No-No Boy's 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.
Sounds contain histories and prophecies. If you listen closely, there are winding tales to be found in a string brushed by a handmade bow, worlds to be uncovered in the trill of a bird about to take flight, and truths to be reckoned with in the grain of an unknown voice. This is the revelation at the core of Empire Electric, the third album by No-No Boy. Its songs delve deep into narratives of imperialism, identity, and spirituality, offering a poignant and immersive experience.
Julian Saporiti, the creative force behind No-No Boy, has always been a storyteller at heart. This project evolved as the central component of Saporiti's PhD journey at Brown University, drawing on years of fieldwork and research on Asian American history. His folk songs are infused with uncommon empathy, shining a light on remarkable protagonists from history. These are prisoners at Japanese American internment camps who formed jazz bands, Vietnamese musicians inspired by American rock 'n' roll, and a Cambodian American painter who painted the beauty of his war-torn homeland.
On Empire Electric, Saporiti's storytelling prowess shines brightly. His melodies are infectious, delivered with a directness that paints vivid pictures. There's no pretension or preachiness here; instead, listeners are gently drawn into the world of real people and their struggles. Meanwhile, the melodies tug at both the heart and the ears, leading the audience in multiple directions simultaneously. With the sincerity of a folk singer and the finely tuned ear of a master producer, Saporiti delves into the edges of pain to unearth joy. He uses history and its remembered landscapes as a lens through which to understand the foundation upon which we now stand.
This album is a tapestry of substantive storytelling, where every sound, from the graceful swell of a pedal steel to the quivering pluck of a koto, becomes an integral part of the poetic reimagining of shared post-colonial trauma and the unexpected joys that can be found amid adversity. Empire Electric invites you on a musical journey that resonates with historical depth and prophetic insight. It's a remarkable achievement that deserves to be celebrated.