Japanese Oddball Shiina Ringo Adds to One of the More Striking Discographies of the Decade

Shiina Ringo

Sanmon Gossip (EMI Music Japan)

This madly talented oddball is responsible for one of the more striking discographies of the decade, but she's practically unknown outside Japan. (She has reportedly resisted entreaties to promote herself abroad.) Her albums, including this one, are available in the U.S. only as imports. But she's a star at home, on her own and with her rock band, Tokyo Jihen. She writes knotty pop melodies and sings in an appealing, slightly nasal deadpan that sounds knowing and amused even when you don't know what she's being amused by. At 30, she's got four original albums under her own name, three albums with Tokyo Jihen, a two-disc set of covers, a movie soundtrack, and another double-disc set of outtakes and B-sides. She also took a few years' maternity leave in there.

Her music traipses across genres from cabaret to prog, and she's comfortable with swank orchestras or storming guitars. But her default these days is a sort of jazzy rock that can swing, swoon, or squawk depending on her mood. On Sanmon Gossip, there are touches of bossa nova and Broadway, piano-charged jams, guitar rockers, and an edgy chanson number accompanied only by accordion. It doesn't have quite the surprising contours of 2003's Karuki Zamen Kuri-no-Hana (Lime, Semen, Chestnut Blossoms), or the focus of Tokyo Jihen's great 2006 album Adult. But it's a collection of playful and spirited songs by one of the world's most interesting pop musicians.