This Week’s Goodies (So Far)

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

Tuesday I bought a used copy of the Coco d’Or Parfait CD and DVD at the Book-Off in Shirokiya at Ala Moana. Of course, Coco d’Or is the nom de jazz of hiro, she of the beautifully nasal singing voice and gorgeous ears. I already knew the songs and the “Orange Colored Sky” PV, but was pleased to get an actual copy of this.

Here’s the CD. As far as an album of standards go, it’s a pleasing selection. It doesn’t strike me as particularly daring – but then, standards are supposed to be comfortable and pleasingly predictable.

Here’s the DVD. I must admit, I wouldn’t have bought this if it wasn’t a CD-DVD combo. But that’s not anything new with me, by any means.

Here’s the back of the jewel case. The colorful nature of the track listings makes me think, “Llamas! Llamas! Llamas!” Note the SweetS poster reflected in the plastic.

Here’s the front of the pamphlet in the jewel case. Of course, any time I see jazz being performed outside of its original setting, I find myself thinking of subtexts of cultural appropriation. (I do the same thing when I watch movie adaptations of comic books.) In the case of jazz (and rap and the blues), I almost inevitably consider Jack Kerouac’s infamous statement about wishing he were a Negro and wonder how much racial exoticism is involved. Of course, that ties back to my ongoing issues with the whole cult of authenticity

Which is of course mildly ironic, considering I’m only listening to this album because it’s one of my favorite Japanese performers. (Though as I’ve written before, racial exoticism doesn’t factor into my own interest in Jpop as much as a taste for sexualized underage performers and an equally perverse love of Jpop’s uniquely blatant commercialization of art…)

I like to think I complete the circuit from American culture to Japanese culture and back to America. The only jazz I’ve ever developed a taste for is the free noise rampage of Borbetomagus and similar work along that line. (I highly recommend Jim Sauter, Don Dietrich, and Thurston Moore’s Barefoot in the Head. The liner notes are by Thomas Pynchon and a couple of the tracks are named after lines from Gravity’s Rainbow!) So while I generally find “cool” jazz anathemic to my tastes, Jpop has opened me up to it thanks to hiro.

Here’s an inside page of the pamphlet; the photography session is actually included in the DVD, which is nice.

As for hiro and how she approaches jazz, it’s clear that she loves the old-fashioned glamour often associated with it. (Though really, I’d pay good money to see her scatting while Sauter and Dietrich are doing one of their mind-numbing duets behind her. Talk about improvisation!) If anything, the racial appropriation subtext – the “love & theft” Eric Lott wrote so eloquently about – doesn’t seem in play in any way. hiro doesn’t want to be a Kerouac-ian negro, she just wants to have a good time and bask in this quintessence of American cool, the finger-snapping, hip-swaying faux nostalgia that this kind of music so easily evokes. She’s not bowing to the cult of authenticity but simply looking for a new way to capture the joy of music.

It’s a very innocent take on these songs, as a result – sometimes approaching funky and even finding some genuine grooves, but not carrying the gravitas that certain songs carry within them. Most notable for me, hiro’s easy listening version of “Summertime” certainly pales to Billie Holiday’s heart-wrenching version… but also to Fantasia Barrino’s startlingly emotional performance of the song on American Idol a couple years ago. (One of the few American Idol performances that stuck with me.)

The effervescent songs work better for me as a result, and the playfulness on tracks such as “Misty”, “It’s Only a Paper Moon”, and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” (my three favorite tracks) are winningly hiro to me. Her personality does shine through, you can almost hear her smile and wink throughout those tracks. If the point of Coco d’Or is to allow hiro a chance to relax and just enjoy the sensual pleasures of a beautifully handled song, these tracks are the best examples. “The Girl From Ipanema” and “Route 66” are also fun but not as compelling, if only because I think they’ve become such tired generational markers (aural cliches) in our modern pop culture.

I haven’t even talked about hiro’s ability with the English language. She does a great job of it, as far as I’m concerned. She doesn’t sound quite fluent, but she does sound like she knows what she’s singing about, and the lapses into bad pronunciation are few and quite endearing.

The DVD also includes footage of hiro performing at an anime convention in Seattle… The crowd roars a little when she sings “Fly Me to the Moon” – though I’m willing to bet that has more to do with the presence of Neon Genesis Evangelion fans than a love of the standards. Still, it was cute.

The funny part is, I’m spending most of tomorrow at Hawaii’s very own Kawaii Kon. I passed up going to the debut convention last year. The last time I attended an anime convention was work-related, Anime Expo 2000 in Anaheim. My interest in anime has wilted to almost nothing since then, but I’m curious to see the cosplay contest, attend a concert by a performer named Ishida Yoko (she’s apparently done bunches of anime theme songs), and maybe find some Jpop goods at the dealer tables. (If I’m lucky, maybe some Garo Aida photobooks…?)

Anyway, I’m hoping hiro returns to Coco d’Or again someday soon. She seemed to garner enough positive response with the first album that it’d make good sense to keep the alter ego around. And she should definitely collaborate with Borbetomagus next time. If they’re good enough for a Sonic Youth, they’re certainly good enough for an ex-Speed.


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3 Responses to “This Week’s Goodies (So Far)”
  1. Sami says:

    Yoko Ishida was here at Anime Boston last year. Even though she does a lot of anime songs, they’re still cute songs, the pretty standard J-Pop affair. I think you’ll enjoy her performance.

  2. marlyjane says:

    Actually expect a second coco d’or album this summer. (Check out HMV for more info.)

  3. Alice says:

    Yoko Ishida is a fun singer, who also has some good original songs too.