Music Reviews

Artist: SHINTO (@)
Title: Sekai
Format: CD
Label: Echokammer (@)
Distributor: Wide
Rated: *****
"Sekai" is the fourth album by Hans Platzgumer and CaMi Tokujiro under the moniker Shinto. After meeting in Munich in 1998 the two set off for a joint Euro-Asian venture that has undoubtedly its own quirky originality. The electro-pop sound provided by Platzgumer is tempered by the melancholic disillusionment of Tokujiro’s lyrics – in Japanese – who casts himself as the storyteller/singer of dark tales of love and destruction. His voice is what contributes most to the feeling of "Sekai",which despite its poppy undertones leaves the listener with a sense of quiet despair. I find Tokujiro’s voice a double-edged blessing: on the one hand his bass, raspy rendition certainly gives a definite character to Shinto; on the other, it is far from the accomplished singing styles that Europeans are used to appreciate.
In "Sekai" Shinto have been aided by an additional drummer and percussionist, and the electropop texture is partly given an Oriental feel, for instance in the opening track featuring meditative flutes. But to tell you the truth I didn’t know what to make of this project at a first listening. Only after getting to know more of the lyrics and the stories they refer to, I started to develop a certain interest in Shinto. I learnt that "Hagoromo" alludes to a traditional Noh play of a fisherman and a dancing fairy. By browsing their site, complete with lyrics’ translation into English, I was able to delve into the political side of Tokujiro’s lyrics, tackling Chechen massacres, Guantanamo’s hidden tortures, as well as references to Japanese events, such as the 1923 earthquake, the plight of famous Japanese terrorists, the radical Aum sect and so on. Some of the lyrics and titles, moreover, are taken from the radical left-wing and anarchist tradition of Japan (Sakae Osugi... ). This is though what points to the CD’s weakness to my ears: I was more taken by the cultural and political stance of Shinto than by their music. Maybe it’s less a struggle for Japanese listeners who can relate immediately to the lyrical content... For me the listening experience has been alternately odd and bland.

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