[AVEX ENTERTAINMENT INC.; 2020]

She may only have released her first label-supported album in 2013, and may only be 33, but Seiko Oomori is already a legend within Japan. Influenced in equal measure by punk rock and more traditional Japanese conceptions of ‘the idol’, she stands tall as an early pioneer of what has become known as the anti-idol. She’s influenced the likes of bizarro rapper/pop savant Daoko and upstarts BABYMETAL in equal measure, cutting a truly wide stylistic swath.

Her latest album, Kintsugi, is the most effectively she’s intertwined her disparate influences, resulting in something that’s absolutely bursting at the seams with joyous, reckless abandon and spiralling noise. It’s pop, it’s rock, it’s sweet, it’s prickly. She finds room – often within the same song – for delectable, soaring pop vocals, crashing drums, and even snarling guitar riffs.

As global attention to K-pop continues to grow, J-pop remains, in a sense, its weirder artier sister. Truly, Japanese artists haven’t even sought to fight Korea at its game, preferring instead to stick to their own idiosyncratic oddities rather than alter for Western ears. This is no slight towards K-pop, which this writer loves, it’s simply to say that J-pop, more often than not, proves more challenging for curious foreign ears, and is hence discovered far less often, which is a shame.

Kintsugi may not be a crossover smash for Oomori, but it’s an undeniable achievement. Take “Night on the Planet”, which floats, somehow seamlessly, between sludgy background noises, electronic blips that’d make Radiohead proud, and even an acoustic, mournful bridge at its middle all before weaving all of these ideas together at once. It’s as bold a pop experiment as you’ll find anywhere in 2020. More impressively, it’s not even an outlier, it’s simply representative of the ambition on hand throughout.

Oomori is also a powerful vocalist with deft sensibilities. She can flip from fragile heartfelt softness into crashing wails at the drop of a hat. Occasionally she peppers her songs with spoken-word pieces that verge on manic babble. To say the least, she’s a show-woman.

As the album crashes brashly through styles and sounds, it also allows space for grace and beauty, with Oomori diving into more overt pop with lovely results. This is perhaps no more clear than on bizarro Christmas anthem “真っ赤に染まったクリスマス真っ赤に染まったクリスマス” (“Christmas Dyed Bright Red”) – though she still screams towards its end.

Kintsugi ends up at “KEKKON”, which begins as the most outwardly ‘punk’ song here, boasting only the sound of Oomori’s voice and her strumming for a precious few moments, before grand strings leap into the picture. All while, she’s suffering something resembling a breakdown in sung form, allowing for a truly powerful closer to an unusual experience that is unlike much of anything else you’re likely to encounter this year.

It may not be for everyone, nor, frankly, does it even intend to be. But those who click with this unusual concoction and barrage of sounds are in for a wild, rollicking ride that always respects and challenges its listener with its ever-barreling, lightning-fast mixture of ideas and inspiration.

Following on the heels of excellent releases by the likes of Daoko and ZOMBIE-CHANG, Seiko Oomori closes out a particularly strong year for leftfield Japanese pop with Kintsugi. It’s a genuine pleasure to see a true Japanese pop rebel rediscover her muse and return to the absolute peak of her abilities. For all the fairweather fans who wrote Oomori off after her (perfectly fine) 2018 album Kusokawa Party, Kintsugi plays something like a slap in the face, or, at least, a dash of cold water. She’s thumping her chest, loud and proud, knowing damn well she’s proven any naysayers wrong until the next album comes around. She can scarcely look towards the future when her music already sounds as if it’s beamed in from it, but whatever’s next for Oomori, it’s a truly exciting prospect indeed.

77%