Album Review: The Shamisenists - [re:tokyo]
by Mark Horbury May 21, 2021
I’ll be honest. The first time I heard about shamisen based rock, “I thought that’s a cool gimmick but The Yoshida Brothers already did it, I bet there’s no substance to it”. It’s just a play on a well known theme. Then I heard The Shamisenists and was immediately proven wrong. Soon after, I met them in person and found three of the most down to earth and driven individuals I know surrounded by a small but dedicated team of more such individuals. Then I saw them live and that was it. I was floored at what I was seeing. Kyohei, Yuji and Jack were just on fire and there was not a hint of a gimmick. Now, with 2020’s [re:tokyo], they continue to silence any such naysayers.
We often talk about musical experiences as being a journey. Music is intrinsically a set of progressions and every song ever written is a play on each of those concepts, we are thereby naturally given to experiencing quality music as a journey. This time, rather than a journey, with [re:tokyo] I feel the bristles of a paintbrush on a coarse sharkskin-like canvas. That is to say that [re:tokyo] is, rather than a journey, a variation on a theme. All different colours spreading from a central point creating a wheel of texture and variety. Who knew that the theme of 3 guys with some shamisens, a drum kit, and a bunch of effects pedals would be able to create so many variations.
Of course, The Shamisenists third album is brimming with their signature explosive energy. The slip-and-slide bass infused “Shibuya Scramble Terminater” and the wild thrash of “Anaconda” would be welcomed at any heavy metal or punk show. While the trio are adept and well practiced at going full throttle, which is often the centerpiece of their live experience, it is the calmer moments that shine through as examples of their real potential. “Lotus” is an example of the aforementioned potential as Kyohei fills the space given to him with some of the most pocketed drumming this side of Asia, Jack and Yuji’s shamisens periodically swoon together in a beautiful yet tragic harmony.
Not satisfied with simply making mosh pits, or forcing you to break into tears, The Shamisenists decided that they should make an even more concerted effort to make any given room bounce. The result of this thought is the funkfied shaminestry of ‘Hertz’. Honestly, the guys didn’t need to make this song, but they did, and now Shamisen Funk is a thing. What’s next? Slap and pop shamisen playing? My being facetious aside, ‘Hertz’ is a fantastically fun song for any and all to jump up and down to, as if they are at Lollapalooza for the first time, seeing Rage Against The Machine or Red Hot Chili Peppers in the early 90s.
The liner notes of [re:tokyo] read: Once this is over, we will tear through all the villages and metropolis’ of the world with our own [re:tokyo] matsuri. Remember, the night is darkest before the dawn. We will see you at daybreak, dear friends. A call to arms if there ever was one. My anime/Japan addled mind can’t help but picture these three lads on the back of an over-sized garishly red mikoshi (Japanese portable shrine) surrounded by an orgy of worshippers and shrine-bearers while they invoke all the gods and demons of the earth to carry The Shamisenists sound the world over. Epic hyperbole aside, [re:tokyo] is every bit the musical matsuri that Jack, Yuji and Kyohei set out to make, and as with all good matsuris you just need to grab your nicest yukata, a beer, and join the dance.
Come out and see The Shamisenists on May 29th at Rokudemonaiyoru in Shimokitazawa.