Yeye’s 3rd album, ひと (Hito/Human) is out now via RALLYE
Who: Natsuko Hashiguchi
Where: Kyoto, Japan
Why: In the days before the release of Hito, Yeye’s latest, and most full bodied album yet, Natsuko tweeted the lineup to her “dream music festival”. It included a gambit of western artists from Feist, Dirty Projectors and Karen O to Little Dragon and Belle & Sebastian. While it did include some fellow Japanese artists, the prominent inclusion of so many western artist belied a distinctly western bent to her music. Her brand of art-pop which paints in emotional earnestness, and swings between blistering guitar riffs and gentle studio soundscapes evokes the haydays of the Dirty Projectors or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (admittedly in a distinctly Japanese kind of way).
While her art-pop contemporaries in Japan may prefer subtlety and complexity in their compositions, Natsuko works best at the peaks of emotional intensity, or in the throes of a mood. Take for example “close your eyes”, which begins with a highly deceptive xylophone melody and bubbly vocal harmonies, a very Shugo Tokumaru-esque pastiche. But that simplistic, monotone beginning is a classic misdirection, as crunchy guitars come ripping through the song at the minute mark, as Natsuko and a full horn section begin their march upwards. While that highly composed intro may reveal her Japanese art-pop origins, it’s the loud and boisterous emotional power of that centerpiece which shows her true nature.
Hito is Natsuko’s most direct album under this Yeye name, having brought in a full band to give a rambunctious noise to her headstrong compositions, and an expansive sadness to her melancholic ones. Tracks like “very bad nights make you strong”, “a girl runs”, and “Broken Your Phone” have earned her a coveted spot on my ‘Japanese artists on cusp of greatness’ list, even if the album as a whole isn’t at the level we should expect from such a gifted songwriter. However, if the incredible single from her new album, expected out this year, is any indication, Yeye is finding the sonic and emotional footing she needs to make the kind of album everyone knows she can.