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There's something inherently cheesy about referring to a singer as a songbird, but that is exactly the feeling KOKIA evokes. Her soft music and beautiful vocals seem to dance in the air like notes at one with nature. Though her compositions are always simple, the delicate variations in arrangement and vocal style make her melodies unique, graceful, and quietly grand. Her songs almost always succeed in creating an encompassing mood, which probably explains why they are so often selected for anime soundtracks.
KOKIA's most recent album aigakikoeru ~ listen for the Love was first released in France in November 2006, and then in Japan earlier this year. Title track aigakikoeru (Track 10) is the simplest of the album, a soft, wistful ballad that features KOKIA's clear, piercing vocals accompanied only by an acoustic guitar. The song is strikingly beautiful and peaceful in its simplicity, and KOKIA quietly hits it out of the ballpark with her strong, sweet voice.
This soft, tranquil mood applies to the entire album, but she creates it in different ways, showing great versatility and creativity in her vocal and instrumental arrangements. "When You Fall In Love" (Track 1), for example, opens with ringing church bells, melting into an a cappella ballad with a very full, but unassuming choir sound. KOKIA's choral arrangement here is outstanding, with several harmonic layers tenderly merging into each other.
While her singing in both "When You Fall in Love" and aigakikoeru is soft and steady to complement the arrangements, she belts out her wide vocal and pitch range in "Universe..." (Track 2). With her singing leading the melody, her vocals rise and fall at will, creating a song full of crescendoes. "Awaken ~open your eyes~" (Track 5) has a similarly dramatic atmosphere, with a formless melody, off-the-beat pacing, pop chorus, and long notes that parallel the lyrics, telling a story of light and darkness. She also sings her heart out, although at different volumes, for so sad so bad (Track 8) and why do I sing? (Track 11), both of which sound like musical numbers.
For a lighter sound, KOKIA goes cute in "The Ugly Duckling's Heart" (Track 3), which comes complete with quacking sounds and easy beats. The childlike voice from I Catch a Cold comes peeking out occasionally, as she plays with different vocal styles before soaring up to higher notes. Meanwhile, fast beats, electronic programming, whimsical gurgling sounds, and heart-lifting lyrics take HUMANITARIAN (Track 7) into buoyant, ear-pleasing J-pop territory.
I love all of KOKIA's voices and musical stylings, but I'm particularly fond of her folk-style ballads like cocoro (Track 6) and "Two Girls" (Track 4). "Two Girls" is accompanied by nature sounds and traditional folk instruments like the quena (Andean flute), zampona (Andean pipe), morinhuur (Mongolian cello), and ukulele, which build a very calm and captivating ambience. The song's lyrics talk about a mother with two daughters, one like moonlight, the other like sunshine; although the two seem very different, a mother's heart is like the sky, embracing both equally without comparison. These meditative lyrics seem to gain extra meaning when conveyed through KOKIA's curling voice, which has a quietly enchanting quality. aigakikoeru ends with a new version of KOKIA's hit Arigato (Track 15), her voice ringing out clearly against simple piano accompaniment.
Arigato, KOKIA, for another great album.