Nakamura Kaho - AINOU
Art, in general, is the expression of something (ideas, emotions, messages), through a medium (words, pictures, music, dance). That combination of something and medium, and why, depends on the person. Sometimes we are limited by what we are physically capable of, other times certain ideas lend themselves better to specific mediums. But ultimately it comes down to what’s inside trying to get out – it will naturally find the best way to manifest itself.
Nakamura Kaho (中村佳穂) is both a talented artist and musician, but after much internal questioning, she chose the latter for a career. While I trust she would have made a fine artist, we should consider ourselves very fortunate she chose music, because this album AINOU is really something special. Think of it as an art exhibition of diverse ideas expressed in different musical forms, aided by her team consisting of Fukaya Yuichi, Araki Masahiro of レミ街 (remigai), Konishi Ryo of CRCK/LCKS and Nishida Shuta of Yoshida Yohei Group. Through sessions together, they help bring to life Nakamura’s creative vision, spanning pop, soul, folk rock and beyond.
But make no mistake, this is Nakamura Kaho’s project, and she’s the star of the show. She has a unique voice and shows excellent command of it, it flutters, moans, shrieks and soars. It’s actually a little unrefined and rough around the edges, but it makes her more relatable – it’s easy to imagine striking up a conversation with her in the streets of Kyoto unlike typical superstars or idols. She’s also not afraid to experiment with her voice, singing scat, talking straight, sampling herself or manipulating it digitally depending on the track, and she really grabs hold of syllables for effect. Unlike English, syllables in the Japanese language are meant to be equal, but Nakamura will slur, emphasize, or spit them staccato for added texture and impact. She’ll even double up or repeat syllables to fit rhythms better, and I get the feeling that the sound of the words may be more important to her than their lyrical meaning.
Building around her voice, the tracks on AINOU are all distinct. Opener “You may they” comes out swinging with shuffled drums and Nakamura’s voice digitized and looped for a creatively programmed experience, while “そのいのち” is a folk rock track with banjos and organic percussion. She can also do CHVRCHES-style electropop on “GUM,” and could easily pass as an anison singer on the piano ballad “永い言い訳.” The album’s highlight “きっとね” is nu-soul with Nakamura going all-out on the delivery as she rails against those with too many secrets to hide, showing off the kind of sass that Nakano Yoshie of Ego Wrappin’ would be proud of. This attitude emerges again as she takes charge on the claustrophobic “アイアム主人公,” spouting a stream of consciousness like Kom-I. Meanwhile in another arty decision, the track “intro” actually comes in the middle, and it sounds like her simply humming away in the kitchen as she cooks up another (possibly crazy) musical experiment.
Lyrically it’s really casual yet abstract, talking about her thoughts and feelings rather than selling persuasive messages or telling stories. While it’s quite cryptic and sometimes nonsensical, the key lies in the expression, the way she emphasizes certain words or speaks it straight. Thankfully it never strays too far from an accessible pop sound, so you don’t have to be an elite art/music critic to enjoy it.
Just like art, the album title AINOU has several interpretations. It can be read as “I know,” “I know you,” “愛のよう” (the form of love) or even “愛のU” (the you I love). But whatever interpretation of this album you choose, I am sure it will give you something interesting to think about.
As for me, well, I don’t know much about art…