SAWAYAMA // Rina Sawayama

Reviewed: 28/04/2020

Rating: 0.9 // 10

Genres: Pop, R&B, Dancepop, Pop Rock

Released: 17/04/2020, Dirty Hit

Rina Sawayama incorporates numerous genres to produce a blend that she can label her own unique sound.

SAWAYAMA is above all else, a statement of intent. That much is immediately clear from the first track of the album, Dynasty. The instrumentals come to life like a machine stirring from inactivity and whirring to action, before her powerful vocals lead into heavy-ish guitar riffs.

Already we’ve been bounced from genre to genre, but it never feels rushed or out of place. This is carefully layered and built to create the perfect imagery, resulting in a perfect start to the album.

Not quite the Britpop of Blur and Robbie Williams in the 90s, when high octane guitar riffs were the backbone of songs, Sawayama uses the contrast of the heavier sounds of the electronic guitars to play off our expectations.

They’re back straight away on the next track, XS, almost acting as the bridge before the pop fluent chorus.

This fluent mix of rock and 2000s R&B is blended together by Sawayama’s ranging vocals, continuing the strong start to the album.

STFU! continues the theme of contrasting softer, poppier sounds with heavier styles of music – this time ramping it up even further, and picking another 2000s trend – Nu-Metal. The repetitive rifts are the focus here, and are used as the foundations of the whole song.

Even the baseline on this is rough and in your face when it is given time to shine halfway through, whilst the lyrical content is what you imagine. Sawayama again offsets her words against how she sings them, using cutesy and soft tones to tell us to shut the f*ck up.

Sawayama moves away from the rock sounds of the opening three tracks on Comme Des Garçons – initially. The thudding baseline indicates this is a dance track, and once the percussion comes in on the bridge, your head is bopping along.

Speaking of confidence and matching that traditionally associated with boys and men, this song just has a swagger to it. Selected as a single, it’s no surprise this has probably earned the most attention on the album, but it is just one high peak amongst a mountain of significant heights.

Electronic driven but still firmly in a grungey mood, Akasaka Sad highlights Sawayama’s fluency in Japanese and English. The cacophony of instruments used creates a busy atmosphere filled with character, with strings bringing us in and out of the song.

Paradisin’ sees a return to the rock-based roots this album showcases. Starting off with a glitch pop-esque beat and filtered voice, by the time we get to the titular chorus we’re back to bouncing about with the beat. Video game noises and references to the early noughties quickly date Sawayama, but this is a nostalgia fest of the different sounds that marked the turn of the millennium.

In my opinion the track that embodies 200s disco comes in the form of Love Me 4 Me, with its chorus almost lifted from the era and transplanted into a pop-rock song.

Throughout the guitar heavy tracks at the start of the album, we haven’t had a proper, classic breakdown and guitar solo- but our cravings are fulfilled on this track here. A bop promoting positivity and loving yourself before anyone else, it continues the album along nicely.

Bad Friend sees Sawayama use more contemporary pop methods, with the distortion of the vocoder around her voice on the chorus. It shows that even in a modern arena she still sticks out, and that she doesn’t have to rely on a 2000 sounds.

Lyrically, this is probably the most personal and open she has been on the track so far, as she laments on her failings as a friend.

Although labelled as an interlude, Fuck This World doesn’t immediately hit me as a break between songs, or anything like filler. Sawayama continues her deviation from the 2000s sound, with a loud and slower ballad.

She reveals her dissatisfaction with where the world is at the moment (was that not clear in the title?) and her disassociating from it all.

As the song fades back in, we hear the chants of a crowd, and the intro of Who’s Gonna Save U Now? Thematically this is a nice tie in to the previous track, but we see a return of those stark rock guitars and drums. Another dance pop banger, even the last leg of the album has a level of energy about it.

Tokyo Love Hotel for me, lyrically, is the most interesting song on the album. You might be unaware, but Sawayama is Japanese-born, London-raised, creating an interesting dynamic for the singer when she is in her country of birth.

Her conflicted feelings of being simultaneously an outsider and child to Japan is showcased, where she laments about those that use her trips to her country as a superficial experience – even though she admits to being guilty of the same thing on Bad Friend.

Cause they don’t know you like I know you, no they don’t

Use you for one night and then away they go

All that love for you is simply just for show

I guess this is just another song ’bout Tokyo (東京)

The irony of this isn’t lost on Sawayama, and despite telling us that this is just another song about Tokyo, it just isn’t the same as the pop hits that have sung the praises of the city before.

As the album winds down to its conclusion, we’re seeing more and more of Sawayama’s personal history. On the powerfully sung Chosen Family, she celebrates the LGBTQ+ community she is apart of, combining the song into a message of support.

Not too heavy handed, and a genuinely touching moment, mainly due to the large contrast it displays to the rest of the tracks on this record.

Finally we reach the end – and Snakeskin takes us on another varying journey. This track builds up with intensity, as it layers different instruments over each over as we reach the chorus.

The payoff is a drop worthy of a Drum and Bass album, which allows the bass to reverberate all over the track and change the sonic landscape of the song.

Just like the album as a whole, which won’t sit still in one place for more than one second, this song lunges from genre to genre, pace to pace, all without becoming a mess.

For me, this is the best pop release of the year – and that is saying something thanks to the strong field we find ourselves in. Whilst we have seven months of this retched year to go, it’ll be interested to see if Rina finishes on top.

But no matter what happens in 2020, Rina is now firmly on the map.

Track Listing

  1. Dynasty (A)
  2. XS (A)
  3. STFU! (A+)
  4. Comme Des Garçons (A*)
  5. Akasaka Sad (A)
  6. Paradisin’ (A)
  7. Love Me 4 Me (A-)
  8. Bad Friend (A-)
  9. Fuck This World (Interlude) (A-)
  10. Who’s Gonna Save U Now? (A)
  11. Tokyo Love Hotel (A)
  12. Chosen Family (A-)
  13. Snakeskin (A)

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