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Shiina Ringo – Karuki Zaamen Kuri-no-Hana : **** (four stars)

January 28, 2008

Album Cover of KZK

Well…that title is a mouth full, to be sure.

What a better way to start this blog off than a review of some music I’ve been listening to?

(I am watching you, punk).

So,  Lime, Semen, Chestnut Blossoms is pretty much the best non-English language (specifically Japanese, in this case) album I’ve ever heard, and it’s a wonder that it isn’t more well known. Shiina Ringo is best described as a musical experimentalist, but not in the way you are probably thinking – this is by no means ambient electronica or anything of the sort that floats around the internet, but a flawless mixing of genres and styles to create something totally unique. Over 50 different instruments were used, ranging from a traditional string quartet to the traditonal Japanese folk instrument known as the shamissen to anything else you could possibly think of, it’s probably weaved somewhere within the confines of this CD. What is most surprising is that none of these elements feel out of place or “just there to be there” like alot of experimental music I’ve heard over the years. The varied sounds are weaved into a tapestry of melodies, catchy melodies, that just work. Not only are the instruments ever-changing, but the genre also takes jumps from catchy pop ballads to crazy dance music fests and haunting, aural choruses. The effect is rather hypnotic; every song has a different character that makes it enjoyable to listen to not only for variety’s sake but because it fits so well within the context of the album. Probably the greatest compliment I can give to Shiina Ringo is that every song is catchy; her unique voice that crackles with raw energy at the upper ranges ends up being the unique lynch pin that holds these disparate elements together. There’s no filler on the 11 excellent tracks here, what amounts to an intensely satisfying experience all around.

1. Religion – What starts out with a shamissen solo breaks into a grand cacophony of sound…and then to a relaxing vocal performance by Shiina. This song begins the hypnotic effect, and the chorus really sticks to your mind. Some electronic distortion complements the vocals of Shiina, which literally bounce off of each other.

2. Doppelganger – A fast paced dance-style track laden with slow bridge sections that throw instruments like the harpsichord at you. It’s crazy fun, really, with a intriguing melodic line and an abrupt ending.

3. Camouflage – The violin is the centerpiece of this song, along with a complementing guitar. The strings go from melodic to avant-garde within a second. Jazz fusion violin solos can’t possibly be bad, really.

4. Get Well Soon – Can it get any more varied? We’ve got a nice little ballad with a very traditional piano part overlayed with the odd sound or dialogue part. A little guitar here and there add to the aural effect.

5. A Damned Job – For such a pessimistic title, this is probable the happiest song on here. With a minute long opening that literally makes no sense, we’re thrown into a big band/orchestrated opus. Some whistling and ancient instruments add to the enjoyment.

6. Stem – It sounds like the seedy underbelly of the crime world, rather unsettling. Some real world sounds and discordant strings with a drow sounding guitar part begin the journey, and by the end we’ve moved to a whole set of strings leading to a huge crescendo.

7.  Over Anxiety – Almost entirely starting with acapella, it moves into a crashing piano and horn chorus style section that just comes out of nowhere. We also get some flutes and a more reliable base as the song progresses, even with some chanting as well.

8.  As You Like It – It sounds like a piano, but I don’t think it is. Random electronic sounds permeate the melody

at key points to mix things up. There’s some other instruments in here I don’t even recognize, moving towards a clashing, jazzy conclusion.

9.  Consciousness – Bizarre sounds lead us to a relatively relaxed flute and guitar interplay. This is probably the most direct song of the entire album, even as odd as an didigeroo can be in providing some background in spots. Foot tapping goodness, really.

10.  Poltergeist – It’s like getting lost at a carnival at night – freaky, but still enjoyable once you realize there’s

nobody around to mess with you. Music box strains of sounds mix into a banner of strings and ticks to create an oddly pleasent sound experience.

11. Funeral Procession – Another crescendo-esque song this time with an organ (hence the name) as well as what sounds to my ears as a sitar and other Asian instruments I cannot even recognize. The vocal fervor towards the end is especially noteworthy.

To say that Karuki Zaamen Kuri-no-Hana is ambitious, and perhaps a bit inaccesible, is probably an understatement. For those who are searching for something that tickles the ears with flights into a bizarro world of Shiina Ringo’s creation, by all means take a stab at this record. It’ll take a while to grow on you, but trust me; it will. I happen to listen to most of it as part of my commute, and so far its place has been well deserved. There’s always something new to hear, and as such it has a great deal of replay value. As far as lyrical content goes, I know nothing and choose to stay ignorant; I think the music speaks for itself.

Not owning something so revolutionary and excellent is simply a travesty of the highest order; obviously, this is all up to taste, but I cannot imagine someone not liking this CD unless they have an aversion to the fact that the lyrics are in Japanese (and not only that, but archaic Japanese that isn’t even in modern lingo anymore; there are lyrics out there translated for anyone interested).  I give it my highest rating and recommendation.

However, there’s a caveat – this CD has had no U.S. release, so it’s import time. As the CD situation in Japan is pretty terrible, it may run you upwards of 30 U.S. dollars or so – I’d try eBay as well, where I picked mine up for around 26 or so.

I still think it’s worth it though, as it is 44 minutes and 44 seconds of bliss.

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