“Look… around you!” Kazu Makino exclaims, her enunciation lending the phrase an exaggerated lilt that believably conveys childlike wonder. An ambient track which grows from vocal loops to a full-fledged orchestral backing, “Meo” places Makino at its center, where she pokes and prods the new existence she inhabits today. Her life and career brought her to this new stage, one where an older soul uncovers a greenness only accessible by those insightful enough to know where to look.
On her solo debut, Adult Baby, Makino enlists the help of titans both real and fictional to form the atmosphere appropriate to explore and dissect this seemingly contradictory state. Inspired by Makino’s travels to the Italian island of Elba, the album exudes the languid and sweeping beauty of the ocean. A blend of resonant electronica with classical orchestration, the sound resembles a less agitated Actress or Burial fronted by a noise rocker. “Salty” introduces almost all of these characteristics, though its driving loops and percussion lend it an urgency the rest of the songs lack.
Makino said she felt a strong need to keep herself “far from the dynamics intrinsic in being part of a band”. Egoism plays a part in this process, with the individual Kazu acting as the focal point for all but one song. Once it enlightens its target of their surroundings, “Meo” then makes its demands. “Don’t say you think she needs you” sets the target free from responsibility, but it also frees them up for Makino’s interests. The self-awareness of her self-serving agenda plays further into the juxtaposition of the Adult Baby, which fascinates her so much.
As Adult Baby marks her first time on her own, Makino sounds appropriately isolated. Her voice almost always echoes; it’s an effect which expands her songs outward and increases their scope. Playing into the infancy themes, she articulates words the way a toddler takes their steps, tentative but also eagerly encouraged when they see their progress. “Name and Age’s” line of “place of birth” sounds more along the lines of “place your bets”. But this is also a track where it’s easier to catch the Godzilla roar than decipher Makino’s ramblings.
The King of the Monsters stand as just one of many distinguished guests on the album. The prolific Ryuichi Sakamoto lends his electronic talents to more than half the album, which owes him for its mostly unhurried tracks. The leisurely pace also suits the Budapest Art Orchestra, whose horns and string sections in “Come Behind Me, So Good!” recall something out of an old-timey film score. Somehow, they remain lovely even against the dissonance of Mikano’s chromatic vocal riffs. “I’m ticklish with fear / Almost fun / No one could hear me,” she sings on “Unsure in Waves” as a cello thrums beneath her, a metaphor for the risks and dangers unseen by the young and eager mind.
Like any other juvenile, Adult Baby boasts the areas in which it could grow further, such as sharper lyrical flows or maybe mixing up the instrumental homogeny. There’s only so many times you can hear a snare and cymbal conclude a movement. Yet growing up means making a few mistakes, and to her credit, Mikano leans into every single one to learn something from it.