Vital Status: Alive & Well❤️
Analogy: A party where the theme is general but every room you walk into has its own vibe
Japanese born British artist Rina Sawayama delivers her debut studio album Sawayama and possibly the coolest sounding record of 2020. The more I listened to this album the more I wanted to dive deeper into it. It throws new and old nostalgic sounds at the listener with production I would never expect to be incorporated with some of the vocal styles Rina chooses.
Over the course of this review I will compare her to a few different artists but don’t mistake these comparisons with who Rina is because she is absolutely in her own lane.
Sawayama being my first introduction to Rina’s music I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and to get a song like “Dynasty” immediately I knew I was in for something special. We get beautiful vocals to begin this track and a quick change of pace into rock guitars coming in front and center. This song holds such elegance with head banging guitar playing that I did not see coming. Also lyrically, on this track we get a look into how Rina’s heritage plays on her life’s journey.
The second song “XS” immediately took me back to Britney Spears’ sound it terms of Rina’s singing. It’s a great pop record about indulging in materials to the point of excess or “XS”. Bursts of rock guitars gives this track an added spice. Following this Rina decides to turn up the listeners engagement with “STFU”. Metal guitars are thrown right in our face with Rina unleashing some anger. Rina uses her emotional intelligence to convey the same message of telling someone to “shut the fuck up” in many tones to get her point across. Another head banger with poppy vocals.
I feel like the style of baseline in “Commes Des Garcons” can be used pretty frequently but took me right to Kanye West’s song “Fade”. It’s a great baseline so I have no quarrels about the way Rina uses it here. Especially, providing an upbeat song surrounding it. She uses this moment to take a swing a toxic masculinity as well.
One of my next favorite songs is “Akasaka Sad” that has some dark themes both lyrically and on the production. Rina seems to be in a lonely place on this track but there is a level of awareness she shows. Loved the way she uses the city of Akasaka to play in with her name and other words that creates an intriguing sound which makes everything feel related but different.
Coming out of a dark place we get the sunny song “Paradisin”. This track has a disney theme song sound all around it and about fucking up at a young age but enjoying life. “Love Me 4 Me” gives us a new jack swing sound and took me to the late 80s. Self love would be the topic of this one and struggling with the way she has to appear.
As you can tell I really enjoyed most of the tracks on Sawayama and this continues throught the remaining of the record. There are a few moments this album could of done without but the majority of the second half of this album holds up.
“Bad Friend” is a introspective song about how the falling out of a friendship can effect people. Rina shows this in a interesting fashion by manipulating her vocals on the hook with a synthesizer that gives the effect of distance and emptiness.
The next two tracks “Fuck This World (Interlude)” and “Whose Gunna Save You Now?” are some of the more mediocre moments on Sawayama. Loved the message on “Fuck This World (Interlude)” but overall did not catch my ear and felt like a generic pop song. “Whose Gunna Save You Now?” is a rock song that just doesn’t provide much in terms of sound or substance. These two songs don’t take away from the album but aren’t adding anything either.
Luckily, this lull doesn’t last long and we get “Tokyo Love Hotel” which seems like a love letter too Tokyo in a way. This track has an 80s sound with production and lyric estethics that puts the listener in a bright, colorful, and glistening city. The concept is also enjoyable with Rina describing people that use the city of Tokyo like a brothel or in this case a Tokyo Love Hotel. Rina also comes to this conclusion she has used this city in this fashion with the line
I guess this is just another song ’bout Tokyo
Closing this album we get the tracks “Chosen Family” and “Snakeskin”. “Chosen Family” is a powerful song about bringing people into your life and the beautiful baggage that comes with that. The lyrics
Tell me your story and I’ll tell you mine
I’m all ears, take your time, we’ve got all night
Show me the rivers crossed, the mountains scaled
Show me who made you walk all the way here
This song at its core is beautiful and powerful and I will continue to use those adjectives to describe this moment. “Snakeskin” ends this album with an intro of Rina having some amazing and hypnotic vocals. Beethoven is sampled but this track also has a moment where the production completely breaks down into a futuristic bass world.
Sawayama will continue to amaze me and I will continue to enjoy listening to all the great sounds on this album. Rina has taken me all across my emotional landscape sonically while being definitive with who she is as an artist.