Friday, January 26, 2007

"cool, cute and culturally correct," to say nothing of their skill with alliteration


Sorry to find you so very late in the week; between a busy concert and work schedule, I barely have any time for writing.
My hope for the future (fingers crossed) is to attempt a regular schedule of two posts weekly... or at least one if real life proves difficult to schedule around.
Be patient and keep checkin' in; I'm just getting comfortable back in the saddle again.

But you don't want to hear all this, you want some music.
And do I got a winner for you!


The Yoshida Brothers - 'Kodo' (Hishou Version)

The Yoshida Brothers - 'Erghen Diado'

Hokkaido Prefecture prodigies The Yoshida Brothers were heralded as far back as 2000 as the next best bet to break out of the narrow world music ghetto and storm U.S. radio, but it's taken six years to bring them into the living rooms of middle-class America. The song that's done it is the "Inside the Sun" remix to the strident, caffeinated 'Kodo'; a galloping shamisen duel souped up with a progression of boom-bap drum loops, drifting string echoes and an insistent bassline. It's an East-Meets-West dancefloor hit with the easy grace of a 21st century samurai, but instead of promoting Bushido, the track is being used to sell seventh-generation video game systems; the 'Kodo' remix is the theme to Nintendo's TV ads for the Wii. Perhaps it is only appropriate that The Yoshida Brothers should find a greater audience in a phenomenally popular export; blending cultures is a great deal of what the band is all about.

The twentysomething Yoshida Brothers, Ryoichiro and Kenichi, both play the shamisen, a three-stringed lute covered in animal skin (the Brothers prefer dog, for its resonant sound) played with a ginkgo leaf-shaped pick that resembles nothing so much as an ice scraper. You may recognize the shamisen's unique twang as the background instrument du jour for many a late night chop-socky b-film punch-em-up; you can listen to a sample here.

Shamisen has long been viewed in Japan as an instrument for the elderly or the disabled; an old man playing shamisen in the street has the same connotations to an Easterner that a fellow with dark glasses and a cup full of pencils might have to a Westerner. The Brothers have striven to change that image and they've been quite successful; in their home country, they regularly play to sold out houses.

The Yoshidas' tastes have, in the past, been primarily fusion-driven; their songs show the influence of jazz, flamenco, blues and, most prominently, rock and roll. Such experimentation breaks new ground for an instrument that has been an unchanging part of traditional Japanese culture for over four hundred years; the Brothers willingness to mix new genres and approaches to the underutilized and highly codified shamisen repertoire has been no small part of what's brought the duo into the public eye.

Out of maturation, curiosity or some combination of the two, The Yoshida Brothers appear to be returning to a more antiquated performance style; their latest project eschews the additional instrumentation and electronic assistance prevalent in their previous recordings in favor of the more rigorously dictated form and old-fashioned composition of tsugaru-shamisen standards. If the Brothers end up turning their back on the rock-shamisen fusion that they've helped pioneer it may not bode well for their crossover appeal, but it may prove artistically vital to their long-term career. The pair are technical wizards and endlessly clever; given strict boundaries, one suspects they may be able to make more out of less.

The tracks offered on the Hut today show the two different sides of The Yoshidas; the original 'Kodo' (from the II album is a speedy and arch sneer of a song; this revised version from the Brothers' forthcoming album, Hishou, is slightly less rushed; the pitch of the central theme has been shifted down a notch. The result is a song that's more grounded than the original, more assured and rustic in both sound and spirit.

'Erghen Diado', from the III album, finds The Yoshidas engaging in their love for fusion and esoteric exploration; the song is a cover of a classic Bulgarian folk tune notably performed by Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares from their memorable 1990 eponymous disc. The unlikely marriage of Balkan orchestration and traditional Japanese instruments is hardly intuitive, but it works; the eerie and dissonant shamisen offers a new twist on the otherworldly 'mystere' once provided by the Bulgarian vocal choir. The end result defies classification and, if put on repeat, loops endlessly in a oddly beautiful dance between Japanese sounds and Bulgarian sensibilities.

tell me more about it...

Visit The Yoshida Brothers' official site and their media-saturated myspace page.

The Brothers' label, Domo Records, has really bought into the sharing principle, which means that you can listen to a whole bunch of Yoshida tunage before you buy; but let's assume that you've heard enough and it's time to break out the pocketbook.

Amazon has the Brothers' first three major label stateside releases available at reasonable prices; iTunes does too.

In addition to the II album, eMusic also offers advance access to the soon-to-be-released fourth album, the trad-throwback collection Hishou.
Here's the obligatory YouTube gallery of Yoshida goodness:

Listen to and download more tracks from The Brothers here:

Listen to the inevitable NPR thought piece.
New York area readers can catch The Yoshidas at their thus-far only-announced East Coast stop, on February 20th at Joe's Pub. I'll be there with bells on; let me know if you're coming and I'll look you up in the crowd.
Play a virtual shamisen and tune a real one.
Obviously, The Yoshidas aren't the only active shamisen artists by any means; one of my other faves is a gentleman by the name of Hiromitsu Agatsuma, who I was lucky enough to see live last year at The Japan Society of New York City.

Agatsuma is also well known for his rock-shamisen stylings; I recommend checking out this impressive three part A&E 'Breakfast with the Arts' interview/performance as an excellent introduction to the man's work. You can also watch him holding his own in a duet alongside the "king of tsugaru-shamisen", Shin'ichi Kinoshita.
Those of you particularly drawn to the rock-fusion shamisen sound may be interested in listening to music from the East coast band God of Shamisen.
Read this extensive interview (with heavy hyperlinking and numerous sound samples) with tsugaru-shamisen legend Yamada Chisato.

It's a fascinating tale of one of the last wandering shamisen performers; Yamada's father traded a bale of rice for his son's first instrument in the early 1930's.


Deadwood: Wildstyle
D4L's 'Tatted Up' is really great for about five listens. Try and avoid that sixth time and you'll be all good.
YO GABBA GABBA! seems like either a hip hop Teletubbies or Wonder Showzen without the thick, abominable layer of nihilistic hate; in other words, it looks awesome.
The only thing more cute than gratuitous anthropomorphism and robot kitties is an entire alphabet of baby animals.

The puma is killing me.
Kiefer Sutherland sez: "We started torturing him around 11 o'clock at night, and, by two o'clock in the morning, we had set him on fire in the parking lot. We got up the next day and there was just this puddle of wax. His clothes didn't burn, which I thought was pretty cool..."
Lil' Bone claims that Kronic 187's mom is bionic.

Mr. 187 is also an allegedly fuckin' Canadian motherfucker.
Sulfur Hexafluoride is six times heavier than air
Props to the always brilliant and fascinating Elisabeth Vincentelli for pointing out this fireball-hot '71 Ike + Tina live 'Proud Mary' video (which bookends nicely with 'Nutbush City Limits') and this thirty woman choral cover of Kate Bush's 'Wuthering Heights'.
New Order on Baywatch
? (aka Rudy Martinez) of ? and The Mysterians recently lost his home and several of his beloved pets in a horrible fire; if you can afford to offer a few bucks to help him rebuild, it would surely be a mitzvah.

Hopeful Hut thoughts go out to Question Mark.

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