Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Yoko Kanno Reviews: Be Human

When it comes to musical genres, composer Yoko Kanno has covered nearly everything under the sun. Her soundtracks for various anime series and films have had her doing everything from classical (Escaflowne) to pop (Macross Plus), electronic (Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex), funk (Cowboy Bebop),and even Brazilian-style jazz (Wolf's Rain). On Be Human, a side soundtrack to the Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex anime series currently airing on Adult Swim, she covers a wide variety of genres in the space of about 44 minutes. The result is an uneven album that contains songs that will both engage you and make you cringe.

It's clear from the cover of Be Human that this soundtrack would be different from the GITS:SAC soundtracks that came before and after it. Unlike the other covers that feature main character Motoko Kusanagi, the cover of Be Human features a "tachikoma." Tachikoma are spider-like robots used by the characters in the anime series. The robots have very advanced AI (they are about as smart as children) and can think for themselves. Most of the music on Be Human deals with these robot characters and the music from the "Tachikoma Specials" is included on this album.

Be Human runs the gamut in terms of the types of music it contains. The album opens up with the slow, slightly somber title track. The song is about a desire that lots of robots have in science-fiction works...the desire to become human. The childlike perspective of the tachikoma results in lyrics like these: "I'd roll around the mud/and have lots of fun/then when I was done/build bubblebath towers and swim in the tub." The somber electronic tones of "Be Human" give way to hard rock on "Trip City," a song about a robot having some serious issues. Things get even more varied from here.

Songs like "Patch Me" and "Let's Oil" are quick bursts of pure techno. "Tachikoma no Iede (Runaway Tachikoma)" is the complete opposite of those songs with its light combination of piano and flute. "Rocky wa Doko? (Where's Rocky?)" is a light, sweet little instrumental that features strings, acoustic guitar, and some European elements. You get a taste of Japanese rapping on "Cream" while "Spotter," one of the best tracks on the album, is an excellent combination of electronic beats and strings. "Piece by Ten" is a full-on orchestral piece performed by the Warsaw Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra while "Good By My Master" would not have sounded out of place in one of the Matrix films.

With all this variety, you know something is gonna have to give and it does. "FAX me" ranks with "24 Hours Open" from the Cowboy Bebop movie (which was just a Muzak-esque instrumental with gunshot sounds) as one of the dumbest songs I've ever heard from Kanno. The song is simply a combination of a traditional classical piece with fax machine/modem beeps running through it. Even though it's less than 90 seconds long, it annoys me to no end. Also, I could've done without most of the seven "hidden" tracks that come from the "Tachikoma Specials." You will either love or hate the cute, kawaii vocals on "AI Sentai Tachikomans (AI Combat Team Tachikomans)." Personally, I couldn't stand them. "PO'd Pod" is a video game-esque song that's a step below the video game fan remixes out there.

While Be Human has its moments, it's pretty uneven and a little odd at times. I wouldn't recommend this to someone who wasn't already a Yoko Kanno fan. If you are new to Yoko Kanno, there are several soundtracks that will give you a better idea of her talent. Among albums that have been released domestically, check out either of the two Macross Plus soundtracks, the first Arjuna soundtrack, or the first Wolf's Rain soundtrack. If you are willing to buy imports, I suggest you check out the first and third Cowboy Bebop TV soundtracks (or the CD-Box, if you can find it), virtually any of the Escaflowne soundtracks, or Song To Fly, her only solo, non-soundtrack, release.

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