Shoso Strip (Sheena Ringo)

Sheena Ringo is ticked off, but you probably wouldn’t know that from talking to her. Shoso Strip presents the world of a disenchanted person who claims her life is a pun (“Benkai Debussy”), thinks her lover is like Kurt Cobain and questions if that makes her like Courtney Love (“Gips”), and blatantly states that she could die tomorrow (“Tsuki ni Makeinu”). The lyrical themes of the album come across as indifferent, but Ringo’s music is anything but that; it’s explosive, passionate and unpredictable. While composing Shoso Strip’s tracks, Ringo may not have been confident in the direction of her personal life, but she sure was confident with her music.

Shoso Strip’s unpredictable nature makes it so compelling. At times, it feels like some frequencies on the album might blow out the strongest of speakers, especially on the vocals on “Benkai Debussy’s”. Conversely, rock anthems such as “Gips,” which reached number three on Japan’s singles chart, sound tailored for the radio. And then to change things up again, the second after “Gips” ends, “Yami ni Furu Ame” does a complete 180 and greets listeners with a menacing violin introduction.

Lyrically, “Gips” fits well into the album’s theme of discontent and uncertainty. Ringo sings to her lover in English, “I wana be with you.” In Japanese, the word wana means “trap.” So she wants to be in this relationship, but also worries if it will emotionally entrap her. On “Identity,” she sings the innocent lyrics, “Who am I?/It’s just that I can’t help being afraid…” over music that sounds like a sped up, alternative take of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box.”

Shoso Strip seems to be inspired by Bjork’s 1995 album, Post (and its cover definitely inspired by her 1993 album, Debut). Both artists’ music have a tenancy to bounce around, presenting alternative rock layered with booming drums, screeching violins, disharmonious guitar explosions and other sudden instrumentations.

Alternatively, Shoso Strip is likely a clear influence for the quickly-rising indie star, Mitski. In interviews, the Japanese-American musician acknowledged that J-pop has helped shape her work. Shoso Strip was released when Mitski was ten years old, so it would make sense if she listened to this album during her formative years. Compare Mitski’s 2016 hit, “Your Best American Girl,” voted the 16th best song of 2016 by Pitchfork, with Ringo’s “Tsuki ni Makeinu.” Both have gentle, acoustic-backed verses with similar choruses practically drowned out by distorted guitars.

If I were to show someone the essence of Sheena Ringo in one song, “Tsumi to Batsu” would be the clear choice. It exemplifies her indie anthem prowess, has her signature moments of cacophony and distortion, and contains enough energy to power an entire town. What makes this song so strong is that it consistently upstages itself. It opens with a high, voice-straining wail, similar to how John Lennon began “Twist and Shout” at Beatles concerts. After the instability of the first verse, Ringo unleashes an impossibly smooth chorus, one that many composers could only dream of writing. Despite clocking in at over five minutes, it feels like a triumph every time Ringo reaches the chorus.

Most of the songs on Shoso Strip are memorable rock anthems with just enough quirkiness to bring its listeners back for more. More than that, Ringo welcomes us into both of her worlds: the bizarre, but musically compelling one, which can be difficult to understand, and the surprisingly commonplace one to which we can all relate.

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