Just a boy tripping through Japan, pawing through record stores, future credit statements be damn'd; a boy in search of dreams lost somewhere in the bins, divining his way through the unreadable spines lined up like a library with only a hopeful hope that something magical will turn up on this mystery tour of exuberant consumerism. Coming home, bearing a weighty suitcase strewn with discs (with another package, posted from Kyoto, undertaking its own voyage over oceans), the prized possessions were a pair of records by Kazumi Nikaidoh, a songsmith from Tokyo whose wailing vocals, frail recordings, and ad-hoc compositions are musically magical meaningful magical their movements so beautiful, Nikaidoh's irrepressible spirit impressive in its unique union of the childlike with the wise. Issuing two records in the latter half of 2003, Nikaidoh in her small, humble way has staked a claim as one of outsider-pop's obscure geniuses. Her Mata Otosimasitayo album (the title apparently translates as "You Dropped Something Again, Didn't You?") is the chief source of such substantial artistry, a collection of idiosyncratic tunes dishing up bashfulness and brazenness in equal measure, her work both wacky and wondrous, going from rattling songs filled with exuberant screaming to tunes teetering on the precipice of profound heartbreak. Working at home, layering on a collection of instruments on her own, Nikaidoh pieces together songs from guitar, piano, piano-accordion, Casios and tuned percussion, all such instrumentation always leaving a considered space in the arrangements, like she's leaving room for tunes to breathe. This air also leaves her voice free to float on the breezes of her capricious artistry, and Nikaidoh's singing is strewn all over this record, from whispers in the background to outright vocal gymnastics out front; her voice able to exist as another color in the palette or to be fired like a rocket.
When talk turns to her singing, this is when one starts to fumble, trying to
find the right pirouettes in text, all the typical turns of phrase not cutting
it as allusions to both voice and music. It's hard to translate the magic and
the majesty of such into reporting words, and it's even harder to translate when
one is lost for specific cultural knowledge, lost for the titles of the songs
(the utter musical high point of 2003, for me, being just known as "track 10"),
and, well, just lost for words in general. Nikaidoh's throat is one of those
unique instruments that can't be conveyed in description; rather, it just needs
to be heard. On hearing it, its spirit and demeanor and character and quality
are all so substantial that those seeking translation tend towards comparison
to other vocal heroes whose voices carry great weight, from Haco and Björk
through to Chan Marshall. In saying such, most folk really just mean: her voice
is her own. And, know that, in such company, Nikaidoh is right at home.
Her second outing in quick succession, Live With Moyunijumo 08/Feb/2003 (Moroheiya), is a communion between her voice and another's, her functionally-titled live recording exploring the similarities and disparities between her own singing and the staccato spoken-word of rapper/poet Moyunijumo, with whom she indulged in a one-off collaboration. Whilst Mata Otosimasitayo often gets lost in drifting songs, gently floating along whilst Nikaidoh builds up layers of sound, here things are much more austere, both in the spare presentation of the five long songs (just guitar/voice/voice) and the raw room-reverb tone of live recording. Here things are concerned with swift syllables and rapid-fire phonetics, with even Nikaidoh's sweetest guitar-playing/singing cast under a rain of the vicious verbal volleys spat out by Moyunijumo. In such, the set can sometimes seem like a battle of wills, a sparring between counterparts as much as a made match between compatible compatriots, a reminder of the "confrontation" concept nights staged by the Majikick crew (a community roping in extended members of the musical families Maher Shalal Hash Baz, Puka Puka Brains, and My Pal Foot Foot), where pairs of musicians stage spontaneous collaborations where one party is out to "ruin the mood" cultivated by the other. If this live disc was entirely that way, it would surely lack Nikaidoh's regular musical magic; but, of course, the good news is that there are other moments where the disharmony gives way to perfect harmony, the pair's disparate voices suddenly on song together, skipping through the swift syllables with amazing synchronicity.