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Review: Cokiyu’s Your Thorn

My original concept for this review of Cokiyu’s Your Thorn was to have my brain and my heart analyze the album from different perspective – my mind would tackle the literal description of the music in a scholarly style, while my heart tried to make sense of the emotions conjured up by this release. Despite a few good notes I scribbled down and some really good zingers for the two characters to throw at one another, I decided to abandon this concept because 1. I’ve waited long enough to talk about this excellent release from the Tokyo artist somewhat responsible for this blog existing at all and 2. this album shouldn’t be saddled with a gimmick review. That would distract from the simple beauty and warmth Your Thorn exudes, an album that wraps around you like a blanket and whispers in your ear like a mother.

The reason I almost went with the heart-vs-head dialog was because of the fear of having to separate the feelings this album churns in me from the straight ahead musical review component, afraid of having one overshadow the other. Personally, Your Thorn exists as the emotional Yin to She Talks Silence’s Some Small Gifts yang – whereas that latter record fills me with trepidation about the world of today, Cokiyu offers a warm embrace saying everything will be OK. If STS recalls Lynch-ian unease, Cokiyu summons up the same feeling Terrence Malick does when he leaves a shot on very tall trees…of feeling small, but somehow comforted by this fact.

I’m not just writing about Your Thorn because it somehow resembled my personal journal – the album’s sonic merits alone deserve heaps of praise. Cokiyu’s 2007 debut Mirror Flake established her sound – electronic minimalism obtained mostly through keyboards, nature samples and her delicate vocals – and Your Thorn doesn’t so much change them as find Cokiyu tightening up. Mirror Flake, though definitely a minimal-sounding album, felt more outward with songs like “Roadz” and the title track sounding very open and accessible. Four years later, she’s turned a bit more inward, the songs on this album a little more wispy, more solitary but also more focused. The title track here finds Cokiyu wandering through the woods, bird noises and foggy synth her only companions, until more defined strings sneak up behind her. The setting grows cloudier, but never fades out of view, just adding additional beauty to the view.

Cokiyu’s voice remains the string keeping this compositions together, as it did on Mirror Flake, but the compositions gain extra layers that strengthen everything. See the dreamy “Recall,” where her hammock-in-a-light-wind singing, which she bolsters with some deeper-in-the-mix cooing that brings to mind Julianna Barwick’s undecipherable touches. “Round In Fog” finds her voice soft as spider string over raindrop electronics, but she adds muscle to the song as a whole via military drum marching. The album’s best moment comes when Cokiyu strips her sonics down to especially bare levels, on centerpiece “Drag The Beast.” Skittering electronics dapple over keyboard, with a few other noises slicing through, but ultimately Cokiyu’s singing wielding the most power, starting soft but eventually consuming the song.

She’s also gotten better at crafting instrumental numbers, highlighted on Your Thorn by “Gloomy,” which doesn’t as much describe one’s mood but rather particularly dire weather. Electronic clouds churn for a bit, but by the end of the song they’ve opened up into a brief storm. Closer “Little Waves” ends the album on a soft note, carrying the listener away on weightless synth work, a relaxing conclusion to an album potentially boasting a vague “journey” concept (check the song titles, and piece it together). And if up to this point I’ve made this album sound sort of introverted, Cokiyu’s also got the whimsical “With My Umbrella,” which employs Cornelius-esque production touches to create a Ghibli-like wonderland.

At this point, I’ve been trying to only let my brain do the talking, and if I may let my virtual guard down, I think I’ve failed a bit in capturing how inclusive, how alive this album feels. Now, though, I come to the part in the script where the heart starts yacking. Even at it’s bleakest points (the run of “Drag The Beast” and “Gloomy”) Your Thorn sounds peaceful, alone but at ease. Plenty of albums capture the feeling of childhood – see Lullatone, or The Boy Least Likely To – but Cokiyu hits on the wonder of it, how mysterious and enveloping nature can be and how small (but, in a way, beautiful) that makes one feel. This album brims with wonder, and it’s far from reverting back to a past self, but rather rediscovering beauty in things that seemingly slipped away long ago.

The other reason Your Thorn stands out? Japanese music in 2011 has mostly dwelled on themes of confusion (Miila And The Geeks), identity (Sakanaction) and dread (She Talks Silence, HNC’s “I Dream I Dead”) along with the sound of metropolitan shadowy-ness (CUZ ME PAIN). All those records deserve praise…and, in an unfortunate truth, really do capture what it is like to be alive in 2011…but Cokiyu stands as one of the few albums this year to feel full of warmth and safety. Cokiyu sees storm clouds on the horizon and says “lets go in the forest, this is the best time to explore!” One of the best of the year.