Jan 05

[review] Kokusyoku Sumire: Version; a voyage

version; a voyageDespite the international success of many Japanese classical musicians, Japanese band showcases in the United States rarely include the genre (the faux-classical posturing of many Visual Kei bands nonwithstanding). That made Kokusyoku Sumire a pleasant surprise at New York’s Far East to East Showcase in September. Singer-pianist Yuka and violinist Sachi filtered classical, opera and cabaret through the Gothic Lolita coolness of their matching outfits. They were the biggest hit of the night.

Version; a voyage is a three-song sampler CD-R that was sold at the Far East to East Showcase. It draws from the duo’s 2006-2008 work, and does a good job conveying their style and strengths, though not their breadth. Kokusyoku Sumire does not make background music; its dark, theatrical atmosphere permeates and takes you out of the present. Like the Dresden Dolls, the duo can create a full sound from just two instruments.

Their versatility is key. “Gekko Renka” has both girls switching responsibility for the march rhythm. Its calculated melody is punctuated by bursts of cathartic, cluttered dissonance from which Sachi’s violin flourishes fly out.

Pacing also plays an important role in their appeal; the vocal and violin trade-offs in “Towa ni Uruwashiku Sumire no Hana yo” lead the listener to focus alternately on Yuka’s opera-trained soprano and Sachi’s deft violin playing.

Kokusyoku Sumire’s songwriting is also refreshingly unpredictable. “Junketsu wa Aka” is slow until Sachi imitates an opening door with her violin, cueing the music into a fast frenzy.

Yuka and Sachi’s music is brainier than that of most Gothic Lolita-clad acts. It’s rich enough that you could spend hours dissecting the 13 minutes of Version; a voyage. At the same time, it’s not a difficult listen. The prominent melody and dusky tenor are instantly appealing and intriguing, and they make classical music hip for the J-pop culture crowd.