Image courtesy of Amazon.co.uk.
Shiina Ringo‘s Heisei Fuuzoku came out in 2007 and served as the soundtrack to Ninagawa Mika’s movie adaptation of Anno Moyoco’s manga Sakuran. A collaboration with violinist and conductor Saitou Neko, who worked with Shiina on her debut album (playing violin on “Onaji Yoru”), the disc features re-arrangements of Shiina’s earlier tracks, a cover, and six new songs.
Ten years later, the album stands as a testament to the musical possibilities alive in the liminal space between the traditional and the experimental, the orchestra and the synthesizer, and the real and the otherworldly.
Heisei came out one year after Shiina released her second album with Tokyo Jihen: the mature, fully realized funk-rock LP Adult. It had been three years since she had released her critically acclaimed double platinum third solo record Kalk Samen Kuri No Hana. Shiina’s work with Tokyo Jihen had begun to move away from the sprawling pop experiments of her solo material to something more about genre and cohesion: creating more within limits. Heisei Fuuzoku lives in a space between the two. It is both sprawling and specific, eclectic and timeless.
The genre of Heisei is amorphous and multiplicitous. While “Gamble” and “Kuki” center the orchestra’s strings, other songs flirt with swing and electronica.
Perhaps the most impressive blending of classical and new, experimental and orchestral, is “Hatsukoi Shoujo.” On first listen it sounds unperformable (despite evidence to the contrary – Shiina opened Ringo Expo 08 with this song). Syllables stretch out and layer on top of each other. A single voice sings different sections of the same words, harmonizing with itself. Violins echo and reality warps.
“I want to know your name/Ah, so that I can call for you someday”
The self-covers, from Kalk Samen Kuri No Hana, Shouso Strip (Shiina’s sophomore album), and Tokyo Jihen’s debut, Kyouiku, deconstruct the originals while painting certain elements in contrast.
Take “Poltergeist.” It is an unsettling waltz on Kalk Samen, with ticking music boxes that swung into an orchestra by the second verse, and is performed by Shiina with a sense of steady assuredness. It is a song of love affairs and ghosts wedded with her frequent themes of uncertainty and dichotomy (real/unreal, joy/misery). On Fuuzoku, “Poltergeist” is orchestral from the beginning: slower, even more gentle, and swings not into steadiness, but a kind of uncertain sweetness. “I sing this for your sake alone,” Shiina sings, not in full voice like on Kalk Samen, but in a lilt that allows room for ambiguity. Perhaps the love she sings of is only a phantom.
On the other hand, the swing of “Meisai,” which on Kalk Samen was a skittering rumble anchored by Inoue Uni’s bass and a single violin, played by Saitou and descending into wailing chaos, is here oomph-ed into a fully-formed jazz number with masterfully quick delivery from Shiina. Now Saitou, as conductor, can craft his chaos more directly into the composition – and yes the dance does descend into perfectly orchestrated pandemonium, and yes, it is beautiful.
The ballad “Yume No Ato,” originally the closer on Tokyo Jihen’s debut, is a tender, dissonant step onto the threshold of the last track: Shiina’s duet with her brother, Shiina Junpei, titled “Kono Yo No Kagiri.”
The cheerful number is both Technicolor and fear. It is a joyful approach to the end of the world. But the song itself, enormous and orchestral, serves as a statement on what Heisei Fuuzoku is. The two harmonize, “I’ll make a song for you/Nothing too old and nothing too new.”
At the threshold of old and new stands something previously unheard. It comes from the violinist and the vocalist. The cat (neko) and the apple (ringo).
The real and the otherworldly, encapsulated within a single disc.