No music, no life

This album was the beginning.

In the early ’90s, my perception of the Japanese music scene was limited to anime soundtracks and idol pop. I was a big fan of the Bubblegum Crisis soundtracks, and I loved hearing Western music sung in a different language.

The early ’90s was also when post-punk music crossed over into the mainstream and became alternative rock. Women, in particular, were a driving force in this “new” type of music — Sinéad O’Connor, Throwing Muses, the Breeders, hell even Margo Timmins of Cowboy Junkies were seen as an antidote for, say, Paula Abdul.

Women in Japanese music, on the other hand, were primarily idols.

I got tired of Japanese pop pretty quickly because of its prefabrication — it became hard to tell one voice from another.

I was introduced to Cocco in 1998, on a night shift at the newspaper where I worked. A co-worker was playing the Japan Nite Sound Sampler, and most of the preceding tracks came across as bizarrely cute in a mistranslated sort of way.

And then “Count Down” started up, and the two worlds that divided my musical loyalties eight years earlier had merged.

Here was a singer with a beautiful voice who could have gone the easy route and sang what was given to her. Instead, she wrote her own music, and it raged harder than anything prancing about the Lilith Fair tour at the time.

I missed her performance at SXSW by one day.

But I found a copy of Bougainvillia at an Austin record store and bought it. And for the next two years after that, I couldn’t stop playing it.

American press at the time compared Cocco to Fiona Apple and (not as a compliment) Tori Amos. Cocco’s own fragile live persona puts her closer to Apple in temperament, but musically, she mopped the floor with both of them.

The production work of Tailor Tereda and Dr.StrangeLove’s Takamune Negishi showed a heavy influence of grunge, which was reaching its waning days in 1997.

The unison two-guitar attack on “Hashiru Karada” and “Nemuru Mori no Oojisama” made those riffs darker than they already were. The distortion on all the instruments on “Baby Bed” gives the song an ominous feel.

Cocco’s lyric booklet also established the unprecedent move of translating her lyrics into English, revealing a poetic but unsettling mind.

“Count Down”, a song that brings the Nirvana loud-soft aesthetic to an extreme, goes further than Alanis Morrissette’s paen to an ex-boyfriend, “You Oughta Know”.

Morrissette merely asked if the new woman in the man’s life would go down on him in a theater. Cocco threatens to shoot him if he doesn’t return to her.

In “Isho”, a song that serves as a last will and testament, Cocco asks her executor to kill her if she becomes incapacitated.

Not all is doom and gloom on Bougainvillia. “Gajumaru” is a children’s song misplaced among the rest of the album. “Sing a Song ~No Music, No Life~” questions the societal norm of restraint.

Bougainvillia was not a successful album for Cocco. It barely cracked the Top 30 in Japan. Her second single, “Tsuyoku Hakanai Monotachi” (“The Strong and Ephemeral”), would establish her success and demonstrate to Japanese audiences their best singers don’t all need to be idols.

But on Bougainvillia, Cocco already proved she had a strong voice, in both a literal and ideological sense.

Cocco records self-cover with Quruli guitarist


To commemorate Tower Records’ 25th anniversary, Cocco will release a new version of “Sing a Song ~No Music, No Life~” on Nov. 23. Tower Records Japan adopted the song as its theme in 1996, when Cocco first debuted on the chain store’s label, bounce records. “Sing a Song ~No Music, No Life~” was one of the tracks on her self-titled indie EP.

For the new recording, Cocco has translated the English-language song into Japanese, and she enlisted Quruli guitarist Kishida Shigeru to produce. Cocco makes a slight alteration to the song, renaming the subtitle “No Music, No Love Life”. Cover art for the single was also done by Cocco.

The single will available for sale at Tower Records stores, at its web site and through Tower Mobile.

Cocco announced she would retire from the music industry in 2001. But starting in 2003, she started to release special projects, including a DVD documenting her efforts to clean Okinawa’s beaches and a limited edition single available only to people who buy her latest picture book.

Cocco publishes second book


Cocco will publish her second picture book, Minami no Shima no Koi no Uta, on Aug. 15. The book follows up her bestselling first book, Minami no Shima no Hoshi no Suna, and to commemorate the two-year anniversary of its publication, readers who buy Cocco’s new book can use a special coupon to purchase a limited edition CD single. The single contains two new songs, “Garnet” and “Celeste Blue”.

On Sept. 22, Speedstar Records reissues a DVD of Cocco’s video clips, Otanoshimi Hizoo Video + Zen Single Clip = Kei 16 Kyokushuu at a discounted price for a limited time.

Cocco releases new DVD in December


Two years after suddenly ending her recording career, Cocco returns with a DVD release titled Heaven’s Hell on Dec. 24. TBS “News 23” filmed the singer as she campaigned to clean up Honshuu’s beaches at a special event this past summer. Cocco performed a short acoustic set, which included a new song, “Heaven’s Hell”. The DVD contains an hour’s worth of footage, and a limited edition version includes a CD single featuring two versions of the new song — a live performance recorded at a Kobe music festival, and a studio version.

Cocco makes another appearance


Cocco made an impromptu performance at a rock festival in Kobe on Aug. 31.

During an intermission, Cocco jumped onstage and accompanied herself on two songs. The singer wore a red, one-piece dress and performed in her usual barefoot.

Cocco had already performed at a Honshuu middle school, premiering a new song in English titled “Heaven’s Hell”.

On Sept. 5, News23 will broadcast a feature on Cocco.

Cocco performs at Honshuu middle school


Retired artist Cocco performed for the first time in two years at a

Honshuu middle school. Her 10-minute set included a new song, “Heaven’s

Hell”, which reportedly concludes with a rousing chorus.

Cocco appeared at Naha Middle School’s “GOMI-ZERO Taisaku Ikusa” (“The War

for Zero Trash”), an event to encourage trash pick-up along Honshuu’s

coastal areas. Cocco has previously rallied for efforts to clean up

Honshuu’s beaches.

Although the short set was Cocco’s first official performance in years, it

raises speculation whether the reclusive artist is ready to resume her


For posterity

Best-of collections are usually a means to bleed the proverbial royalties turnip, but some artists actually offer greatest hits packages as a record of posterity.

Cocco’s last hurrah, the clumsily titled Best + Ura Best + Mihappyoo-kyokushuu, falls somewhere between a greatest hits package and a boxed set with its thoroughness.

Rather than just collect the 11 singles that marked here brief but prolific career, Best + Ura Best + Mihappyoo-kyokushuu supplements those singles with b-sides, a few album tracks and five previously unreleased songs.

In the four years she recorded albums, Cocco produced enough extra tracks on her singles to become something of a fifth album. Recognizing that not everyone would be so thorough to buy her entire discography, Cocco included some of those extra tracks on Best.

Some of those extra tracks are every bit as good as the songs that eventually made her albums.

“Drive you crazy”, with its matchbox twenty vibe, pointed to a creative direction Cocco could have effectively pursued. “Sweet Berry Kiss” reflects its title quite well.

“Guuwa” starts off quietly, only to end on a haunting note, while “Again” shows Cocco at her most introspective.

The same can’t quite be said of the five mihappyoo-kyokushuu, or “unpublished songs”. Of those tracks, only “Mokumaoo” and “Ibara” stand out. “Mokumaoo” offers the kind of majestic choruses that marked “Hane” and “Yakenogahara”, while “Ibara” has a hard rock groove that’s totally Cocco.

The three other unreleased songs — “Amefurashi”, “Shiawase no Gomichi” and “Kutsushita no Himitsu” — tend to disappear into the background.

To round out the disc, Cocco included a few tracks from her overlooked debut album, bougainvillia. Although “Isho” and “Hoshi no Umareru Hi” are both great songs, one of them could have made room for “Hakobune”, a b-side to “Hane ~lay down my arms~” that’s as beautiful as anything Cocco has written.

Perhaps the most surprising gem in Best + Ura Best + Mihabbyokyoku is “Hiyokobuta no Theme Part 2”, a TV theme Cocco recorded for NHK. The light-hearted track has a playful vibe not quite captured in Cocco’s other children’s song.

Unfortunately, only the first pressings of Best include the track on a CD-3 that includes a version of “Nemureru Mori no Oujisama ~haru, natsu, aki, fuyu~” originally released on Cocco’s debut indie release.

In all, Best + Ura Best + Mihappyoo-kyokushuu is a must-have for even the most casual of Cocco fans.

Beautiful but pretty

Cocco must be thrilled she’s leaving the music business. The usually intense Japanese singer finishes her career with her brightest album ever.

Barely 10 months after releasing the loud, grunge-y Rapunzel, Cocco returns with Sangrose, an album heavy on sweeping ballads and quiet songs.

Even the album’s opener, “Sango to Hana to” (“Coral and the flowers”), is driven mostly by acoustic guitars, a departure from previously harsh starters such as “Kemono Michi” (Rapunzel) or “Kubi” (bougainvillia).

And while the album does contain a number of requisite headbangers — “Wagamama na Te” (“Selfish Hand”) contains the simplest and hardest riff on a Cocco album — most of Sangrose stays in the lower portion of the volume knob.

The minimalistic “Utsukushii Hibi” (“Beautiful Days”) builds gradually but never rises beyond a loud whisper. “Fuuka Fuusou” (“Funeral of Weathering”) resembles “Raining” with its grandiose chorus and dramatic strings.

Just when you think Cocco can’t deliver another terrific single, she does. Cocco’s most intriguing entry in this mostly ballad-driven album is “Hane ~lay down my arms~”. She practically soars on the song’s chorus.

Sangrose veers violently between its introspective moments and its more out-going tracks. The short, sweet interlude “Still” is followed by a rousing, cheerleader-like anthem of “Dream’s a dream.”

Conversely, the dark “Hoshi ni Negai Wo” (“Wish Upon a Star”) is followed by a gorgeous piano ballad, “Tamagotsuki no Koro” (“Around April”).

Cocco delivers some beautiful music, but not all of it is necessarily pretty. Rapunzel and bougainvillia can get downright savage. Sangrose, however, is an incredibly pretty album that just so happens to be quite beautiful.

Although Cocco announced her retirement from music in late February, the young singer isn’t exactly an aging rock star. Should she never stage a comeback, Sangrose still serves as a remarkable conclusion to a career filled with plenty of creative highs.

Whip out your hair

Judging by the singles she released in the two years since recording her second album, it was easy to assume Cocco was mellowing out.

Not. Likely.

In context of the rest of Rapunzel, the Japanese singer’s third album, these singles serve as means to anchor the disc’s wilder moments — of which there are plenty.

The album’s opener, “Kemono Michi” (“Animal Trail”), establishes the grunge-y threshold over which subsequent tracks eventually surpass. By the conclusion of the feedback-overloaded “Kagari Bi” (“A Watch Fire”), listeners will welcome the mellow reprieve of “Polomerria.”

Cocco’s more rocking moments tend to suffer for a single-note syndrome, and a few of the melodies on Rapunzel resemble other Cocco songs a bit too closely. But what she lacks in verse writing, Cocco more than makes up for in creating a totally visceral listening experience.

Cocco also indulges her sweeter side, strategically placing lighter but no less compelling tracks as “Shiroi Kyouki” (“White Madness”) and “Jukai No Ito” (“Thread in the Deep Forest”) between the louder moments on the album.

Even the requisite “fun” track, “Unabara no Ningyo” (“Mermaid in the Ocean Field”) doesn’t seem out of place. (On previous albums, Cocco included self-written children’s songs that stuck out like sore thumbs against the rest of her emotional work.)

Cocco’s voice has gotten dramatically stronger. “Shiroi Kyouki” sports some high notes that gives Mariah Carrey a run for her money. “Kemono Michi” includes both Cocco’s blood-curdling scream and some musical wails.

Although not as hook-filled as her 1997 debut bougainvillia, Rapunzel is still a forceful opus. Cocco has greatly expanded the emotional breadth of her music to astonishing results.