Album Review: Rina Sawayama - Sawayama

The term 'genre' is becoming increasingly meaningless as music continues to develop. It used to be fairly easy to categorise music, to put each band into the correct pigeon hole of genre that their music fitted into. Nowadays, as artists continue to experiment and mesh their influences together, it is getting more and more difficult to simply put a label on them.

With this in mind, let us introduce you to Rina Sawayama. In 2017, as an unsigned artist with no label support, she released Rina, a mini-album which made such an impact that she was then snapped up by Dirty Hit records ahead of the release of her full-length debut, Sawayama. A hot prospect, then, and despite this being her debut album, there was a hype surrounding this record. Would she deliver on her promise, or would it be a disappointing affair?

She delivered.

Whilst her influences are clear to see, with the likes of 'XS' and 'Comme Des Garcons' being ripped straight out of 2003, there's a unique vibe to this record. Sawayama delivers her vocal lines with the confidence of a successful pop artist on their third record, not their first. She can be soft and tuneful, like she is on the beautiful 'Chosen Family', but she also has an attitude, a swagger, which comes through on the likes of 'XS'. It's a wide range and not an easy task by any means, but Sawayama makes it seem so throughout.

There are a few weaker tracks dotted in places. 'Paradisin'' doesn't really do anything special, and nor does 'Tokyo Love Hotel'. But then, this is a 13-track album, and besides, there is more than enough on here to make up for it. 'Dynasty' is a fantastic opener, huge in size, 'Bad Friend' is a melancholic reflection on being a bit of a dick to your supposed mates, and 'Love Me 4 Me' is a classic upbeat pop tune. So far, it may sound like a good pop/r&b record, so where is the genre fusion? Well, here's what makes this particular "pop" record unique: somewhere in Rina Sawayama is a heavy metal artist wanting to spread her wings, and she makes no secret of that on here. It's clear right from the start, with 'Dynasty' using some damn heavy guitars (including a solo), 'XS' following up with brief metal bridges, and the opening trilogy of songs ends with the fiery 'STFU!', which is an out-and-out Nu Metal song. It's raw, powerful, unadulterated; yes, the bridge is slightly poppier, but this contrast only serves to make the guitars sound that much heavier, and towards the end there's a Chester Bennington-esque scream. No-one expected this on a seemingly straightforward pop album, and it pushes the boundaries in a way very few pop records have before it.

More metal-esque moments can be found, with harmonized guitars on 'Love Me 4 Me' and some brillant stuff on 'Who's Gonna Save U Now?', which uses excerpts of a crowd to give it a live feel. It works brilliantly, making the song feel live whilst also retaining the polish of a studio recording. A gorgeous blend of technical perfection and a live vibe. Skimming the record gives you the impression that it's a classic pop and r&b record, but by giving it the attention it so deserves, you realise that there's also a metalhead within Rina Sawayama and she's not afraid to show it. These truly metallic moments, interspersed within pop songs, make this record one-of-a-kind and gives Rina Sawayama her own identity. It's not done just for the sake of it either; this fusion works, undeniably adding quality to the songs. After reviewing quite a bit of metal recently, we wanted to do something a bit more mainstream again today. We didn't realise that we'd accidentally stumble across some hidden metal anyway. This record is brilliant, a promising debut from the young Japanese artist. The always-tough second album awaits, but for now, let's enjoy this excellent effort. If you're into the music of 2003, and by that I mean anything from Beyoncé to Linkin Park, this album will have something for you. A great debut.



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