Yoshida Brothers ‎– Ibuki

3 out of 5

Label: Domo Records

Produced by: Eiichi Naito (executive producer)

The Yoshida Brothers’ debut album, Ibuki, is, as might be expected, a much more stripped down affair than what would follow for the duo. Even by their next album, they’d begin to incorporate more elements – a beat, for example – whereas here, we’re dealing solely with dueling shamisens. Which isn’t without interest: Ryōichirō and Kenichi have their own modernized spin on Tsugaru-jamisen music, which is a little snappier than what I think of as its traditional form, incorporating some exciting tonal shifts here and there and enthused by stray, vocalized hoots and hollers.

However, beyond the minimalist form, the Brothers’ also had some work to do in terms of leaning in to the format of recording an album: the production doesn’t do much to amplify what’s there, or even layer the two shamisens effectively enough to recognize that there are two, and the song structure – beyond some longer highlights like the title track, and 11-minute closer Tsugaru Jonkarabushi Kakeai Kyokuhiki – doesn’t vary enough song by song to really grab a listener beyond, for most of us, the uniqueness of the instrumentation.

Ibuki is, for better or worse, mostly background music, something to pepper in between the much stronger work to come for the Yoshida brothers.