Review Summary: Everything gripping about Ling Tosite Sigure, with some intriguing new ideas in the mix.
Every Ling Tosite Sigure album, single, and EP has maintained a consistently high degree of quality. Few bands manage to strike such a deep vein of creativity, and Sigure's success is all the more impressive when one considers that their sound has evolved very slowly from one record to the next. Their last two albums show modest signs of change, incorporating more introspective and atmospheric moments into the mix, but they're still a predominantly loud, aggressive band. So when singer and guitarist Toru Kitajima (usually stylized as TK) decided to release a solo album, nobody really knew what to expect.
As it turns out, TK's solo music isn't that much different from his main band. The biggest change is scope – while Sigure is a power trio with few overdubs and a basic guitar/drums/bass sound, Flowering let TK work outside of the confines of the trio to collaborate with however many musicians he wanted. Here, there are strings, piano, and a different flavor to the bass playing (courtesy of Hidekazu Hinata, of ex-Zazen Boys/Straightener/Nothing's Carved In Stone fame.) TK still sings in a high-pitched voice, although he uses his falsetto in a gentler way on many songs, and he still plays intricate, melodic guitar parts that sound very different from cliché shredding guitar heroics we all know.
The faster tracks, like Abnormal Trick and 12th Laser, are as fierce as any Sigure tracks, and the extra instrumentation doesn't bog them down. The glitchy production techniques, particularly on the former, give it a unique flavor that's only been slightly explored on Sigure's records. But in some important ways, Flowering is a digression from Sigure's music. Acoustic guitar has a stronger presence than in Sigure, as well as piano; Haze is a fast but almost upbeat song, a first for Kitajima, and Daylily and Fourth are gentle, introspective songs that are a far cry from the relentless assault of the Sigure's debut album. In a true testament to TK's musical consistency, they don't sound out of place with his other work. White Silence and Film A Moment were part of TK's short film Film A Moment last year, and still sound good here, the latter in particular benefiting from Hinata's new bass track as it develops over seven minutes. These tracks are the closest thing to straight-out prog or post-rock that TK has created since Sigure's early demos.
The best songs might be the ones that stray farthest from Sigure territory, like Phase To Phrase, which is probably the best song on the album. A whirling array of fluid electric guitars and piano playing ride on propulsive drumming in a way that suggests, this is what it sounds like when a rock band plays electronic music. In fact, many of the songs have surprisingly entrancing moments that aim for musical emotions and textures outside of rock orthodoxy while not forgetting that this is still a rock album. TK's understated vocals float and stutter over the melody to good effect. These adventurous forays into post-rock atmospherics and electronic influences suggest that TK is far from running out of ideas.
Ultimately, one's appreciation of Flowering is going to hinge on what they like about Sigure. It's not likely to win over listeners who already dislike the former band and TK's voice – which has already placed him in the Geddy Lee and Claudio Sanchez Hall Of Divisive Vocalists – or those who exclusively prefer Sigure's more aggressive, harder edge. However, if you like how the group has gradually branched out over their last two albums or so, chances are that you'll find something to like in Flowering, too.