Tokyo Jihen: Ongaku / #2021reviews
When you pick up a new release by Shena Ringo, be it one of her solo efforts, or like this one, a new album by her band, Tokyo Jihen, you never know what to expect. I mean… you know what kind of music to expect, but the quality… now that’s a whole different question. While her first two solo albums, released back in 1999 / 2000 were game changers and are rightfully regarded as classics to this day, she later dropped some terribly weak albums, most of the times going for an over-arranged, pretentious, jazz inspired style and resulting in an endless line of very sappy and very boring tracks. Naturally the jazz influence itself was never the problem, when she formed Tokyo Jihen in 2004 with some fellow musicians they also went for a jazzy sound, but for a very lively and fun one… well, at first at least, as after a couple of albums they just ran out of steam, their music became more and more tedious and they finally called it quits in 2012.
However they reformed early last year, dropped an EP (News) soon afterwards and then followed it up with this album mid-2021. And while it isn’t their best album to date, in many ways it is a very interesting summary of not only Tokyo Jihen’s, but also Shena Ringo’s whole career. Which also means that it is a very diverse release. The opening Peacock is an extremely groovy, heavily hip-hop influenced tune, which is unfortunately quite short and serves more as an intro, but while the following Foretaste is musically very different and is a lot closer to the band’s jazzy-funky style, it is not one bit less groovy. Lightning is another nice one, but it is a lot more lighthearted, just like the later Overdose, which is one of the rare slower tracks that turned out great and actually it is quite charming in its own way. The Golden Ratio is yet another very funky tune complete with prominent synths, a jazzy chorus, some really smooth singing from Ms. Ringo and a bit of a samba feel, Red Alliance in many ways recalls her classic early solo songs with an added jazz touch and Blue Period is just crazy, chaotic and a lot of fun. Some of the tracks feature male guest vocalists and while in most cases they do not add much to the song, Whiteout is a really nice example of the opposite with its smooth vocal harmonies.
So, there are a lot of memorable tunes, actually more than half of the tracks are either good or great, but then there are some that just does not work that well. We got some of those sentimental tunes (like The Galactic Man and especially Veil Of Life), that made many of her releases sound so very tired and then we have tunes like View of Life, which is… almost good, but fall short and end up sounding like some second rate jazz-orchestra-for-hire that you would expect to see at some fancy-wannabe company events. The closing Breather could be a neat little pop tune, but ends up being a dissonant mess, while Awakening is a perfect example of the typical Ringo sort of unmemorable filler.
So, while the music is very diverse here and we get a taste of all the different sounds of Shena Ringo (well, with the exception of the edgy rock of her early days of course, as that is probably gone forever), the quality also varies here a lot, which makes Ongaku a so-so experience. Some of the songs are so great, that it was worth to get together again after almost ten years for those alone, but there are also some that reminds us why you have to be very picky with Shena Ringo’s discography… but then again, those are also a part of her, so that’s why Ongaku does such a fine job to sum up her career.
2021.06.09 / cd, digital
01.Kujaku (孔雀 / Peacock)
02.Dokumi (毒味 / Foretaste)
03.Shiden (紫電 / Lightning)
04.Inochi no Tobari (命の帳 / Veil of Life)
05.Ougonhi (黄金比 / The Golden Ratio)
06.Ao no ID (青のID / Blue Period)
07.Yaminaru Shiro (闇なる白 / Whiteout)
08.Aka no Doumei (赤の同盟 / Red Alliance)
09.Gingamin (銀河民 / The Galactic Man)
10.Kemono no Kotowari (獣の理 / View of Life)
11.Ryokushu (緑酒 / Awakening)
12.Kusurizuke (薬漬 / Overdose)
13.Ippuku (一服 / Breather)
A year in reviews: in 2021 I was somewhat neglecting the site due to the lack of free time, but now I try to make up for it as much as possible, reviewing several important / good / interesting albums that were released this year. One for each day throughout December, from a very wide spectrum of genres. #2021reviews