Review Summary: With their fourth album, one of Japan's best indie rock bands release a tight, concise statement of their unique musical identity.
Many great artists stand firmly on the foundation of those that came before them, reflecting their influences through a new lens to develop their own twist. Where would The Smiths have originated without jangly British Invasion pop rock? Van Halen without Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin? Or The Mars Volta without Yes and King Crimson?
On the other hand, some artists possess an almost disturbing degree of originality and innovation that comes as naturally as flipping a light switch. Japan's Ling Tosite Sigure is an aggressive indie rock band that invites no direct comparisons; there are strong undertones of Number Girl's gritty angst and Syrup16g's faster side. Western artists such as Thrice, The Fall of Troy, or At The Drive-In seem like the closest analogues to Sigure's ethereal progressive hardcore, but the similarities are likely coincidental.
Guitarist/vocalist Toru Kitajima, the main driving force behind the band, claims that during his developmental years he listened to the same diet of mainstream Japanese radio-ready pop rock as any other teenagers or twenty-somethings, and has virtually no familiarity with progressive rock or post-hardcore from Japan or elsewhere. Drummer Pierre Nakano, despite possessing chops that could easily put him at the reins of a progressive metal band, is an enthusiastic fan of J-Pop divas Perfume. Bassist Miyoko's gigantic distorted bass might summon images of Chris Squire, but she never picked up the instrument prior to Sigure's formation.
Sigure's highly original style seems almost like a lucky mistake, but now in their fourth album of powerful, compelling material, the band's creative juices seem nowhere near drying up, perhaps because of their independently-developed style. Even residing on a commercial, mainstream label hasn't weakened their resolve: in almost every way, still a Sigure virgin? is a more ambitious and successful release than their admittedly excellent prior album.
The opening track 'I was music' is a terrific way to start the album and easily the best opening track to any of their releases, which for some reason tend to lag in comparison to their other songs. Clocking in at barely over three minutes, the song shows Sigure's proficiency in warping pop music structures to their own twisted means. Starting quietly before transforming into a chaotic frenzy, the subsequent chorus is sheer exhilaration that practically launches the listener into orbit. 'Secret G' spins on the axis of TK's whirlwind guitar playing, seamlessly merging funk and powerful rock into a satisfying whole.
Sigure's most experimental song yet is 'Shandy,' the first to feature singer/guitarist TK on piano rather than his trademark Telecaster. A sputtering, glitchy drum loop in the background verges on electronica, but Miyoko's fuzzy bass and Pierre Nakano's drumming keep it solidly grounded in rock throughout its unpredictable course. 'This is is this?' is the album's best track yet, starting with a haunting melody on twelve-string guitar, gradually ebbing and flowing to build up to an explosive climax and a blazing solo of tapped guitar notes that's one of Sigure's most thrilling moments and demonstrates the band's utter mastery of dynamics.
'a symmetry' is probably one of the band's most progressive compositions to date – TK brings back his aggressive screaming and shouting, sorely missed on Sigure's previous album, before a nearly danceable chorus almost keeps the ambitious song in the realm of pop. A hysteric, explosive outburst toward the end of the song is one of TK's best vocal moments to date. Here, Sigure show a clever strategy that they employ effectively elsewhere on the album: while many artists in the wake of the Pixies operated on a soft-loud dynamic, Sigure plays it backwards, crafting several songs with loud, aggressive verses and slick choruses that almost sound dance-worthy.
On 'just A moment,' Sigure began experimenting with a broader range of sonic textures than their previous albums, which mostly revolved around fast, aggressive songs and faster, more aggressive songs. Still a Sigure virgin? relishes in some of the band's most violent moments since 'Inspiration Is Dead,' but also features more sublime and trancelike elements, often in the same song. 'Can you kill a secret?' revels in thrashy punk as a bit of throwback to their earlier material. 'replica' is another outstanding track, gyrating on a buzzsaw assault of guitar licks and TK's nigh-undecipherable rage interposed with two slick, memorable choruses.
Although the album shines on the harder tracks, 'eF' features Nakano on backing guitar rather than drums to create a subtle, nuanced song that helps to offer some breathing room. 'illusion is mine' brings the album to a great conclusion as Miyoko's vocals steal the show; although often relegated to a backing role, her singing has greatly improved since their early releases to result in some of the group's best moments, and here her singing is featured on almost every track. Lyrics have never been Sigure's strongest point, usually used to reflect the sound of the music itself, but still a Sigure virgin? nonetheless features some of TK's best lyrics yet. 'This is is this?' and 'Can you kill a secret?' build tension through the lyrics' ambiguous, dreamlike sexuality, while 'a symmetry' is an abstract reflection on the inevitability of loss and dying.
In earlier releases Sigure's relentless high-speed tendencies could make for an exhausting listen, but on 'still a Sigure virgin?' the band has found a perfect balance between their razor-sharp style of hard rock and the more atmospheric, nuanced expression that could sometimes drag in older songs. It's certainly Sigure's most elaborate album to date, featuring subtle overdubs that add to its lush atmosphere without becoming overindulgent; you won't find any orchestral strings or squawking synthesizers here. Sigure is the rare rock band that occupies a singular galaxy of unique soundscapes all their own. If you're still a virgin to Ling Tosite Sigure's captivating vein of indie rock, it's hard to imagine a much better entry point than this.