{album} KOKIA – The VOICE

April 26, 2008 at 2:39 pm | Posted in KOKIA, Music | Leave a comment

kokia - the voice
KOKIA – The VOICE

(released February 20th, 2008)

1. 穏やかな静け [Odayaka na Shizukesa]
2. Follow The Nightingale
3. Ave Maria
4. 届きますように [Todokimasu You ni]
5. song of pocchong ~雫の唄 [song of pocchong ~Shizuku no Uta]
6. ごめんね. [Gomen ne.]
7. Lacrima
8. 何もかもが星になって [Nani mo Kamo ga Hoshi ni Natte]
9. il mare dei suoni
10. everlasting
11. 小さなうた [Chiisana Uta]
*12. 私にできること [Watashi ni Dekiru Koto] (Japanese edition bonus track)
*12. say goodbye & good day (European edition bonus track)

KOKIA’s 6th album, not counting her best of collection. It’s also the first work of hers I’ve heard. The VOICE is acoustic pop meets new age meets classical…and more. KOKIA’s vocals sound like a cross between Kanon and Rurutia, a strong potential for opera mixed with a calming softness. This album contains only one single – Follow the Nightingale.

Odayaka na Shizukesa introduces you to KOKIA’s mystical world with the ethereal a capella intro. I’m instantly reminded of a mist-covered lake in the quiet moments before dawn. KOKIA sings with a lilt, her voice flowing like light waves on the lake surface. Her harmonies are beautiful too. The parts where she whispers “hush” is a nice addition to the dreamy mood. The music consists mainly of piano, but I also hear flute and English horn in there somewhere. The wind instruments imitate the bird calls one would hear at the lake shore early in the morning.

Follow the Nightingale describes the bird taking off and soaring over the mountains. This song alternates between the calmer piano, harp, and woodwind backed sections and the dramatic, fast-paced string arrangements. We also hear KOKIA’s vocal contrast – her soft ballad voice and her more aggressive side. One thing notable is that the chorus contains reversed lyrics – attamijahahira tagonomarakikota. Follow the Nightingale also has somewhat of a “tribal dance” feel due to the backing vocals in the chorus. It’s the most unorthodox track on this album.

Ave Maria – I’m not familiar with this Vladimir Vavilov composition since the only Ave Marias I know are the Schubert and Biebl ones, but this is by no means less wonderful. KOKIA’s singing in her opera voice, and is vocalizing without any lyrics save the repetition of “Ave Maria.” The tone of her voice is pure and clear, and she reaches those high notes with ease, showing her true vocal prowess. What makes this song not completely classical would be the backing – there’s piano, of course, but also percussion and some instruments I can’t identify.

Todokimasu You ni is a ballad with only vocals and acoustic guitar. The simplicity is one of the things I love so much about this song, because everything sounds just so honest and heartfelt. KOKIA’s not showing off her vocal range or techniques, but just singing softly. Todokimasu you ni means “in order to reach out” and this sounds like a parting song one would sing to their lover. The emotion is just so transparent – you can hear the loneliness, hope, and nostalgia echo in her voice. The harmonies in the chorus just make the song tug at the heartstrings more.

song of pocchong ~Shizuku no Uta introduces us to KOKIA’s cute side. The song as a whole is fluffy and playful. There’s vocal layering which feels like a bunch of feathers tickling at my ears, and the bells and harp accent the mischievous mood. This track makes me think of a bunch of village girls gathering water and dancing and singing this song (I think I actually hear running water in the background?). Indeed, the tune does have a bit of a folk song flavor to it. I can’t determine what language she’s singing in – I’m guessing it’s a made-up one.

Gomen ne. is touching ballad #2 – I don’t mean that it sounds generic by my categorizing it like that; it’s the second song on this album that really stirs something inside my heart. I can’t help but compare it to Track 4. It also has simple accompaniment (mainly acoustic guitar, and faint bits of bass and piano) and a simple vocal style. At her “gomen ne, gomen ne,” I can’t help but feel an ache of yearning inside. Gomen ne. instills a feeling of peaceful sadness; I don’t know what she’s apologizing for, but a sense of loss and quiet resignation pervades the song.

Lacrima was a bit of a letdown after the two amazing ballads, Todokimasu You ni and Gomen ne. I’m not saying I dislike it, but this song sounds a little generic in comparison. It follows the vocal+acoustic guitar-only formula which produces a nice effect. It does show KOKIA’s gentle and vulnerable side well, but it’s missing that special factor that strikes an emotional chord (no pun intended). It is still a pretty song though – her breathy whispering of “lacrima” (meaning “tear” in Latin) in the chorus gives me the impression that she’s crying softly.

Nani mo Kamo ga Hoshi ni Natte takes us more into upbeat acoustic pop, and is more of a “standard J-Pop song.” However, KOKIA’s unique touch is still present – she sings with some of her trademark lilt. She’s also using a lower register for most of the song and I love the fluid transitions from chest to head voice, and her vibrato on the “a” syllables. The background music is just the run-of-the mill acoustic guitar and percussion with some electronic keyboard, but it sets off her voice well. She has a nice speaking voice too – she spoke part of the bridge section.

il mare dei suoni means “the sea of sounds” in Italian and I felt myself washed away in wonder. What’s amazing is that KOKIA wrote and composed this song herself. This track was a nice crossover of genres, combining classical instruments, electric guitars and electronic beats. KOKIA alternates between her pop-singer voice and her opera voice – I was convinced at some points that there were two people singing in this track! Both sides are excellent – the J-Pop voice is strong and sultry, and her opera performance is just spellbinding.

everlasting sounds like a church hymn with the harp, organ, and church bells – not surprising, since it’s about her thankfulness to God. The vocals are layered so she sounds like an angelic choir. everlasting is also completely in English, and KOKIA’s pronunciation was excellent. It’ s a beautiful song but at 5:38 it was a tad too long for my taste – it would have been better with a minute off. The main thing I didn’t like, though, was her spoken prayer in her “child voice” – it reminds me too much of the cheesy narration in Kanon’s Brand New Breeze.

Chiisana Uta sounds like a lullaby. While nowhere near as cutesy as song of pocchong, she does use a a more child-like singing style in certain parts, especially the intro. Chiisana uta means “little song,” and it could be a song a mother sings to her little one to lull him or her to sleep. Even the louder sections have wispy vocals and don’t overpower the quiet mood. Supporting the vocals are piano and bells/music boxes. There’s also some vocal layering, which gives the listener a sense of dreaming. This song is nice, but nothing too memorable.

*Watashi ni Dekiru Koto was a tribute to the victims of the Niigata earthquake, and was included as a bonus track on the Japanese edition of The VOICE. The song is a happy ballad, portraying a hopeful future. I like to think of it as a cheerful version of Todokimasu You ni with piano instead, because the song structure is similar, simple overall style, simple melody during verses, harmonies during the chorus. I don’t have the lyrics but according to others, they contain a powerful moving message of some sort.

*say goodbye & good day, the B-side on the Follow the Nightingale single, is the bonus track if you have the European edition of the album. In my opinion, I think this makes a better album closer than Watashi ni Dekiru Koto thematically, even if it feels a bit out of place due to its mainstream sound. There’s nothing too complex in the arrangement, just standard guitar, percussion, and strings. This is as close as she gets to the “fun, catchy pop” genre, and it sounds like a song that YUI would sing. I’d actually like to hear KOKIA do more songs like this.

Final Thoughts: The VOICE showcases KOKIA’s stunning vocal versatility – why else would be the album named so? Her skills as a songwriter shine as well. The VOICE is the most experimental J-Pop work I’ve heard in a while and is probably an important point of artistic progress. However, I couldn’t help but feel that a lot of the best songs were piled up in the first half. The entire album was great, though the second half lacked a bit of the impact the first half had.

Favorite Track(s): Oh, this is a painful decision. Todokimasu You ni and Gomen ne. stood out the most for me and would be the tracks I’d recommend the most, but I can’t seem to let go of Odayaka na Shizukesa and Watashi ni Dekiru Koto either. And, I’ll have to add on Nani mo Kamo ga Hoshi ni Natte and say goodbye & good day because I have a fondness for upbeat pop songs – haha, that’s about half the album…

Overall Grade: A

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