Sasagawa Miwa: Mayoi Naku

The problem with stellar debut albums is that they sometimes set a bar that cannot be surmounted. Sasagawa Miwa’s 2003 debut album, Jijitsu, was one I couldn’t stop playing when I discovered it. Sasami has released more albums since, but her debut still casts a long shadow.

Mayoi Naku, her fourth album, finds the singer taking a starkly different approach from her previous works. On the whole, Sasagawa is an introspective writer, someone more comfortable with a tender song than a big gesture. While she includes enough of her trademark writing on Mayoi Naku, she’s also offset it with some very big gestures.

The title track effectively establishes the tone of the album — a mid-tempo song with thick orchestration and more guitars than she’s previously shown off. If there’s any stumbling to be made, Sasagawa gets it out of the way early on. The second and third tracks, "Yukigumo" and "Kourizatou", sound so similar, it’s easy to mistake them as a single song.

Mayoi Naku doesn’t really take off till "Eguri Dashite", a track with an unlikely disco beat that works well with Sasagawa’s folk-like melodies. "Kako", however, is where the album makes its biggest statement. It starts off quietly enough, with a thunderstorm overdubbed in the intro. Then the rest of the band kicks in, and Sasagawa delivers one of her most spine-tingling performances.

Even "Oboridzukyo", which wasn’t a very impressive single, makes sense within the context of the album. That said, it probably should have remained an album track — "Kageboushi" or "Eguri Dashite" would have been better choices.

Mayoi Naku winds down for its conclusion. "Haishaku" is almost reminiscent of Shiina Ringo’s "Izonshou", while "Suki na You Ni" builds slowly to a restrained intensity.

Compared to Jijitsu, Mayoi Naku doesn’t have the same kind of consistency, and like Sasagawa’s other albums, it has its flaws. But the album is also her most extroverted effort thus far. She doesn’t get mired in her own introversion, and the bigger sound really complements her voice.

Mayoi Naku is a surprising and welcome creative turn for Sasagawa Miwa.