Sasagawa Miwa has done something incredible — she’s recorded follow-up albums for at least three artists who haven’t done so for themselves.
Inspired by the hymnals she sang as a Christian school student, Sasagawa writes music that combines traditional Celtic, traditional Japanese and modern pop music in an effortless, singular style.
Her debut album, Jijitsu, calls to mind a number of divergent influences.
On “Taiyoo”, she sings in a soprano as spine-chilling as anything Hajime Chitose can do in her higher ranges.
“Naraba” shows she can edge into Onitsuka Chihiro’s piano balladry without overtly flaunting the echoes of Carole King, another artist to whom Sasagawa is compared.
And “Warai” is perhaps the most successful integration of Scottish waulking songs with Japanese lyrics. It’s the outtake Celtic music scholar Talitha Mackenzie never recorded on any of her albums.
All this name-dropping might seem like Sasagawa apes too many other artists, but she manages to sound completely herself.
The burnished singing of the title track may be reminiscent of Sinéad O’Connor but not for any timbral resemblance — it’s all spiritual.
Spiritual. That’s a good word to describe her music.
Not just for its sacred inspirations but for its secular creativity. Sasagawa Miwa has produced pop music that’s miles ahead of most pop music, and she does so by evoking the distant past.
It doesn’t mean she’s beholden to it.
On “Tsukusu”, heavy guitars demonstrates her ability to rock out. “Hokuro” combines an agitated beat with folk guitars and long drones, while “Doozo” brings together Celtic melodies, electric guitars and simple (tribal, perhaps) drumming.
Jijitsu is one of the most fascinating debuts by an artist in the last year. It’s tough to pry the album off your playlist once it’s there — Sasagawa’s music operates on so many levels, it rewards with each subsequent listen.
It also helps that her less-than-polished vocals delivers some incredible melodies. That rustic quality suits her music well.