Aco – Absolute Ego – 4/5
I write this during my christmas special as a continuation of my current listening trends (much of the special was written earlier in the month), penetrating the mysteries of the secluded country of Japan to uncover non-metal releases that many seem to have missed. As with the last discovery, this is a release that weighs in far from the buzz of the overtly bouncy electronic ‘picopop’ realm of thinking, instead playing for the trip-hop crowd before any other; feeling like an early portishead release no longer constrained to the electronic, synthetic effects, instead making use of the downtempo electronic beat in conjunction with a sprinkling of jazz guitars, classical violins and reggae beats to accent the breadth of her own versatile voice.
Constrained by the language barrier – the power of the lyrics sadly lost as a result – despite singing entirely in Japanese, the way she caresses the foreign notes lends a unique tone to the proceedings that I wouldn’t want another way. Furthermore, she actually does have an incredibly versatile voice, dynamically fluctuating in a soothing pop-like manner (and I particularly refer to more western styles than the cutesy mannerisms Japan is known for), reaching both delicately sung soprano high notes and a deeper pitched contemplative melancholy both with a seamless ease. Whilst not capable of reaching the same emotional power of the best, at no point does she become anything less than elegantly interesting, capable of letting you drift off like a lullaby to the caressing atmosphere she creates.
But this is not the main aspect that drew my attention – there are a lot of decent vocalists singing (ok, fewer decent japanese vocalists it would seem) but that alone isn’t enough to keep me listening for long – instead it is the composition and instrumentation that elevates this above the competition. Perhaps unusually so, the backing whilst at its core consisting of little more than a handful of slow chords played on the keyboards and a basic drum beat feels unusually varied; the drums will add an assortment of fills to ease the transitions and the keyboards wont just keep to the same range of notes. It is this shifting dynamic that shows a level of consideration that maintains the rhythm whilst preventing it from tiring too quickly.
And each track, too, lends its own flavour to the proceedings; the sublime classical violin interlude in ‘Spleen’ or the use of steel drums in ‘Intensity’ lending a carefree ‘reggae’ tone to a release that could easily become monotonous. She may not be the most adventurous composer or the most talented vocalist but she is instead capable at both, succeeding in combining a wealth of ideas into a manner that feels fresh and original. Having since done my homework I’m now armed with the knowledge that she was not an artist to stick to one sound for long, quickly moving further into avant-garde territory. With this in mind, whilst this may have been my first foray into her back catalogue, I expect it wont be my last.
Highlights: Spleen, Black Maybe, 哀愁とバラード