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Album Review

Self-Titled LP By Tara Jane O’Neil And Nikaido Kazumi

Tara Jane O'Neil And Nikaido Kazumi

[K Records; 05/24/2011]

By Halley Bondy

May 13, 2011

Tara Jane O'Neil and Nikaido Kazumi's Album Goes Beyond Words

Singer-songwriters Tara Jane O’Neil of the US and Nikaido Kazumi of Japan are old touring buddies who first met in Kyoto in 2002, but the new album that bears both their names is their first collaboration.

O’Neil doesn’t speak Japanese and Kazumi doesn’t speak English, so this project was an experiment in improvisation and collaboration without a common spoken language. Recorded in a Victorian mansion in Kobe, Japan with minimal equipment, this collaboration has all the raw immediacy that you would expect from those circumstances and constraints, but it’s not chaotic. It does, however, offer the ear some intriguing enigmas.

Both artists sing in their native languages and the singing is often foregrounded but the lyrics are not the most prominent part of the project. Kazumi and O’Neil’s vocals are exquisitely ambiguous. On the opening track “Lullaby” Kazumi evokes traditional Japanese and American folk vocal styles with the same breath. This indeterminacy of cultural and musical landmarks runs through the whole album and keeps things interesting.

The improvisation and ambiguity make the album very textural and also very alive. Everything is perpetually unresolved and moody. It makes for breathtakingly organic music, almost untouched by human hands. For example, on “Nursery” a children’s tune emerges slowly from a fertile bed of tinkling bells, sparing finger picking, and isolated warbles. It’s such a small thing when it finally appears but it is so pretty, a little revelation well worth the wait.

Though so many songs on the album resist definition, when taken as a whole, the project speaks very clearly and with one voice. It’s possible to hear how carefully these two listened to each other. The sound of that it is peaceful and very lovely.

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