No-No Boy – Empire Electric (2023) [FLAC 24bit/44,1kHz]

No-No Boy - Empire Electric (2023) [FLAC 24bit/44,1kHz] Download

No-No Boy – Empire Electric (2023)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/44,1 kHz | Time – 39:22 minutes | 401 MB | Genre: Indie Folk
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download | Front Cover | © Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

There are seemingly infinite layers of meaning to be found in No-No Boy’s third album, Empire Electric. You can listen closely to singer-songwriter Julian Saporiti’s lyrics, which juxtapose true stories of struggle from throughout Asia and its diaspora with Saporiti’s own reckoning with intergenerational trauma. You could also let the majesty of Saporiti’s songcraft wash over you, his captivating melodies cloaking those themes in a veneer of hope and ecstasy. But the deepest storytelling happens at the sonic level, as sounds drawn from across the Eastern hemisphere mingle freely with distinctly American instrumentation – banjo and koto, lap-steel and guzheng – while electronically manipulated field recordings of rushing water, chirping birds and other natural sounds ground us in the now. Adventurous and affecting, Empire Electric offers a vision for a new kind of folk music, one that tells unorthodox stories through unorthodox means and finds new pathways through our tangled roots.The term “no-no boy” was used for Japanese Americans who refused to serve in the US armed forces or swear loyalty to a country that had forced their families into internment camps during WWII, one of the most shameful periods of 20th century American history. Frontman Julian Saporiti, whose mother is from Vietnam and who grew up in Nashville, was inspired to create the project after seeing a photo at Heart Mountain, Wyoming—one of the so-called “relocation centers”—showing a jazz band of Japanese Americans that performed at the war camps. “I’d never seen faces like mine that played pop American music,” he has said, “and it gave me the courage to look into what it means to be Asian American, after suppressing that side of myself growing up in the American South in the eighties and nineties.” Ironically, growing up in Tennessee, Saporiti—who previously led the indie-rock band Young Republic—has explained, “I often felt pangs of racial inauthenticity due to the overwhelming whiteness of the indie, folk, and country music scenes in town. Little did I know all this music was built on Black and Brown innovation….”

For No-No Boy’s third album (and the follow-up to 2021’s Smithsonian Folkways debut 1975—a reference to the year Saigon fell), Saporiti and his wife/musical partner, Emilia Halvorsen Saporiti, have created an astonishingly beautiful collection of diaspora songs. “Nashville” weaves keen music-fan details of that town—the Opry and RCA Studio B, Slow Bar and Gram’s jacket, “three flights from Mindoro so he could catch Dwight at that Ryman show”—with lap steel, banjo, Chinese pipa, guzheng, mariachi violins and Arabian and West African percussion. It’s the ultimate tale of an outsider finding their own connections to something they want to be part of, even if it fits uncomfortably at first. “Minidoka” is a low-light stunner that evokes Yo La Tengo as Saporiti sings of a baseball game—something so normal (“doubled off the Buddhist minister … A thousand spectators/ Nothing better to do”) at a place of disgrace: a concentration camp in the Idaho desert that held some 13,000 citizens captive. Gorgeous “Sayonara” sounds joyous, with its rumbling drums and play on city pop, but Saporiti’s soothing, Matt Berninger-like voice relates the brutality of Japanese imperialist control of Taiwan until 1945. “Mekong Baby” is the true story of Miyo Iwakoshi, the first Japanese settler in Oregon, whose grave was marked only with a Japanese cedar, while her white husband got a headstone. Sung with Vietnamese artist Thái Hiền, it deftly incorporates field recordings of bird song and war. There is an understated chamber-pop majesty to “Little Monk,” and a Mumford & Sons feel to “Nothing Left but You”; there’s also a moment on the latter when you can hear Saporiti’s intake of breath before the music blooms into this glorious thing, like he’s given the song life. It’s an apt metaphor for the album as a whole, as he works, beautifully, to keep history alive. – Shelly Ridenour


01. No-No Boy – The Onion Kings of Ontario! (03:21)
02. No-No Boy – Nashville (04:35)
03. No-No Boy – Mekong Baby (03:41)
04. No-No Boy – Western Empress of the Orient Sawmill (03:31)
05. No-No Boy – Jakarta (04:09)
06. No-No Boy – Nothing Left but You (04:02)
07. No-No Boy – Little Monk (03:29)
08. No-No Boy – Sayonara (03:21)
09. No-No Boy – Minidoka (03:39)
10. No-No Boy – 1603 (05:31)

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