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Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012
Tokyo Jihen "Color Bars"
Special to The Japan Times
Tokyo Jihen's first five albums have titles relating to types of television programming, "Sports" or "Variety" or "Adult." The Shiina-Ringo-led group's sixth album, though, is titled "Color Bars," after the rainbow lines that grace the TV screen during technical difficulties or dead-air time. It's a fitting title, as the band announced in early January they would be breaking up after a nearly nine-year-long career following a farewell tour that concludes in Tokyo on Feb. 29.
"Color Bars" does a good job summing up the group's end. After a fruitful run, Jihen finishes on a lackluster and jarring note, in the form of a 20-minute mini-album that's sonically all over the place. It's a strange conclusion, but one featuring a few songs that should remind the Japanese music world what they will be losing.
Each of the five songs on "Color Bars" was written by a different member of the band, thus giving all the players in Tokyo Jihen one last moment in the spotlight. Ringo's contribution, opening track "Konya wa Karasawagi," ("Much Ado About Nothing Tonight") finds her operating within her wheelhouse of slinky jazz-glazed pop in search of a 1960s spy movie to soundtrack. It's less immediately satisfying than some of her previous Jihen forays into this style — check out "Nodoteki Sanpunkan" ("An Active Three Minutes") on fourth album "Sports" — but it's still a swinging number that ends up a highlight here.
The other members don't fare as well. They aren't strangers to taking the lead, as Jihen's past three albums have featured everyone contributing music, yet the offerings on "Color Bars" mostly fall flat. Ichiyo Izawa's "Kai Horadasuto" ("Horror Dust") is a bouncy rock song content to run in circles, while the Seiji Kameda-penned "Time Capsule" skirts the line between inoffensive ballad and J-pop sugar water. Closer "Honto no Tokoro" ("Actually") offers up a better case for stopping drummer Toshiki Hata from ever singing again than I could ever put together.
Yet among all these misfires sits "Sa_i_ta," an early contender for Japanese song of the year and a reminder of why Tokyo Jihen mattered so much. Written by guitarist Ukigumo (real name Ryosuke Nagaoka), it's a gyrating bit of cyber-funk full of great little touches — the band's backing vocals, Ringo practically hiccupping after her lines and an affecting Vocoder breakdown. "Sa_i_ta" documents a last experimental hurrah from Jihen, one of the few groups capable of finding a home in the upper echelons of the Oricon charts while actually trying to push Japanese music forward. "Color Bars" isn't a fitting finale for the band, but features enough unique moments to remind people just why the band mattered.
Tokyo Jihen play Yokohama Arena on Feb. 14 and 15 (6 p.m.;  3405-9999); Osaka-Jo Hall on Feb. 21 and 22 (6 p.m.;  6341-3525); and the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo on Feb. 28 and 29 (6 p.m.;  3216-5100). Tickets for all shows cost ¥8,888. For more information, visit www.emimusic.jp/tokyojihen.