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Friday, April 15, 2011

LISTENING POST

RECORDED

Chara "Dark Candy"


Twenty years after her debut Chara still sounds like an 8-year-old with an irrepressible urge to act out. Even as she enters middle age, it's a role she manages to pull off without sounding precious or contrived, and despite the somewhat stern expression she wears on the cover of her new album, she now seems more eager to please than to impress.

News photo

If she succeeds, some of the credit should go to percussionist mabanua, who coproduced nine of the 10 cuts on "Dark Candy" and provided songwriting input to a handful of compositions as well. A student of the jazzy side of 1990s hip-hop as exemplified by Arrested Development and Digable Planets, he juices Chara's conventional pop theatrics with jiggier beats. The clave rhythms of the opener, "Countdown," keep the singer off balance and force her to address the snaky contours of the melody; while the modified reggae of "Yurashitagaru" pulls her out of her expressionistic comfort zone and onto the dance floor. In both instances she rises to the challenge like a champ.

But the irrepressible 8-year-old won't be denied, which means a pair of ballads suffused with Chara's patented style of gassy whispering and one song (the one mabanua had nothing to do with, as it turns out) that could pass for a fugitive from a Yumi Matsutoya album if it wasn't for Chara's keening baby talk. But even this old trick can be made to work in new ways, as in the repetitive "Hey Jude"-like coda to "Koko ni Ite," the bubbling soul effusions of "Naive and Innocence," or the orchestrated nursery-rhyme cadences of the title cut. Sometimes Chara tries too hard to breathe life into songs that are nowhere near dead, but it's never just hot air.


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