Seiko Oomori, a Japanese singer-songwriter that I have written about before, has had a really productive year. She’s usually recognized by her high-energy music and unpredictable voice, and you’ll get more of that on her recent album “PERSONA #1”, even though some aspects of it is different. PERSONA #1 is a “self-cover” album, in which Seiko has made her own versions of songs she previously has written for other artists. Because of this the songwriting approach is different: there isn’t as much experimentation and explosivity as in her usual solo works, and it feels like some of her crazy personality is missing, even if it absolutely hasn’t disappeared.
The original songs, that were written to artists like Sayumi Michishige, ℃-ute and You’ll Melt More!, sound good and suit the targeted artists well. They make the songs sound nice and comfortable, because they are mostly nice, comfortable and more or less conventional artists. Now, when Seiko Oomori sings the songs herself, they get a whole new energy. Her unique voice and vocal style make the songs more rough, and some intangible factor makes them more “Seiko Oomori-like”. It just instantly gets more interesting when she’s on a song. Even if the instrumentals are almost the same in both versions, Seiko’s versions kind of feel like new songs. Short conclusion: Seiko Oomori knows exactly how to compose songs to others, but they still get slightly better when she sings them herself.
You can somewhat hear/guess that Seiko has written these songs. But it still isn’t really like her regular material. Chords and melodies feel familiar but the characteristic chaotic energy is a bit evened out. Not gone, but toned down. This makes PERSONA #1 a special album: here we see a more poppy, mainstream and service-minded Seiko Oomori. During her career she has mostly been known as an unique alternative artist, a genius who goes her own way, and who expresses things like no one else does. Sometimes you see her scream on stage with only an acoustic guitar, if you read her lyrics you may get convinced she’s an emotional trainwreck, and she gives an overall impression of being pretty careless. So when I listen to PERSONA #1 and hear a toned down Seiko Oomori who is a bit understandable, who totally understands the audience and also caters to it completely, I’m even more impressed by her artistic qualities than before.
This duality has been seen in Seiko Oomori ever since she started her idol group “ZOC” (for which she is the leader and writes all the songs for) in 2018. She has since embraced the pop genre completely and been as active in pop music as in alternative music. She seems to genuinely love the marketing, image and economic aspects of pop as much as the artistic aspects, so there’s no doubt she’s in it for real and without cynicism. Earlier this year, ZOC released “PvP”, an impressing album that keeps creativity and song quality at a high bar throughout 90 minutes and 22 songs, and while ZOC is at the punkier end of the idol spectrum, what they do here is still more approachable than Seiko’s solo career. “PvP” gives a big taste of ZOC’s uplifting pop/rock music, which has both similarities and differences with Seiko’s solo music. The biggest difference is how ZOC is more service-minded and less sentimental than solo Seiko. If you at anytime hear a bit of sentimentality in a ZOC song, it’s probably a produced and manufacterad feeling, and not the 100% true angst that you get in Seiko Oomori’s solo songs.
The pretty surface-focused idol pop genre has both strenghts (very cute) and weaknesses (generic at times), as does the more honesty-focused indie music (in some cases: more depth, but more sad). Luckily, Seiko Oomori does both! To hear the indie Seiko, listen to “Kintsugi” or any of her other older albums, to hear the pop Seiko, listen to “PvP” by ZOC. And if you want something in between, listen to her last album PERSONA #1.