Japanese singer Haco recorded this first solo album following the disbanding of her group After Dinner. She is surrounded by a cast of new collaborators -- including Tom Cora, Samm Bennett, Hiroshi Nakagawa, Nobuhisa Shimoda, Tsuneo Imahori, and Christopher Stephens -- but each track mainly features the singer performing all but a couple of instruments -- that's where the guests fit in. This process recalls some of Iva Bittová's albums (Bilé Inferno in particular). It also implies a long period in the studio to record and polish this first baby. The result is a stunning piece of avant-pop and Haco's most accessible release, all projects taken into account. References to Kate Bush circa Hounds of Love and The Sensual World (just listen to the voice and delicate arrangements in "Oil & Water"), Bittová, and Japanese pop all are in order, yet the album establishes its own identity made of fragile moments ("A Habitat," "Guarded") and powerful, surreal episodes ("Would You Like Some Mushrooms," "Unguarded"). Lyrics are sung in Japanese or English and provided in both languages in the booklet. The pop anthems "Unguarded" and "A Fragment" stand out as post-After Dinner moments of clarity, while the beautiful "A Habitat" hints at what Hoahio will be: playful, atmospheric, experimental, and free. A big-budget production with a sleek sound, this CD represents the pinnacle of a daring artist just about to reinvent herself. Entirely seducing.
by François Couture