Oomori Seiko



by JohnnyoftheWell CONTRIBUTOR (63 Reviews)
February 23rd, 2019 | 3 replies

Release Date: 12/03/2014 | Tracklist

I’m not sure what convinced Avex Trax to offer Oomori Seiko a major label contract. Maybe they never listened past the first two poptastic tracks on the otherwise willfully challenging Zettai Shoujo. Maybe they thought they could work with the unbeat country twang of ハンドメイドホー* / Handmade Home from her quaint but unmelodious debut. Maybe (most likely) they saw the buzzline ‘anti-idol’ floating around her and reckoned they could sell it while it was hot. In any case, sometime in 2013/2014 one of the most bitter, tongue-in-cheek musical contrarians in Tokyo found herself starting out on what would inevitably an outright ‘pop’ album for a label renowned for all the ultra-polished saccharine J-pop excesses that had mostly seemed anathema to her early work.

The result was nothing less than explosive.

Sennou (literally ‘brainwashing’) is one of the most excessive albums I have ever heard. It is also every inch a pop album: the chordal, melodic and production choices are 100% commercial and contemporary. The twist is that through a healthy combination of ADHD-indicative songwriting choices and a prevailing sense of palpable excitement, Oomori Seiko covers a dizzying scope of ideas in a way that shows her playing with the style rather than attempting to master it in a sober, controlled fashion. Within each song, she does ‘pop’, then she does it again. And again. And again. She runs laps round it, borrows her favourite parts, reinvents them, pulls them apart, puts them back together, then gets bored, lets things come to a close and moves onto the next track. There may be debate on whether this counts as a stroke of genius or simply a gleefully tasteless endeavour to take pop maximalism to lengths few would have thought tenable, but either way Sennou comes across as positively inspired.

Nowhere is this more apparent than on the opener 絶対絶望絶好調 / Zettai Zetsubou Zekkouchou, which serves both as a mission statement for the rest of the album and a convenient litmus test to distinguish those who will adore this album from those who will despise every second of it. One of the first descriptions I read of Oomori’s music (and also the one that convinced me to check her out) was that she sounded like "Disneyland in hell", and I still struggle to think of a better way to pin this song down. It bursts out the floodgates with an enormously busy arrangement and a structure that seems to change direction ever four bars but still packs a chorus that will stick in the back of your brain for days. It’s like every single familiar instrument and melody from the entirety of J-Pop have been packed into one three-and-a-half minute tour de force, and the end product is predictably ridiculous and entertaining but also far more cohesive and engaging than it has any right to be.

This soon proves to be the most appropriate way to kick Sennou off, as the rest of its tracks display an eclecticism and energetic scope that constantly reinvents itself but still posits each song as a natural successor to the one before it. This leads to a somewhat intense experience with a flair for novelty that can occasionally seem volatile; there are points, particularly in the final five tracks, where it’s hard to pin down where exactly Sennou sits between careful pastiche and irreverent parody, but the core of the album avoids leaning on novelty as a crutch and is crafted with a strong sensitivity to what makes great pop music so enduring. きゅるきゅる / Kyuru Kyuru, *供じゃないもん17 / Kodamo Janai Mon 17, 呪いは水色 / Noroi Ha Mizuiro and (especially) ノスタルジックJ-POP / Nostalgic J-Pop are all fantastic pop songs with larger-than-life choruses, colourful arrangements and, most importantly, a whole load of heart.

It’s thanks to the strong foundation laid by these tracks that it’s so satisfying and convincing when things go off-piste later. 焼肉デート / Yakiniku Date and 私は面白い絶対面白いたぶん / Watashi Ha Omoshiroi Zettai Omoshiroi Tabun might as well have come straight out of Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory with their patchwork of unpredictable twists. The latter track starts out like the intro theme to a mildly edgy action blockbuster before snapping impromptu into the album’s most steroid-laden powerpop extravaganza, which then in turn switches to a comparatively ethereal (but still heavily synthesised) bridge. I’m not even going to try to map out the madness paced out onYakiniku Date but rest assured that it stands as one of the album’s most strongest picks. In any case, neither of these songs contain a shred of structural stability but they’re pulled off so brazenly that they sound all the better for it.

However, it’s the closer おまけ ~スーパーフリーポップ~ / Omake ~ Super Free Pop ~ that charts the album’s most head scratching moments. The track’s first half is seemingly carefree, but there’s a deceptive tension in its arrangement. The opening bars of ultra-staccato plucked harmonics overlaid with mellow slide guitar are melodically cogent but completely at odds with themselves as far as timbre is concerned. As the song flits between this bizarre foundation for a verse and a huge, panoramic chorus full of strings and backing vocals, its various tensions become more pronounced and infectious. It should sound like the perfect pop song, the culmination of everything Sennou’s accessible side has stood for. But something’s off. This is why it isn’t all that surprising when Oomori drops the ball halfway through and the song switches impromptu into a three-minute outro completely bereft of hooks and led only by jazz piano improv and vocal riffing that seems to chide the listener for ever forgetting how screechy Zettai Shoujo-era Oomori Seiko was prone to be. It’s hilarious, but also an unexpectedly necessary antidote to every single moment of sugary hyperbole contained in the preceding 49 minutes, and with that radio-proof palette cleanser that album ends.

It is the fate of every honest Oomori Seiko review to make time to (at best) explain or (at worst) excuse the role of her voice in the album in question. Put simply, J-pop has a particularly low threshold for the vocal ability of its female singers and there has never been a time when Oomori has not benefited from this. Her first two albums made no pretence of polish and her voice sounded at home there, but things are somewhat different on Sennou, with its newfound love of all things slick and glossy. On the most part, her vocals are a good counterpoint to the sheen of her arrangements and a firm reminder that Sennou represents a quirky young artist getting her big break, not a manufacturer getting a kick out of smashing tried and tested pop algorithms together. There are, however, points on the album’s less extravagant songs where the songwriting boldness is less overwhelming and I can’t help but think how much better things might sound with a competent singer behind the mic. The worst offender for this is easily きすみぃきるみぃ / Kiss Me Kill Me, but some other moments give me a similar feelings.

The idea of Sennou being put forward as a ‘perfect’ album makes me laugh. It’s a blast from start to finish and covers so much ground with such energy that it’s either the most infectious or the most irritating sound in the world, but it’s so deliberately volatile that it’s hard to approach it beyond its bold songwriting or face-value fun. Some might call it a masterpiece, and that label sits a little more easily, but as far as I’m concerned it works just fine as a technicolour rockettrip through every over-the-top impulse pop has to offer.

Top picks

Nostalgic J-Pop
Yakiniku Date
Zettai Zetsubou Zekkouchou
Omake ~ Super Free Pop ~
Kodamo Janai Mon 17

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user ratings (17)

Comments:Add a Comment 
Contributing Reviewer
February 23rd 2019


Album Rating: 4.0

This album is a *lot* and you should all hear it

Digging: BUCK-TICK - Atom Miraiha No.9

February 23rd 2019


i liked tokyo black hole.. will check this.
and nice review

Contributing Reviewer
February 23rd 2019


Album Rating: 4.0

Ta! Gonna write something for Black Hole sometime, that album's like all of this one's energy coming down to earth and sounding a bit smoother - they work pretty well as a pair

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