Tokyo Jihen‘s reunion, so far, has been somewhat underwhelming. An EP that failed to capture the attention of the GP the way it should have and a tour totally disrupted by the global pandemic; circumstances couldn’t have been more ill fated for the reunion of such a big name band. However, “Ongaku” (AKA Music), the first full length album since the return of the band is a different beast altogether. This one is the most important record Shiina Ringo has been involved with since Tokyo Jihen’s “Daihakken”. This feels like an event. And so it should.
When looking across the discography of Tokyo Jihen on the whole, Ongaku feels like the more flamboyant cousin to Jihen’s 2006 album “Adult”. The sophistication the former album had is all there, but now it’s a lot less self serious; there’s some real fun to have, sprinkled in are touches of (cheesy) hip hop, R&B and even a boyband-esque ditty to close the album (that is proving to be controversial among the fanbase). There is a real sense of ‘slice of life’ to this record, which rarely is seen in Shiina Ringo’s more theatrical solo works and it’s refreshing as hell for long-term listeners.
While Shiina Ringo gives some of the most beautiful vocal performances she’s done in years, the real MVP this album is, fittingly, the music. Jihen has never sounded this tight, this is a band that loves being together and the listener really gets to hear that dynamic through its entire runtime. There’s some goofy choices (autotuned Shiina Ringo will never, ever sound “cool”- sorry!) but even them in the end feel more of a inside joke than a serious decision. And that’s what sets Jihen apart from Ringo’s solo career- fun. Notably, with Ringo taking a backseat on this album to let the boys take the helm (particularly Ichiyo Izawa), has –this time-, proven to be the best choice they could have made. It makes it feel like a true team effort- and it’s paid off wonderfully.
While most of the album is generally pleasant, there are two especially beautiful songs on this album; previously released single ‘Ryokushu’ and ‘Kemono no Ri’. Both of these bring out the most human side of Shiina Ringo that feels unseen for years now. It’s almost bewildering. The absolutely most powerful moment of the entire album is when Ringo lets out a full on scream (the goosebumps!) on ‘Kusurizuke’ backed by a wall of tense guitars. It’s unexpected and overwhelming. “Dokumi” sports the most insane keyboard solo on a Jihen recording, ever.
7.5/10 This is the one long-term fans have been waiting years for. The starvation for a new album that FEELS like a new album from Shiina Ringo is over! Now we wait to see what Tokyo Jihen have up their sleeves for the tour of this thing, I bet it’s gonna be mind-blowing.