Review Summary: Not quite perfect, but close enough.
Rock bands have a lot in common with a nice pair of jeans, not limited to the way they change over time. Some artists are like a pair of pre-washed mall jeans - they come out fully formed and attractive at first, but they quickly fall apart and tear on their second, third, or fourth albums, and you realize they're not really worth the price you paid. Others are like crispy, raw denim - a little awkward and uncomfortable at first, but showing their full potential as they develop and gain character over time, finding their identity with each successive release.
But then there are other jeans - and bands - that don't fit either mold. Like Ling Tosite Sigure. If Sigure is a pair of jeans, then they're black denim with a purple weft that was woven on an ancient Japanese shuttle loom that looks like it fell out of outer space. Strange, unique, and with no clear indication of how they'll fade over time. If at all.
If Sigure's a pair of jeans, then eight years' worth of music suggest that they're well made and look good - but are very slow to change. How much does a band necessarily need to evolve? However you answer that question is probably going to determine whether or not you can enjoy Ling Tosite Sigure's new album – it will definitely determine how you read its title.
From one point of view, it seems like a step backward from Still A Sigure Virgin?, the band's most experimental effort yet. The sputtering glitchiness of Shandy and subdued eF were quite different from anything else the band had ever released. In comparison, i'mperfect is a straight-ahead rock album that gives us more of Sigure's astral power-rock, but nothing that really pushes the conceptual limits of what they've done before.
But Sigure hasn't so much de-evolved as they have branched into two different creatures. Singer/guitarist TK's quieter compositions, electronic influences, and experimental tendencies all came out in last year's solo album Flowering, which featured more studio trickery, overdubs, and extra instrumentation in comparison to his band's albums. It was the natural result of the experimentation that began on Just A Moment and Sigure Virgin.
I'mperfect, on the other hand, certainly contains its quieter moments, but they never last long, and overall it's probably the band's most aggressive album since their sophomore release Inspiration Is Dead. Beautiful Circus is a propulsive opening track with thermonuclear guitar lines and jetpack choruses, a song that requires many listens to absorb all its intricacies despite the immediate appeal. Abnormalize follows in much the same manner, albeit less memorable than the opening track. But there is a conscious effort for thematic expansion: Metamorphose and Sitai Miss Me are rich in haunting melodies that most other bands would never conceive in the first place. Most of the songs average slightly under four minutes in length, and despite the chaotic blend of suspended arpeggios, jagged funk chords, and entrancing choruses, everything sounds cohesive and consistent.
Maybe consistent is the best word to describe i'mperfect; it has a similar quality throughout that highlights weak points in Sigure Virgin's peaks-and-valleys approach. While that album had some of Sigure's finest moments, songs like Illusion Is Mine, eF, or Secret G aren't ultimately that memorable. Even if i'mperfect doesn't quite reach as high as previous efforts, there's no filler or glaring weaknesses, either.
Regardless, the album does have a few particular standouts. Filmsick Mystery starts out sounding nearly upbeat, with an incredible chorus that uses TK and Miyoko's back-and-forth singing to full effect. And Monster is almost unquestionably the album's highlight, with verses and choruses that all sound quite different from each other but somehow contribute to a coherent whole propelled by the ambiguous euphoria that characterizes Sigure at their best: watching the end of the universe from inside a collapsing star.
Kimi To Oku and Missing Ling constitute over a quarter of the album's running time but show that despite the band's trademark speed and aggression, they're also skilled at thoughtfully pacing their musical ideas across a longer running time. Missing Ling doesn't quite seem to reach the climax it suggests – just as the song seems ready to explode halfway through, it never quite manages to do it. But it's still a stronger track than most of their other songs like in the six or seven minute range, like Sergio Echigo or Boukan, which either felt repetitive or uneven despite flashes of genius.
i'mperfect probably isn't the best album of Sigure's career – it might be the most consistently good, though, and it's still a stronger effort than their debut #4, in which the band had a good grasp of their identity but hadn't quite developed the powerful melodic sensibility that's characterized their later works. Several years on a major label – even having Abnormalize featured as an anime opening theme – hasn't dulled Sigure's aggression. The songs are more intricately-played and deliberately composed than ever. Even if their style is slow to evolve, the band's unique blend of funk riffs, rumbling basslines, and ethereal, entrancing choruses is still exciting. Post-hardcore artists seem to run out of steam pretty quickly, but Sigure continues to release exciting music of a quality that demands the attention of anybody who wishes The Fall Of Troy hadn't peaked with their first album, or who wonders what would have happened if At The Drive-In hadn't broken up.
Like a stiff pair of black Japanese jeans, this band might be slow to change their colors, but they offer a unique hue not found anywhere else - and which you'll enjoy for years to come.