Kayoko Yoshizawa
Akahoshi Aoboshi


4.0
excellent

Review

by JohnnyoftheWell STAFF
March 24th, 2021 | 38 replies


Release Date: 03/17/2021 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Starstruck pop whimsy at its most wholesome

I’ve never been able to pin down whether Kayoko Yoshizawa makes children’s music for adults or adult music for children. There’s something eclectic and enchanting to her craftful acts of pop whimsy, positing both verdicts at once before embracing both. At its best, her music is wryly kitsch in a way that invites playful scrutiny, focused and creative enough to withstand this and so gloriously sentimental that more meaningful levels of admiration are comfortably warranted.

Testament to all this, I remember watching one of her live recordings, marketed as a children’s concert; the first crowd shots threw me, hardly a child in sight but doey-eyed middle-aged couples all over the shop, an audience very much at odds with the finger puppetry and pantomime aesthetic of her performance. It was a momentary immersion breaker, but the moment the camera turned back to the stage I realised how easy it was to identify with the Kayoko Yoshizawa Children’s Hour crowd - or rather, how much the sheer wholesomeness of her style erased the jaded dispositions and delineations of maturity you would expect for this context, panning out as something universally appealing and altogether refreshing. She’s an all-age artist in the same way that, say, chocolate cake is an all-age food, and her setlist was bloody magical.

That said, I’m not convinced that Yoshizawa has yet been able to articulate this appeal end-to-end across a solid record. Her 2017 art pop opus Yaneura Juu came very close, but it was still hampered by its share of downtime, while the following year’s Joyuu Shimai was as gentle a reminder as any that her levels of inspiration have never come off evenly from song to song. That record was her fourth in four years - an intense level of output by anyone’s standards, but time since has been almost as long. For all Yoshizawa has been sharpening her pen and reinforcing her brand in the meantime, I was suspicious to treat this span as a guarantee of whatever masterpiece has been just out of her grasp so far. Open expectations and an unpresuming attitude are always the best way with her.

To this end, album #5 Akahoshi Aoboshi is not a masterpiece or a gamechanger for Yoshizawa’s quality standards, but it does stand as a welcome return and her most polished release to date. It wastes no time in dishing out a swathe of familiar delights and a handful of new ones: Yoshizawa’s affinity for strong hooks sounds reinvigorated, stronger across the board than ever before, and it’s backed by a swathe of lush tones courtesy of the finest production on any of her output. In short order, we’re treated to breathtaking choruses (“Lucifer”), cutesy feints at upbeat territory (“Gumi”) and exuberant theatrics (“Oni”). Second track “Service Area” draws all of these elements together for a treat of a lead single, with a creative range of accompaniment and a strong intrigue in both its tune and lyrics. Yoshizawa has a rare talent for crafting love songs that fare equally well on the coo-y and kooky ends of the spectrum, and “Service Area” is a knockout for the latter, backed by one of her strongest choruses to date.

As usual, there’s also a showstopper - in this case an excellent one! “New Hong Kong” blends the twinkly dressing of contemporary pop with borderline chiptune retro-synth stylings, panning out like the Pokémon Center theme reborn as an upbeat pop theme for warm armchairs the world over. Similarly to “Service Area”, it shows off Yoshizawa’s knack for implementing novelty and ‘quirk’ as complementary forces to her underlying strength as a songwriter. It’s also an apt reflection of the album’s palette; the vintage sensibilities, chamber arrangements and jazz-pop of her previous two records have been swapped for a pastiche of ‘90s alternative sounds, seen off with a decisively modern makeover. Yoshizawa has pulled enough wardrobe changes at this point to suit practically any look she reaches for, and Akahoshi Aoboshi’s comparatively forward-facing style is no exception.

Much as Yoshizawa’s strengths are well represented here, there are a few returning pitfalls. As with her past output, she fares less well when she leans too far into whimsy across consecutive tracks. The album’s second half suffers here; the lethargic ballad “Jelly no Koibito” in conjunction with the ultra-twee “Redial” derail the album’s hitherto impeccable momentum, the former’s hooks insufficient to balance its pacing and the latter’s showtune rudiments a little too (uh) phoned-in for comfort. This casts a shadow of sorts across the rest of the album: “Ryuusei” and “Ribbon” lack the immediacy or dynamism to snap the album back into shape, landing as respectable deep cuts for those inclined towards repeat perusals but a little short of the gratification standard set early on. Things pick up for the melancholy closer “Shishuu”, courtesy of the album’s most beautiful arrangement, but it’s hard to shake an overall impression of top-heaviness at this point.

An imbalanced tracklist is a small price to pay for such a strong opening salvo, however. I was previously convinced that the ideal Kayoko Yoshizawa experience was to be found in self-curated playlists of highlight tracks, but Akahoshi Aoboshi’s opening run presents a formidable challenge to this notion and sees her set herself a new standard for continuity. If the backend is business as usual with a smattering of extra polish, then no harm done - Yoshizawa has a respectable discography at this point, and Akahoshi surely sits near the top of it. It’s perhaps a little too devoted to cosy love songs for its own good, and it doesn’t quite match up to the expansive fantasy of Yaneura Juu as such, but it might just be her most refined record to date. Whether or not that counts as her outdoing herself is beside the point; Kayoko Yoshizawa is back with her mojo and creative impetus eminently intact, and if she’s not the most consistent songwriter working today, she at least has a strong claim as the most charming.



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user ratings (18)
3.7
great


Comments:Add a Comment 
JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
March 24th 2021


34829 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Comfortably the best pop album I've heard this year - this is all of the positive things and it has made me a positive person (lol) and it will make you a positive person (maybe). Thank you Aaron for proofing my candyfloss :]:]



https://open.spotify.com/album/7MRaf8khAsecpHxc8wrhft?si=Escjg-KORe2PshI15spoig

Digging: Xiu Xiu - OH NO

BaselineOOO
March 24th 2021


620 Comments


OK damn this new reviewer is so much better than JohnnyoftheWall

zelenichajnik
March 24th 2021


612 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

No problem Hugh your candyfloss was delicious :]



This does sound particularly wonderful, shall peep in due course.

Digging: Have a Nice Life - Deathconsciousness

SteakByrnes
March 24th 2021


23210 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Hey big john nice review I will jam this asap rocky

Digging: Hail the Sun - New Age Filth

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
March 24th 2021


34829 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Wooo hype hype yes this is defs wonderful enjoy enjoy !

"OK damn this new reviewer is so much better than JohnnyoftheWall"

he has 2/3rds of the words and 2000x the sex appeal I am death jel



BaselineOOO
March 24th 2021


620 Comments


I always hoped she will release a consistent record. Also, I am so happy if what you wrote is true and she had toned down on jazz-pop, all that Ringo influence was preventing her from finding herself as an artist, since she's definitely at her fiercest when she goes full alternative imo.

I'm pumped for this but the left driver of my Focal Elex died in less than a week lol so I rma'd them and my Hifiman Ananda will hopefully arrive this friday. I will be patient and listen to this album on them in the inauguration day as I am really bored of my other headphones.

brainmelter
March 24th 2021


7455 Comments


looks/sounds great will czech

Digging: Suspiral - Chasm

someone
March 24th 2021


2761 Comments


so you give this a NOT GOOD but you give new Lana a 10? wow okay

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
March 24th 2021


34829 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I have mixed feelings and standards I am allowed all the standards

@Baseline 9/10 comment very thought provoking rest in piece half driver + the heritage of japanese jazzpop

zelenichajnik
March 24th 2021


612 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is absolutely burying me in fluffy blankets and macarons and i am no longer afraid to die

heyadam
March 24th 2021


3760 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

saying “gumi sama” forever into the void nao

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
March 25th 2021


24224 Comments

Album Rating: 3.3

Checking this now Puddles, I have hopes for City Pop, although the genre is pretty much ded?



Gonna read the rev now.

Digging: Zao - The Crimson Corridor

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
March 25th 2021


34829 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This ain't no city pop lol, v much cutesy contemp stuff with a 90s edge

And city pop is apparently alive and well in cafes and small bands all over Tokyo, but I can't say I've followed it closely

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
March 25th 2021


24224 Comments

Album Rating: 3.3

Yeah this didn't do much for me, it's obviously very well produced, but nothing that JV Victor hasn't released in the last 40 years :/

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
March 25th 2021


34829 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I mean fair, but given that p much her entire career is an ongoing pastiche I'm not sure how helpful it is to squint at the precedents - it's not like anyone expected a revolution five albums into a family friendly revivalist pop discog ygm

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
March 25th 2021


24224 Comments

Album Rating: 3.3

Well I didn't expect anything, went in blind, never heard of her but you could replace the name with XXX Japanese singer and I wouldn't know the difference.



And I'm not implying anything negative! Hell if you like this style more power to you cause there's plenty to choose from.

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
March 25th 2021


34829 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Hmmmm wasn't it only two days ago that you spammed the Slint thread with this sucks a lot and is bad? I smell a rat!!!

But yeah lol I'm a sucker for twinkly airy Jpop production with a generous amount of 90s alt muscle in its arrangements. Reminds me a bit of Aimyon's record last yr and gives me vague Brilliant Green vibes, in a much cutesier way



Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
March 25th 2021


24224 Comments

Album Rating: 3.3

"Hmmmm wasn't it only two days ago that you spammed the Slint thread with this sucks a lot and is bad?"



lol I never said that, all I said is that I could never get into it or understand it (which I did in the end!) Is this the Spiderland of Jpop btw?

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
March 25th 2021


34829 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

You were preaching bloody murder and death to pasty hipsters, don't you dare deny this!!!

the Spiderland of jpop is probably hmmm um Hi-fi Anatomia because whisperwhisper twinkletwinkle and both are certified 5s. Kayoko is a gem but she ain't in that league :/

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
March 25th 2021


24224 Comments

Album Rating: 3.3

"You were preaching bloody murder and death to pasty hipsters, don't you dare deny this!!!"



Lies! Link me!



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