyward melodies.

More troubling is that Cocco’s singing shows strain on the high notes. I hope it’s merely a temporary side effect from her recent struggles and not something permanent. But perhaps her years of smoking have finally caught up with her. Cocco has maintained one of the most pure and emotive voices in the industry, and it’s especially vital since her new music has narrower appeal than the hard rock that made her famous.

Cocco’s official site currently displays two photos of Cocco wishing you a merry Christmas and holding a sign that says she’s recording. It’s been more than two years since Cocco’s most recent album, so it’s good to know the wait won’t be much longer.