Shena Ringo

Watashi to Hoden

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A two-disc collection of B-sides, covers, and rare songs, Watashi to Houden is an exciting, if exhausting, way to get acquainted with arguably one of Japan's most talented and unusual pop artists of the 2000s. True to the nature of Shiina's other work -- solo as well as with her Tokyo Jiten band -- the record goes through a wide array of styles, from hard rock to singer/songwriter crooning reminiscent of French chanson (although not in French), all being roughly centered around light jazz. However, Shiina is no more a jazz singer in the strict sense, than, for instance, Amy Winehouse, although she's not Amy either: for all the brass sections and hard rock riffs, she's still a J-pop performer first of all, and should be compared to the likes of Shimokawa Mikuni and Yaida Hitomi. That isn't a bad thing, however, and besides, while Shiina may not really rise above the J-pop league, she's certainly a top player there: she's got a strong voice and is not afraid to be adventurous -- a trait that is totally absent in most of her rivals, who stick firmly to safe patterns of upbeat power pop songs and predictable ballads. Shiina is far from it, and the very release of Watashi to Houden seems conceptual, because it allows her to showcase all she can do with that jazz-rock influence -- which is plenty. Of course, a collection of this size is bound to have its high and low moments, but those will probably be defined individually, because the songwriting is good, and so it's just a matter of taste -- whether it's the riffs of "Fukou Jiman," the sunny mood of "Memai," or the laid-back accordion work of "Aisaika No Choushoku" -- as to what seems the most successful. Enjoying all of Watashi to Houden is probably impossible, but it's still an impressive display of Shiina's abilities.

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