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Album Review: “SO2” by Shinichi Osawa

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Shinichi Osawa’s new album, SO2, is a sugar-coated, break your teeth, take two Tylenol in the morning summertime escapist masterpiece. Well, that’s it for the review. Thanks for reading!

The moment I heard it was released in Japan, I knew I had to have it imported. No stateside worries though, his first album, The One, was eventually released in America and for like half the price, too. Pushing the obligatory hype aside, it’s an album that has something for everyone. The only downside to such ambition is that a timid listener might turn away and an electro purist might be disappointed. An open-minded listener, however, will absolutely love this entire project.

Here’s my breakdown of the songs and album highlights:

“Love Will Guide You”
From the first few notes of the first song, the album shines with unusual, retro, pop-electro happiness. Though this is supposed to be a single, it’s already pulling the listener down a steel tube-slide surrounded by a kaleidoscope of colors. DJ Tommie Sunshine lends his vocals, making this song feel fuller halfway though. This is feel-good, sugary, Diabetes inducing summer goodness. If you don’t like it the first time, you will the second time, and third time, and possibly the fourth time.

The next two songs, “Sylkill” and “Zingaro,” buzz with the same sugar-encrusted sound, but with plenty of disjointed, glitchy notes to make your head-spin (in a good way).

“Heart Goes Boom”
Featuring the uber-catchy indie dance group The Black Ghosts, this song will not disappoint as a fan of either or both musicians. A much slower, mellower, more danceable track, probably Osawa’s first radio-friendly song of the bunch. The lyrics are simple and memorable and by the end, you will be singing along. Like the first track, this one is pure summer delight and should be on the iTunes playlist for anyone having a back porch get-together. You will definitely impress by playing this.

Check out the sample music video for “Heart Goes Boom”

The album takes a sharp transition from sun-soaked summer jams to deep club mode with the heard-hitting “Pianoctro” and “Technodluv.” The latter is an insane snare drum attack not to be missed if for nothing other than novelty (or a super late-night club eruption). “Button!!” is a great interlude connecting everything we’ve heard thus far, a steady, groovy breather before the next track.

“Singapore Swing”
An energetic follow-up to “Technodluv” and “Pianoctro,” but way more accessible and catchier. This stand-out track feels like familiar Shinichi Osawa territory. This heavy dose of synth is nicely interjected by a really light, almost humorous tone that just jackpots the whole tune. There is no way you can avoid dancing to this.

Following “Singapore Swing,” are two directly related songs, “BBG BBB” and “Morphy.” The latter has a old-school vibe that caps the energy of this album while reminding the listener that this is meant to be listened to pool-side. The next song, “Paris,” is incredibly chill and sets the tone for the rest of the album. It’s a good stand-alone song with a salty, electro sway. It sounds like melting ice, a basket of olives, a golden drink leaving a ring on the counter top. Tastes like it, too.

Here’s the “BBG BBB” video.

“London (Homes Not Where You Lay Your Head)”
Shinichi Osawa has proven himself on this album that he’s capable of producing any genre of electronic from the energy soaked “BBG BBB” and this ultra-cool track. The singing here feels rich, the synth thick but not overpowering, the lyrics substantive. This song takes a serious side, too, by being one of the few tracks with lyrics and the only one in which the lyrics are not largely inconsequential. If home is not “where you lay your head at night,” then indeed, this captures the message of this album very well. This song highlights a motif of searching, longing, discovery and insecurity. As an album, SO2 is all over the place – reassuring, off-putting, vibrant, mellow. This album has gone around the world and asks for very little in the end track.

Sure enough, the final song, “Thank You For Your Love,” feels like a send-off, an ellipsis. The light piano synth seems to be struggling to stay alive. The repetition of “Thank you for your love” comes in and fades out, an act of desperation. This could equally be a final farewell or the promise of something even more grand in the future. If Shinichi Osawa continues on this path of breaking through the boundaries of electronica, of discovering new sounds and new presentations, of being a beacon of light in a genre of music that often gets lazy or comfortable, then this album certainly ends on a hopeful note.

Extras
The Deluxe Edition of SO2 comes with a DVD featuring music videos for every song and a “remix album” by “Off The Rocker,” which is Shinichi Osawa and Masatoshi Uemura. The DVD provides an excellent visual experience, which, in some cases, makes me like the songs more. “BBG BBB,” “Technodluv” and “Singapore Swing” were my personal favorites.

Here’s the sample video for “Technodluv.” The angry-face bears
make me love this song way more than I probably should.

The Off The Rocker album is not so much a collection of remixes, but a continuous mix of the songs. This 45-minute disc is totally worth the extra price. Each song is pieced together perfectly with absolutely no filler. I actually prefer this over the “official” album because every song just works in the context of this compilation.

Context is the key to enjoying Shinichi Osawa’s new album, SO2. For that reason, the album is worth a listen. And if you don’t like it the first time, you will the second time, and third time, and possibly the fourth time.

I got my copy of the album from amazon.co.jp, but it’s a bit pricey to import and I assume it’ll come out stateside eventually.

Until then, look for the tracks on YouTube, or his MySpace page. Also, be sure to check out his web site.


Matt ‘McG’ Markgraf is the host of Weekend Energy on 91.3 WKMS. Tune in Saturdays from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. for two hours of the best techno, dance and electronica from around the world. It’s the loudest show on public radio! Visit the Weekend Energy page on the WKMS web site.

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