Review Summary: Sigure's latest reflects a decade of fine-tuning rather than reinvention.
Ling Tosite Sigure’s unique sound is a double-edged sword: it gives their spiraling prog-pop an immediately arresting quality that’s distinct among an increasingly uninteresting Japanese rock scene, but there’s always the risk that the group is going to burn out and fall victim to stale repetition. Given how marginally their sound has changed over the past decade, the band has seemed to teeter on the edge of staleness for the past five years or so, yet have always managed to deliver one fantastic release after another.
Although I approach each successive Sigure release with trepidation - particularly considering that they’ve been releasing singles and TK’s solo material at an ever-increasing rate - with Es or S, Ling Tosite Sigure have once again managed to dodge the bullet and put out another solid release.
It still baffles me that such a musically-intricate group continues to put out best-selling albums and anime theme songs without compromising their integrity, but Sigure pulls it off with impressive consistency. Sigure have always been faced with two options: innovate by pushing further into their progressive tendencies, or become poppier and more accessible. They’ve almost always chosen the latter, yet it’s rarely worked against them.
Although Es or S closely adheres to the style established on 2013’s excellent I’mperfect and last year’s singles, a better comparison might be the group’s previous mini-album, Feeling Your UFO, released almost a decade earlier. I could understand longtime fans being discontent with Es or S, but for someone who had never listened to the band before, Es or S would probably be the much more compelling release.
Over the past decade, Sigure has honed their songcraft to razor-edged perfection, putting together intricate songs that flow much more naturally (and concisely) compared to their early releases. And the pop hooks soar over the turbulent instrumentation and song structures, giving Es or S’s tracks greater immediate appeal, with the intricacies of each track revealing themselves over time. Sigure does this amazingly well; the only issue is that some fans will probably be disappointed that Sigure seems to be more preoccupied with crafting the Perfect Version of their music, rather than pushing off in a different direction.
“SOSOS" sounds like a cross between 2013’s "Beautiful Circus” and last year’s “Who What Who What," but offers up plenty of tasty riffs in its own right. When comparing it to the likes of what the band was doing a decade ago, it’s clear that Sigure has come a long way from the clunky hooks of a song like "Azayakana Satsujin” or the abrupt transitions of “Sadistic Summer." "Mirror Frustration" is a trancelike song along the lines of “Can You Kill A Secret?” from 2010’s Still A Sigure Virgin? and offers some of Es or S’s best moments. Karma Siren is a serious contender for the best song on the album, with plenty of guitar buzzsaw guitar riffs and innovative twists.
Unfortunately there’s a sense that TK is running out of ideas for vocal melodies, and during several points on Es or S one gets the sense that we’ve heard TK sing this exact same stuff before, which especially pops up in “End Roll Fiction." This is a problem that extends to the lyrics, which seem like they could have been produced via a Ling Tosite Sigure mad-lib. Fortunately, there are plenty of impressive moments on Es or S that compensate for any limitations in TK’s vocals. Sigure’s dynamics in particular deserve praise: their unpredictable blend of loud and soft moments, and everything in between, establishes them as far ahead of the average emo-influenced rock band, as they seamlessly blend a whole prog rock epic’s worth of moods into a single pop song.
Es or S doesn’t do much to change Sigure’s sound, but when the results are so well-executed and consistently compelling it’s hard to fault them for choosing to do one thing really, really well. Although an album taking full advantage of the group’s progressive tendencies would be more than welcome at this point, Es or S is a solid addition to Sigure’s discography and is sure to make plenty of new fans.