I can’t be sure because I certainly haven’t heard everything, but Shiina Ringo seems to be one of the first successful signs of Japanese underground music beginning to cross over into the mainstream. I spend a lot of time listening to experimental music that stresses form and sound, but Shiina’s ‘Karuki Zamen Kuri No Hana’ is a pop album, 11 songs symmetrically arranged around the central 6th song and single ‘Stem’ with corresponding, mirroring song titles, and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve listened to it in the last eight months. Unlike most Jpop which carefully refines the essence of American & European pop styles, her music is a strange fusion of cabaret pop and jazz that simultaneously connects traditional Asian instruments (kotos, shamisens, chinese opera percussion) with the best of the current Japanese underground: striking, constantly morphing, densely edited instrumental arrangements that occasionally turn corners into unbelievable fields of noise that wouldn't be out of place on an Otomo Yoshihide record: The choruses on this album get loud in a way that American rock music hasn’t figured out how to yet. I hear the distinctly Japanese zeitgeist at work in the use of noise here, which is mirrored by the use of traditional instrumentation (something that is largely just not done in J-Pop, outside of the occasional anomaly like Kihohiko Senba’s brilliant Haniwa All-Stars project) -- but here they all are somehow, seamlessly fused in a rock context, ancient modern strange.
In 2003 she decided not to follow up with another solo album, but instead formed the hyper-commercial band Tokyo Jihen. This mp3 is the last song from her ‘final’ single Ringo No Uta, a new song stitched together from samples taken from every single song of her solo career, a 4:45 long piece of self-plundering plexure pop. Even the lyrics are assembled from cut-up fragments. This might not be the most representative introduction, but it’s certainly the maximal one.