What better time and reason to exit a comfort zone than with celebrating one’s birthday? Actually, this isn’t much of a stretch for me because I did the same thing last year, but dammit, I’m turning thirty-one on the eleventh and I plan to celebrate all of my birthdays until 2025 like I’m turning thirty all over again. Besides, last year’s haul ended up containing my pick for the best album of 2016, and mayyyyybe this year will as well? (Spoiler: it won’t.) Anyway, let’s get this weird experiment started with a follow-up to one of my favorite albums of last year.
For the uninitiated, Ai Shinozaki is a Japanese idol, a concept that doesn’t really have an equivalent in the West but basically amounts to a media personality who dabbles in acting, singing, modeling, and laughing during talk shows (that’s a job, apparently), usually focusing on one aspect when they strike gold but otherwise meandering between jobs. Shinozaki has been a very successful model, which made the astounding quality of her debut album, Eat Em and Smile, all the more surprising. I think I was kind of cool on that album during the write-up, but to be honest, I listened to it likely more than any other album last year. It is light, sure, but it got under my skin in a way that most pop only hopes to, and that smoothes out a lot of problems like not being able to understand the majority of what the lead singer is talking about.
So, does the follow-up EP, Love/Hate, have a similar magical quality? I’ve given it a whole bunch of listens, and I’ve settled on “maybe”. Smile was a grower, and only time will tell if Love/Hate has similar longetivity. One thing for sure is that it is far stranger than Shinozaki’s first album. I’m unable to ascertain what this album is about from the lyrics (and there are no lyrical breakdowns of this because seemingly no one cares enough to), but I’m going to guess that this is a somewhat-conceptual EP whose first three songs are about the glory of falling in love and the latter three tracks are alternately about heartbreak and rejecting love. My hypothesis doesn’t have strong legs to stand on, but that’s the only explanation I have for why this album begins with three straight-up pop tunes and ends with a dance track, pseudo doo wop, and…ska?
The first three tracks (“Peppermint”, “True Love”, and “Itoshii”) could have easily been sequenced into Smile with no issues, but things get interesting with “Yukiataribattarinokoi”, a dance track with a mean crunch that recalls mid-Aughts Britney Spears that is so gnarly I’m surprised it isn’t a single. “Waruineko” pairs things back to piano and drums while Shinozaki coos about stuff, things, and other things (I should learn Japanese). Logically, this leads into “Kuchi No Warui Onnna”, which is just ska. It’s good ska, though, which is surprising because I hate ska. Maybe this works because it ain’t a white boy singing it? Yeah, that’s probably it.
All signs going forward seem to be that Shinozaki plans to continue making music, and I see that as only a good sign. She’s two for two with good releases that have snappy hooks and exhibit a willingness to explore different soundscapes than her peers. You’d think this sort of thing would get more press.VERDICT: OWN
You may have noticed that the embedded videos aren't of Ms. Shinozaki's work. Has she not made videos for her songs? Nope, she totally has, and they're available to watch on YouTube, but I can't access them because I don't live in Japan. There's more here, but the short version is that Japanese labels hate YouTube RED. I'd have embedded from VEVO if I could, but I can't because VEVO hates all of us. I don't like having these columns consist of just walls of text, so I've taken to implementing a unique approach. Take this as fair warning for the next few columns.
Read past editions of Own It or Disown It.