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Rina Sawayama – Sawayama

Written by on February 9, 2021

Japanese-born British singer-songwriter Rina Sawayama began her solo music career in 2013.  Seven years later, she would release her debut studio album, titled Sawayama, on April 17th, 2020.  A deluxe version would follow on December 4th, which included two more singles, acoustic versions, remixes, and bonus tracks.  One listen-through of this album will tell you that Rina aims to push the boundaries of the “alternative” genre label her album has been given.  In an interview with Apple Music, she calls the album “a deeply personal genre-fluid exploration.” Being said to be influenced by 90s R&B and Pop sounds, Nu-Metal, and Dance-Pop each song on Sawayama is a unique experience.  

The album opens with “Dynasty,” a dramatic, bold piece complete with full strings and flowing vocals that intermingle with driving metal-rock instrumentals.  Upon my first listen, I started relating the sounds to other artists rather than genres since each track had so many layers.  “Dynasty” reminded me of Evanescence with the combination of graceful vocals and metal instrumentals.  The metal influences are revisited with the track “STFU!,” which plays with expectations by pairing chaotic metal beats with a calm, cool, and collected chorus. 

Just as the listener has adjusted to the sound of “Dynasty,” Sawayama shifts gears into the club-pop world of “XS” and “Comme de Garçons (Like the Boys).”  The artists I related to these tracks were pop phenoms Dua Lipa and Britney Spears.  “XS” offers a more familiar sound, as it pulls influence from ‘90s pop and R&B, and “Comme de Garçons” plays off of this motif with more of a funky, dance-pop production and driving synth bass.  There is a recurring theme with many tracks on Sawayama that starts to show up in these tracks.  This is the addition of unexpected sound effects in the background.  They fit so seamlessly into each track that they almost act as easter eggs for the listeners.  

“Akasaka Sad” shifts the influence to more of a Billie Eilish style, something that I would label “moody electropop.”  However, it would not be out of place in a club alongside its predecessors.  The unexpected production effects are still quite present in this track and pair well with the electronic feel.  But just as quickly as we arrived at a new sound, we’re jolted on a detour into what I can only describe as a “sparkling electro-bubblegum-pop” recount of Rina’s childhood. “Paradisin’” is just as surprising as it is fun to listen to.  The childhood stories that make up the verses coupled with the upbeat feel, saxophone solo, and key change up into the last chorus make for a perfect storm of nostalgia and youthful enthusiasm.  

The next track quickly revisits the R&B influences from earlier in the album.  “Love Me 4 Me” takes this theme to new heights, as it incorporates sounds reminiscent of 90s boy bands into the existing R&B influence. Truly a funky and fun self-love anthem.  “Bad Friend” and the subsequent interlude are next up, heralding a mood change into more emotional lyrics.  While I would categorize “Bad Friend” as a pop ballad, the production on this track provides some interesting electronic influences, similar to Zedd’s production.  Later in the album, “Chosen Family” brings back this theme with thumping bass and raw, emotional lyrics, with a little bit of synth reminiscent of that used in “Fireflies” by Owl City sprinkled in. 

“Who’s Gonna Save U Now?” takes the reins to usher in an unadulterated pop-punk party.  Not only is this track full of energy and fire, it’s produced to sound live, complete with crowd cheers.  In a time when live concerts (and live recordings) are on hold, this track provides a bit of that experience to listeners in the meantime.  “Tokyo Love Hotel” brings us swiftly back into the land of pop influence, with a “main character song” feel.  Rina’s vocals are embellished with sparkling production and sound effects in the background once again.  Rounding out the original album is “Snakeskin.”  This impressive closer features stunning vocals that use a snake-charmer-esque melody to lead into the familiar club-pop we have seen earlier in the album.  This is paired with an EDM-style breakdown later in the track, which is then contrasted by a classical piano outro as a nod to the vocals in the beginning.  

Now, as we look at the tracks added on the deluxe album, there are four brand new tracks as well as several other remakes of songs that I mentioned previously.  The four new tracks include two singles: “Lucid” and “Love It If We Made It,” and two bonus tracks “We Out Here” and “Bees & Honey.”  “Lucid” is the first single up, and it brings us back to the club-pop and R&B influences that have been prevalent throughout the whole album and definitely reminds me of Ariana Grande’s work.  Following “Lucid,” “Love It If We Made It” plays with the pop influence as well, reflecting the sounds of Reputation-era Taylor Swift.  It is a powerful “stadium song” that almost demands the volume be loud when listening to it.  “We Out Here” showcases the club-pop and R&B influences one last time, playing with electronic harmonization production and the 90s Brintey Spears sound.  Finally, “Bees & Honey” revisits the punk pop themes with an edgy yet upbeat, Avril Lavinge style.  It makes for a carefree, wild, and fun ending to the album. 

The first song that I heard from this album and from Rina Sawayama as an artist was “XS,” when it’s music video was suggested to me on YouTube.  I was intrigued by the way that the pop sound that I was familiar with had been almost “amped up” by the surprising guitar riffs and use of background sound effects.  Once I checked out the album, I was not disappointed to find that every song on the album was just as interesting and intelligently crafted as the first.  If you are someone who enjoys many genres and songs that have layers to them, I highly recommend this album!  Each song holds surprises that keep the listener engaged and interested while not being so chaotic or avant-garde that it lacks relistening value.  It is all-in-all a beautiful, diverse, and well-produced album.  I look forward to seeing what Rina Sawayama releases next!

Favorite tracks: Dynasty, XS, Paradisin’, Tokyo Love Hotel, and Snakeskin. 

Rate: 10/10.