Review Summary: The first pop knockout of the year: another overload for REOL
Reol is one of those face-value artists who thrives off the adrenaline and overload of the moment - every
moment. Her pop is not the kind that you put on to feel smug and write rambling thinkpieces about, say, the American zeitgeist; she’s a voice for uncomplicated, obnoxiously infectious good times, beyond which any preconceptions are best left at the door. It’s theoretically possible to navel gaze for hours about the strength of her writing partnership with whizkid producer GigaP, or to mull over what particular combination of electro pop/hip-hop/house/trap/K-pop/influences suit her best, there’s no pretending to be clever with this music and the only serious question on the lips of those waiting in line for a new REOL album is whether or not these tunes slap
like there’s no tomorrow.
Since laying down an electro pop benchmark in 2016’s Sigma
, Reol and GigaP have been coming out with a steady, generally reliable stream of supercharged bangers spread across as many compatible styles as they can cram their pockets with. They’ve had a good run marked in the margins by slightly diminishing returns - not enough to bring their later releases down outright, but sufficient for raising an eyebrow in the direction of their latest full-length Kinjitou
. The singles “HYPE MODE”, “Phanto(me)” and “1LDK” were all presentable tracks but a little short of the star calibre laid out in the past by the likes of “Gekihaku” or “YoiYoi Kokon.” I broke my own rule and went into Kinjitou
with the cynical preconception that this could easily be the point at which things started falling apart for REOL; a probable mess with the occasional knockout track seemed like a reasonable expectation. So, to return to that all-important question, does it slap?
Fortunately enough, yes. Most definitely so. Kinjitou
is a compact, intense listen that lets barely a second of its thirty-five minute runtime go to waste; if an album that short contains two interludes and both feel almost overly cursive, you can tell the fat’s been trimmed. Is this impressive? Let’s call it impressive. It plays out as REOL’s most cohesive album to date, a little short of Sigma
’s creative bombast but mercifully a long way from the identity crisis of 2018’s hit-or-miss Jijitsujou
. These tracks thrive off one another’s similarities and differences alike, borrowing from a shared sense of momentum that makes the album an exhilarating experience end-to-end. It shows the trademark brashness and microscopic production focus of Reol and GigaP’s best work and can comfortably be viewed as their best work since Sigma
and the Endless EP
Curiously, however, many of these tracks lack the same force when heard in isolation, hence the initially underwhelming singles. This release feels largely album-centric and gravitate towards the same sense of individual supermassive highlights in REOL’s usual style. The main reason for this is stylistic. Where Sigma
was a mesh of pop-affiliated subgenres and Jijitsujou
borrowed from dance, cabaret and, in one particularly unfortunate case, metal, Kinjitou
leans resolutely into hip-hop. This defines it to such an extent that it would almost have been better to introduce it as such to begin with if it weren’t for the opening run of tracks and REOL’s established status as a pop act. The upshot is overall positive: Reol’s husky voice is a strong fit for GigaP’s percussive arrangements and the production is as pyrotechnic as anything released under the REOL name. However, the album’s obligatory focus on beats and flow leaves it a little short of the sugary pop antics that rendered past efforts so overblown and entertaining. Reol herself gets the brunt of this, as her performance is largely dictated by the rhythm and she isn’t able to launch into the kind of hysterics that made “DetaramE KiddinG”’s two-phase bridge such an überdramatic smackdown or “New Type Tokyo”’s chorus one of the funnest launchpads for vocal modulation to appear in the field. As a result, these tracks are somewhat leaner than past fare and rely on an ongoing sense of sassy intensity rather than saccharine motherloads, hence their healthy interdependence.
This isn’t to say that Kinjitou
is without its perks as far as the sum of its parts is concerned; as is tradition for this act, these tracks are packed with twists and thrills galore. “Hameln”, for instance, starts out with a spaced out house palette and gives Reol space to show off her chops in the album’s most emotive moment, but the track is restless throughout its first half. GigaP eventually loses patience and drops a well-placed breakbeat to drive the remainder of the track through to a satisfying end. On the other end of the spectrum is “insider”, which stakes a hard-eyed claim as the most intense REOL track to date. This track embraces a much more austere, heavyweight hip-hop sound that Reol sees off with an explosive performance only hinted at by past tracks. It’s a different kind of overload to the pair’s usual fare; this project will usually flirt with multiple styles for the benefit of one well-executed cheap thrill after another, so it’s rare to hear them go all-in like this. “Dali” follows on in a similar vein, but with more flair and colour as epitomised by its frankly disgustingly energetic ska chorus; these two songs make for the album’s most explosive point, a nucleus of momentum for the tracklist either side of them.
All things considered, Kinjtou
is a successful reinvention that blows my doubts out the window and marks REOL as one of the most reliable forces in maximalist, crass pop from the last few years. It’s as obnoxious and forthright as you’d expect from Reol and GigaP running through the hip-hop gauntlet, and while it isn’t quite as catchy or dramatic as their poppier fare but it manages to be equally infectious: an impressive feat. Goodness only knows where these two will turn their hand yet, but for the time being Kinjitou
is ample material for those who like take their pop thrills thick and fast.