Get it? That was me shivering, just so you kno- *cough* Hello! And welcome back to another installment of the J-Music Exchange Rate!
The Exchange/Rate, if in case you didn’t know is the tandem album review series that I do every month alongside my good friend and fellow Japanese music fan Al (formerly of Omunibasu.Blog, whom you can now find at Omunibasu.Substack.com). Each month we both decide on a theme that will be the basis for which album we’ll be picking out from our respective music libraries. Afterwards, we then “exchange” those albums to one another so that the other person may then listen to and subsequently review it. This project has not only allowed us to explore music beyond our personal libraries, but it has also given us opportunities to offer different perspectives for some of our favorite albums. It is our hope that this series is able to do the same for you and that you either find a new album to try out and/or we offer you a new take on some of＊your＊favorite albums
As I mentioned, Al and I take turns on who decides the theme for the month, and this time it was my turn to do so once again. Now, as we all know, one of if not the biggest landmark dates for the month of October is of course none other than Halloween; a day of observance modernly characterized by scares and frights and all things that induce them. With that in mind, I thought it’d be fun for us to talk about albums that has given us chills/goosebumps. As a general note, it doesn’t have to be an album that is scary or frightening in any capacity (I don’t even know what that would entail, lol), just that it elicited that reaction from us for any reason whatsoever.
To that end, I gave Al ChoQMay’s Surudoi Sasakure which is, in my opinion, one of the most overlooked albums of 2022 (go check out Al’s review here!). I, on the other hand, have been given (as you can already see) Hanazawa Kana’s Coco Base for me to go and talk to you guys about today.
Let’s get started!
Although she had had an early start to her career being a junior idol appearing regularly on the Yappari Sanma Daisensei TV varier show, Hanazawa Kana (花澤香菜) is best known for her work as a voice actress. ‘KanaHana’, as called endearingly by her fans, grew in popularity as one of the industry’s most beloved seiyuus following her debut in 2003; with some of her more notable roles including: Sengoku Nadeko (Monogatari Series), Kuroneko (OreImo), and Mitsuri Kanroji (Kimetsu no Yaiba). She made her artist debut on April 2012 with the release of her first single “Hoshizora Destination”.
＜Ｃｏｃｏ Ｂａｓｅ (ココベース) ＞
(＊Spotify link to the full album)
CDJapan Affiliate Link(s):
Coco Base [Regular Edition] / Kana Hanazawa
Coco Base [w/ DVD, Limited Edition] / Kana Hanazawa
０８・春に愛されるひとに わたしはなりたい/haru ni aisareru hito ni watashi wa naritai
１０・満月の音/mangetsu no oto
１１・ゆうのそら/yuu no sora
１２・Ready to Go
Ａ ｌ : Like the majority of people, I first knew about Hanazawa Kana through her anime voice acting career. Given that she’s pretty much been in everything under the sun, it made it really easy to appreciate her talents in portraying memorable characters or singing catchy anime songs like the ever-so-popular “Renai Circulation”. Her soft, cutesy and pleasant-to-listen-to voice has been a major staple in the anime/otaku world and I think many of us, myself included, are incredibly grateful to be a fan of someone as skilled, fun and influential as HanaKana.
That said, I do feel like many of those great qualities I just listed have translated effortlessly to her solo music career, and I think my all-time favorite release from HanaKana would have to be her 2019 album Koko Base. You can immediately tell that she maintains that gentle and pleasing demeanor with her singing voice and many of the compositions throughout this record do a really good job accompanying her particular vocal expression. Whether it’s a song with a very happy-go-lucky and bright feeling such as “Daijoubu” or the beautiful piano-based “Yu no Sora”; as much as her voice is already nice to listen to, I would say that hearing these light and charming songs definitely helped emphasize and elevate HanaKana’s singing skills by a lot (at least, in my own experience). Especially in a slower and serene song like Tact… maybe I’m just always astonished whenever I hear a great vocal performance, but what was shown on Koko Base certainly was and always will give me the chills.
＜Ｓｏｎｇｓ ｏｆ Ｉｎｔｅｒｅｓｔ＞
We’ll be kicking things off with Daijoubu here which, is a bit of an immaterial pick for me in choosing which first song to talk about on Coco Base, with the reason being something that will become more readily apparent once I start talking about the next couple of songs after this one. Not to say that I found this song to be immaterial to the album as a whole or anything of the sort (as for what its worth I do find Daijoubu enjoyable), just that it has an awkward placement in Coco Base itself with regard to how I format these reviews, where it comes as a bit of an outlier in the sort of through line that I’ve decided to go for in talking about this album. More on this in a bit.
Incidentally to that, Daijoubu is actually (and almost quite surprisingly) the only theme song on this album, which was used as the ending theme for the show “Layton Mystery Detective Agency: Katri’s Puzzle Solving Files”. I found the opening guitars here have a particularly refreshing quality to them, which gave me a different impression as to what the song was going to be, before it transitioned to this fun and finger snap-y track with elements of Ska. I personally very much like how the chorus just explodes with the brass accompanied by ‘KanaHana’ singing in a very 80’s style vibe which, when coupled with the slight reverb, really gives it this Kayokyoku type of feeling.
If I hadn’t prefaced it enough, this next sequence of songs is in my opinion the best off of Coco Base bar none, starting with what I consider to be my favorite in Otona Ningen here. What immediately stood out to me with this track is how it opens up with just this purely band-oriented sound which resonated with me right away, more so since it reminded me a lot too of the opening verse to SCANDAL’s Midnight Television which is a song that I really liked back in the day. Now, I was already more than okay with just that, but then I found who wrote and composed Otona Ningenin the first place making it sound the way it does, and it was none other than Hashimoto Eriko.
Hashimoto who, is perhaps better known as being the frontwoman for Japanese Girls Rock icons chatmonchy, and whose involvement all the more explains the Rock sensibilities that this track in turn possesses. My favorite part of the song comes in at around the 2:06 mark leading into the outro, with KanaHana repeating lines from the earlier verses (facilitating this sort of back and forth between herself) with subtle variations to the wording of the opening lines of the song that really stamp Otona Ningen‘s narrative of both the reluctance to and inevitability of becoming an adult. I thought that was nicely written by Hashimoto and executed perfectly by KanaHana.
Continuing on this theme of album collaborators who are involved with projects that are more recognizable than just their name alone, Pan is written and composed by one Hamano ‘HamaKen’ Kenta, who was a member of a band named SAKEROCK which some of you guys might know about in some manner as also being multiple-award winner Hoshino Gen’s first foray into Japanese music. HamaKen served as the band’s trombonist and scat singer for the most part, though more astute Japanese Jazz/Funk aficionados would probably be very quick to point out that he himself was (and still is) the acting frontman for Japanese Funk band Zainichi Funk.
While I can definitely hear Hoshino Gen singing some of these verses, the instrumentation for Pan definitely leans more towards HamaKen’s Funk influence than SAKEROCK’s Jazz, with its groovier vibe. Regardless, I’m always going to be appreciative of brass whenever they’re used and they’re implementation here is about as good as you would expect from the people involved. Something that I would like to point out here too is that, in as familiar as I am (and I’m sure a lot of others are as well) with KanaHana’s voice, in some parts throughout the song she sings in octave that I feel we rarely hear from her (like say 1:23~) … and it actually sounds really nice!
Change! has perhaps the easiest album contributors for this album to identify in the pair of Okamoto Shou and Okamoto Koki whom together form one half of… the Okamoto’s (XD /fun fact, literally none of the four members of Okamoto’s actually have the last name ‘Okamoto’, lol). The two were in charge of writing the lyrics as well as composing the song respectively and, I wanna say out of all the tracks on Coco Base, this is the one that ends up sounding like… if KanaHana was brought in to be featured as a guest vocalist in a song by a different band/artist the most, rather than a song where she’s clearly the main performer, if that makes sense.
Of course, a lot of that has to do with the fact that Change! predominantly has backing vocals by the two Okamotos, which is why it kinda feels like they’re sharing the song with KanaHana more than anything. However it does present an interesting (for me at least) topic of conversation that relates to my overall thoughts on Coco Base, which I will go over with you guys in just a second. In wrapping this portion of the review up, I would also like to point out that this track is last of its kind (barring maybe Mitten) where the liveliness that’s been present throughout the span of songs I talk about here begins to taper off with back half of the album being a bit more uniform.
＜Ｗｈａｔ Ｉ ｔｈｉｎｋ ｏｆ Ｃｏｃｏ Ｂａｓｅ＞
It’s always fascinating hearing voice actors and actresses sing, especially ones whose voices you’ve personally become familiar with due to their seiyuu work primarily. Like, I think it’s fair to think that a professional artist whose craft largely if not wholly revolves around the quality of their voice, it would surely reflect on their singing. However there’s this interesting thing that happens whenever seiyuu performers who have easily identifiable voices (like KanaHana here) go and put out a song wherein their identity as voice actors are so intrinsically tied to their voices that their singing in turn (to me at least) almost sounds like it’s an extension of their voice acting.
This is not an iron clad rule, as there are most certainly seiyuu performers out there where this is not the case at all, nor is this really anything bad. It’s just something that colors the overall listening experience. Whether or not that is something that adds or distracts from the enjoyment is, of course, entirely up to the listener. It could also just be a non factor for some, and that’s totally fine too. If you asked me though, more than anything, I think the real magic that happens whenever a seiyuu sings, in my opinion, are in the moments where, for whatever reason, I’m made to forget who it is exactly that’s singing and the identity behind the voice gets disassociated.
It sounds like an odd… music purist take, but I genuinely got that feeling (albeit briefly) from Coco Base, specifically within that section I chose to highlight for this review. I remember I was listening to Otona Ningen and Pan in sequence for the first time where I kinda just put the album on the background while I proceeded to do something else, and midway through I had to pause for a second to check and see if I was still listening to the same album or if it maybe skipped to something else while I wasn’t looking. I mean, did I just get thrown off because it was a genre that I didn’t expect to hear in the album? Maybe (lol), but for what it’s worth, I did get goosebumps.
３.７５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ ５
７.５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ １０
If those moments had occurred more often throughout the album, I would have definitely rated it a bit higher. However, they just came a little too few and far between at least for my liking. That being said, Coco Base overall is still a pleasant listening experience, especially for fans of Hanazawa Kana I would think (though I’d actually be curious to know how someone who’s not familiar with her work would receive this album). The back half is largely different from the first half of the album that I highlighted, which is uniformly on the calmer and slower side of things so if that type of sound is more to your liking then Coco Base has you covered for that too.
What are your guys’ thoughts on Hanazawa Kana’s Coco Base? Let us know in the comments down below!
Likewise, what are some albums that have given you chills/goosebumps? Feel free to share them with us as well 😀
Before you go, don’t forget to check out Al’s review of ChoQMay’s Surudoi Sasakure over at his＊new＊home, Omunibasu.Substack.com if you haven’t yet done so 🙂