Notes for “Holy Larceny”
o Zushi is an anachronism; a Londoner of East Asian heritage (almost) sharing his name with a fast-food chain and playing (almost) old fashioned country music. How did this happen in 2007?
An English Literature graduate from University College London, Zushi’s been hotly-tipped and feted by the likes of Topshop and Dazed & Confused for a while now; odd sources of praise for such an inky, understated, blazer & tie-wearing musician with his sights set so firmly on a crafted past rather than a trend-setting future.
Because while Google seems to think that Yo Zushi might be “J-Folk,” there’s really nothing on Notes For “Holy Larceny”, his second album, that suggests influences beyond Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and maybe Tom Waits, and there’s certainly nothing beyond his visage and nomenclature which suggests Japan. (And even those are faint, diluted clues.) Just check the ringing pianos and woozy horns in the charming “Bright Lucifer” (never mind the guitars or the melody); this is definitely country, not folk, even if it comes from London.
Understated is the word here; “The Moonlight, Gold and Pale” is surely the most low-key opening song on an album by a Londoner in… probably ever. A delicate breath of acoustic guitar and just enough gentle percussion to create forward motion composes a bed over which Zushi cooes that “Soon you’ll be lost in a reverie of moonlight / Cold and pale.” Instruments are rendered with warm beauty, the atmosphere of friends in a room playing music together caught on tape.
During “The Trees, They Grow High,” Zushi’s occasionally faltering voice hovers above an unassuming strum and intangible walking rhythm, reminiscent perhaps of Gillian Welch without the sandblasted emotion that marks her best work. “Seven Sleepers” pushes out with more energy but it’s entirely relative; riotous by Yo Zushi’s standards, if you played it next to… anything else with an amplified guitar and its pulsing rhythm seems gentle.
He may not be an exceptional singer, sounding on occasion like an English Stephen Malkmus, but Zushi is most definitely a studied songwriting storyteller; lyrics to pieces such as “Song from a Dazzling Drift” and “Now, a Garland” reward attention more than most, his words brushed with a poetic grace and placed as carefully as his instruments.
The hidden track that arrives after four minutes of silence following “New Evaristo Rant (When Fortune Turns Her Wheel)” injects a little more energy and humour, as Zushi garbles the opening lines with laughter, but it also highlights Yo Zushi’s key weakness; as beautiful, personal, understated and intimate as Notes For “Holy Larceny” is, over the course of the album (which is not long) the uniformly tepid pace and gentle demeanour can seem vague and disconnected. Nonetheless, this is a rewarding, artful little record by a definite talent.