Dirty Hit – 2020

Welcome to the genre-blending world of Rina Sawayama

After nearly 3 years since the release of her debut mini-album RINA, Japan born, London raised pop-rock singer Rina Sawayama returns with her first fully fleshed out musical statement. To say that this album takes influence from different musical spectrums would be an understatement. The 2000’s pop hooks of Christina Aguilera get thrown in the mix with the pounding guitar riffs of Evanescence, whilst blending occasionally with 80’s arena power rock to make a fusion of sound that still manages to sound unique to Sawayama.

The album kicks straight into sixth gear with the epic opening ‘Dynasty’. A track that explores themes of trying to break free from your heritage and realising that although it will always be a part of you, you don’t have to be suppressed by it. “The pain in my vein is hereditary, Running in my bloodstream, my bloodstream, And if that’s all that I’m gonna be, Would you break the chain with me?”. It infuses these epic rising synths in the verse with the blistering heavy metal riffs in the chorus that break down into this screaming guitar solo. This is also the first instance of many where Sawayama’s incredible vocal performance shines through as she hits these huge high notes during the guitar solo that reaches an epic feat as she follows it note for note.

Bleeding into the track ‘XS’ the heavy metal guitars appear only momentarily during the chorus with these big descending riffs that juxtapose smoothly with the confident latino-pop groove and sparkly synths of the verse. It then returns in full force on the track ‘STFU!’ which breaks into a grinding metal verse that only gets angrier and more potent as the track progresses. The chorus line of “Shut the fuck up, Have you ever thought about taping your big mouth shut?” brings back the glittery synths and calm beat as if Sawayama is trying to ask nicely, but when the person not respecting her doesn’t listen she shifts back into the dense verse, eventually turning ugly and descending into a classic metal growl. Similar to Poppy’s ‘I Disagree’ album, these tracks aren’t afraid to fuse to vastly different worlds into one.

We then take a walk away from the compact underground hardcore show and into the nightclub with the track ‘Comme Des Garçons (Like The Boys)’. Slowing down the pace, allowing us to dance with its groovy bass line and intermittent joyous samples of ‘Woo!’ which has all the confidence of a recent Dua Lipa track, and its dance-floor prowess. Similarly the track ‘Love Me 4 Me’ throws in another R&B induced bass line, groovy beat and classic pop chorus. If the track wasn’t produced as well the lyrics could come off as gimmicky with a line that feels like its been said a million times “You wanna love me for me, If I made it, I made it easy”. But thankfully the confidence that Sawayama brings to the track allows these feelings to feel genuine.

This confidence only builds on the track ‘Akasaka Sad’ and ‘Paradisin”. The former with it ground-shaking groove, glitchy beat and punchy chorus. And the latter with its euphoric chorus, exploding saxophone solo and humorous lyrics. “Making out, feeling carefree, But then his phone rings and Your number’s on the screen “Oh fuck”.

‘Akasaka Sad’ is also a testament to the crystal clear and highly versatile production throughout most of this album. Glitchy drumbeats, carefully chosen processed vocals and a rolling bass line that all standout and punch hard within the mix. There’s only a couple of let down moments production-wise. The track ‘Tokyo Love Hotel’ which whilst has a great rhythm, everything feels slightly too blown out on the chorus to offer a huge level of distinction in the chorus. And ‘Who’s Gonna Save U Now?’, a love letter to the 80’s power rock ballad, is presented in a strange ‘fake-live’ way where the audience screams are added into the background, almost as if the tracks trying to justify itself with fake audience approval.

Sawayama gets her most intimate and introspective on the tracks ‘Bad Friend’ and ‘Chosen Family’. With lyrics about losing touch with someone who you once shared a lot of time with, feeling bad that you haven’t maintained the relationship. “Guess we fell out, what was that all about? Maybe I overreacted, well maybe you shouldn’t have, God it’s insane how things can change like that, Don’t even know where you are”. And in parallel to that ‘Chosen Family’ is about feeling like someone you’re close to but not related to is like family “We don’t need to be related to relate, We don’t need to share genes or a surname
You are, you are, My chosen, chosen family”. From the hard hitting first quarter to the dancehall groove of the middle of the album, these tracks whilst the most personal come away as the least memorable. Repetitive lyrics, obligatory guitar solo and simple chord progressions leave these tracks feeling slightly underwhelming compared to what we’ve already heard Sawayama is capable of and don’t really offer anything progressive over their shared 7 1/2 minute run time.

Closer ‘Snakeskin’ brings back the epic build up from opening track ‘Dynasty’ as layers of synths are slowly piled on top of each other of distant trap-like beat. But the build up and pay-off don’t offer the same level of drama that the opener did and eventually leads to a slow fade out of piano that for what this ride started out as, feels a bit too tame. The sun has risen on your night out and it’s over before you’ve realised.

There are moments on this album that perhaps should be refined, or shed their skin as Sawayama puts it. But for most part it offers as a great platform for her to leap from into the world of exploring what her sound is. With so many different directions and areas of sonic potential, it will be interesting to see where Sawayama goes next.

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