An Outsider’s Hero: Behind the Rebel Yell in Seiko Oomori’s Sprawling New Album
Some thoughts on the revered Japanese rock musician’s intense LP, kitixxxgaia, released this March.
Seiko Oomori gets to briefly escape from the pull of Tokyo in her latest album, kitixxxgaia. “I can be an idiot here, so I’m not going back home,” the J-pop singer-songwriter sings about her hometown in “JI-MO-TO no Kao Kawaii Tomodachi,” a giddy ode to her friends back home. And since her previous album, last year’s Tokyo Black Hole, became a critic’s favorite, taking a break from her life in the city seems more desirable than ever for her. Her busy, anxious rock became a great vehicle to release frustration built up within such a compacted community. But the album was rid with her disillusionment from her new place of stay, as if her likening the place to an all-consuming center of gravity didn’t make it clear from the get-go.
Peaceful as “JI-MO-TO” sounds, kitixxxgaia makes the case that nowhere’s safe for Oomori as she confronts social pressures beyond the borders of Tokyo. As her search for purpose grows in scale and rises in stakes, the music swells into a more sprawling form. Guitars scrawl with more fury. Horns, strings, and synths get filled to the brim. Outside personalities lend Oomori a hand whether it be an additional layer of guitar flair or a duet partner for a ballad titled “The Last Two on Earth,” expanding the record’s stylistic range in the process. She packs a lot in its restless hour-plus running time, and a majority of the songs feel as if they will fall apart at any given minute.
No matter how wild the ride, Oomori’s voice keeps it all together by a thread. Her voice has always ruled supreme in her music, and it continues to thrive as her music’s center of gravity. Though some efforts like her more nasal-toned sing-along with Ano of Yuru Meru Mo may be a hard sell more than others, her exuberance makes her an approachable guide to trust as one navigates through the crowded arrangements. She gets by “Hikokuminteki Hero,” for one, from sheer energy that trumps the roaring guitars, kicked into overdrive with the help of Noko of Shinsei Kamattechan.
Out of all the unique vocal takes in kitixxxgaia, Oomori’s raw screams remain the most exciting draw of her music. She shows it off right out the gates in “Dogma Magma,” in which she sings from the perspective of a deity who awakens as a mortal on Earth. She spits at the face of every ridiculous societal standard and shouts “fuck you” at the very people enforcing them. By the time her blood has boiled to its peak temperature, she’s smashing her trusted guitars and pianos into smithereens.
Oomori’s voice works as one tough, punk-rock weapon especially against such a beating backdrop of clashing music. But it also puts up a front of confidence that covers up the fact Oomori’s lost in her role as anyone else. As upbeat as she might sound together with Noko in “Hikokuminteki Hero,” she shades her verses rather dark with a mention of a fear of abandonment and dependency on others for fulfillment. She calls out for help in “Pink Methuselah” in hopes to a rid a feeling of complacency. And a hook of the bubbly “Positive Stress” grips tight to one poignant question: “Why don’t you know how I can help me?”
The posed question in “Positive Stress” is one of the many moments in where Oomori seems to break the fourth wall to ask you, specifically, for support. It isn’t the first time she directly addressed the listener in her music: She wrote “Magic Mirror” from Tokyo Black Hole as a line of communication with her fans, reminding them, “for your livelihood, I shine.” Her added emphasis on the second person in kitixxxgaia lets the relationship grow more vital as her lifeline. It’s no surprise to see her write a few songs from the perspective of idols, either a deity in “Dogma Magma” or an idol-group member in “Idol Song,” whose whole existence depends on love and worship from another person.
Oomori’s call for reciprocation is neither a show of weakness nor desperation. Her constant reminder of a presence of “you” more so encourages a leveraging of power dynamics between fan and idol. She views her addressees as her equal: “Dogma Magma” signs off messaging that anyone can also become the person of holy praise, and “Sekai Saigo no Futari” (Last Two on Earth) grabs for a hand to write a better history together. The intense music in kitixxxgaia, and the emotional self-search written within, centers on the listener as much as the author itself. The self-realization reached from the music, that power and praise aren’t limited only to certain people, belongs to you as much as it belongs to Oomori.