Review Summary: I hate this field of vision that reflected you alone. It’s now a chance that I caught only a little of, Like the reflection of the days when I seem like I’ll tumble down.
Before breaking up in summer of 2012, school food punishment had proven itself to be one of Japan’s more consistent and forward-thinking rock outfits. Across three EPs and two albums, school food punishment espoused a unique electronic rock sound that had more in common sonically with avant-garde jazz than any kind of conventional rock music. This sonic direction can mostly be attributed to two of the band’s members: lead singer and guitarist Yumi Uchimura and keyboardist Masayuki Hasuo. Across all their projects, the group largely maintains a similar sonic palette and consistent lyrical themes of love, escapism and coping. And that’s not a bad thing: the group’s signature jazz-inflected electronic rock sound is one of the best genre-permutations this side of Kid A, proving to be a well of endless bounty for the group. Riff-rain follows their first two EPs, school food is good food and air feel, color swim. The latter EP spawned one of the band’s most successful singles, “you may crawl” and became how most of Japan learned of the band. So how do they follow such an immensely successful and well-regarded EP?
It’s immediately evident from the first song on Riff-rain, “Flow,” that the band has located its strengths and pulled them to the front. The song kicks off with the beautiful piano work of Masayuki Hasuo and puts extreme emphasis on the vocal work of lead singer Yumi Uchimura. The song itself is a midtempo piano-led ballad featuring some of the best vocal work from Uchimura up to this point. On the song, Uchimura likens the distance between her and the object of her affection to a body of water, and the five and six-beat meters in the song show just how indebted to jazz music the band really is. This song is followed by “Feedback,” another piano-led ballad that puts the spotlight on Uchimura’s transcendent vocals. In fact, this seems to be the approach of the entire EP, lending it a remarkable consistency that “air feel, color swim” in some ways lacked.
The synths on this EP are decidedly low-key, lending the tracks a sort of floating ambience that evokes a warm, summery feeling. Never are the tones icy or rigidly electronic, and this approach works perfectly in conjunction with the lyrics, which often address subjects of love and living. Standout lyrical tracks include “Egoist,” in which Uchimura laments the egotistical nature of a lying lover. The lyrics are poetic in their connections as she compares his narcissistic tendencies and her attempts to change him to yelling at a traffic light to change colors. The final track on the EP, “Over” ends using the same piano arpeggio that opens the album, creating a closed-loop of an experience that lends itself to multiple listens.
It’s moments like these that populate the entire EP. From the soft electronics and beautiful instrumental work from the entire band (with noteworthy bass riffs on almost every song by Hideaki Yamasaki) to the stunning vocal melodies and masterful lyricism, school food punishment’s third EP is easily on par with their previous two, and indeed may be one of their best artistic endeavors.