Review Summary: Before there was Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, there was Tomoe Shinohara...
A great, diverse album from the overly eccentric Japanese dance-pop pioneer.
Before the days of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, before the "Ponponpon" sensation, when the internet was still, virtually, in its newborn stage, there was Tomoe Shinohara. She originally came onto the scene in July 1995 with her debut single, "Chime", which didn't sell quite that well, charting at number 50. Her sales kept plummeting, and by March of 1996, her second single, "Yaruki Sensation", hardly charted, and it seemed like things were pretty much over. However, in August, she released one of her best selling singles to date, "Kurukuru Mirakuru", and it sold very respectfully (it could be argued that part of the reason was that the humongous electro duo, Denki Groove, produced the single). Regardless of the case, the single made the quirky character a star overnight. At one of the early peaks of her career, she released her debut album, the Denki Groove produced "Super Model", an album that perfectly blends the surreal world of Tomoe Shinohara with hypnotic and radio friendly electro booms. Needless to say, this album alone helped carve the way for the likes of internet sensations, such as Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, but also went far beyond any grounds that Kyary covered as of yet.
The album starts off with Tomoe talking in baby-talk, initially talking in a very low pitch, but working its way up to a higher and higher pitch, until it becomes clear that it's Tomoe. A few stabs in, and a few seconds of some reversed dialog, and you are instantly zapped into the world of Tomoe Shinohara, a world where everything is backwards, and follows a pattern of carbonated, electronic pop which one can easily find themselves entranced by. A very charming track, and shows Tomoe executing a splendid hyperactive and ambitious introduction. The next track, the aforementioned track "Yaruki Sensation", is a tad more hyperactive in terms of tempo, but the melody itself follows a more mellow pattern. This track officially locks the listener into the world of Tomoe, and the twitchy, amplified bass drums riddle the listener's senses, while the middle of the track goes off on a highly unorthodox breakdown, equipped with an apocalyptic crash of various sound effects and a bizarre, very brief saxophone transition. Very unpredictable, but that is exactly what makes the track so fun. After Tomoe comically grunts the outro of the song, the album then goes off into the fan favorite, "Rainbow Rara Ru", which initially has the skeleton of a typical trip hop track. However, with the childish and upbeat tone of Tomoe's voice, it battles the bleak sound of the track, and almost comes across as a Japanese pop epica in some sorts, which definitely shows its head throughout the track. The track then picks up with a pop rock sound, which is virtually a 180 entirely from what the track was going for. The potential of the track is dulled down quite a bit, as it virtually sounds a bit like a typical Japanese pop rock track by a childlike female singer (Judy and Mary being a good example). The chorus saves the song's potential, as it continues the track's impressive buildup. The album then goes off into the avant-garde pop track, "Wasurechaumon", which starts off with a frantic drum and bass sound, but then kicks off into a completely cartoony sound. The track is aurally animated, and the entire track is addictive as hell, stocked up to its neck with screwy samples and an extremely hyperactive dub style. A terrific track that shows what happens when avant-garde pop is bred with cartoons and hyperactive dub. A short track, but definitely a memorable one.
The next track, "Chyatarei Fujin ni Akogarete", is the longest track on the album (running at a little over six minutes) and starts off with flickering synths and actually has Tomoe maturely crooning. A definite left-field approach to the childish style of the album. The track then develops into a very thick sound, which actually goes forward with a trip hop style, which picks up from where "Rainbow Rara Ru" left off. A pretty laidback track, which is a shocker, since the majority of the album has been nothing but frantic, brilliant Japanese electro, laced with various pop toppings. The album then has a short interlude, "Super Model", before kicking off at full speed with "Kurekure Takora". The song itself has a slick style to it, and follows in the path of taking traditional Japanese dance pop (which was tremendously popular in the mid 90's) and distorting it so that both loyal, underground experimental electro fans and typical radio lovers will be pleased. Even though structurally the track leans more towards the experimental spectrum, the bubblegum dance pop stylings might still keep the radio fan in check. A nice juggle, and a smart curveball in the already crooked album. "I Love You, Deja Vu" then comes on, which stars off with a galactic music box sample, and follows a surprisingly ambient pattern rhythmically. Not much to say other than the track further pushes the envelope of the tone of the album, leaving the listener to be hypnotized, if not by impression, then by sheer confusion of the amount of avant-garde fuzz in tact in the album. The rhythmic styling of "I Love You, Deja Vu" is enough to calm the listener from the chaotic world of the album thus far, but then the track "Meiru Hen Setsu" comes on. The track has a hypnotizing, distorted, walking style to it which shows off the unique style of Tomoe Shinohara perfectly. The pounding of the track is enough to possibly win rave fans, if not please the listener with its mellow and hypnotic style.
Then comes "Yonosa", which has a traditional rave club styling to it, but combined with the unique bouncy vocals of Tomoe, the track gets a nice advantage for it going on, similar to "Rainbow Rara Ru". Stylistically, nothing new is going on, but from all the ground that's been covered, breaking new ground is the least concern on the disjointed album. Then comes out "Chime", which works like a ravenous, spastic flashing bull, ragingly attacking the listener with various club friendly stabs, with Tomoe riding on top, playfully singing alongside the violent gores, with a few childlike chants thrown in the mix. Once the energetically ravenous track ends, out comes a very brief reprise of "Kurukuru Mirakuru", which has a snoozing effect to it, which effectively works as an audio beam to bring the listener back to the real world, officially launched outside of the crazed Tomoe world, with a few violent stabs in tact from the goring a few minutes ago. But, in Tomoe's world, you don't pour blood per-se, you just bleed rainbows, frantic bright lights and oversized Japanese dolls, officially symbolizing your 47-minute stay in Tomoe Shinohara Land.
In short, the album is tremendous at its attempt at blending various electro styles with a maniacal styling of an overly eccentric Japanese teenage girl. One of the major downfalls of the album is that at times, it can get dizzying... very dizzying. Especially going through the first 41 minutes of the album, and then being greeted by a spastic array of objects thrown dizzily in your direction, while a ravenous, spastic flashing bull charges towards you with Tomoe singing childishly among the chaos. However, the album sure as hell is a great rush, and is a brilliant work of introducing what happens when avant-garde pop and various electronica styles have a violent collision. The girl who emerged from the steam and muck from the collision: a shiny, colorful, adorable, ultra-eccentric, bubbly, slightly-psychotic, rhythmic, charismatic teenage girl.
That girl... is Tomoe Shinohara.