Review: Seiko Oomori’s “kitixxxgaia” is her most ambitious work yet

For the first time in Seiko Oomori’s discography, kitixxxgaia feels gargantuan; it focuses on bigger themes such as religion, idol culture and female equality, rather than previous work’s more singular and personal themes. Every track feels towering and monolithic, even the stripped back songs are huger than anything that has come before. Sure, the personal touches are still there, but this time Seiko seems to be pushing the wide scale themes touched on in songs like Magic Mirror to the forefront. At points she sounds more furious, angry even. She screams, wails, laughs and talks over the phone throughout. It’s a fiery, sensory overload and it’s impossible to take your attention from.

So where does this album fit in the big picture of Seiko Oomori’s discography? The first thing instantly noticeable when comparing last years’ TOKYO BLACK HOLE to kitixxxgaia is the huge personality shift. Where TOKYO BLACK HOLE felt warm, motherly and refined, kitixxxgaia opts for abrasive, hard hitting and epic. It feels like she’s bringing her punk roots back to the surface but still keeping the colorful and glossy production style of her avex works, and it’s an insatiable mix. It’s rougher round the edges, has a dry sense of humor and is slightly bitter underneath even the brightest parts. It constantly carries a melancholy unlike anything before and thus makes her avex debut, Sennou seem innocent in comparison.

Without going into a full track by track, and excluding repeating what I said about the previously released singles, I will go into a few of the strongest of the new songs. But before that, it must be mentioned that Seiko has worked wonders with the singles she already had here. Upon announcement, I, likely along with a lot of others, was worried about how well some of them would have fit in with this. To put it short: they fit wonderfully. When reviewing the singles as a standalone project, everything felt a bit clunky and all over the place. Here, the singles- are all spaced out to perfection. They might not be Seiko’s strongest singles ever (sans Dogma Magma which is a beast) but this helps the overall flow of the album. Whether this was a conscious decision, amazing luck, pre-planned or a mix of all of these elements, this listener is grateful for the effort made with the album layout and the payoff it brings.

Dogma Magma sets the scene wonderfully, a twisting, turning, profound track that is easily one of the finest tracks of Seiko’s career. Seiko doesn’t attempt to make that balance of pop and rock, she throws it to the wind and brings something truly extraordinary here; a Dadaist inspired lamentation on religion and pop culture that throws away standard catchiness in exchange for a more breathtaking experience. Most artists who attempt this, usually would likely come across as lame or tryhard. However, with Seiko on the helm, this is one mighty hard hitter and an amazing opening track; perhaps her most amazing opener to date. It no doubt will go down as one of her iconic moments, and will no doubt become a fan favorite.

IDOL SONG, with its unashamed referencing to the idol culture which Seiko so dearly loves (featuring references and mentions of groups like Neggico, as well as idol catchphrases as lyrics), is a wild trip, igniting memories of the sensory overload of Harajuku’s fashion or Akihabara storefronts. It’s loud, in your face and there’s no escape; yet you feel no desire to leave.  It’s a perfect platform for Seiko’s blend of cute madness. Similarly cute and playful is the following track, JI・MO・TO no Kao Kawaii Tomodachi which bounces along on an adorably groovy melody, reminiscent of Shoji Meguro‘s work on the Persona 4 soundtrack.

Daoko featuring track Chikyuu Saigo no Futari is a loving homage to the songs of Shiiina Ringo, both artists particularly vocal about the impact of Ringo’s music on their songwriting. It is one of the most tender and groovy tracks on the album, a bop in every sense of the word. The string work is gorgeous, elevating the already beautiful song to new heights. Daoko’s rapping sounds great and at home here, and is likely this reviewer’s favourite guest appearance on the whole album.

There’s a self cover of Seiko’s song for ℃-ute, “Mugen Climax”, a solo piano arrangement that really hits home entitled Mugen Climax Kamome Kyoushitsu-hen. There’s something truly satisfying hearing Seiko take the track back and it no doubt is a far more striking rendition due to its simplicity. Less is truly more here. Finally, there’s gorgeous, newly arranged kitixxxgaia version of Kimi ni Todokuna is outstanding, with some of the most beautiful instrumentation and chord progression ever to hit an Oomori record.

Even as a Seiko Oomori veteran, and with all the odds stacked against her, she still manages to release an album that is cohesive, compelling and most impressively- surprising. Where most artists at this point in their career would have settled for the solid but safe approach to a new album (having proven their selves many a time), Seiko still seems to be pushing forward; aiming to break new ground in her discography. After a pleasant, but somewhat rocky and random three single project, chances were that this was going to be her first ‘average’ (on a Seiko scale) album- but here she makes what seemed random work- wholly and convincingly.

The hard part is giving this album a score. It does have its share of imperfections- digital clipping is audible in a few spots (though never intrusive enough to raise alarm bells), Communication Barrier is a little bit weaker than all the new songs and finally, it does not have the strongest closer she’s ever penned. Sure, the track itself, Analog Syncopation is fantastic, with its beautiful beat and chorus, but as a closer, it just feels a little hollow. This can be easily remedied if you have any of the versions of the album with an acoustic bonus track (particularly “M“, one of the most heavily emotional tracks since her debut), this allows the listener to wind down quite easily and gives a more satisfying closure to the massiveness of the album. But, as the album stands in its regular form, with no bonus tracks, it kind of feels a little anticlimactic, as if someone is turning the album off before it’s finished.

With those imperfections in mind, I cannot give it the perfect 10. However, the imperfection of the album does leave a far more immediate resonance and edge than TOKYO BLACK HOLE did on initial spins. Where that one was refined to a tee, this one seems to take joy in it’s slight crustiness.

Ultimately, the score I give kitixxgaia is:
9/10

TOKYO BLACK HOLE, to me, was likely going to be a hard act to follow on from, at least so soon. To be proven wrong once again is both staggering on a personal level, and a massive achievement for any musician. kitixxxgaia is another essential album from Seiko Oomori and it’s no doubt going to be a strong contender on a lot of people’s Album of the Year lists.

Review: Seiko Oomori’s “kitixxxgaia” is her most ambitious work yet

Quick thoughts: DAOKO- ShibuyaK

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Quick thoughts: DAOKO- ShibuyaK music video

I’ve always followed DAOKO, listened to every release but never have been able to fully let her into my heart like so many people have already. However, if her brilliant, Shibuya Kei (if it wasn’t made obvious by the song’s title) inspired single suggests anything about what to expect from her in the future- count me in. For the first time, I have been stopped in my tracks by her music.

The song bounces and weaves, glimmers and sparkles and like any great pop song- gets stuck in your head… ALL FUCKING DAY. The accompanying music video really is quite wonderful- and for the first time we see her (quite gorgeous) face and it’s impossible to look away. It’s absolutely cool, took me by surprise and no doubt will be in my top 10 singles of the year.

If I wasn’t excited about DAOKO before, this has truly turned my perspective on her on it’s head. I’m excited.

Quick thoughts: DAOKO- ShibuyaK