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Hold the Girl

by Rina Sawayama

Released September 16, 2022 via Dirty Hit

Reviewed September 29, 2022

Top tracks (based on community voting)
Hold The Girl (46%), Frankenstein (46%), This Hell (39%)

Rina Sawayama proves, yet again, to be a formidable pop-fusion singer/songwriter in the return from her 2020 debut, SAWAYAMA. Artistically, Rina straddles the crest between major commercial and critical viability well; she often delivers pleasure and precision in equal quantities when releasing a full-length record. Her sophomore album, Hold The Girl, is an ode to her once innocent self. In it, the body of work is consistently linked by themes of rebirth, forgiveness, and reconciling with the past. Rina’s confident and creative songwriting remains a key feature to the record, though it reduces some of the previous genre-bending featured in SAWAYAMA. Most notably, a strong influx of country music sounds highlight the vulnerable perspective from which Rina is storytelling and songwriting. In doing so, this album has some qualitative give and take with its predecessor. While remaining a unique blend of sounds, Rina has deemphasized the rapidly shifting, somewhat unpredictable versatility featured in her debut. Many tracks here have a consistently glossy finish and a conventionally pop-centric profile, making Hold The Girl more consistent this time around, though less thrilling at times while in the throes of listening. – DeVán (7.5/10)

Pablo: 8/10 | DeVán: 7.5/10 | Cam: 7.3/10 | Dominick: 7/10 | Hadley: 7/10 | Jared: 6/10

Community Reviews:

Hold The Girl is definitely one of my favourite albums. I loved the diverse amount of genres; one minute you’re listening to the banger that is “Frankenstein” and the next you’re crying to “Send My Love to John.” “Minor Feelings” was a brilliant opener to the album, setting up the album’s themes really well. On my first listen to the album, I wasn’t too sure how I felt about it because I was comparing it too much to SAWAYAMA in my head, and SAWAYAMA is my favourite album ever. However, I’ve listened to the album a few times now and have stopped comparing it–and bloody hell, it’s a good album.

I honestly don’t know how Rina keeps managing to produce music that is consistently good and interesting, because the Rina EP was good, SAWAYAMA is my favourite album ever, and Hold The Girl is also fantastic. – Leon (8/10)

Very precise and enjoyable pop album. A more objective rating would be closer to an 8/10, as I think Rina’s vocal ability has only improved with this album, and the lyrics are very focused and often emotionally potent. I think the production, whilst mostly effective, often holds some of these songs back from surprising or engaging listeners to a level closer to SAWAYAMA. Overall still very strong, and only strengthens her catalogue. Slay. – anonymous community member (7/10)

Nobody sold out quicker than the Arctic Monkeys when they went from the insanely creative, refreshing Whatever You Think I Am to the vapid marketable sounds of Favourite Worst Nightmare. Until Rina Sawayama.

The sophomore slump is real and takes yet another avant-pop/club music darling this year, after the incredibly underwhelming Confidence Man LP. It shouldn't have been this wayl with the incredible talent of Clarence Clarity attached to the record and the incredible creativity and freshness of both the RINA EP and SAWAYAMA LP, Hold The Girl was among the most anticipated records of the year. It simply wasn't meant to fail, the pedigree and the talent attached were too strong—yet here we are.

The singles run was dreadful. From the very first Rina-featuring single of the year with Charli XCX, a horrific rendition of one of the most iconic pop tunes ever, through the messy “This Hell” and the mixed reception to its new sound—without any of the punch or bite that was plentiful on Rina's past songs—to the four other singles that were gradually less and less talked about—the rollout was a tragedy, and the worst was yet to come.

“Hold The Girl” and “This Hell” is a fascinating twofold punch of nicked sounds that were done better and fuller by pop darlings like Gaga or Spears. Its saving grace is the immaculate voice of Sawayama. Yet still, the voice alone cannot save the arrangements and the feeling of hearing the same song a million times. Up until “Forgiveness,” the album leaves the same exact taste in the mouth—it's that track that introduces some of the newer sounds in Rina's discography. Still, there is no real highlight until “Frankenstein,” which gets the formula perfectly right; similarly to

“XS” on SAWAYAMA, it utilises the pop-rock base and Clarence Clarity's immaculate spacy production in a perfect synthesis. The talent attached is Matt Tong of Bloc Party fame, and he turns the clock back with a drumming performance right out of any song on Silent Alarm.

And yet, after this beacon of hope, more disappointment comes. Both “Send My Love To John” and “Phantom” are heavily reliant on Rina's voice, and however amazing it is, it simply cannot carry the songs on its own. There is either too little or too much happening in the instrumental, to the point where it simply does not match either Rina's vocal performance or the lyrical content at any point throughout the songs. It is a soulless adventure, carefully curated for mainstream staying power, rather than attempting to push boundaries or recreate the amazingly fresh sounds of her last effort.

Hold This Girl is still a very well-produced album and not a slog to listen to. There are tunes that are incredibly catchy and will definitely find their audience. Yet still, on the resume of Rina Sawayama, this album becomes a stain. It's not even the quality of the record itself but rather it's absolute refusal to encapsulate the spirit so often associated with Rina Sawayama; the avant-pop darling of the club scene unafraid to push boundaries and create the Sound, rather than use it to market oneself. – @simonprek (5.4/10)


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