By Paris365 on December 11, 2012

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Ki/oon Records

Cocoon is Japanese singer/songwriter Chara's 15th original studio album and her first for Ki/oon Records. (It's her 21st album overall if you count her greatest hits releases and other compilations.) In addition to nine brand-new songs, it features her three most recent singles, "Alterna Girlfriend," "Planet" and "Chocho Musubi" (translation: "Butterfly Knot"), which were all given positive reviews here on Otaku at the time of their release.

As with many of her past albums, including last year's mini-album Utakata, Chara covers an awful lot of ground here, often jumping from one genre to another as the album goes from song to song. The fact that her work is so diverse is certainly one of her strong points, but at the same time it can make her albums sometimes feel less like proper albums and more like compilations of random songs. As she switches things up from song to song here it does sometimes feel like the songs don't quite fit together, but once you've listened to the whole album from start to finish a few times then it does start to feel like a cohesive album.

The album opens with "18," which proves to be a mid-tempo reggae song. The percussion, the bass, the horns, the electric guitars, the arrangement itself -- it's all 100% reggae in every sense of the word. Chara, however, sounds like her normal self, not trying to alter her vocal style to conform to the music at all. Luckily, her unique voice somehow fits here. It's as though she wrote the words and melody and then the band built a reggae song around it, which is highly possible as Chara wrote the words and music for most of the songs here, though she collaborated with some famous producers when it came time to finalize the arrangements. The bad news here is that "18" is the album's only reggae song; it's unfortunate because you'll likely find yourself wishing that the whole album was reggae after hearing this clever gem a few times.

The second track, "DADAAAN," is nothing like "18" whatsoever. It's a brutal, punk-ish rock song with scratchy guitars and lots of distortion. Even Chara's vocals seem processed to sound especially raw here. Likewise, she screams her way through most of this one, sounding like she might just devour the microphone, a far cry from the cutesy Chara we've known for years. The only thing that doesn't sound distorted is the bass guitar, which is really what threads the song together. It does get more melodic as it goes on, but that might be too little too late for listeners who immediately find the song too abrasive. I would have placed track 3, the energetic, hook-filled and just raw enough "Alterna-Girlfriend" before "DADAAAN," since going from the relatively sweet "18" to the harsh "DADAAAN" feels like an overly dramatic change. But maybe that's the point, Chara wanting to give listeners a good jolt?

Before Chara gets to the generally mellow, second half of the album, she belts out another raw number with "Lita," which sports grunge-like guitars, garage band drums, and rough bass guitar. That said, there are times when her voice sounds almost spectral, like a ghost whispering from beyond. During these spacey, ethereal moments, it almost sounds like Chara's vocals were recorded outside in a big field -- or cemetery -- with lots of reverb on them. Around the two minute mark, the bass guitar gets loud and fuzzy, taking on an almost warm tone, meanwhile we hear sound effects that sound slightly new wave-ish and Chara sings in her whisper-like voice we all know and love.

"木枯らしと歌う" (Google translation: "First cold blast and sing") is arguably the best song on the album. Chara sings it quite softly, her voice almost taking on an angelic quality, but it's the intricate music that really sucks you in. Layers of programmed beats and assorted loops give the song an early Bjork vibe and you wouldn't be wrong to call it electro-pop. "I would like to kiss," Chara sings over and over again, her voice over-flowing with charm and passion. Then again, she could be singing something in Japanese that just sounds like "I would like to kiss" to my ears. Either way, she delivers the lyrics at her emotive best and the song is one of her most infectious tracks in years. If you were a fan of her electro-centric single "Butterfly Knot" then you're sure to love this one.

One of the album's most beautiful songs is "糸し糸しと言う心" (Google: "Yarn To Thread"), a mellow piano ballad that kept making me think of John Lennon's "Woman." The two songs aren't that similar but the percussion and piano here have a certain Lennon-like vibe somehow. The melody is all classic Chara, however, and she sings most of it quite softly, her voice sounding whispery and slightly smokey. Quite intoxicating, to say the least. The ballad " 特に" (Google: "In Particular") is somewhat similar. Chara begins it singing softly to gentle piano that calls to mind old school Elton John. While it initially seems like a very simple song, Chara's voice gets considerably louder and more intense around the four minute mark when it almost sounds like she's having a nervous breakdown of some sort.

The album's most ambitious song is the title track, "Cocoon." It begins with Chara doing a vocal run way off in the background while she whispers something in the forefront and we hear laughter in the middle of all that -- children's laughter, if I were to speculate -- calling to mind the work of Ferri. It's a good minute into the song before Chara starts singing along to keyboards, light guitar and soft, jazz-like percussion. At times the song feels like a veritable jazz song, other moments not quite calling to mind cabaret. By the time it hits the five minute mark Chara is singing -- if not screaming -- her heart out. As it progresses, the song being just over ten minutes, all sorts of other sounds and instruments join the mix. Layers and layers of loud, explosive guitars, raw drums -- it turns into quite a whirlwind, building to a climax and making listeners' heads spin in the meantime. -Michael McCarthy

A limited edition, first pressing version of this album is also available and comes with a DVD featuring the "Chocho Musabi" music video and the making of the video.

Labels and artists interested in being featured here may contact Michael McCarthy at Follow Michael on Twitter

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