Album review: Kavka Shishido - Kavkanize

Kavka Shishido - Kavkanize | Random J Pop

When I first heard "Love corrida" and saw Kavka looking all kinds of effortlessly cool in the music video, I fell in love. When I saw her album cover featuring a crow in a wig with bangs, I was Kavka for life.

For a girl who always looks so serious and seems to be full of angst and bear a chip on her shoulder, Kavka is fun loving and further from up-tight than first impressions may imply. Her debut album Kavkanize offers a nice insight into Kavka as a woman. A woman who has her shit way more together than most manage to have it for a debut, and with rock at a time when everybody is clambering onto the electro bandwagon no less.

In an industry where lots of female acts in particular are trying to find themselves and seem so unable to settle on a look, a sound or a target demographic, Kavka seems to have it pretty sussed. One listen to this album and one look at her, and you would never guess she's a newbie to the game because she seems to have her shit so together. Her image is striking. Different enough from her J-Pop contemporaries (i.e not dolled up like an anime character), yet familiar to the nation (i.e Chiyaki Kuriyama). Aside from her long jet back hair and model looks, Kavka has one other gambit up her sleeve. She can play the shit out of a set of drums.

What makes Kavka's album stand out is that it delivers solid pop records without resorting to the common denominator and smothering her character in the process. Whilst Kavka's lane is easiest to define as rock, many of the songs on this album are pop dressed up in rock clothing. This gives the songs an instantly radio friendly edge and allows her to carefully tread the line in such a way that it wouldn't be so weird if she delved one way or the other - into heavier rock or outright pop.

Kavkanize delivers a consistent sound and focus which makes it a very easy album to listen to. Kavkanize's songs have a Sheena Ringo air about them. Not just in the production and richness of the instrumentations, but the way in which Kavka is able to deliver angst, aggressions and grace within the same song. Swinging from one form to the next within the same line of a song. Kavka's effortlessly cool persona adds a barrier to every song which makes them difficult to hate outright, even though deep down you know you don't like a particular song. Even on the album cuts which aren't so strong, you develop a tolerance for them because you admire her tenacity for just doing the type of music she loves and being such a bad ass in the process. She is essentially everything you loved about MiChi when she started out.

Whilst Kavkanize is a very consistent album it does sound samey on the surface. With 16 full length tracks, the album does begin to drag. Kavkanize diverges into three types of songs. The straight-shooting pop records "Love corrida", "Muteki no rock star", "Futatsu no taiyou", "100 nen beer" and "Hi benai tori" with their rousing verses, chant-inducing hooks and infectious melodies. The manic drum ridden and guitar lashing jams which sound pretty generic and by numbers to begin with, but flourish into reputable if you given them a chance. These are the songs which you are likely to dismiss on a first listen and then rediscover upon a future listen, kicking yourself as to how you overlooked them. This is bookended with sombre down-tempos. For all of the angsty, trashy moments that Kavka throws at you, it's when she slows things down that she shows a new set of colours. "Shinkaigyo" is the closest that the album gets to a ballad, sounding like a cross between Nirvana and the Red hot chilli peppers, with a splattering of something from Bubblegum crisis. It's a beautiful song and the sensuality of Kavka's vocals shine on the hook and are utterly mesmerising. "Gunjou" and "Tsuki no kagayaki kata" follow suit, picking up the tempo by a few BPM's, but retains the same sensibilities. Kavka's vocals on the slower songs are patchy. But she has a really nice tone when she drops into her lower register and sings in a more relaxed octave. When she goes for notes she sounds whiney and strained, something which works when she's singing on a higher BPM track, backed by a cocophony of drums and guitars, but rears itself as a shortcoming on more stripped back songs. Still, this is an angle I would like Kavka to continue to delve into on future recordings, because I love how these songs soften her and balances equal measures of beauty, perturbation and mystery without ever feeling dreary.

Kavkanize doesn't showcase the full breadth of Kavka, but scratches more than enough of her surface that it leaves you intrigued and eager to see where she goes from here. Whilst this album is wholly rock with a pop sensibility, Kavka could very easily transition into a more dance oriented sound (a la Michi Up to you) or play up an acoustic for a more intimate tone. Equally she could go the Meg "Save" or Sheena Ringo "Netsuai hakkaku chyuu" route with a fusion of electro and rock. This is what makes Kavkanize such a good album, because these are thoughts which run through your mind as you listen to it. Not because you're displeased with what you're hearing, but because you can hear the potential in Kavka as an artist to go beyond the confines of the sounds exhibited here. Particularly at a time when so many artists tend to pigeon hole themselves with their sound to such a degree that you can never envision them doing anything other than it.

Kavkanize is easy to gloss and glance over as a whole due to the similarities between the songs within their opening 10 seconds. But if you give this album a chance and listen to it all the way through, you will find a very accomplished debut which shits on laundry baskets worth of 2013's J-releases. Kavka drums like the rent is due and serves up energy and hunger on every song.

What Kavka needs to do with her sound from here on out is zone in on what truly worked here and work on applying that into diversifications of her sound. Not to peel away from what she has crafted here, but to offer variations alongside it and evolve it. If she manages to do this, then MiChi will need to watch her wig. She needs to. Somebody needs to. I don't think anybody has had their eye on it since Therapy.


Album highlights:
Love corrida
Kiken na futari
■ Engine
■ Shinkaigyo ★ J's fave
■ Gunjou
■ 100 nen beer ★ J's fave
■ Hi benai tori
■ The outsiders
■ Tsuki no kagayaki kata
Music

9 comments:

  1. I was waiting for you to review this album! Shishido feels like a breath of fresh air into the J Pop mainstream. She's gorgeous, her image is on point, and she's a kick ass drummer. I was upset to see that this album flopped. but it honestly was no surprise to me. With that being said, this was easily one of my favorite 2013 releases. I wasn't in love with this album on a first listen, but it definitely grew on me after repeated listens. You pretty much hit all of the noteworthy points, but I have to say that my only real problem with the album is that it starts to drag around track 7 and 8, but it picks right back up and the second half of the album is solid. Also, I thought music was an odd song to close the album with. Other than that, I loved the album.

    PS. I peeped that subtle Ayu shade, you just couldn't resist :P LOL

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  2. "Japanese acts put more effort into their single covers than Western acts put into...anything."


    omg i love you J.


    Also, I'm really hoping for another "Fashion Monster" but I don't know when Nakata will deliver that. :(

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  3. You're right J. When I first listened to the album I kind of overlooked the whole thing, minus a few tracks. I still felt it was a solid album and 100% Kavka, but everything did sound the same to me. This has inspired me to listen to this album more, I'm sure I'll appreciate it more as I listen.

    YES at one of your faves being "100 nen beer" that's one of the tracks that I put on repeat from this album. I'm a sucker for the more pop-esque tracks aka "Love Corrida", "Hi benai tori", and "100 nen beer". Though I want to listen to this album all the way through because I also love tracks like "music" and "Kiken na futari".


    I definitely want Kavka to continue making both rock and pop-rock tracks, but I am so ready for more songs like "Love Corrida". Easily one of my most favorite J-Pop tracks of 2013.

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  4. Bit disappointed Daydream Rider wasn't on the tracklist.

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  5. But it's the first track?

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  6. Even though I rather enjoyed this album (Love Corrida was played for days), I moved on from it rather quickly. Whilst I read your review, I get the feel that I did such a wee bit too quick; there were indeed many songs that I felt like I didn't have time for at. I'll be giving this a few more spins now that you've reminded me how kickass this chick is. Also, love the slight MiChi shade there, buddy :P


    Btw, did anyone else get the feel that some of these songs could be anime theme songs? I could envision pretty all of the up-tempos being the themes to shounen action shows like Black Cat. What do y'all think?

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  7. This reminds me, I'm surprised J didn't list it as an Album Highlight. It's one of my favorite songs off of the album,

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  8. Yeah, sorry for not replying sooner .

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  9. Since we have no chatbox, I have to share this here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCvU09_D3No Kumi finally got her shit together. This video is everything

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