Break the cocoon

On the surface, Yorico’s music doesn’t seem all that remarkable. It’s the kind of piano balladry endlessly compared to Carole King.

But there’s a quality beneath the surface, something seemingly intangible but attributable only to Yorico — much like how Utada Hikaru’s R&B had a maturity beyond her years, or how Onitsuka Chihiro’s unchallenging pop had a rough edge.

A previous review on this site name-dropped these same pop figures, and the comparrisons are still worth exploring.

Yorico was 16 years old when she released her first independent album in 2002. She managed to sell 80,000 copies and even scored a minor hit with “Honto wa ne”. After taking a break in 2003, she re-emerged in 2004, still sounding freshly-scrubbed but more seasoned.

And so she released Cocoon in January 2005, her first album for a major label.

Signed to an imprint of Toshiba-EMI that includes both Yaida Hitomi and Interpol on its roster, Yorico displays sensibilities that gives her slight appeal to the audiences of both labelmates — the literate pop of Yaida vs. the underground cred of Interpol.

But she manages to sound very much her own person.

Cocoon starts off with a pair of numbers that, to blind ears, could be described as inspirational. “I share all with you” could find an easy audience with the Michelle Branch-types, while “Sore de Ii no Desu ka?” is the kind of wordy, bouncy tune that’s catchy but not quite dumb enough for karaoke.

When Yorico gets introspective, she also tends to get incredibly spartan. Unlike Onitsuka or Utada, Yorico’s ballads seethe with intensity and seldom build to a dramatic peak.

“Wasurarerta Sakura no Ki” doesn’t venture much further than a piano, violin and Yorico’s emotive delivery, and Hayashi Asuca probably wouldn’t have maintained the kind of even temperament of “Shinai Naru Ekaki-san e”.

Half way through the album, Yorico throws a curve. She performs a traditional folk song, “Asatoya Yunta”, complete with shamisen and background responding vocal. And toward the end, she throws another with the hard rocking epic, “Break the Cocoon”, where she ably demonstrates her ability to get intense.

At times, it seems Yorico’s breathy vocals may not seem up-to-task to the demands of her music, but it’s her willingness to try that makes her performances riveting.

On “Sore de Ii no Desu Ka?”, she sounds like she misses a high note, but after a few more listens, that missed note reveals itself to be an intrinsic part of the song’s structure.

She could have chosen the sweeter note, but she stuck with the “wrong” one. And that subtlety adds depth to a style of music rehashed many times over.

Cocoon is an appropriate image for Yorico’s major label debut. She’s emerged from her indie work and her year-long break with a mature sound and a lot of potential.

She hasn’t conquered the finicky tastes of Japan’s pop world, but she may yet contribute something worth watching.