Language barriers haven't stopped the likes of At the Drive-In, the Murder City Devils and No Knife from touring with the trio, and they certainly haven't held back a growing U.S. fan base. After all, by refusing to convert to English lyrics, these guys are staying true to their punk roots.
Original members Hisashi Yoshino (guitar and vocals) and Atsuya Tamori (drums) formed the band in Sapporo in 1988. Bassist Tomokazu Ninomiya joined in the early '90s, after Yoshino and Tamori moved to Tokyo, and Eastern Youth's straight-ahead punk sound gave way to post-punk complexity. They even formed their own independent label, Sakamoto Shoten, releasing half a dozen albums before this latest disc. Eastern Youth's unofficial debut to American listeners actually came last year, when the group released a split CD with Cursive, post-hardcore darlings of Omaha's celebrated Saddle Creek label, who also toured with them last month. This new album has a full, razor-sharp emo-core sound that's impressive coming from a three-piece, and Yoshino's vocals only add to the intensity. Sometimes he sings with wistful sincerity, and other times he screams his heart out.
The band can certainly play fast and furious in songs like "Zigzag Zigzag Ticktock Ticktock," which is driven by a spooky, surf-inspired guitar. But Eastern Youth's strongest numbers sound the way Yoshino's haunting lyrics feel. Brimming with wabi-sabi contemplation and poetic imagery, melodic verses build to climactic choruses in "Freedom" and "Hands Tucked Away in My Pockets." And true to Japanese poetic tradition, Yoshino's appreciation of his surroundings and the seasons is tinged with loneliness, as in "Tokyo Clear Zero Degrees Celsius" -- an amazingly sad song that revels in the desolate beauty of winter.
While Americans might have to read the liner notes to understand the words, understanding the music itself only takes open ears. Sparta's Jim Ward says, "Every single show I've seen Eastern Youth play at, I shed tears because the sound is both beautiful and honest."