KOTOKO’s Hiraku the Space Pocket

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while now. Since I got the album a couple months back, it’s been spinning inside my car’s CD deck ever since.

On one hand, I hate to agree with j1m0ne’s point but it is true that saying it’s her best album ever doesn’t mean a whole lot. On the other hand, well, it is KOTOKO’s best album to date.

KOTOKO – ヒラく宇宙ポケット [LE on CDJapan! RE on CDJapan!]
Artists: KOTOKO
Composers: KOTOKO, Takase Kazuya, Kz, DECO*27, Nakazawa Tomoyuki, Ozaki Takeshi, ODA Hiroyuki Pres. HSP, Iuchi Maiko
Lyricists: KOTOKO
Arrangment: Takase Kazuya, Kz, DECO*27, Minoshima Masayoshi, Nakazawa Tomoyuki, Ozaki Takeshi, ODA Hiroyuki Pres. HSP, Natsume Shin, C.G mix, Iuchi Maiko
Release Date: Oct 5, 2011
Published by: WARNER BROS.

I say it’s her best album ever with only the qualification that we pay attention to it from a genre-neutral kind of way. There are some people out there who likes her stuff from her Short Circuit rounds, and there are people out there who dislike her stuff from her Short Circuit rounds. That’s just for example; it could happen with her first two Geneon albums as well. Let’s recognize that and put that aside, because it’s not how I look at it.

Because I think one right thing out of the gate that Hiraku Uchuu Pocket does right is how it has a little bit of everything from her decade-plus-long career. To that end, if you enjoy most or all of KOTOKO’s stuff, you should be positioned to like the entire album. I’m inclined to look to this review as a template. But, again, that’s looking at it from someone who likes the Epsilon no Fune album, which was a miss for me. I actually listen to Epsilon several times over the past 2 years and find it pretty fun; it just doesn’t come close to Hiraku Uchuu Pocket on the whole. Epsilon is missing that quality which distinguishes good albums from simply gimmicky ones. It’s missing some kind of backbone besides a flashy start. And Hiraku Uchuu Pocket has both of that and more.

One of KOTOKO’s developing strength, I think, is her versatility. There are not too many denpa-powered singers out there who can go the range and provide solid delivery on all these different types of songs, from rock to trance to dance to denpa to whatever. KOTOKO is one of those people who could, and I think it’s one big reason why that she stood out among the I’ve Sound’s utahime corps. When the album has a diverse theme and with a large array of producers, it really shows off that aspect of her singing. Granted, she’s not the best at all those types of deliveries, but all the songs contribute something to the overall listening experience. By the way, that link to Wikipedia has a full track list along with who wrote what.

So, “Command+S.” It’s awesome, and to me that is kind of the pillar of the album, its identity. It’s kind of like how I’ve Sounds is ultimately a trance unit, even if they publish all these eroge pop theme songs they still sound trance-ish. And that kind of approach to music arrangement bleeds through basically majority of Takase’s productions. I think by flat out putting a straightforward trance track in the middle it provides a nice way to smooth out the flow of the album and give it something remarkable and memorable. Which, when it comes to trance, is hard to do!

I want to also highlight the track before it, “mirror garden.” It’s probably my least favorite on there (which isn’t saying much), in a way that I think it’s inspired, but KOTOKO just doesn’t have enough guns for it. She just can’t deliver it with enough shill without sounding like a strained string on a cheap guitar. I think someone like Eiko-neesan would kick the song’s butt though. (Hey there’s another cross-cover opportunity.) But the real reason why I want to highlight it is that it provides a great lead-in to “Command+S.” It may not be a song I like a lot but it works very well on this album.

I’m really into flow and mood and stuff like that; it’s one of the fundamental principle to trance, after all. So that kind of arrangement speaks to me.

That is another reason why I think I like Glass no Kaze more. Despite being not as good, it’s a more emotional and sentimental set of songs to me. It’s also drawing from the pool of songs KOTOKO ironed out on her earlier road to minor fame, so that helped. To that end, the handful of tracks from Takase, Iuchi and Nakazawa on Hiraku Uchuu Pocket sound just like how they did back in 2001–“good” would be the word I’d use, but that’s because I like I’ve Sounds. And this is why I think some listeners on the sidelines may say “the old guards will like it.”

Are the new stuff any good? “Not as good, but definitely listenable” is what I’d say. I think kz’s contribution is very welcomed and it’s a good way to show how KOTOKO can just turn a dial and flip the song into some kind of late ’90s dance machine. “Mirai Ressha” is both throwback and futuristic, I guess? DECO*27’s “Metal Link”  is less charming but it brings that rock element that I think KOTOKO should explore more, if she can find the right type of producers for it. Much like “Command+S’s” straight-out trance, all three of these songs approach KOTOKO as a singing instrument more so than a vocalist? It’s like the popular way to plug in to mainstream music production, if you made it big doing vocaloids? I jest, but only a little. Maybe Shinya’s “Hirake! Sora no Oto” is the one track that deviated from it, but it was also kind of the generic anison track that is surprisingly missing from this album otherwise. I mean, it’s KOTOKO. You’d think “anison anison” naturally. By the time the album rolled on to that track, “Hirake” was more welcomed than tiresome, so whatever that means.

As far as contributors go, I find that they’re all better than KOTOKO herself as composers. In fact I think none of her songs are really all that good. They aren’t bad, and I think they still contribute to the overall album (besides mirror garden). “Kikoeru” especially fills a gap missing on the album, and it’s pretty charming even in its unremarkable ways. It’s like finding KOTOKO’s sound sung by KOTOKO. Which approaches a meme-level of KOTOKO-ness, as you’d expect by a track composed by KOTOKO on KOTOKO’s album.

So yeah, for the tl;dr: Hiraku Uchuu Pocket is great; it’s a long way from perfect, but as far as these things go it’s praiseworthy. I can listen to the whole thing over and over again, and I did. It’s diverse while still being familiar. It explores new talents while retaining the I’ve Sound essence. It may not be as cohesive as some of her earlier offerings but it’s miles better than Uzu-Maki, I think we can agree on that.

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