The Sensual World

By most accounts, ACO wasn’t always so interesting. Earlier in her career, the Japanese singer attempted to carve out a piece of the sultry jazz-pop pie already staked out by UA and Chara.

After three albums, the young ACO didn’t really go anywhere.

Then in 1999, she got bold, collaborating with hip-hop rockers Dragon Ash on “Grateful Days”, and in early 2000, ACO provided vocals for reknowned international club artist DJ Krush on “Tragicomic.”

She enlisted the help of Japan’s emerging musicians for her 1999 album Absolute Ego and found her voice.

ACO continues to grow with Material, an album that never turns back on her jazz-pop past but trains the 23-year-old singer’s eyes squarely on the future.

The opening synthetic chimes and heavily processed samples of “Melancholia” call to mind Post-era Björk, and from there, ACO delivers one seething, sensual song after another.

ACO is no powerhouse vocalist, and she could never give the likes of UA or Cocco or Do As Infinity’s Van Tomiko much competition.

But when her voice is drenched in thundering bass, ethereal synthesizer effects and booming drum samples, ACO’s bittersweet whisper feels totally at home.

Tracks such as “Hoshi no Kuzu”, “Shinsei Romantist” and “4gatsu No Hero” saunters at a leisurely pace, but ACO fills all the open spaces with an emotive wail all her own.

On “Canary wa Naku” and “Sora Shiranu Ame”, she turns into a space age cabaret singer, delivering a riveting performance amid some dark, ominous music.

ACO cites Kate Bush as an influence, and Material ably demonstrates it. “Interlude” incorporates samples of Bulgarian women’s choirs much the same way Bush employed Trio Bulgarka on her 1989 album The Sensual World.

ACO even goes so far to cover Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” from that album. If it weren’t for ACO’s accent, a person couldn’t tell the difference between the two singers.

While Material concentrates heavily on creating vast canvases of bizarre synthetic effects, the album is still a jazz-pop work at its core.

At a faster tempo, “Time” could have become a very blues-y, bouncy tune. “Anata ni Sagasu Uta” is a total torch singer’s anthem even without the lush string arrangements.

As a single, “Heart wo Moyashite” felt out of place, but as the conclusion to Material, the song becomes the culmination of an artist’s incredibly broad vision.

Material is an intriguing, appealing work, and ACO does an incredible job housing her voice in music suited well for her talent.