The early 2000s were some of Jun Togawa‘s most compelling years for many reasons. She appeared on four major works, 20th Jun Togawa (a covers album noted for utterly deconstructing the original songs), Togawa Fiction, “Good Girls Get Fed, Bad Girls Get Eaten” by Jun Togawa and Tricomi and “Dreams” by Otome Yoshihide’s New Jazz Ensemble (which is noteworthy because it features for the first time ever, the coupling of her and her contemporary, the legendary Phew).
All of these works are wildly different but bare one striking similarity; they’re all highly experimental and can barely be placed in ‘pop’ in any sense of the word. It also has been publicly revealed that Jun Togawa at the time, had started to become less trustworthy of human contact and a bit of a shut-in (as revealed in her recent soul-bearing lyrics analysis book, “Togawa Jun Zen Kashi Kaisetsu-shuu: Shippuudotou Tokidoki Hare“). This time we focus on one of these major works, the much-overlooked Togawa Fiction (billed as Jun Togawa Band). It must also be noted that Togawa Fiction marked her first return to music after the suicide of her sister, Kyoko (the EP “CD-Y” by Yapoos was a reissue of a 1999 show only release).
Togawa Fiction is a singular beast in Togawa’s long and eclectic catalog; it never relies on nostalgia or callbacks. There is no “classic Togawa formula” to be heard here. Togawa and her band were in a truly unique head-space, and in doing so managed to create something truly timeless. It isn’t as highly regarded or hailed upon as a ‘classic‘ against other giants like Tamahime Sama or Suki Suki Daisuki, but it still shouldn’t be passed up- doing so would mean passing up arguably the most intense and creative album Togawa has ever put her name to.
To come up with the unique and timeless sound that lays in wait on Togawa Fiction, Togawa has the 9 piece backing band of Misturu Nasuno (Bass), Naoya Mochizuki (Cello), Tatsuya Yoshida (Drums), Dennis Gunn (Guitar), Hoppy Kamiyama (Keys), Mitsuru Nasuno (Mandolin), Masako Sato (Viola), Miho Kudo and Ryoko Mochizuki (both on Violin). The album was also produced by Hoppy Kamiyama. This group brought an intriguing and truly unique dynamic; many different inspirations and backgrounds brought to the mix to make a formidable and powerful brew of sound.
The album blazes headfirst into battle with the sprawling, monumental eight minute epic “Counsel Please” which sees Jun Togawa venture deep into progressive rock territory like never before. It gives the listener the first taste of what would become her ‘modern‘ voice- a harsher, rusted voice that carries with it years of hardship and emotional baggage. This song is what most people would describe as a ‘journey’- both emotionally and sonically. It takes us through many different ebbs and flows, tempo changes and surprising instrumental flourishes which all leads to an amazing climax; it’s one of the most mind-blowing tracks in Togawa’s entire catalog and must be experienced to fully appreciate.
Once you’ve been firmly numbed by the opener, the album bursts into more playful territory with the catchy and bouncy “Open the Door“. It’s hard not to be reminded of acts like the Dresden Dolls here, especially with Togawa showcasing her falsetto voice throughout the entire track. The listener will find it near impossible not to infectiously fist bump along to Togawa belting out “HEAVY HARD” on the chorus, with its insane backing tracking with drums that wouldn’t fall far from a Midori track. Punky, jazzy and all-round fun- this really lightens the mood and preps you for what’s ahead.
From here the album enters a slower, sadder slump. It’s never pompous or melodramatic; rather it feels like a resignation, an acceptance of ‘it is what it is‘, and that makes it all the more disturbing. Togawa is coming to grips with everything that’s happened in her life, and making it work for her- and damn does it work. The best example of this is the track “Sayonara Honeymoon” where Togawa croons her way over a droning, atmospheric, almost doom-like ballad. It’s overwhelming, pained and pitch dark. It’s also this listener’s favorite track on the album.
Things do lighten up a little from here, (perhaps with the audience in mind) with the bouncy, surf-rock inspired title track. It’s a shorty ditty with spoken work from Togawa and a goofy little chorus. It’s a much needed breather from the emotional heaviness and gets the listener ready for the finale of the album, the long, sprawling “Formless Station Ends” which is an absolute showcase for Jun Togawa’s legendary vocals. It’s a looping, dark track that fascinates with its musical precision. It is a fitting, perfect ending to such an emotionally draining journey and a great sign off for what would become a massive gap between this and Togawa’s full length album- which wouldn’t appear until 2016- a full 12 years later.
Togawa Fiction is one of the most misunderstood and underrated albums that come to recent memory. It’s also one of the most essential listens in Japanese music, period. Togawa Fiction is one of the most interesting albums you will ever encounter- even as far as Jun Togawa- renowned for her quirkiness goes, it’s pretty “out there“. For years it has been woefully overlooked for her more well known works and that’s really a shame. It’s time to revisit this gem and see just how well it’s aged. It’s a wonderful album from a particularly dark period in Togawa’s life- and fans should really appreciate it’s value a lot more. Sure, it’s a little bit more ‘tough’ to get into- but the rewards are countless.