Review Summary: An outstanding album from one of Japan's most angsty alt rock females.
In the mid 90's, JPop was beginning to grow an edge. Inspired greatly by the likes of pissed off (then) modern alt rock females, such as Alanis Morissette and Fiona Apple, various young female Japanese songwriters came out, similarly bounded with twisted roots and overwhelming angst. One of the first songwriters to completely embrace this style with blockbuster success is Cocco. Cocco (born Satoko Makishi) debuted at the relatively young age of 20 in 1997 with the album "Bougainvillea", which performed decently at best, charting at number 33. However, just one year later, she released her second album, "Kumui Uta", which performed tremendously, and showed a more reasonable side to Cocco, while "Bougainvillea" was a much more blunt and angry type of record. "Kumui Uta", commercially speaking, was Cocco's finest hour, selling almost a million records, and helped to pioneer the Japanese female angst movement, which would be later led by artists such as Tsuki Amano, Ringo Shiina, Judy and Mary (their later material) and, later, Utada Hikaru.
The album starts with "Chiisana Ame no hi no Kuwamui", which consists of Cocco singing acapella, with no music playing. A very mysterious, haunting introduction, which sort of sets up the backbone to the tone of "Kumui Uta". The album's first track then starts, "Nureta Youran", which follows a sludgy sound, and has Cocco singing in a progressive tone, which starts in a soft style, before slowing working up into a heartfelt wail, along with the sludgy, staticy sound of the track. Definitely a great track, but nothing as significant as the following track, "Tsuyoku Hakanai Monotachi". "Tsuyoku Hakanai Monotachi" starts off with drowned guitar wails, and then progresses into a relaxing, distorted pop rock-styled track. "Tsuyoku Hakanai Monotachi" shows off Cocco's potential perfectly, and the track itself is perfectly done, as it is too fragile to be considered to be straight alt rock, but is too... well, strange to be considered to be straightforward pop rock. It effectively mixes those two styles evenly, and thus makes "Tsuyoku Hakanai Monotachi" a phenomenal track. After "Tsuyoku..." fades out, "Anata e no Tsuki" revisits the straight alt rock style of "Bougainvillea", and works terrifically, especially with the mysterious echo-ish wails in the beginning and ending of the track. A worthy followup to "Tsuyoku Hakanai Monotachi", and actually accomplishes some melodious feats that "Tsuyoku" failed at. The drowned out guitar solo also adds a nice feel to the track. The track then goes off into feedback, and "Rose Letter" comes on, which starts off with a typical drum line. Cocco then comes out with a bluesy vocal style, which reflects back onto the fellow up-and-coming Japanese alt/pop rock musician, Bonnie Pink. The track itself is a rather empty track, which consists of a straightforward guitar lick, a highly blurred bass line and the same drum line. However, in some strange light, the track works efficiently, as it sort of acts as a ray of sunshine over the angsty-apocalyptic tone of the album. As weird as it may sound, the track does its job quite well of working as a near halfway track.
The true halfway track, however, "My Dear Pig", follows "Rose Letter", and consists of Cocco singing over a ragtime piano, and is... well, quite a unique track. The overall carnival sound of the track sort of surprises the listener, since the album itself is a slightly brighter, yet still quite grim and brooding album, deep into Japanese female angst. If anything, the track sort of comes out of left field, but that's probably what Cocco was going for. Not quite a crippling track, but not a keeper by any means. The album then sort of returns with "Utakata", which starts off with a Victorian-gothic sound, equipped with various string melodics. One of the most avant-garde tracks on the album, it works as a dim, depressing track, and has Cocco beautifully crooning with her signature dark vocal style. An interesting track, and it shows Cocco further distancing herself from the main angst-based style of the album. This track alone shows Cocco at a much more mature state, crooning over a relaxed Victorian-styled track, whereas "Bougainvillea" showed her at a more immature state, lashing out against numerous ideas and customs, over pissed off, hard hitting, emotion driven tracks ("Countdown", anybody?).
The album finally makes its return to its bleak style with "Ratai", which has a brooding bass-covered track, and distorted guitars falling all over the place. "Ratai" is definitely one of the darker tracks on the album, and sort of channels back to her "Bougainvillea" era, with various hostile sounds clashing all over the place (the most primary example being when Cocco shrieks halfway through the track, and all the instruments and sounds come caving in on the young singer). While it definitely shows a relapse to her hostile era and lack of musical growth, it doesn't cripple the album's potential at all. In fact, it strengthens it, since there haven't been too many hard hitting songs this time around. "Yumeji" is a 100% alt rock-styled track, and it features a spacey guitar lick, a gravitating bass line, and a floating drum sound. While it definitely sounds like a late 90's cookie cutter radio track from the outside, Cocco's battered vocal style, and the track's overall dark and atmospheric style, gives the track much needed life, and doesn't kill the album's potential by any means. "Satie" is the most radio friendly track on the album, and it has a heartfelt performance by both the band and Cocco herself. Not much to say about the track, but it is an interesting Easter-egg for such a seemingly anti-establishment type of album. "Raining" pretty much follows the pattern of "Satie", but adds a melodic pinch to it, bringing life to the overall comatose track. Similar to "Yumeji", the track has a spacey sound to it, and lots of atmosphere bleeding all over the place. A brilliantly done track, and works great as one of the final tracks on the album. After "Raining" fades out, the final track, "Unai", slowly comes on, and is one of the most hypnotizing tracks on the album, since it follows a style of a very entrancing guitar lick, tortoise-like bass lines and an intergalactic drum sound, which virtually drips ambient melody. The track is phenomenal by itself, and, needless to say, works wonders closing the album, which consisted of angst, grim innocence and an overall spacey atmospheric foundation.
In a nutshell, "Kumui Uta" has everything going for it, as far as a late 90's crossover pop-alt rock album goes. There's angsty licks ("Anata e no Tsuki"), reappearing atmospheric rays ("Unai"), virtually plain and lifeless tracks ("My Dear Pig" & "Satie"), sheer radio brilliance ("Yumeji" & "Raining") and hostile and grim territory ("Ratai"). The only complaint is that the album seems a bit longer than it should, and at times, the listener may feel a bit short-winded. But overall, the album is outstanding, and it virtually touches all grounds of alt rock. While "Bougainvillea" focused primarily on hostility and angsty rage, "Kumui Uta" showed a much more mature approach, and, even though only a year apart, the album showed impressive development as well. The mixture would be replicated quite impressively on "Rapunzel" as well, but doesn't quite add up to the charm and wit of "Kumui Uta". A terrific album, and definitely a solid blueprint on the future of the fusion of JPop and JRock.