Wednesday, January 15th, 2020

Tokyo Jihen – The Lower Classes

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Ryo Miyauchi: Tokyo Jihen sound like they never left, partly because Japanese alternative rock has sounded like Tokyo Jihen for quite some time. Shiina Ringo and gang join the crowd of hipster musicians pitching the sound of tomorrow by re-contextualizing Showa-era sounds with today’s genre-agnostic sensibilities. “The Lower Classes” stands out for its hyper-current lyrics about the noise of technology that brush against the retro-obsessed music. Despite how delightful Ringo makes the smartphone lifestyle sound — “one click, one touch, one chance” — she prefers to log off and experience something real. Her voice is surprisingly restrained during those small moments of catharsis, retreating quickly into the calm, collected funk. But her restraint is a wise choice: she comes off less didactic and more a grand observer in a sea of millions, happily distracted by everyday noise.

Ian Mathers: “What if everything, but too much?”

Joshua Minsoo Kim: I adore Shiina Ringo and Tokyo Jihen’s music to bits, but this comeback doesn’t quite satisfy. For one, it doesn’t have enough of Shiina’s voice — the quavering and built-in tension of her vocalizing always adds color to even the tidiest of compositions. Furthermore, “The Lower Classes” builds to a delightfully messy ending that doesn’t quite climax. Given the loping and hookless first half, the payoff is disappointing.

Alfred Soto: Where’s Shiina? I can’t hear her through the smushed-up faux funk.

Iain Mew: There’s not a lot of restraint in the song, so it’s disappointing that one thing that is sparing is Shiina Ringo’s vocal contribution. The hyper guitar section is a moderate compensation. 

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The moment about half-way through “The Lower Classes,” where the jazzy backbeat drops out and a tidal wave of synthesizers flow in, is stunning. It’s psychedelic and organic-feeling, a musical moment that feels like your consciousness expanding in real time. It’s a real-time reframing of the song, retroactively making the tight grooves it is surrounded by sound more virtuoso, the vocal interplays all the more playful.

Tobi Tella: The back-and-forth works perfectly and the song balances smooth and groovy without overstaying its welcome.

Brad Shoup: Casually flashy is a great look for prog-pop; I suppose I’m old enough that this technocratic uber-confidence soothes me, like indulging in a daydream. I love the passage with staccato harmonization, their voices literally and metaphorically synthesizing. It’s all a treat, really: the sudden stylistic changeups, the way everyone knows when to play up the futurism and when to scuff it up. I’ll take this over Annie Clark’s ongoing panopticon job in a heartbeat.

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