Exposé print issues (1993-2011)
PoiL Ueda — Yoshitsune
(Dur et Doux dd, 2023, CD / DL)
by Jon Davis, Published 2023-11-28
PoiL Ueda was one of the surprise gems of 2022, presenting the unlikely fusion of ancient Japanese satsuma-biwa music with European avant-rock in a startlingly successful way. Given the extremely complex nature of their work together, I expected it would be some time before we would get new music from the group, but here they are with Yoshitsune. I really hesitate to use the phrase “more of the same” in relation to music that is so distinctive and unlike anything I’ve ever heard, but in most substantive ways, Yoshitsune is very much a continuation of PoiL Ueda. To recap, this assemblage is a collaboration between the French group PoiL, known for intense and unpredictable rock music, and Junko Ueda, an exponent of satsuma-biwa music, a Japanese tradition that dates back to the 17th Century. The sound of the biwa is one of the most identifiable elements of traditional Japanese music to an outsider, with its twanging strings and bent notes, and Ueda’s vocals are dramatic, forceful, and rife with microtonal expression. Her voice is certainly one of the most prominent sounds on the album, and I suppose people used to conventional singing in the European tradition (either Classical or folk) might find the vocals jarring. The music is filled out by Benoît Lecomte (acoustic bass), Guilhem Meier (drums), Boris Cassone (guitar), and Antoine Arnera (keyboards), all of whom also provide vocal backing, usually shouts or chants, occasionally singing. PoiL’s music is occasionally quiet and peaceful, but more often loud and intense, full of unpredictable rhythms and disjointed arrangements. The album is based on the story of the title character, a 12th Century general whose successful military campaign led to the establishment of the Kamakura shogunate, which ruled much of Japan for nearly 200 years. For listeners who don’t understand the Japanese lyrics, the legend behind it is a matter for research and not necessary for the enjoyment of the music. Yoshitsune is another fascinating blast of creativity from this collaborative venture, and a worthy addition to my Year’s Best list.
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