Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Yoko Kanno Reviews: CM Yoko

Although best known in the U.S. as a top composer for anime such as Cowboy Bebop and Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Yoko Kanno has had a lengthy and varied career. She has composed for live-action films, TV series and specials, and video games in addition to producing for other artists. However, her recent digital release, CM Yoko, goes into normally unreleased territory. CM Yoko is a collection of 23 tracks originally composed for Japanese television commercials. Ranging from the silly to the sweet and everything in between, CM Yoko is a fun, quirky collection that shows off the versatility of this prolific composer.

Given that the music on CM Yoko was written for TV commercials, most of the tracks run less than a minute. The shortest track is just 19 seconds long while the longest tops out at four minutes. This is both a blessing and a curse. You don't have to wait long for a so-so track to end but at the same time, you may wish that some songs were longer. One obstacle that this collection has to overcome for non-Japanese listeners is the unfamiliarity of the tracks. Those of us who do not live in Japan have not had the opportunity to see the commercials these tracks came from. There's no attachment to any of these songs and they have to stand up on their own outside of their original context.

Fortunately, most of these tracks are appealing even without the imagery to accompany them. The standout track on this collection is “Exaelitus.” The track features Origa, who previously sang the opening themes of Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex. The collection's longest track, “Exaelitus” is epic and atmospheric with horns and some intense strings. If it sounds like it belongs in a car commercial that because it was composed for one.

There is a lot of variety to be found on CM Yoko. “Kare 100% Tres Bien” has a country/bluegrass feel to it but is a little off putting because the vocals are in French. “Don't Spend MONEY! MONEY!” is quite cheerful, upbeat, and very catchy. With simple English lyrics (“Don't spend money money money! / Happiness will come to you”), this track almost forces you to be happy. The commercial this song came from is just as fun and ridiculous and really has to be seen to be believed. Another fun track is “MAGISWEETS” which features vocals from Chara. Even in its scant 36 seconds, you can hear the narrative in this song. It starts off sounding like a lullaby, and then goes into spy movie mode before becoming a full-on pop track. A remix of this song is also featured on this collection and it takes the pop portion and extends it.

Many of the tracks on CM Yoko go for quiet beauty. Yoko Kanno is a pianist and the quieter tracks on this release play to her strengths. “Seeds Of Life” is a wonderful instrumental piece where her piano is accompanied by strings to great effect. “Melody” is an incredibly cute song where Kanno's piano is featured right alongside English vocals by Miyuki Hatakeyama and a group of children. By the time Hatakeyama sings “May your days be merry and bright” towards the end, you're already there. “em Outro Lugar,” credited to Kanno's early group Samply Red, is a slow jazz piece that's reminiscent of pieces from Cowboy Bebop.

Like the best commercials, CM Yoko is fun and entertaining. With 23 fairly short tracks, none of them has the opportunity to overstay its welcome. It also adds a new dimension to Yoko Kanno for those who only know her through her anime scores. Whether silly, cute, relaxing, or atmospheric, she's up to the challenge.

CM Yoko is available exclusively on iTunes. Although it's a Japanese release, it is available for download from the U.S. iTunes store.

Here are a couple of tracks from the album:

No comments:

Post a Comment