Kazu Makino may be known to you previously as part of Blonde Redhead. The band hasn’t released anything for over five years and Kazu has been busy in the meantime constructing her debut album. A fine selection of avant-garde pop, electronica and guest musicians and collaborators make Kazu’s debut a potent mix.
Kazu’s brand of music flits from genre to genre but is always airy and light. ‘Salty’ opens with a dizzy spin of reversed synths and pitter-patter beats. Kazu’s soft and breezy vocals call and coo over the top. She uses both English and Japanese across the album. Moving from skittle electronica to jazz-infused pop with ‘Come Behind Me, So Good’, we have beautiful string arrangements with eerie flutes hiding behind the mix. The track feels sumptuous on one hand but the flutes and weird vocal ticks and spats in the background throw the mood into a sinister zone too. ‘Meo’ then merges the two worlds together and the rest of ‘Adult Baby’ will permeate around the type of music. The beauty of ‘Meo’ though is that the track constantly changes instrumentation, like its doing a tour-de-force of the album as a single track. It’s really cleverly put together.
The title track, inspired by adult baby hotels apparently, is a disorientating chilled out track where the beats, rhythms, chords and melodies don’t quite line up on purpose. Again, on the surface, t sounds like a soothing lullaby but there is also the innate feeling that something is a misstep. This feeling crops up continually over the album and is one of its strengths.
Kazu then takes a trip into the darker downtempo world over the next three tracks. ‘Name and Age’ and in particular ‘Unsure In Waves’ both showcase how you can make the sound of pondering. Both tracks feel uncertain, murky and hint at discomfort. Often at the forefront is Kazu’s beautiful voice moving into a blur of notes that drift offkey. It’s always effective and up’s the tension and that is why the minimalistic ‘Undo’ works so well. Its industrial downtempo vibes are full-on and harsh but everything else around it is like a dream-pop ether washing away. That leaves the delicate jazzy dream-pop closer ‘Coyote’ to round off the album beautifully and understatedly. The piano and percussion are at odds as the ivories are rigid but the drums roll off the tongue. Its as if the track has been turned on its head and so it takes a few listens to really get into but when I did, I fell in love.
Kazu’s debut album ‘Adult Baby’ has no big hooks, huge choruses or massive melodies. It is very much an artistic album that goes out of its way to fuse adult pop with jazzy elements together with ethereal electronica. Kazu creates a unique sound and a hypnotic vocal performance that feels obscure enough to intrigue but without feeling obtuse. I also feel like the album owes a lot to its percussion. Ian Chang (Son Lux and his own projects) was on hand to support and you can hear him being allowed to go nuts everywhere. His penchant for unusual time signatures helps make Kazu a step removed from anything else I’ve heard in 2019.
Recommended track: Meo
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