Rina Sawayama Hold the Girl

Dirty Hit
2nd September 2022

Michael's Pick

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Format Info

LP - indies exclusive red splatter vinyl

Anyone who’s been paying attention to the avant garde edges of Pop music and its encroaching into the mainstream will recognise we’re in the midst of  a golden age. Arguably the current crop are Lady Gaga’s progeny, or PC Music’s, or SOPHIE‘s(RIP): flamboyant singular characters well versed in both Pop and Queer culture’s herstories. Wherever it came from, the poly-genre, amorphous pop music coming from these practitioners is some of the most forward-thinking music out there. Rina Sawayama’s 2020 debut Sawayama announced her to the world, a brash mash-up of Britney, Nu Metal, 90s Chart music, but here on Hold The Girl it feels like Sawayama has found her voice. In short, it’s an emotionally heavy masterpiece of modern production and songwriting.

I have to be frank. When Sawayama came out it felt to me like all the music the millenial artist had grown up with thrown into a Nutri-bullet and then frozen for consumption. Big blocks of culturally heavy sound, it seemed a little impenetrable to me, as bold and wonderful as the music was. On her second album however, Sawayama has professed to have gone through various self-help methodologies, addressing her upbringing, engaging more directly with Queer issues and love and the result is something far more resonant and fun simultaneously. By, perhaps, smoothing out some of the rough and tumble of her debut and honing her craft into razor sharp songwriting it connects far more, for me. Sonically and even vocally, the obvious influence is Lady Gaga; the vibrato in her vocal, the ability to tower above the music, the galactic melodrama on something like the intro to Hold The Girl. Unlike Gaga, Sawayama’s sonic language is informed by seemingly every genre imaginable filtered through the artist’s London geography. Unabashed thieving from country music? Check. Massive choral work and Morricone guitar flourishes? Yep. 2-Step Garage beats and Nu Metal? Oh hell yeah.

Much of Hold The Girl feels like an artist growing up directly addressing younger versions of her self. This kind of “inner child” work is a key concept in therapy and could come across as gauche in music with less-deft hands. With Rina Sawayama’s opening up to vulnerability it’s positively revelatory. After the dramatic Minor Feelings, the title track is the inner child dialogue writ large. Rather than a maudlin pining for a lost childhood, its chopped up vocal samples and UK Garage rhythm recalls Britney Spears if she grew up in East London in the naughties. As the chorus builds, “she is me and I am her” ascends into impossibly funky beat work and sweep string sections. It could be dizzying but it’s ecstatic. This Hell thematically recalls Lil Nas X’scrossover  mainstream queer love themes but mixes in a brilliantly audacious guitar break, chant-a-long vocals and more camp than a Ru Paul’s Drag Race end of season finale. Really only a heart of stone could fail to move.

But we’re of course far away from the professed talk of therapy now, sweaty in a fantasy camp full of our lovers and reeking guitar solos. Back to the self-analysis, Catch Me In The Air is another standout. Built on a guitar riff that sounds like they couldn’t quite afford to license Smashing Pumpkin’s 1979 married with what sounds like digital flutes purloined from Celine Dion’s Titanic theme. As an exercise in reappropriating uncool sounds into something brilliant and emotionally resonant it just bloody works. The chorus sings “catch me in the air” and the mix of the song opens up into an airy arrangement and you feel like you’re there with Rina, free and flying above all the traumas and heaviness life can throw at you. Elsewhere Sawayama’s newly-found emotional vulnerability means she can take a much maligned genre like Trance or 90s house and inject it with a weight its perhaps not used to. Take Holy (Til You Let Me Go) which sounds for all intents and purposes like Italian producer Gigi d’Agostino staring off the edge into a massive well of soul. Hurricanes sounds like Kelly Clarkson or even Paramore which is no bad thing, big guitars, bold production, big big big, heady and life-giving.

There are more straight-forward arrangements on the album and they work too. Tracks like Forgiveness forgoes genre hopping or attention deficit twists and turns for a big ballad that recalls, actually, John Grant’s powerful self-aware and erudite songwriting. Imagining puts us in mind of Charli XCX’s aggressively catchy power digi pop, again it’s a direct, sharp track that goes for the jugular. However, where Sawayama has triumphed with Hold The Girl is in taking her template of wide-opened genre-mashing and injecting a massive dose of emotional relatability into it. The final track, To Be Alive, is the apex of the album. Emerging from the Chrysalis on a 90s Funky Drummer beat, a choir of Sawayama’s ascending, ascending into the heavens, younger versions of herself freed from the shackles she’s spent the album breaking.

-Michael / Monorail


‘Following on from her critically acclaimed debut “SAWAYAMA”, Rina Sawayama’s highly anticipated new record “Hold The Girl” sees Rina once again juxtapose intimate storytelling with arena-sized songs, creating another ambitious and original album to excite fans and critics alike.

Written and recorded over the last year and a half, Rina once again teamed up with longterm collaborators Clarence Clarity and Lauren Aquilina as well as enlisting help from the likes of the legendary Paul Epworth (Adele, Florence & the Machine), Stuart Price (Dua Lipa, The Killers, Madonna) and Marcus Andersson (Demi Lovato, Ashnikko) for their magic touch.

The product of Rina and these collective minds coming together is an album which melds influences from across the pop spectrum and is a bold and honest statement of Rina’s personal evolution; coming to terms with her own past and the jubilation of turning to the future.

Other Releases by Rina Sawayama

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