REVIEW: YAYYAY- I’M HERE

OK, damn, give me a second to compose my thoughts here. This one’s insane.

Legendary Vocalist and guitarist Yuu‘s (Go!Go!7188, Chirinuruwowaka) latest project YAYYAY is not playing around. This is the most explosive Japanese art pop drop in years. Their sound is rapturous. It’s instantly inviting and yet challenging, and will have the 2000s kids absolutely squealing with joy. For some, this will be the release they’ve been waiting for since, well, let’s just say it- Karuki Zamen Kuri no Hana (and yes, I am am well aware that this is the absolute most blatantly obvious comparison). The term transcendental is thrown around a lot in the music scene, but here, it applies without question. This is transcendental art pop.

It’s opening track “Devadatta” (named after the Buddhist monk and cousin of the Buddha who reformed the Sangha) declares, like the title of the release “I’m Here“. It truly sounds like it could have come right out of the creative peaks of 2003/4 in Japanese pop, a rock song at its heart, but deliriously playful and circus-like in presentation (those strings!).

There’s moments on the record that create a deep sense of dread, like the instrumental interlude “OJO”, that take a turn and dissipate into one of the most romantic tracks in recent memory, the gorgeous “Bitter&Sweet“, a glitchy ballad that has one of the most impressive displays of chord progression in recent memory. In the end though, there isn’t a single track that doesn’t need to be here, it’s all absolutely essential listening for fans of the genre.

Produced by Shizuka Kanata (arranger, keys, programming), everything is so precise; layers upon layers of instruments and samples mesh and meld, a perfect amalgamation of digital and classic sounds from all over the world. Regardless of it’s lofty aspirations, the quartet (it must be note how amazing such a massive a sound this album has coming from only four people) never forget the most vital part of making all of this work- catchy melodies to balance out the whole thing. It’s addictive as hell and Yuu’s vocals have always been amazing and she doesn’t sound like she’s aged a day since her initial run in Go!Go!7188.

All these elements, genre-fusion and that artistic spirit all end up being something truly wonderful, and rekindle the flames of one of the most adventurous eras Japanese Rock. It’s time to get excited and welcome YAYYAY to the list of great Japanese acts. Now we can only await what a full album will bring!

10/10

REVIEW: YAYYAY- I’M HERE

REVIEW: 963 (KURUMI) – tick tock

Fukuoka-based idol duo 963 (pronounced “kurumi“) has just released a second album! Music contributors include Miura Kōshi, Kenichirō Nishihara, Shinjō Kenichi, ikkubaru and more.

On 963’s sophomore release, the idol/rap duo build on their foundations in striking new ways. tick tock is a much more elaborate and well thought out release than their debut, 963, and that comes from the string of producers throughout. Despite the amount of people behind the scenes, the overall album all works together and is a great piece to just sit back and vibe to- and ascends its appeal beyond that of those into idol and hip hop alone.

963’s downtempo sound is inoffensive and instantly appealing. Fans of lo-fi hip hop are bound to find this familiar territory, and will dig it immediately. But even listeners from a more casual background who are just looking for a sweet idol record are going to find something to melt into, with its inviting nature.

It does however, have some flaws that get in the way of it being a fully enjoyable listen. For one, it’s quite muddy throughout the entire runtime. And while some might argue that adds to its charm, I feel it takes from the overall quality of the work. Secondly, the vocal recordings have an inconsistent quality to them at times, due to being mixed at differentiating volumes at various moments. It’s nothing listening destroying, but it is definitely noticeable when playing the album as a whole.

While there are no songs that really strike as outstandingly good or bad, the first half of the album certainly feels the most interesting, with songs like “SEED” and “lumen” helping to set the tone for the deep atmosphere the album as a whole has. It’s unfortunate then, that the ending of the album tapers off a little, and feels a little anticlimactic. It’s not an album killer, but unfortunately dampens the strong impression that the album had at it’s beginning.

6.5/10 . Overall, while it has it flaws, tick tock fits fairly well alongside the likes of 4s4ki’s ‘Omae no Dreamland’ and Daoko’s ‘anima’ as one of the most intriguing entries of Japanese hip hop for 2020.

REVIEW: 963 (KURUMI) – tick tock

REVIEW: ZOMBIE-CHANG- TAKE ME AWAY FROM TOKYO

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“STAY HOME”. The first song title pretty much says it all. Who can forget those ominous two words when the pandemic hit? The first lyrics to hit on ZOMBIE-CHANG‘s fourth album are literally “WHERE IS MY TOILET PAPER”, which instantly brings back those memories of mass panic buying and toilet paper hoarding. The album title itself is a desperate cry “TAKE ME AWAY FROM TOKYO” from a young woman who yearns to be outside doing what she needs to do.

An album recorded over a series of weeks in isolation, originally called the “?” project, hits differently to anything that has come before from ZOMBIE-CHANG. It’s her hardest sounding beat wise, and also her most sobering. While there are definitely hints of her dry wit and humour, mostly its a reflection of the shit show that is 2020 and is her way of coping with the enormity of the situation.

A lot of the albums that have been inspired by COVID-19 and isolation have been very focused on the human emotions around it. ZOMBIE-CHANG opts for the mechanical, technological elements. (“We can be, online!”) Instead of giving us a series of beautiful (although there are definitely a few beautiful moments), introverted songs, she gives us cold, abrasive and mechanical (“ROCK SCISSORS PAPER“) sounding tracks. It’s a very unique take on the ‘isolation’ album, and often, like being in self isolation, there are moments where ZOMBIE-CHANG feels to have gone insane, as the album reaches its most amelodic, cold, digital moments. Hell, there’s moments that become undeniably frustrating and monotonous -see the track “RESPAWN” for example- which just make the album hit home that much harder. (It must be mentioned that there is one track that does offer some relief from the chaos, and that’s the calming, beautiful “GIANT PANDA“).

Because of the concept, the album really works best as a whole, which is an easy ask being it a focussed 32 minutes. Due to it’s nature, it’s also quite rough around the edges compared to previous ZOMBIE-CHANG works, but in a way, this really makes this one standout more. It gives the listener a reminder of ZOMBIE-CHANG’s freak folk origins too, which she has all but buried completely until now; so it’s nice to hear a bit of that side of her peeking through the cracks. It’s a dissonant work that will no doubt challenge some listeners wanting her more trademark sound. However, if you have the patience, it’s a truly rewarding and darkly comforting album.

9/10 Overall, ZOMBIE-CHANG has delivered one of the most outstanding isolation works of the year so far, and one of, if not THE strongest album in her catalogue to date. Let’s all lose our minds, together!

REVIEW: ZOMBIE-CHANG- TAKE ME AWAY FROM TOKYO

REVIEW: ANNA TAKEUCHI- MATOUSIC

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On a first listen, Anna Takeuchi‘s debut full length album “MATOUSIC” might seem a little fluffy, or overly pleasant. It won’t be until you notice how much you are coming back to it that you realise it’s incongruity to the rest of the competition. Between it’s gorgeous bars, sparkly production and catchiness, there’s a rare kind of magic that comes along once in a blue moon. It is fully entrancing, and rewards those that spend time with it. In-fact, I am glad I decided to hold off on an initial review back in March on it’s release; I have had more time to spend with it and it in turn, grow on me. Now, I find it one of the most unmissable, memorable releases of the year.

One thing that is abundantly clear from the second you press play- is that Anna has a real vision for her personal branding. A truly unique character comes through these tracks. While inspired by her upbringing on 70s and 80s pop and rock, everything feels like a personal take, the subtlety behind the song writing makes for a wildly fresh take on what lesser artists might make something generic and forgettable with.

The album itself collects previous main singles, including the gems “B.M.B” and “RIDE ON WEEKEND” (that horn section!), builds on the sounds of her earlier EPs and explores her music tastes in full, while also doing something incredible; always managing to sound like a full album experience- there’s no real sense of it being a ‘mixed bag’ or ‘compilation’ experience. Her guitar playing is wonderful, consistently improving and adapting to new play styles. Vocals are equally impressive, she shows a rare versatility without ever sounding showy or distracting- she even tries on a really cute rap in TOKYO NITE that is just plain adorable. It’s all wrapped up neatly with the amazing production values, that really open up the entire soundstage, making it sound amazing on headphones and loudspeakers alike.

Other great tracks include the playful “SUNKISSed Girl“, the sexy “20 -TWENTY-” and the dance fuelled “Midnight Step“. However, for this listener, the album’s main gem is the absolutely beautiful ballad “If you and I were,“, which is as playful as it is romantic. It also happens to feature the most wonderful guitar solo I’ve heard on any pop album in 2020, hands down. I could listen to it all damn day.

If Anna Takeuchi’s EPs were warm-ups to working out what direction she wanted to take, then MATOUSIC is her most individual and focussed work to date. This in turn makes it one the best Japanese debut albums in recent memory. It’s as cute as it is classy, and the album cover absolutely captures and compliments the album’s sound. Anna Takeuchi will be a voice to keep on any Jpop fan’s radar in the future, and MATOUSIC absolutely delivers what fans wanted. Newcomers, what are you waiting for?

8.5/10 A deceptively light listen, that will demand your re-visitation long after your initial spin.

REVIEW: ANNA TAKEUCHI- MATOUSIC

REVIEW: BORIS- NO

Let’s be honest here- Boris over the last, oh, decade or so, haven’t made it too easy for the casual fan to stick around. And that’s fine; its still refreshing as hell when a band has this much freedom, to explore and experiment, and work at a pace that pleases them. However, while I have really enjoyed all their offerings (what can I say, they’re my favourite band!), it’s very hard to recommend them to anyone except those who really ‘get’ what’s going on.

It is then, both surprising and amazing to hear Boris put out an album that sounds like it could have come right out of their most critically and commercially successful era- with an album that rides the sound of well, yes, PINK. In short, it has been a long wait for an album like NO.

In a swift 41 minutes, Boris present their most blazing album in years, something that is strikingly amazing given that many had given up hope of hearing Boris put something this insanely speedy out again. It is, by far and most, a punk/thrash album, full of striking and most importantly, damn catchy bangers.

Boris are fucking pissed off, rightfully so- it’s a reflection of current world events. But instead of using that anger self-destructively, they’ve channelled it into a much needed, fists in the air marathon that anyone inclined can feel and head-bang to, regardless of what language they speak. It’s to put it bluntly- fucking rad.

Opening with the doomey instrumental “Genesis” (revealed to be inspired by Henry Rollins), it sets a tone to be reckoned with. It demands your attention and it compels with it’s progression. It, essentially is the climb to the top of the rollercoaster ride to come. Following that is an amazing succession of fast heavy hitters that grab you by the throat and don’t let go until it’s hazy conclusion “Interlude” (suggesting there is even more to come).

In no particular order, highlights are the blazing single “Anti-Gone“, the reverb drenched “Lust“, heavy as fuck “Zerkalo” and the reworked  Praparat track “HxCxHxC -Perforation Line-” (originally known as “Perforated Line” on the 2013 album). Also to be noted is the incredible Gudon cover “Fundamental Error” serving as a kind of nod to the punk attitude that saturates every second of NO; and it’s all delivered with that trademark Boris gusto that fans have come to expect from the pioneers.

The mixing here (by Koichi Hara) is impeccable; not a single bit of the soundstage is wasted. It hits where it needs to hit, every crunching moment is presented with such amazing clarity that it will impress even the most picky of listeners. What drives it all home is Boris never losing sight of their goal, and as promised by the band themselves;  a healing experience of the most extreme order.

So whether you’re a Boris veteran, passer-by or looking for a good starting album, this album provides all three. It’s the most satisfying, complete, and recommendable album Boris have put out in years; and is certain to raise pulses and unite fans through its sheer brutality. A love letter to extreme music, and an important release for those feeling alone in the current world crisis. Boris delivers.

9/10 

 

REVIEW: BORIS- NO

REVIEW: DAOKO- ANIMA

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I’m gonna cut straight to the chase. DAOKO‘s new album ‘anima‘ is absolutely wonderful. And that is a big fucking deal.

Ever since DAOKO made that leap to a major label, fans have been puzzled as what she is supposed to be. Her label seemed to want to push her as a new diva, however, somehow she managed to lose everything that made her “DAOKO” in the transition. Gone were her little weird flourishes of ingenuity, removed was her greatest strength: her uncanny delivery of kawaii-rap. It was as if they couldn’t see past her face- perhaps this is why she kept it covered in the early days.

Luckily the attempts to make her into something that she wasn’t didn’t stick. People either just saw through the diva façade, or perhaps just didn’t even want a diva at all. It isn’t the 2000s anymore.

Ironically, flopping may have been the best thing to happen for DAOKO creatively, for now she finally seems to have been able to reconnect with herself and we finally have gotten that album we all thought we were going to get when she made the transition from indie to major- and it’s the most amazing, sonically rich album of her career.

The lead-up singles were both insanely good (Nariaki Obukuro produced club banger Otogi no Machi” and melancholic closer track “Ocharaketayo“), and really made the lack of interest I had in her (after her dreary last album “Shiteki Ryokou“) spring back to life. I wasn’t going to get too hyped for the return though, as she has had a track record of decent lead singles, mostly filler albums. Or, like THANK YOU BLUE, mostly just singles.

However, things slowed down and it was unclear whether an album was in the works or if she had dropped two random songs. Finally, she announced the record, and to my delight, it was mostly comprised of brand new tracks. There was no way of knowing where the direction of this album was going to go. I certainly did not expect one of the most creative, hard hitting art pop/hip-hop records of the last few years.

Favourite songs include the mood setting opener “VOICE“, the sexy “Achilles Ken“, the absurdly weird “Ai No Loss” (what IS that sample) and the amazing, upbeat “Kaeritai“. However, overall, there’s no track that I’d skip over or consider bad, and I’m certain different listeners are going to pick their own personal faves- it’s just one of those kinds of albums where there’s so much to love. It all flows consistently and never feels overlong.

The track order is almost perfect, though if there is one track that feels somewhat out of place it’s “Hi Sense Paisen” – a track that was originally recorded for game Dragalia Lost featuring SCHA DARA PARR. It’s by no means a bad song on it’s own, both rappers match each others stylings extremely well- it just feels a little bit too bouncy here in comparison to the rest.

However, the most exciting track on the album is the title track ‘anima‘, on of the most transcendent works DAOKO has ever put her name to. An audio adventure, the song goes through different phases, adding new layers of instrumentation over the already cacophonous base as it progresses. One song that comes to mind to compare is Shiina Ringo‘s (yeah I know, another Shiina Ringo comparison) hidden gem “SG ~Sanmon Gossip~“, a wildly experimental track (that didn’t make it on the album it takes it’s name from- likely because it just didn’t fit anywhere) that uses the same kind of layering effects. In-fact, one of the definitions of the word ‘anima’ can refer to the part of the personality that has direct contact with the subconscious; so the free flow, train of thought structure of the song really fits in nicely with this.

Overall, this is DAOKO’s best album, hands down. After a long streak of songs that didn’t really feel like the DAOKO that original fans fell in love with, and a less than stellar last album, this really is her redemption record. It’s truly liberating to hear someone get out of a creative rut to bring forward a record with such gusto, vibrancy and most importantly, PERSONALITY to the table. It’s a fantastic, surprising achievement and sure to be spinning in my playlist for a long while to come.

To that I say: STEPPING BACK STEPPING UP CLOSE YOUR EYES RAISE YOUR CUP

9/10. DAOKO, welcome back. For real this time.

REVIEW: DAOKO- ANIMA

REVIEW: MIZUKI OHIRA- IN ANY WAY

To say I was in love with Mizuki Ohira‘s debut full length, TRUE ROMANCE, would be a cosmic understatement. That 2016 release left me begging for more, however, it would end up being a 4 year wait (with many singles and remixes between) until Ohira would release a true follow-up album, IN ANY WAY. She also has left a lot of her initial sound behind since then, so, if you haven’t been keeping up with the singles since TRUE ROMANCE, this may sound like you are listening to an entirely different artist.

It’s not to say that sexy, gorgeous R&B leaning jazz pop isn’t there; it’s just much fuller, smoother and produced (possibly to a fault). I definitely did enjoy tracks like the gorgeous opener and single “Eternal My Room“. Mizuki Ohira’s pop music is as amazing and enveloping as always, but sadly some of the magic is lost under the heavy layering of sounds- simplicity worked amazing for her before, and sadly, the punch she had is more sedated than four years ago.

There’s also the ‘too many singles plague‘ going on here; the hard truth is that for such a long wait, those who have been keeping up will basically find a mini album’s worth of new material to delve into. Sure, its nice to get some of them older singles collected, but it’s still somewhat of a downer after such a long wait.

But that’s not to say this is a bad album, far from it. It’s very, very enjoyable for the most part. I imagine a new listener to her music will be fully enveloped in the gorgeous sounds Mizuki has committed to the album here. It mostly flows quite well, with a few stutters here and there, and a bit of a weaker end half. Ending the album with a remix of her old song “Real Love” seems a bit of a misstep, and almost comes off a bit lazy. However, other than those mostly nit-picks, you get a beautiful album with a hearty mix of genres from traditional J-pop, electronic pop, RnB and even reggaeton.

Mizuki’s greatest strength is still her impeccable vocals, she is a soulful, beautiful vocalist. That is definitely one area where she has developed since TRUE ROMANCE. It’s so easy to love her delivery, no matter what genre the tracks dabble between she is up for the task. Instrumentally, most of the album ranges from workable to absolutely enthralling. Production is decent, though the mix is on the hot side in some areas (the guitars on SAIHATE clip like mad), particularly noticeable when listened to on headphones.

The absolute highlight of the album is the main lead single, the outstanding, city-pop tinged duet “Moonlight” featuring Tavito Nanao. It’s great when a duet comes along with such chemistry, both vocalists equally talented and playing off each other perfectly. The song itself is sweeping, warm and completely inviting. It’s easy to forgive some of the lesser tracks leading up to this track going on the strength of this one alone. I can only hope the duet will work together again in the future.

Overall Mizuki Ohira’s second album offering is a solid one, if not the amazing record I was hoping it would be. Still very much worth a listen for anyone after a nice breezy record. If it’s your first time listening to her, don’t forget to go and check out her debut too!

6.5/10
REVIEW: MIZUKI OHIRA- IN ANY WAY

REVIEW AYUMI HAMASAKI- NEXT LEVEL (REVISITED)

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In a somewhat controversial opinion I hold, I now believe that Ayumi Hamasaki‘s tenth album “NEXT LEVEL” is probably her musical (though not financial) peak. However, what may be surprising for some to hear, is that at first, I really disliked this album -no, scrap that, LOATHED- this record. Coming directly off the hard rock driven albums Secret and GUILTY, I was (in hindsight somewhat stupidly) expecting something more in the same vein. I admittedly hadn’t been following the lead up singles at the time, but after I saw the album cover reveal, I knew instantly that this was going to be something different; so different in-fact, that she had never done anything similar before- or indeed afterward.

So then, what WAS so different about NEXT LEVEL that I found so off-putting at first? For one, it might very well be the first mainstream Japanese album of the late 2000s to really bring that 80s nostalgia wave that the west was riding to the forefront (even predating the likes of Especia who really brought city pop back to the public consciousness). If Ayumi had ridden Eurobeat in her early years, hard rock in her middle years, this was her first foray into using heavy elements of synth, disco and chiptune (and yes, that is an unmistakable Pac-Man sample in Rollin‘). Sure she’d teased bits and pieces of this retro sound before, but had never really just gone for it. And it has paid off, ultimately (maybe even ironically) making it one of her better aging albums of her discography.

It also was campy as hell, much more so than usual. Ayumi had a lot of fun with this one, however on initial spins it didn’t really translate too well for the listener. I physically cringed when I heard Sparkle for the first time. The cheesiness of some of the interludes further exaggerated the camp, to the point where it was a very hard album to take remotely seriously. However, as time wore on and the dust settled, the diamonds under the rough started showing through- for at the very core of this album is one of Hamasaki’s most potent, tragedy-riddled collection of songs.

From the absolutely epic GREEN with it’s Chinese and Takarazuka Revue influenced (see the 1930s Shanghai inspired MV too) instrumentation, to the absolutely breathtaking LOVE ‘n’ HATE which still hits harder than anything she has put out since, everything here works together wonderfully. Ultimately, what I didn’t enjoy at first -its campiness- turned out to be it’s greatest strength.

(On a sidenote- the campiness of the whole thing makes it fitting then, that the song ‘Rule‘ was used on the ill-received American adaptation of Dragonball. For better (but mostly worse), it is unquestionably the best thing about that terrible film, and puts a smile across my face knowing that it’s there.)

It, like all of Ayumi’s better releases, benefited from having a tight running time, at just over 50 minutes (she often makes the decision to go for a maxed out CD, which while seems generous, often ends up harming the overall flow and feel of her records). This really helps with NEXT LEVEL more than any release to date- it feels like it progresses and feels well thought out and structured, there isn’t any moments where it feels like it’s wandering aimlessly.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an Ayumi Hamasaki record without at least a couple of ballads (for she really is the Queen of the J-pop ballad), and NEXT LEVEL is no exception. Most importantly, this happens to feature two of her most beautiful and moving she ever released- the incredible DAYS (the kind of song that makes you scream ‘shut the fuck up she’s singing DAYS!‘ when she sings it live) and the stripped back Curtain Call (with some of her most incredible and touching lyrics ever). If the rest of the album isn’t sitting well with you, at least these two songs are undeniably trademark Hamasaki gold.

Ultimately, looking in hindsight more than 10 years on from the release of NEXT LEVEL, I have to say that it’s definitely the most interesting release in her catalogue. It might not be my favorite (MY STORY holds that place in my heart), but it’s certainly the one that strikes me as the most memorable for many reasons. I can say with no doubt that it’s certainly the most unique- and is definitely aging very well. It’s never lost any freshness, it just seems to be getting fresher with each passing year. If you’re after the weirdest, most campy release in Hamasaki’s discography- don’t look any further.

9/10

REVIEW AYUMI HAMASAKI- NEXT LEVEL (REVISITED)

REVIEW: 4S4KI- OMAE NO DREAMLAND

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4s4ki (pronounced Asaki) is a fairly new face to the Japanese pop scene, and is currently sitting on a few EPs and singles that have cause a little bit of buzz in the hip-hop scene. Here she finally brings her debut album, ‘Omae no Dreamland‘, which has gathered a a plethora of guests and producers to make her sound come to life. Whilst the album mainly feels like an electronic pop album, the moments of hip hop here are never distracting. More importantly, they don’t feel like they are ripping off dated American trends and feel a lot more current than the majority of the competition. 4s4ki obviously keeps a worldly eye on the scene, and incorporates current sounds whilst still keeping it undeniably Japanese.

Opening with the single and title track, ‘Omae no Dreamland’ is an absolutely sweet, catchy electronic driven earworm that really sets the scene on what to expect for the rest of the album. It’s then followed by the harder hitting ‘Platonic’ featuring gu^2, the beat rapturous and engrossing, one of the best since the good days of Charisma.com. (as a side note, it may interest you that 4s4ki previously has worked with Itsuka on a single)

There are four songs featuring rapper Maeshima Soshi throughout the album, who actually adds rather than distracts from the tracks- definitely a much younger rapper than the usual features seen on Jpop albums, the delivery is very trap inspired, and relaxed. Asaki and him do seem to make quite the formidable duo, and work off each other really well. It’s truly refreshing to hear this kind of chemistry on a newcomer’s album. It adds another layer to the music that quite engaging and enjoyable. However, it is  ‘NEXUS’ featuring rinahamu that is the standout track on the album, it sounds as sweet as a CY8ER track, yet hides barbs underneath the surface. This goes for quite a lot of the album, and ultimately keeps the listener engaged a lot more than the usual J-pop record.

There are some issues with the album overall though, and one is 4s4ki’s need to work on strengthening her individuality. She’s very competent, matches her music fine enough, but nothing vocally really makes her stand out above and beyond (though this also means she never is grating either). There’s a couple of weaker songs on it too, but none that really are standout enough to skip. They’re just like small stops at the gas station on the way to the destination rather than bumps on the road. Overall though, the main experience the listener will have is a sense of fun during its short 31 minute run time.

7/10 Omae no Dreamland, despite it’s flaws is still a very competent and pleasant debut record, that outlines the future potential that 4sk4ki has, and is definitely one to check out and watch in the future.
REVIEW: 4S4KI- OMAE NO DREAMLAND

REVIEW: RINA SAWAYAMA- SAWAYAMA

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Rina Sawayama over the last few years has been making waves for herself (her debut EP, RINA is absolutely unmissable), establishing herself as one of the more daring and intelligent voices in pop music. Her upbringing in the UK as a Japanese migrant, and divorce of her parents and openly queer identity have made her one of the most simultaneously unique, but also relatable storytellers in the modern pop sphere. She also is an absolute music lover, her influences are from both Western and Japanese (she has made a thread on Twitter highlighting her recommendations and inspirations, including the likes of Shiina Ringo, Namie Amuro, Momoe Yamaguchi, Seiko Matsuda, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and, of course, Utada Hikaru to name a few) musicians. Most of all, whatever she releases (and she has quite an eclectic output), the absolute LOVE behind it all makes it truly powerful listening. Now she drops the next chapter in her discography, the debut full length, aptly titled SAWAYAMA.

Rina Sawayama’s vocals here are well, fucking amazing. It’s the kind of polish that most pop artists dream of accomplishing over the long-term, but here, Sawayama is still just at the start of her career. Her range is on show at all times, whether it be a caterwaul or a silky smooth croon, there’s never a moment where she falls flat. It ultimately becomes by far one of the most technically and emotionally triumphant vocal performances in recent memory, accomplished, with what seems to be very little studio tweaking. It’s as endearing as the shiniest pop albums coming out from both the UK and Japan right now, only with a fair bit more bite and smartly channelled vitriol towards racial ignorance/fetishism, or love toward the people that have supported her throughout the years (as most pronounced on “Chosen Family“).

The most exciting part about this album musically, is that no matter how far Rina takes it (from nu-metal and hair rock to clingy R&B and gigantic theatrical numbers to name a few) the album flows majestically along, and never loses sight of it’s vision. It feels whole and never lets you go from it’s grasp from it’s entire runtime. What’s great about this is that it’s a grasp you never want to leave. With the amount of detail throughout these tracks, you are guaranteed to pick up bits and pieces you missed on previous playthroughs. If you were ever going to sincerely throw the ‘art pop‘ label at anything, this album is fully deserving of that title. But it’s more than just that; it’s Rina’s story, which she is telling in absolute earnest, and it’s utterly spellbinding.

SAWAYAMA manages to create visceral pop songs with a biting self awareness, without ever falling into that corner of coming off as trite or try-hard. Rina is never one to play it coy, it’s absolutely refreshing to hear someone truly speaking their mind in glistening pop. If you feel some of your pretences being challenged, then she has accomplished what she has set out to do here, and it’s absolutely earth shattering.

I imagine this being considered a milestone release in the future- it’s very, very rare that someone comes along with such a strong set of messages whilst still being absolutely digestible as a pop record. It’s enthralling, uplifting and embracing. There’s a lot to enjoy here musically, and even more to absorb emotionally. Lucky then, we’ve all got a bit more time on our hands to fully digest this masterpiece.

9.5/10 While I’m still too new to Rina’s world to be comfortably able to call myself a true fan (or Pixel as she adoringly calls them), I feel that they are about to be absolutely spoilt rotten by this absorbing, eclectic release. For newcomers, this is likely going to be the hottest pickup of the year, both instantly approachable but deep enough to hold serious artistic weight with the music snobs. It’s a winner, and truly the first must own pop release of 2020.

REVIEW: RINA SAWAYAMA- SAWAYAMA