Review Summary: An 'ePop' ClassicRINA
is a record that perfectly encapsulates the cynicism, optimism, anxiety, and wonder of a world integrating itself deeper with social media, online relationships, and escapism through online personas. What Sawayama presents is a debut that is emotionally complex and genuine, whilst simultaneously having some of the most fun any single pop record can offer. A winning combination with extended thanks to Clarence Clarity’s masterful production. What makes RINA
such a glamorous masterpiece is that it really doesn’t matter what you’ve came to this record for, you’ll find something to love. Rina and Clarence are a match made in heaven, each providing intelligent writing deeply engraved in some of the most effective and catchiest pop bangers in the pop music sphere. Even with the record being so heavily rooted in the 90s, this record is by no means one that requires rose-tinted glasses to appreciate. Clarence Clarity gives each track layers upon layers of intricate sound design, lifting instrumental elements from his very futuristic debut No Now
to give each track a very distinct sound. It does enough to make RINA
feel as though it doesn’t actually belong to any single time period, even with the obvious cues from the late 90s/early 2000s pop aesthetic.
is as a record is an unapologetic product of the internet, ePop if you will. It’s a mixing pot of envelope pushing themes on top of production that borrows heavily from childhood sources and modern aesthetics from an online culture obsessed with both the best of the past and the bold new directions modern music finds itself moving towards. Influences such as Christina Algeria and Britney Spears are duly noted in Rina’s nasal-toned “diva” banger “Take Me As I Am”, with familiar nods to Rodney Jerkins’ signature synth stabs along with a smooth Maroon 5-esque guitar lick that pronounces the subtler vocal samples and vast, twinkly atmospheres of the song’s low end mix. Rina Sawayama recontextualizes many of the songwriting trends of the sources she takes from and their themes of strong independence to present a narrative of a marginalized minority finding solace in online communities while struggling to maintain a sense of reality.
It makes the choice of the PopY2K aesthetic being the groundwork for this record feel very deliberate. As in this period of pop music history, music critics called this time of record breaking female recording artists dominating the charts and girl groups giving birth to some of pop culture’s biggest names as a new frontier for bold and independent (in the spiritual sense) female recording artists. So to see a truly independent recording artist present themes of depression and alienation through this specific sound, it creates an air of irony between the sound and the material that is infinitely enjoyable. And the best part of all is that none of these themes or its ironic existence overpower the production and the “jams” aspect of the record, nor do any of these thematic elements feel underdeveloped or unfocused.
is that rare release that manages to tread the line of complexity and accessibility to make a record worth listening to and worth talking about. Clarence Clarity shines not only with his inhuman production and ear for stuffing each track with so many catchy and intricate details, but for how heavily his work bleeds into the themes and concepts Sawayama puts on display with this record. As Clarence himself is a heavily thematic focused songwriter, each of his instrumental cuts are appropriately matching in mood while the small intricacies of his layered production compliment the ideas Rina presents on each track.
“10-20-40” gets this point across perfectly. As the darkest track on the record it leads with a quick guitar-laced intro before easing into a simple, frantic key loop. Rina sings sternly as sporadic drum beats, a subtle bass lick, and glitzy synths punctuates her ideals of seeing no worth in herself as an individual when there are billions more on the earth, using driving metaphors to punctuate how everyone else is passing her by and she sees no worth in slowing down. The chorus, a simple repeat of the phrase “10-20-40/Happy-sad-crazy-numb”, is a direct reference to the dosages of antidepressants. Which is then followed each time with an off-beat, deep voice repeating each word, gradually pointing to the slow building numbness inside Rina’s mind before the track concludes with a vocal layered climax that resonates Rina’s desperation as she justifies anti-depressant abuse through a haze of heavy guitars, frantic, pulsating drum beats, and synth stabs.
Every choice on Clarence’s end as a writer and producer is deliberate, existing to serve Rina Sawayama’s envisioned narrative, and it just so happens that his choices resulted in a handful of the catchiest pop tunes ever crafted by human hands. From the spazzed out flute/guitar solo in “10-20-40” to the key changes in “Afterlife” or the ploppy drum beat build up in “Cyber Stockholm Syndrome” that leads into the ethereal synths of the track’s chorus and the post-chorus harpsichord moving in rhythm to Rina’s paused vocal flows. Every minute of this record builds off already effective foundations and goes the extra mile to place small sound effects, vocal samples, and instrumental stabs to create absolutely blissful instrumental tracks that compliment Rina’s heavenly vocals and thematics every step of the way.
There is no doubt in my mind that Rina Sawayama’s debut will be looked back on not only as a strong pop record for 2017, but as one of the best pop releases of the entire decade. It’s difficult for any single artist to fit as much approachable complexity into one single, incredibly small release, but Rina’s large ambitions as a musician and Clarence Clarity’s inhuman production just about results in an absolutely perfect and equally important record worth remembering in the years to come.