It was bound to happen eventually: At some point the writing project’s music-focused present was going to bump into the project’s animation-focused past. Kind of.
What is it?
Hiraku Uchuu Pocket is the 2011 album by the Japanese singer who goes by the name KOTOKO.
No, I don’t understand the all-caps either. Let’s not pretend I’m an expert on this sort of thing.
How does it sound?
Like… something I can’t make a funny lyrical reference to because I don’t know the language:
Why this pick?
KOTOKO is another example of an artist where fans tend to be nostalgic for the songs which hooked them back in the day, but the work still improves over the years. This album displays greater and more successful experimentation than ever before, even if there are no individual songs more memorable than past hits. (This is her fifth and most recent full studio album.)
Which songs are the highlights?
The lead off track, “TR∀NSFoRM,” is a prime example of the kind of songs KOTOKO made her reputation on: Upbeat, heavy synths and guitars, sounds like it probably could be the opening theme to an action-adventure anime show. Two tracks later, “Maeterlinck” is closer to being a straight-up rock-n-roll cut.
In between those two we get “Mirai Ressha,” which is KOTOKO in hyper-cute mode. I know that the statement “your mileage may vary” is a given for any of these project entries but it bears special mention here.
Partway through the album there’s “Mirror Garden,” showing off one of the other things KOTOKO’s known for: A kind of dark, almost grim, techno piece. Only “kind of,” mind you, because this is still a pop record at its core. Coming out of that we get “Command + S,” eight and a half minutes of trance-type noodling which works better than it probably should.
Speaking of anime, “Hirake! Sora no Oto” is the opening theme song for the series, Sora no Otoshimono, aka Heaven’s Lost Property. It’s a better song than the show deserves, really. Sprinkling a J-pop album release with the fruits of other paying gigs is traditional, and far from unwelcome. (Oddly enough, there’s only this one “anison” on the album.)
Hiraku Uchuu Pocket closes strongly with the power-ballad-ish “Chikyuu -TERRA-.”
Which songs don’t work so well?
“Aoi Jeep De” is just too chaotic, as is “Sa-yo-na…ra.” “X-kai-” is just too jarring of a collision between two competing styles.
Maybe someone who likes the slower pieces could get something from “Kikoeru,” but not this little grey duck.
Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?
I could have picked almost any of the five releases so far and felt I was doing a good service by recommending it. If not for Hiraku Uchuu Pocket, though, I think it would’ve been the previous album, 2009’s Epsilon no Fune. It’s made up partly of material from some really good singles. One can’t go wrong with packing your album full of established hits, right?
While I love individual songs on the earlier records quite a lot, the last couple albums are more consistently good across the range of song styles presented.
Any final thoughts?
There’s always that one song which gets you into a new artist. You listen, you wonder if there’s more like that, you dive into the artist’s full catalog, and suddenly you’ve a few dozen dollars poorer but musically richer. With a J-pop artist like KOTOKO, the entree is often an anime theme song. In my case it was “Second Flight” (actually a duet w/ Hiromi Sato) from the Onegai Twins anime series. Go figure!
On the off chance that a J-pop aficionado comes along and wants to question my devotion to this particular artist: Yes, I know, there are better-regarded singers with greater range, yadda yadda. You’re talking to a guy who listens to Tony Banks solo records where he sings his own stuff, so just assume I’m a lost cause, okay? Okay.
Now’s a good time to bring up a part of my relationship to pop music which probably baffles people. How can I enjoy so much music for which I can’t understand a single word sung? That’s easy, since I really don’t process lyrics very much anyway, even when I know what the words say. As long as it sounds good, I’m happy.