Diverse but coherent

If something works in pop music, labels will try to ride its coattails before it becomes passé. (See Yorico., gap.)

Hitoto Yoo’s debut album, Tsukitenshin, starts off with a piano ballad highly influenced by Japanese folk melodies. Even more striking is her singing style — traditional as well. Shades of Hajime Chitose, perhaps?

“Morai Naki”, the album’s pre-release single, follows, and it’s tough not to think of Utada Hikaru when the drum machines kick in. Despite the lack of piano on “sunny side up”, it’s too easy to find the Carole King influence not to think of Onitsuka Chihiro.

Then there’s the grunge guitars of “Inu”, produced by Takamune Negishi, who helmed Cocco’s albums.

From those last few paragraphs alone,

Tsukitenshin ought to be a scattered mess of incongruent styles, but it’s not. If anything, it’s probably one of the best surveys of current J-pop trends.

Most of the credit belongs to Hitoto for being an incredibly versatile singer. She can pull of the traditional folk melodies as skillfully as she can navigate walls of guitars or R&B drum machines.

No, she won’t transform into a diva or a riot grrl at the drop of a hat, but her mature voice doesn’t sound forced in different contexts.

“Ima Doko” could have been remixed by Timbaland, and it wouldn’t sound out of place on Tsukitenshin. (Actually, “Ima Doko” shows quite a bit of influence from Timbaland.)

Hitoto even takes a stab at more orchestral pop — think latter-day Nakamori Akina — on the title track.

Tsukitenshin is surprisingly coherent, even with so many styles competing for attention. The album flows like well-made compilation. Change the position of any track from the sequence, and it would fall apart. (Note: don’t touch that random button.)

The songwriting doesn’t feel overly calculated either. There are no remixes tacked at the end of the album, no disco beats to signify “obvious club single” — just a set of pop songs aimed to highlight Hitoto’s abilities.

Tsukitenshin is a remarkable debut by a singer with a clear identity to fit well in any setting.