Easily one of the most unique and thrilling musicians and artists to grace the planet (in my humble opinion), Sheena Ringo rarely goes the safe route. Her music started off as heavy rock, drifted into jazz and lounge music and then settled more recently in a mash-up of the three. ‘Sandokushi’ is her new album that follows this trend. It feels like a Japanese James Bond soundtrack made with high art in mind.
‘Gate of Living’ opens the album with drone chants that give way heavy brass arrangements, marching drums, swelling strings and Bjork like electronica beat. It’s exactly the kind of uniquely emotive explosion of noise I’ve come to expect from Sheena Ringo and tee’s up an album of surprises. Fast paced jazz flies in with ‘The Narrow Way’ which feels like a stage show as she duets with Hiroji Miyamoto. Their voices work beautifully in tandem – powerfully bellowing together then trading lines as the brass and drums burst with life. We then veer into a luscious harp and cooing vocal opening of ‘Ego-ism’. Sheena is full on whisper pouting her way through a baby doll vocal performance as the funky electro jazz fusion piece floats around you. It reminds me heavily of Superficial Gossip album. Funky, electric but of a ’60s and ’70s era hugeness that stage show orchestral jazz could bring. It’s just that Sheena brings an unhinged rock element to the sound that I adore.
This aggressive beauty pours out of ‘Elopers’ which has industrial synths and beats pulsing and smashing their way into the bass of your soul. It explodes into a shouty rage rock chorus as she screams with Atsushi Sakurai that harks back to her earliest works. It’s a gloriously aggressive beauty that pairs well with the grungy ‘To Rock Bottom’ that feels like a Tokyo Jihen song. Rock stays centre with the flute fun, tabla thumping and vocals of Shotoku Mukai of ‘God, Nor Buddha’. Think trippy Beatles track but with lots of various instruments having mini solos between vocal lines.
The genius of Sheena Ringo mashing up lounge jazz and huge rock is that it can give you such a large spectrum of music to play with. ‘Off-line’ is like a jazz-rock baby and the piano work in this track is outstanding. There’s only piano, bass, percussion and vocals yet it rocks harder than most rock tracks. The sheer speed of the drums and piano is insane. On the flipside, the jaunty ‘In Summer, Night’ features vocoder vocals and Ukigomo providing sunny backing vocals over bossa nova beats and electric pianos. ‘A Life Supreme’ then moves us into stadium rock. Huge chords, big guitars and mighty vocal performances. You’d never think these three tracks belonged to the same artist usually yet they all work together under Sheena’s poise and energy. Add to that the if-Madness-made-J-Rock track ‘Victims’ and then the honky-tonk jazz of ‘Jiyu-Dom’ – you are in for a completely different treat for every track.
By the time we reach the closing jazz track ‘The Main Street’ feels like a joyous celebration of song and then we hit the dramatic finale. ‘Gates of Hades’ featured Sheena Ringo, a haunting backing choir and bellowing brass note for the first half of the track. It takes on a bit of French tone with an accordion joining in the second half and the feel of the track switches from foreboding to a flurry of Napoleonic dances. It’s such a strange way to end the album yet it fits perfectly.
This is a real return to form for Sheena Ringo for me. Her previous album was some of her safest material to date and long term readers here will know I love the unhinged, weirder side of music. This ticks all my boxes and continues to merge two very different ends of her musical spectrum into a wonderful genre of its own.
Recommended track: Off-line
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