Review Summary: Transcendental.
I've been on a certain musical journey lately, a quest to find the most transcendental/ethereal-sounding music in the world. It's fascinating to hear music that sounds completely out-of-body and brings us to the realms of fantasy, in which we may never want to come back to reality. So far, new age and folk have been doing the trick, as well as various works in jazz and ambient music. What surprises me, however, is that one of the most gorgeous examples of an otherworldly musical experience comes in the form of an early-2000s Japanese rock album. Shiina Ringo (also known as Ringo Sheena), however, is not your everyday J-rock/J-pop diva; while firmly rooted in J-rock in the traditional sense, she also combines a plethora of other genres such as jazz, classical, hip-hop, punk, you name it. What's really different, though, is the way she executes the work she creates, and Shouso Strip is no exception.
We could talk about how opener "Kyogen-sho" is a powerful hard rock number with a soaring vocal performance and a nice distorted bass sound to support the chilling jazz fusion-influenced guitar chords that lay above. We could talk about how "Gibusu" is a delicate piano ballad that explodes into a heavy-as-hell power ballad by the first chorus, and the nice variation in dynamics throughout the experience. We could even talk about how "Yami ni furu ame"'s heavy orchestral layering creates a vast soundscape for Ringo to work her diverse vocal chops over. However, as I said before, it's all about how everything is executed, along with how well it's combined as a whole work. First off, the dynamics really make a good chunk of this record's quality possible; whenever Ringo explodes into a powerful, distorted chorus, it gives you chills. As such, the buildup in ballads like "Gibusu" and "Izonshou" is always welcome, as it builds subtle layers of instrumental texture and vocal variety. However, the dynamics lead to the biggest thing about this album: the atmosphere. Behind the layers of distortion and high-energy vocal lines, there's a very airy and almost heavenly quality about the entire experience. It runs through every song, no matter if it's a punk-based number like "Byoushou Public," a dance number like "Yokushitsu," or one of the numerous ballads. However she made this atmosphere possible, it boosts this album to immeasurable levels of listenability and replay value. You're always listening to the album again to find what instrumental subtleties you missed, or just to experience those stunning transcendental choruses and intros yet again. The songs on this album were already great, but with the musical environments they're set in, they become enthralling.
Once you reach the ending of closing power ballad "Izonshou," there's not only the happiness from finishing a great album, but an impulse to revisit immediately and acquaint yourself more with it. Never before have I heard a musical experience so gorgeous; honestly, the record may never be replicated ever again. Sure, Shiina's released other fantastic albums that have garnered her acclaim, but this is the record where everything is absolutely perfect. It's an experience that you might not want to come back from; I sure-as-hell know I didn't.