Calista Kazuko has been building up to her debut album ‘Empress’ with huge momentum. With each single, I could almost feel the threads and thoughts of the album forging together. Now it is out, ‘Empress’ can be seen as the theatrical circus pop album in its full glory and its fabulous.
Calista Kazuko has a sound that channels Amanda Palmer if she was geared more towards the quirky jazz-pop scene. The piano is strong and steadfast but the mood is often sultry. At times Kazuko revels in the sly moments and at others, she smacks you head-on with sarcasm and satire. Calista does all this as she embodies ten empresses at different time periods.
This presents ‘Empress’ as an album of moods and trances to sit in. After the creepy overworld narration of ‘The Empress’, the slinky and sensual ‘Come to Mama’ squirms into your arms. Its parallels with the Disney track ‘Trust In Me’ make it formidable. Taking the jazz elements and building it into a symphonic rock ‘Lady Cherry’ is an anthem that hops era to era. One moment you’ll be in modern-day rock, the next you’ll have shoop shoop 60s vibes.
It is around these circles that the album plays with its snazzy circus vibes. ‘Benzo Belle’ is beautifully scored like a sound book with bird tweets, celestes, old cinematic string bustles and delicate vocals. ‘Dear Sabotage’ holds the smokey club vibes close and Calista’s vocals milk the blues for all they are worth. ‘Ode to Genevieve’ is utterly disarming as the token ballad.
On the blazing flipside, ‘S.S. Lizzie’ has marching beats, swansong trumpets, dramatic piano stabs and a huge reverb on the kick drums and vocals. It feels more like a tone poem than a song at times and shows how Kazuko doesn’t need to think in verse and chorus. ‘Sick Like Me’ is pointed and a powerful slam on social media queens being sucked into the like trade. My favourite track on the album is possibly the most divisive one. ‘Cake’ is a sassy French stewed track that heavily uses vocal effects to create a weird manic character. Calista uses lots of vocal chews throughout the album but here she goes nuts and alongside the French waltzing madness it is mad hatter perfection. I never thought I’d be cheering on a song ending with the lyric ‘My little saucisson is twerking his little bottom’.
Calista Kazuko has crafted a really unique sound that picks apart different ways to infuse jazz with other genre tropes like pop, blues, cabaret and rock. ‘Empress’ is an ambitious and heartfelt collection of songs that really work and crucially sells an excellent story across the album too. This is a mighty debut and it is one that continues to go further up my albums of 2019 list with each listen. Superb.
Recommended track: Cake
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