Tokyo Jihen Kyoiku

[Toshiba EMI; 2004]

Styles: Japanese pop/rock
Others: Sheena Ringo, Bonnie Pink, Blanket Jet City, Hikaru Utada

How long does it take for a band, genre, or style to get old? A question that hardcore music fans inevitably consider at some point in their listening career. But it's fairly simple, really. Being an audiophile demands progression, so after you've listened to all those Radiohead and Strokes records, where do you turn? The discovery of more experimental material usually evolves from this sort of dilemma, when there emerges a craving for something fresh. Most sink their teeth into far-out obscurities until, at some point, being challenged takes a comfortable seat in front of being entertained. But then what? Like most things, the process of absorbing music is largely cyclical, and before long you're back where you started, looking for the next fix. In 2004, Tokyo Jihen represented this regression for me, as well as a sort of balance between my long separated musical vantage points. I'll explain.

If you frequent Tiny Mix Tapes, you may or may not know that I am a fan of Japanese exports. And if you have ever become fascinated with rare and foreign musical gems, you are probably familiar with the 'grass is always greener' theory. Combing these two elements with the search for all things 'new', it's easy to abandon rationality and trick yourself into prescribing to complete bullshit just because of its obscurity. Well, with their debut, the fairly polished pop album Kyoiku, Tokyo Jihen had me questioning my rationale as well as my listening intent. Formed by Japanese pop star Sheena Ringo (who happened to be fresh of the heels of her most experimental, exciting album, 2003's Karuki Zamen Kuri no Hana) Tokyo Jihen had quite a lot to live up to.

On my initial listen, I enjoyed Kyoiku, but felt slightly disillusioned. It was moderately experimental in comparison to Karuki Zamen Kuri no Hana, and I marked the two singles as the standout tracks. Essentially, the album had several mainstream trappings that my jaded persona would have usually ripped into. But I was initially reserved in my criticism, almost hesitant to dislike it. The first single, Gunjyo Biyori seemed the perfect J-rock track, but its high energy perks were balanced by the cliché guitar riffage of songs like "Crawl," which did little to serve the album as a whole. In light of my diffused expectations, I quickly became self conscious; wondering if I was playing mind games as a biased, irrational enthusiast. Perhaps because of this 'inner turmoil' (deep, isn't it?) I spun Kyoiku repeatedly, determined to cast an objective eye. In the process, well, I only became further addicted. Though still hesitant to vocalize any opinion, I quietly embraced the album's accessibility, its grandiose arrangements, and all its eccentric, unrestrained energy. Sheena's compositions weren't overtly complex, but they contained elements ranging from Sinatra jazz to impressionistic piano interludes.

Under the guise of a high energy pop record, Kyoiku's scope had been obscured. And while still somewhat jagged in its flow, each song alone could be viewed from two perspectives: One of bright eyed naivety, and one of smirking competence. Tokyo Jihen had managed to streamline their musical knowledge in a way that could be enjoyed without being fully understood, and I quickly realized that my initial confusion had resulted from these conflicting positions. The naïve, 'simple pleasures' side of me was clashing with the more refined listener I had become, and letting the two stances coexist was awkward. Unsurprisingly, I enjoyed Kyoiku the most when I stopped looking at it through a critic's eye. A simple solution, I know. But like I said, the process of absorbing music is largely cyclical, and after soaking up so much, it's hard not to adopt a muddled perspective. My hope is that those of you without the psychological baggage will be able to enjoy Kyoiku for what it is; a solid J-rock album. As for me, well, I think I've learned my lesson. On to the next fix.

1. Ringo no Uta
2. Gunjyou Biyori
3. Jyusui Negai
4. Sounan
5. Crawl
6. Genjitsu ni Oite
7. Genjitsu wo Warau
8. Service
9. Ekimae
10. Omatsuri Sawagi
11. Bokoku Jyoucho
12. Yume no Ato

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