REVIEW: SEIKO OOMORI- MUTEKI

2017 has been the most turbulent year yet for Seiko Oomori fans . Not only did Oomori release a major album, she also released a plethora of singles, music videos, collaborations, wrote songs for other acts, live material and now this, “MUTEKI”- her second album for the year. It’s quite amazing really, knowing she’s also a parent while all of this is going on.

Recently, Seiko Oomori has been pushing herself on a thematic level; Religion, Sexism, Idol Culture were all staples of March’s “kitixxxgaia”. The massive expanse in sound was exciting and breathtaking, and while many were keen for this exploration, it undoubtedly left some of her earlier fans behind.

MUTEKI then, is probably a breath of relief by those left a bit perplexed by Seiko’s excesses. With this album, Seiko gives a spine chilling collection of her greatest moments, stripped down to their essence, trading in fanfare for naked truth- and it works to a soul shaking tee.

Let’s talk about the odd ones out here first, the new tracks- they are full studio productions- and they are both rather good. You have the opener, “Ryuusei Heaven”, a jazzy ballad with some really hard hitting lyrics and “Mix Juice”, a cute, bouncy coming of age track that while probably a minute too long, is still a lot of fun.

The rest of the album is as mentioned above, stripped down versions of Seiko’s biggest songs from the last few years. It must be noted that it feels like Seiko never aimed to create a definitive version of any of these songs- just a new experience. Which version you end up liking entirely comes down to taste; personally I feel “SHINPIN” reveals itself for the first time here- but others may opt for the style of the Sakurai Kenta original.

Outsiders might look upon this release as being pure fan service- and they wouldn’t be wrong. That’s what Seiko is really going for here- it’s a love letter to her followers. The songs are all chosen by her fans and are mainly comprised of more obvious choices (“Midnight Seijun Isei Kouyuu”, “TOKYO BLACK HOLE”, “Magic Mirror” etc.). While this was at first a bit of a let-down- how many times do we really need “Kimi to Eiga” acoustic, honestly? – ultimately, I found myself falling in love with these tracks once again.

Unlike other ‘acoustic’ releases by Seiko- these are produced in a much more professional setting with sugarbeans at the helm (producer and piano). What are brought forth are tracks that are wonderfully realized, enveloped in a gorgeous studio hiss that feels like a warm hug. Sugarbeans adds his incredible piano work to some of these tracks and Seiko’s vocals have a sense of control unheard before on other bare-bones recordings.

Sure, because of its nature, the album never really feels like a ‘proper’ album as such, the ‘collection’ feel is very much present throughout its (admittedly over-long) runtime. However, despite that large quantity of material here- the vast majority of it is quality enough for repeat returns. Like many other people have noted- every time you start to fade out, Seiko hits you with a track that you adore and grabs your attention once again.  Every song represented on here is strong or notable to begin with- and presented in Seiko’s trademark stripped down style makes it all the more appetizing.

MUTEKI is capped off with the addition of a DVD of the kitixxxgaia tour finale, a roaring, amazing set that showcases Seiko Oomori at her absolute live best. It’s almost 2 hours of power, wildly energetic performances, a varied and unique setlist and likely this reviewer’s favourite Seiko Oomori concert so far.

Overall, MUTEKI is one of the best packages you’re going to pick up in J-pop this year, and would work both as a collection of alternative versions of songs for hard-core fans, and as a good introduction to newcomers to some of Seiko’s biggest hits. It’s perfectly imperfect, and fitting of Seiko’s persona. It feels like more than just a mere best of, and the amount of love and care put into it really shines through. It no doubt will float very well among those who experience it, and I dare say it will be many people’s favorite Seiko Oomori release this year.

At the very least, you get a bang for your buck, and the amount of quality material on this is worthy of purchase alone.

8/10– Another great Seiko Oomori release. Can’t wait to see what she has in store for us next!

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REVIEW: SEIKO OOMORI- MUTEKI

Review: Shiina Ringo- Oishii Kisetsu

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As if to put out a true endurance test of our patience, Shiina Ringo‘s latest single is a new arrangement of a song that many in the casual public either missed or have just plain forgotten. That is, the first main single Ringo penned for Chiaki Kuriyama‘s now dead music career, “Oishii Kisetsu

This isn’t the first time Oishii Kisetsu has perplexed me as a long-term Shiina Ringo fan. When it first came out with Chiaki Kuriyama on the helm, I wondered why Shiina Ringo had given out her best song in years (with it sparking up those classic Muzai Moratorium vibes). This time, it is more the wonder of “How is the Chiaki Kuriyama version BETTER?”

For what we have here in this new arrangement, is a hodgepodge of everything that Shiina Ringo does wrong currently. It’s vapid, sounds like garbage, annoying and most of all- completely unnecessary. Marketed as a ‘new’ single to tie in with meiji’s newest chocolate line, its a release that no-one wanted and after hearing it- still probably won’t want.

Shiina Ringo CAN sing right? I mean, her vocals are one of her greatest features. She has been known, at times, to make jaws absolutely drop with her range. Then WHY the fuck is there such a heavy amount of autotune and badly done multi-layering on this track? Stylistic choice? Very tacky if so. I’d dare say that the reasoning is somewhere else, perhaps from disinterest. A take or two and then fix it up? That seems more likely. I mean, it’s a 6 year old song now being used on a chocolate commercial after-all.

It should come as no surprise that the mastering is absolutely ear bleeding at this point, but the amount of distorted sibilance on Ringo’s voice is rather noteworthy. The snares on the drums are so bad they sound like the compression artifacts you get when listening to a particularly low bitrate mp3. The guitar work- particularly on the ‘solo’ is the dregs. Possibly the worst guitar work on a Shiina Ringo recording, period. Then there’s the Saito Neko orchestral fills, which are totally hand off and lazy, I am personally shocked by the lack of care here, even for a late era Shiina Ringo recording. Oishii Kisetsu has gone from being one of Ringo’s better hidden gems to something dreadful that would be better off not existing whatsoever.

The worst Ringo release ever.

2/10

Review: Shiina Ringo- Oishii Kisetsu

Review: Seiko Oomori- draw(A)drow

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Rollercoaster rides are fun, exciting, terrifying and amazing. They’re also very short. Such can be said about the general lifespan of the main track on the latest single, draw(A)drow by Seiko Oomori. The TK from Ling Tosite Sigure produced track sounds exactly as it sounds; Seiko Oomori doing vocals on a Ling Tosite Sigure track. While this isn’t a bad thing -Seiko is absolutely breathtaking with her vocal delivery- there just isn’t much to it. The production makes it sound like it’s been recorded in a bathroom, with a ridiculous amount of reverb and it never really sounds as hard hitting as it should. The songwriting itself too, is meager in comparison to what Seiko Oomori usually outputs, and feels like it should be the b-side, not the lead single. Still, fun, just won’t have much of a shelf life.

draw(A)drow‘s lesser songwriting only helps to highlight how strong Seiko’s is, when the b-side Watashimi is played. Where draw(A)drow really seemed all style no substance, Watashimi is pretty much the opposite to this. It lets Seiko lament on what she has built her entire persona on, and is a wonderful nod back to her freak-folk roots while still keeping her eye on her major label outings. It’s a beautiful, sad track that is presented almost fully acoustically, with little added touches like telephones ringing and sparkly electronic overlays. Rarely do we get to see an artist manage to reach this level of truly balancing their original sound whilst never playing it too safe and expanding.

Frankly, a cover of Keyakizaka46‘s “Silent Majority” didn’t really scream “I MUST HEAR THIS” to me at first. The original, to me, is a lifeless, bland ditty that sparked absolutely no interest. Other times when Seiko has covered idol tracks, she has chosen ones that are quite strong and memorable. This time she chose one that had no pizzazz. However, she managed to turn something inoffensive and beige into something much more rewarding. Chills ran down my spine hearing the simple beat as Seiko’s vocals crooned in. Her unconventional vocals warble and ebb throughout, adding a texture the original simply did not have. Top it off with the subtlety of hand-clicks and you get the icing on the cake. It’s a massive transformation and it’s accompanying video of her playing some kind of “idol deity” says so much about her current standing in the Jpop world.

Overall, draw(A)drow is not Seiko’s strongest single, but it’s b-sides are well worth the price of admission. Notably however, even though this isn’t her strongest single, it does feel like her most notable since 2016’s “Aishiteru.com” This is probably due to the fact, that as of time of this review, it is a standalone release and not part of a series like her last three singles. It’s a strong outing, but not an essential pickup. Still, for fans, it’s got enough going for it to hold them over until her upcoming album, MUTEKI drops.

7/10– Come for draw(A)drow, stay for Watashimi.

Review: Seiko Oomori- draw(A)drow

Hirone-Chan proves that third time really is lucky with “Yume no Yume”

It always sounds presumptuous and conniving when someone tells you that an album will ‘need multiple spins to truly appreciate’, but Hirone-chan‘s subtle, gorgeous and mysterious third LP “Yume no Yume” fits that bill perfectly. It’s not so much in that it’s ‘strange’ or ‘weird’; it’s that it shows so much growth and maturity over her previous works that it’s almost like listening to a different artist.

However, the way she shows this growth isn’t through a massive change in sound, it, instead shows it through the most subtle ways that really do need multiple listens to fully reveal themselves. It’s labyrinthine in it’s complexity, yet constantly approachable and pop in the broadest sense. It’s a career-developing step forward for the artist, and it’s striking lack of fanfare doing so will make it one of the most revisited albums of 2017.

Hirone-Chan’s albums have always been a bit on the fluttery side; enjoyable but never really strong enough to leave a lasting impression. With this third album however, all the doubt has been put aside and she has touched a level of quality untouched before. This is a much more refined work, with a lot of detail and care put into its fleeting length. Hirone-chan seems determined to etch her own path, alongside rather than with the generation of ‘alt-girls’ she is generally lumped with.

One of the most notable things Hirone-chan has accomplished here is how encapsulated her little world of “Yume no Yume” is; it feels like any slight change would bring it all crashing down on itself. A great amount of thought has been put into the delicate structure of the album and there isn’t a single track that seems out of place or unneeded. It creaks and floats along like a beautiful old ship, that is truly adored by it’s captain.

Hirone-chan has also lifted her vocal game tenfold for this album. Where she usually gave a decent, workable performance, she now is highly emotive and pushes the songs to a much higher, harder hitting level. She’s still cute as ever but now seems to have found her calling; and it’s exiting as hell to experience.

Musically, it’s a very pretty experience. Hirone-chan has somewhat dropped the electronic part of her music (there are still a few samples and loops in play) for a more natural, jazzy experience. It has expanded her signature sound quite dramatically, with interesting chord changes and time signatures not unlike more experimental music strewn throughout; but most importantly, still somehow manages to stay in that cute pop sphere the entire time. Not to let her backing band go to waste, there are two absolutely gorgeous instrumental pieces here that sit perfectly behind the two singles of the album- which also happen to be the most breathtaking, theatrical songs on the album.

Whether it be the two singles “Omoidasenai Yume Mitai ni” or “Yokusou Plankton“; with their sweeping, gorgeous choruses or more jazzy, sweet moments like “Wonder Tender” or “Slow Parade”, every song has something lovely to offer to the listener. The latter half of the album offers more delicate, minimal tracks that showcase Hirone-chan’s ability to capture the listener’s attention without the need of a backing band or glitzy production.

In the end, Hirone-chan has ultimately offered up a truly wonderful piece of Jpop pie; one that you will no doubt be begging for a second slice as soon as you’re finished with the first slice. Essential listening and will likely end up in this reviewers top 10 of 2017 this year. Get on it.

9/10 Hirone-chan’s Yume no Yume is the first album that Hirone-chan truly feels like her own artist, and she shines because of it.  Just make sure you listen to it a few times to let it really sink in.

Hirone-Chan proves that third time really is lucky with “Yume no Yume”

REVIEW: CHAI’s Homegoro Series is the sweet little EP you’re looking for.

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On appearance alone, you could be forgiven to think that CHAI would be another cutesy idol group- anyone new to the group could take any frame from their video clip for “Sayonara Complex” out of context and it would fit that stereotypical mold. However, upon actually listening, what is revealed is something much, much more exciting. This is a ROCK outfit in all senses of the word; and despite the cute veneer, there’s some truly hard hitting, focused tunes coming out of this surprising beast of a band.

The first thing you will notice when hitting up CHAI’s second EP is how damn punchy it is. Sure it’s loud (but playfully so), but it’s also very crisp. Guitar work is always front and center, and the drumming simple but tight. The bass is beautifully buzzy and holds quite a bit of weight to it, has great key work, and is all held together by ridiculously appealing and cute vocals from all members of the group- it almost feels like you’re at a private live set.

Secondly, and most importantly, the tunes are fantastic. REALLY fantastic. Every song on the five track EP offers something equally charming and memorable. Whether it be the sweetly upbeat march of single “Sayonara Complex” or the bouncy, hard edged rapping elements of “Boys Seko Men“, nothing here seems redundant or out of place. It’ll hook you in from the opener “Sound and Stomach” right through to the end of its short and sweet 20 minute run-time.

So go ahead, go and listen to this surprising little gem while it’s hot. Conventionality is definitely NOT what the group are going for- and bravely have given a surprising, charming mix of pop, funk and indie all wrapped nicely in a rock coating with this EP. If you’re even remotely into Japanese rock music, this is a sure fire bet that you will enjoy it. It leaves the listener satisfied, encourages repeat listens and makes you crave more from the group. One to keep an eye on for sure!

8/10 CHAI’s second EP is a fantastic listen, it’s boundless energy, bouncy tunes and heavy dose of playfulness merge to create one of the most un-skippable releases of 2017.

REVIEW: CHAI’s Homegoro Series is the sweet little EP you’re looking for.

Review and discussion: Shiina Ringo & Tortoise Mastumoto- Menukidori

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Menukidori (or The Main Street), the theme song for new high end luxury mall GINZA SIX, is the latest single from Shiina Ringo. This time she’s teamed up with Tortoise Matsumoto, the end result being one of her trademark showtunes, apparently riding the ass of the La La Land craze now hitting Japan. That’s about all there is to say about the tune- it’s a jingle. As far as Ringo showtunes go, it’s totally run-of-the-mill. We’ve been hearing the same thing for a decade now and this one is likely the messiest- due to it being a hodgepodge effort of extending a one and half minute jingle to a three-minute single. There’s no heart to be found here- it’s all for the money. Vocal performances are fine but limp, there’s hardly any real harmony between Ringo and Matsumoto, they just plod along for the tracks duration. Casual listeners are bound to be wooed by it’s ‘classy’ charm, older fans depending on their tolerance for Ringo ponce, will at most, find it pleasant but unexciting, Saito Neko giving another shoehorned-in backing track that we’ve heard a thousand times before.

4/10.

But I have more to say about Ringo in general. I’m sure most people who follow me will no doubt know of my current… disillusion with Shiina Ringo and her choice of career direction. I would like to take this opportunity to best as possible explain the exact issue, and why I feel it should be addressed.

I’ve been a Shiina Ringo fan for a long, long time. I’ve seen it all. The fall at Expo 14, that terrible NIPPON peformance, the fart sounding BB Queen, the goofy Tokyo Jihen moments, Ukigumo’s sloppy guitar work, the delayed single cause of a certain drunken drummer, the Variety controversies, the showtunes, the change in sound, the terrible mastering, everything. I’ve defended her through most of this. But the current thing, her new ‘direction’, is the thing that I, and others are finding very hard to ignore or look over is impossible to defend. I talk of course, of this (now ridiculous) period of doing solely tie in tracks.

One thing people who show disdain for the constant tie ins are accused of are hating them because they are tie ins, that we’re just being ‘snobs’ or ‘just don’t understand how the industry works’. Sure, not everyone is an industry expert, but we do understand the need to make some money. ON THE SIDE. Let’s have a look back to how it used to be. Not too far, just a couple of years.

In the days of Tokyo Jihen (particularly latter era phase 2), there were many tie ins too, but the key difference was that Jihen’s song inspired the CM, rather than the song being ordered for the CM. The songs of Jihen still felt like they were coming from a genuine place, even if the songs themselves weren’t always their strongest efforts. Most importantly, Jihen released much more material alongside these releases too, it never felt exhausting or a major focus of their career.

Today, Shiina Ringo fans patiently wait 7 months between studio singles- only to be treated to- you guessed it, another tie in.

Our cross to bear for being less-than-positive long-term Shiina Ringo fans is this underlying idea that we were unable to adapt to change- where the fact of the matter is that Ringo’s music has not changed whatsoever in a decade. It’s just become more dispassionate, detached from any kind of warmth. There’s a sense that she’s now this ‘classy’ product; when really all she’s doing is making sketchy pop songs half baked with lazy, entry level jazz. Nothing she has released in the last three years has been for the sake of being a musician, everything has to be a tie in of some kind. The desire to stay relevant is important and understandable, but at the cost of becoming a joke to the people that got her to where she is in the first place? It’s such a shame.

For someone trying her hardest to appear so dignified, she’s doing it with absolutely no dignity. Sure she might not be flashing her tits from the rafters, but this is Shiina Ringo we’re talking about. If you can sit by and watch her become a soulless product, that’s fine. But never did I once imagine that someone so amazing would one day end up selling us a fucking shopping mall.

To end on a lighter note- there is still one hope though- her live shows, which, sans Expo ’14, seem to be holding strong. Fingers crossed she doesn’t let that go next.

Review and discussion: Shiina Ringo & Tortoise Mastumoto- Menukidori