Ah, the evils of crossover demands.
To get the pushing-40 demographic of American listeners interested in anything remotely international, managers and labels seem to see the need to “modernzie” traditional music with synthesizers and orchestral arrangements.
New age dreck, to put it less mildly.
Such dreck, however, doesn’t put much of a crimp on the Yoshida Brothers’ self-titled American debut on Domo Records, the label to which new age heavyweight Kitaro is signed.
Skip past the over-produced tracks on Yoshida Brothers, and you’ll instead find why the brothers’ virtuosic performing got a younger generation of Japanese listeners interested in their parents’ (or grandparents’) music.
“Hyakka Ryooran” is just the brothers picking frantically on their shamisens, and yet it sounds fuller than any of the contemporary tracks on the album. “Storm,” although catchy, seems thin by comparrison. (And the remix by T.M. Revolution doesn’t give the track much more depth.)
If anything, the modern tracks only serve to underscore how incredible the more traditional tracks are. “Moyuru” finds the brothers accompanied by taiko and shakuhachi — a more traditional setting that doesn’t blunt the pair’s fiery performances.
“Tsugaru Jongara Bushi” is an amazing display of technique, while “Labyrinth” demonstrates how eeriely precise the brothers work as a unit.
At the same time, Yoshida Brothers works well with a mix of contemporary and traditional material. To go exclusively with the former would have diluted the brothers’ talents; to go exclusively with the latter would have turned them academic.
The light jazz beats of “Madrugada” are tolerable, while the understated arrangement of “Namonaki Oka” is inoffensive in a latter-day Clannad sense.
Still, Yoshida Brothers is an amazing display of technique, and the tracks which feature the brothers doing their thing more than make up for any attempts to make them sound modern.