Mariko Goto - 299792458 - 4/5
If I was charged with describing this album in one word it'd be easy. It would simply be KAWAIIIII!!!! And I mean that with no sense of irony stemming from the fact I usually loathe obsessive Japanophiles who use Japanese words when perfectly good English ones exist. Well alright, maybe there's still a hint of irony in there, but simply calling it 'cutesy pop' as she described it doesn't convey the sheer sense of my wide and blurry eyed squeeing in delight at how god damn adorable this is. It's like a journey into the mind of the cutest child you've never laid eyes upon, seeing the world through her eyes in all its delights; through the temper tantrums, excitement and contentment at having found something sugary to nibble on, and I don't even like kids.
This may well be her first solo effort but it's most certainly not the first album where she's found herself the centre of attention, having brief cult success in Midori, splitting up shortly after making their first major label release in 2010. If you're familiar with their odd addictive brand of paedo-punk-jazz you'll be glad to know she hasn't given up the jazzy piano lines and the occasional screeched vocal, but certainly there is less of the contrasting chaos to her jaw-achingly cute side. Nonetheless, to simply dismiss this out of hand as 'just another J-pop album' would be doing it grave disservice as it's nothing of the sort. As the intro prepares you, consisting of nothing more than Goto herself playfully singing nonsensically, this is gonna be an album so sugary you'll swear you can feel your teeth rotting by the minute. It's almost glitch like in its imperfections – the musical equivalent of a small child failing to colour inside the lines of her favourite colouring book – and in a world of auto-tuned “perfect pitch” voices and overproduced backing music, it's these imperfections that give it its charm.
There is certainly an easy to listen to pop-like sensibility to much of the instrumentation; bouncy piano lines form the heart of the tracks rhythm, utilising the inherent versatility of the instrument to traverse between all out noise-laden chaos and the simpler, again child-like melodies, at times almost evocative of a nursery rhyme. The guitars and the rest of the backing instrumentation – particularly the drums who never seem to find themselves stuck for a new jazzy beat for the track at hand – are often little more than that, backing to lend a little more flavour to the proceedings, and despite the piano interludes and brief guitar solos, Goto herself always stands at the forefront. The album title seems bizarre but a quick google shows that it is, in fact, the speed of light in metres per second. Get it? No, can't exactly say I did either, but in an odd way it's a perfect example of her quirkiness; how you don't really have to understand its purpose to enjoy it, and it's all part of what makes her so unique.
To call her a talented vocalist seems like something of an oxymoron; by any standard you could use to determine a vocalist's ability, whether in vocal range, register, ability to sustain a note, add vibrato, alternate pitch in rapid succession or even being able to sing in key, she is by all these standards fairly awful. And yet, it is through all these faults that her childish persona is allowed to flourish; through all the imperfections that she is able to sing like no other – a fact made even more incredible when you consider her decade long music career; how she must be closer to 30 than the 13 year old school girl she still seems to represent. That there is more to the instrumentation than meets the eye is apparent but it is really here, in the vocals, that the album really provides it's draw, delivering upon a style that can be said to belong to no other, and whilst perhaps not up to the best of her work in Midori, it doesn't matter. I still want to snuggle her like the all too adorable kitten she is.
Highlights: Mamaku, Utopia, Atashi no Shoudou