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776: Yoko Ono
775: Boredoms
772: Kurofunedan
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765: YMCK
763: Shizuka Kudo
762: Mo’some Tonebender
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751: Para
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745: Who the Bitch
742: Low IQ 01
740: Shake Forward!
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733: Yanokami
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317: Sakura Hills Disco 3000
315: Aco
313: Rovo
311: The Mad Capsule Markets
309: Coldfeet

Ken Yokoyama

The Hi-Standard guitarist puts it on the line in his solo debut

"I was a kid/All I wanted was something called freedom," sings punk rocker Ken Yokoyama in the opening lines of the title track for his debut solo album. "I didn't know/That the glory also calls for sacrifice/With the pleasure comes the pain/Now I know."

As guitarist for punk rock unit Hi-Standard, one of a few Japanese punk bands to tour overseas, and honcho of marquee punk-indie imprint Pizza of Death records, Yokoyama knows the loneliness of trying to go against Japan's corporate flow. For more than a decade, he's been expressing anti-establishment themes and battling to make Pizza of Death a viable concern.

The story of The Cost of My Freedom sounds like an equally difficult battle. Around the time that Hi-Standard ceased activity in 2000, Yokoyama remembers feeling stifled playing only guitar. "I'm a guitarist and it's my main instrument, but I'm not like an Al di Meola or Joe Pass… There was something missing…it was the 'song,'" he writes on the Pizza of Death website.

Yokoyama had the desire, and had written some tunes on acoustic guitar, but was not sure how to proceed with them, wondering whether to go strictly acoustic or bring in a backing band. And with Hi-Standard on hiatus, he was suddenly busy with a number of projects, including playing with the highly rated BBQ Chickens, guesting with 20-year punk veterans the Gembaku Onanies ("Atomic Bomb Masturbators"), and producing bands like last year's phenom Hawaiian6.

Before he knew it, Yokoyama says, the five-year deadline he'd set himself for the project was drawing near. "I felt if I didn't do it now I never would, so I booked a studio for February," he writes. "I decided first to record the five songs I'd already written, but since this was for real, I had to think about finding members." Calling on bassist Low IQ Ichi, drummer Jah-Rah, and keyboardist Hirohisa Horie, Yokoyama says, "I invited them over to my house and, over yakiniku, played them some of my songs-we'd finished four new songs before we knew it."

The resulting sound on The Cost of My Freedom is a contrast between intimate acoustic and hardcore numbers. In the lead-off track, an acoustic number with organ, for instance, Yokoyama emotes, "In the end/I must make it on my own/Made my choice so I go alone." And later he delivers a sweet, Beatles-esque song, "I'm Not Afraid When I'm With You," with the help of one of the members of girl duo Puffy. But the album becomes progressively heavier, with the backing band letting rip a fusillade of scorching melocore and Husker Du-like thrash by the midway point of "Funny Things" and "Popcorn Love."

While it's not unusual to hear Japanese vocalists sing in English these days, Yokoyama does it with aplomb. A veteran of US tours, his accent and vocabulary don't grate on Western ears, and despite sometimes wearing his heart on his sleeve a bit too obviously, he thankfully doesn't mangle his English by attempting to blend it with Japanese.

Ken Yokoyama plays Magic Rock Out alongside Iggy Pop and Primal Scream on March 20. See concert listings for details.

credit: Pizza of Death