What comes to mind when you hear the word "anti-idol"? BiS? Babymetal? How about Oomori Seiko?
"Oomori Seiko? Who's Oomori Seiko?" you might say, with a confused frown on your face.
Or you know exactly who I'm talking about, but work with me here. Oomori Seiko, curious reader, is a singer-songwriter that's been making her rounds in the underground scene since 2012. After two indie albums and a handful of other releases, she got signed onto Avex trax and released her first major label single, Kyuru Kyuru, in September 2014. That's purely quantitative information though. As an indie artist, Seiko's known for her emotional, acoustic songs and having a voice that sounds like a dying cat. What she lacks in voice though, she makes up for in lyrics and emotion. Her emotional, raw indie music along with her ear-catching composition were what made Seiko grow on me. Seiko also has a huge love for idols. For her career though, Seiko takes a lot of visual cues from idols while putting her own emotional, sometimes strange or morbid spin on idol music. Think Togawa Jun but girlier. So is Seiko a bonafide idol? A singer-songwriter using idol music as a springboard? Frankly, I do not care. Her third album and her first one under a major label, Sennou is out, and I want to review it. After months of reviewing mediocre albums, I need an album I can talk about! And trust me, I can talk about Sennou. Let's do this.
1. Zettai Zetsubou Zekkoucho
An album opener can either set the tone for the rest of an album, or be a weak-ass intro that could have been cut out of the final product. For Sennou, Zettai Zetsubou Zekkoucho is very much the former. Zettai Zetsubou Zekkoucho first few seconds are like the calm before a storm, with the beating of a drum signaling the start of three minutes of pop insanity. From there, Zettai Zetsubou Zekkoucho is a whirlwind of pop and rock. I love every minute of Zettai Zetsubou Zekkoucho. I love the energy, I love Seiko's vocals, I love the instrumental, this is a perfect album opener. I really love the pace of it too. This is a super fast song, and listening to it gives me such a burst of energy. This is kind of what I imagine a musical sugar rush would sound like. Zettai Zetsubou Zekkoucho takes Oomori Seiko closer to pop than her last two albums. Keep that in mind, because Zettai Zetsubou Zekkoucho is only the tip of this pop juggernaut of an album.
2. Imitation Girl
An EDM song!? From Oomori Seiko!? That can't possibly work!!! But Imitation Girl works perfectly, and it's one of if not my favorite song on Sennou. Hell, this might be my favorite song I've heard this year. What does Imitation Girl have going for itself? For starters, it's an electropop song and a damn good one at that. I am already a happy passenger on the electropop train, so hearing Seiko's composition combined with electropop is a happy, happy surprise. I will admit, I keep typing Imitation World out of instinct. Funny enough, Imitation Girl sounds nothing like the unreleased Perfume song. Imitation Girl is a bubbly, catchy electropop song. For Imitation Girl, Seiko also brings in idol group Miss ID to sing the backing vocals in the chorus. I do like the inclusion of Miss ID; I wonder if they'll go anywhere in the future! As an electropop song, Imitation Girl is the perfect blend of hooks, instrumentals, and vocals. Dare I say perfection?
3. Kyuru Kyuru
Seiko's first A-side under a major label! In hindsight, Kyuru Kyuru gave a pretty clear indication of how Sennou would sound. In short, Kyuru Kyuru is insane. If I had to sum up insanity with a song, Kyuru Kyuru would fit my criteria like an old t-shirt. In the wave of good, but not great, singles, Kyuru Kyuru is a standout, and even amongst all the other crazy songs on Sennou, it's just as much of a standout. A majority of what makes Kyuru Kyuru sound so crazy is how Seiko sings. She reminds me a lot of Togawa Jun in Kyuru Kyuru. Seiko sings, screams, speaks, all she needs is an operatic bit then she and Jun can go make an album together. Actually... that would be amazing. Daydreams aside, Kyuru Kyuru is an infectiously festive-sounding song. After the two equally crazy songs starting out Sennou, Kyuru Kyuru keeps the crazy going and does so perfectly. Now though, it's a time to tone things down... to journey into the land of nostalgia.
4. Nostalgic J-pop
Well, Nostalgic J-pop is one intriguing title. I wonder just how far back Seiko means when talking about Nostalgic J-pop. Given Seiko's age, maybe she's referring to J-pop from the late eighties and nineties? Like Shiina Ringo perhaps? Nostalgic J-pop sounds like something from Shiina Ringo's early days. Nostalgic J-pop definitely has this older, calmer sound to it compared to the hyperactive first three songs on Sennou. While the step back in energy is a little jarring, I do like the change in sound with Nostalgic J-pop. This is a very pretty song, and it sounds like a blend of old and new. Sort of how someone looking back on music from their childhood and enhancing all the best qualities of it then bringing in something new. Times like this I lament my lack of fluency in Japanese. I'm really curious to read the translation of Nostalgic J-pop. For the moment though, I'm content. Nostalgic J-pop is a sweet song with a healthy scoop of sentimentality.
5. Nana-chan no Saisei Kouza
We start with a sample! Some old-timey sample that sounds like something from the fifties or sixties. Anyone listen to Plus-Tech Squeeze Box? That's the kind of sample that kicks off Nana-chan no Saisei Kouza. I adore Plus-Tech Squeeze Box, so by all means, let Oomori Seiko sample all she wants in Sennou! The rest of Nana-chan no Saisei Kouza is a perky little song has kind of this old-timey classical vibe, like something you'd hear in a 1960s commercial for soap. But of course, Seiko puts her own spin on Nana-chan no Saisei Kouza. The song dips between soft melodies and boisterous percussion. I love music that does it, and Nana-chan no Saisei Kouza has just the right dynamic. Adding to the list of catchy songs on Sennou that I get the feeling is only going to grow, Nana-chan no Saisei Kouza is catchy as hell. It could be a commercial jingle. Maybe one day Seiko will get enough recognition to get her songs used for commercials!
6. Kodomo Ja Naimon 17
You know what I love? Happy songs. I know I review a lot of doom-and-gloom groups that tend to release some pretty heavy stuff, but at the end of the day, I love a shiny, happy pop song. A pop song that just radiates happiness. The only problem is happy pop songs that hit just the right chord with me are so hard to come by. Maybe that's why I love Kodomo Ja Naimon 17 so much. I mean, that and it's a really good song. Kodomo Ja Naimon 17 is a bright song and one of my favorites off Sennou. Of all the songs on Sennou, Kodomo Ja Naimon 17 feels like one of the more straightforward J-pop songs. I could easily see Kodomo Ja Naimon 17 being an idol song. It has that upbeat, swinging melody that so many idol pop songs have. Hell, throw some jingle bells into the instrumental, and Kodomo Ja Naimon 17 could be a Christmas song! I could listen to Kodomo Ja Naimon 17 all day; it's such a cheerful song!
7. Noroi ha Mizuiro
Nostalgic J-pop may have felt like a step back in energy, but Noroi ha Mizuiro is a good ten steps back. For Noroi ha Mizuiro, Seiko tones down the craziness, relying on mainly acoustics along with a few miscellaneous sound effects. Like with Nostalgic J-pop, the placement of Noroi ha Mizuiro makes the song work. Nana-chan no Saisei Kouza and Kodomo Ja Naimon 17 were two really upbeat songs. In contrast, Noroi ha Mizuiro is a ballad, and a very pretty one at that. I will admit, it's not my favorite Oomori Seiko ballad, but Noroi ha Mizuiro fits in well with the rest of Sennou. Right in the middle of the album, Noroi ha Mizuiro is like a very relaxing break from all the craziness of the first half of Sennou. It's also a preparation for all the craziness to come in the second half of Sennou. The instrumental's my favorite part of Noroi ha Mizuiro. I do think the vocal arrangement could have been better, but Noroi ha Mizuiro is still a strong song.
8. Rock’n’Roll Paradise
Truthfully, I was not sure if I was going to like Rock'n'Roll Paradise when I first played it. By the end though, I loved it. Rock'n'Roll Paradise starts off sounding like Oomori Seiko recorded herself in concert. Kind of a weird way to start a song, but oh well, weirder music exists. I think a more accurate title for Rock'n'Roll Paradise would be Rock'n'Roll/Pop/Electropop/Whatever Sound Effects Are Lying Around Paradise. There's quite a bit going on in the instrumental of Rock'n'Roll Paradise and almost as much going on with the vocal arrangement. Parts of Rock'n'Roll Paradise remind me of Imitation Girl, like the instrumental break. Even the chorus has a some of that upbeat, dreamlike quality Imitation Girl thrived with. And what's a rock'n'roll song without some rock'n'roll? I wouldn't call Rock'n'Roll Paradise a rock song, but it uses elements of rock to create a splendidly catchy song. I'll go on and add it to my favorites list. It keeps growing.
9. Watashi ha Omoshiroi Zettai Omoshiroi Tabun
One of two B-sides off of Kyuru Kyuru. I'm a little sad that Ura didn't make it to Sennou, but after listening to the entire album, Watashi ha Omoshiroi Zettai Omosiroi Tabun fits better than Ura. However, I should warn you: Watashi ha Omoshiroi Zettai Omoshiroi Tabun sounds like fifty different songs all crammed into one song. I usually hate when this happens, and I wasn't a huge fan of Watashi ha Omoshiroi Zettai Omoshiroi Tabun when I listened to Kyuru Kyuru. However, on Sennou, the song works a lot better than I'd expected it to. I love the energy Watashi ha Omoshiroi Zettai Omosiroi Tabun has. Seiko reaches Togawa Jun levels of vocal variety in this song. She switches between so many different singing styles and sounds at such a rapidfire pace. By the time Watashi ha Omoshiroi Zettai Omoshiroi Tabun ends, I'm practically breathless. Watashi ha Omoshiroi Zettai Omosiroi Tabun may take getting used to, but give it time.
10. Kiss me Kill me
If I had to pick a least favorite track... it would be Kiss me Kill me. Wait! Don't start throwing things yet! The scale of bad to good on Sennou is a very narrow one, and Kiss me Kill me is still a pretty good song. The quirky opening with the whistle and the piano is an attention-grabber, but when Seiko starts singing... The song chills out a little more than I would like. After Watashi ha Omoshiroi Zettai Omosiroi Tabun, Kiss me Kill me can be a nice little breather song, but even then, I never listen to this song 100% satisfied. Maybe if Kiss me Kill me was on another album, it would be one of the more standout tracks. But up against the level of quality the other songs on Sennou present, Kiss me Kill me falls a little shorter compared to all the other songs. I wouldn't call Kiss me Kill me a waste of a listen; Seiko plays around with some cool instruments like the whistle, piano, some cymbals later in the track. Nonetheless, Sennou has better songs to offer. Like...
11. Yakiniku Date
I sincerely thought Yakiniku Date was going to be a ballad. I was mistaken, but I was not upset. Because Yakiniku Date is awesome. True, the piano solo in the beginning is absolutely beautiful, and this song would have made a beautiful ballad. But instead, Yakiniku Date gets louder and louder and crazier and crazier. My favorite part about Yakiniku Date is the way the song progresses. The song's structured kind of the way Watashi ha Omoshiroi Zettai Omosiroi Tabun, whiplashing from sound to sound and somehow not sounding like a train wreck. Or maybe Yakiniku Date is a train wreck. But if so, it's a fun one. Musically, Yakiniku Date speeds in ten different directions and sounds strangely dreamy the whole time. My favorite part is the wonky bridge after the first chorus; I'm not sure if I'm hearing a synthesizer or a theremin, but I love it. I love the entirety of Yakiniku Date. This is definitely one of my favorite tracks on Sennou, and picking favorites is hard.
12. Date ha Yameyou
Oomori Seiko's first two albums (released on an independent label) were mainly acoustic. Just Seiko, her guitar, and her emotional voice. Date ha Yameyou would fit right in on either of those two albums. Date ha Yameyou is a short, but sweet acoustic song. Hearing a song like Date ha Yameyou on Sennou is extremely refreshing. Don't get me wrong, I love all the other songs on this album, but Date ha Yameyou stands out. It's raw and stripped down. After eleven heavily processed songs, Date ha Yameyou is a wonderful return to Seiko's original sound. Her voice may not please everyone's ears, but Seiko on acoustic guitar is when you can hear the emotion in her voice best. She doesn't reach levels of wailing like she does in some of her other acoustic songs, but Date ha Yameyou is still a worthwhile listen, especially if you enjoyed Mahou Ga Tsukaenai Nara Shinitai and Zettai Shoujo.
13. Omake♡Super Free Pop♡
We've reached the end of Oomori Seiko's pop spectacle, and closing out Sennou is a six-minute song. Omake♡Super Free Pop♡ is an interesting little song. It has a lot of the dreamy, classical sounds some of the other tracks like Nana-chan no Saisei Kouza and Nostalgic J-pop have. But Omake♡Super Free Pop♡ is also kind of trippy. The first half of Omake♡Super Free Pop♡ is pretty enjoyable normal. Seiko sounds nice, the composition is pretty, and I love how the chorus sounds. Then around the halfway mark, Omake♡Super Free Pop♡ sounds like it's about to end. But it doesn't. The last half of Omake♡Super Free Pop♡ sounds like Oomori Seiko decided to go crazy and record whatever she wanted in the studio. Not knowing this would happen the first time, I listened to Omake♡Super Free Pop♡ half impressed and half frightened. While it gets a little weird at the last pard, Omake♡Super Free Pop♡ is still a great album closer.
There was a lot of love put into this album.
Most of the albums I have reviewed in 2014 were pretty disappointing. While none of the albums (save for one or two) were outright terrible, every album I listened to this year felt... lacking. Like the group in question could have done better but instead achieved for mediocrity. Nothing this year made me go, "Wow, this is a really amazing album." Until now. For an artist or in this case an "anti-idol" to create a genre-bending pop album, I think there has to be a level of appreciation for pop music. Sennou is an album that twists itself in a zillion different directions. Sometimes the album veers into electropop, sometimes acoustic, sometimes rock, sometimes dream pop, but the thread tying all these genres together and making them work is Seiko herself. Each song is bursting with Seiko's personality, from her voice to her lyrics to her scatterbrained composition. Sennou is equal parts parody and homage to J-pop. From the traditional sounding but lyrically dissonant Nostalgic J-pop to the catchy electropop Imitation Girl, every song on Sennou stands out and demands to be listened to. This an album that both celebrates and parodies all the many facets of J-pop.
Sennou is very much a J-pop album. Compared to Seiko's first two albums, Sennou may come as shocking turn with its heavy production. The only two acoustic songs are Noroi Ha Mizuiro and Date ha Yameyou. For some, Seiko's change in direction might seem too different from her already high-quality early work. I'd be mad about that if Seiko wasn't so good at doing J-pop. Sennou offers J-pop that sounds exuberantly different. I wish more J-pop artists put this much passion into their work. I can hear the effort put into making this album, and that makes me so happy. There's heart, there's energy, and there's consistency. Sennou showcases Seiko's style and personality while also providing thirteen memorable J-pop songs. I have a hard time naming what my favorite track on Sennou is because every single song on this album is so well-done. Coming at the very end of the year, Sennou by far makes up for all the lackluster albums of 2014.
Sennou rightfully deserves five apples. I am more than thrilled at how Sennou turned out. Every song on this album is worth a listen, but my personal favorites are Zettai Zetsubou Zekkoucho, Imitation Girl, Kyuru Kyuru, Nana-chan no Saisei Kouza, Kodomo Ja Naimon 17, Rock'n'Roll' Paradise, Watashi ha Omoshiroi Zettai Omosiroi Tabun, and Yakiniku Date. So basically everything. I hope Seiko goes places in the future. She has the music and the personality for it.