Prism is a befitting title for the latest album from the masterful shamisen-playing sibling duo Yoshida Brothers. Much like a prism, the brothers bend the white light of traditional folk artistry into a brilliant array of modern-infused music.
The smashing Hokkaido-born duo of Ryoichio and Kenichi Yoshida deliver yet another shining work of folk fusion that the brothers are known for, yet with Prism, they still explore a new direction that sports a personality all it’s own.
The album shows the breadth of its inspiration from start to stop. From “The National Anthem”, a Radiohead cover to the Celtic-style “One Long River” to songwriting collaborations with Phantom Planet vocalist Alex Greenwald, Tori Amos drummer Matt Chamberlain, and many others, the Yoshida Brothers really branch out.
The album lifts off in a suprisingly modern direction with “The National Anthem”. The song, bound by a shamisen melody, comes to life as whiffs of percussion, an electric guitar, and vocals waft in and out.
Prism‘s second track, “Seven”, sprints in a more familiar direction. Hipness is still intact but “Seven” isn’t as drenched with modernity as its predecessor. A cool, contemporary groove is still there but the accompanying instrumentation is a generation or two in age closer to the shamisen. It’s certainly a track with a sound that fans of the Yoshida Brothers are well acquainted with.
“One Long River” flows towards yet more delight. The song begins with female vocals that are later joined by the Yoshida’s shamisens. The chemestry between the velvety voice and the shamisen’s nimble pluck forms a harmony, full of character and peculiar beauty.
Tracks like “Red Bird” and “Mr. Nagano’s Foolish Proposal” continue with their own unique tones of character and beauty. The former radiates with a much more traditional vibe, rolling along as violins soar about. The latter touches back on “One Long River” with a similarly whimsical vibe.
The aura fades as “Hujin” and “Akita Obako” come in as very traditional. The transition is striking as this is the sound that provided the crux from which the Yoshida Brothers originally built out from many years ago. This style shouldn’t raise an eyebrow but it does, considering the brother’s foray into the new sounds and directions that create the first half of Prism.
Later tracks, “Summer Day” and “Michi” are still shamisen-centric with minimal accopanyment, yet each track explores discrete personality. One is rather aggressive while the other is calm and peaceful. “Aiya” returns to familiarity with a pleasing shamisen and flute pairing.
In the album’s final track, “End of the World”, the Yoshida Brothers synthesize every element previously featured on Prism. The track, which was included on the We Own the Night movie soundtrack, begins solemnly enough before a snare rolls in out of thin air. More elaborations float in until they’re swallowed by a simple, dwelling shamisen. Intensity bubbles back up and eventually jets into the song’s spirited climax. The return of violins and an electric guitar make “End of the World” a dynamic parting track that further proves that not only are the Yoshida Brothers sly masters of a traditional craft, but they also rock.
The Yoshida Brothers are already renowned for thier fresh brand of folk fusion and with Prism, they only further their shamisen-wielding world conquest.
The Yoshida Brothers are touring up the west coast of North America throughout May. For dates and more info, including audio samples of Prism, visit their official site.