Keeping with the singer-songwriter theme for this next post.
It’s difficult to find a solid definition for an artist that is constantly rummaging around various musical styles. Shiina Ringo, former lead singer of the Japanese band 東京事変 (‘Tokyo Jihen’, now no longer active) is a charismatic shape-shifter in the Japanese musical landscape.
Her voice is certainly unorthodox, a bit like marmite (judging by the split opinions from audiences). However, I’ve come to acquire an appreciation for Ringo’s rusty vocal character because it can do very interesting stylish twists on some of the genres she incorporates into her songs.
Ringo’s elegant personality shines in her intimate ballad カーネーション (‘Carnation’), a radical shift in style from her rock image. The opulent harp and string orchestration is evocative of early Hollywood orchestral cinema soundtracks or the sweet Disney-esque melodies. We rarely hear pop tunes in Japan with such a delicate waltz feel, so it’s nice and refreshing to hear Ringo’s take on the classic Western style.
Her latest song pushes her stylistic envelope. 長く短い祭 (‘Nagaku mijikai matsuri’, meaning ‘long, short festival’), a duet with another former member of Tokyo Jihen, is an elaborate dance tune that blends android processed vocals with a tang of neo-soul electric piano chordal and solo figures and funky, rhythmic pulsations of Brazilian samba and jazz in the chorus brass ensemble and rhythm section. Written especially for the ‘Coca-Cola’ Summer 2015 campaign, this tune fulfills two criteria: It has a solid anthemic vibe that would lift any summer party or atmosphere, but also sustains Ringo’s innovative musical identity.
いろはにほへと (‘Irohanihoheto’, referring to the beginning of a traditional Japanese poem that includes every kana syllable once, like reciting the alphabet) is another journey into a musical labyrinth. Taking the harpsichord away from its baroque heritage sounds like a bizarre idea, but in a way adds an oriental scent. By contrast, the frequent distorted guitar licks and offbeat chord strikes, and the way the song concludes with a suspended chord from the string tremolos resemble the sound world of James Bond scores.
Ringo’s eccentric vocal quality manages to fit neatly in the diverse range of styles she absorbs in her artistic parcel. Her endeavour in bringing new and imaginative musical and textural flavours into the commercial, accessible environment of J-Pop is a creative approach that artists should look up to if they want to bring a sharpness, an edge to the Japanese music scene.
- 真夜中は純潔 (‘Mayonakachuu wa Junketsu’)
- 熱愛発覚中 (‘Netsuai Hakkakuchuu’)
- Songs from her former band 東京事変 (‘Tokyo Jihen’)