What happens when four of the punk scene’s most familiar faces – the (former guitarist of legendary hardcore band Angry Dog Eyes/Shit Dog), Shi Xudong (bass player for P.K.14), and Li Fan (drummer of The Bedstars), and Chacha (guitarist of Underdog) form a reggae band – one of the year’s best surprises is what. Recorded between 2015 and 2017, their debut is a loose, unfastened, and endlessly rewarding album that touches on punk, ska, reggae, and 60’s Buddy Holly-style early rock music. What could easily could have been seen as a cheeky side-project from a group of musicians looking to shake things up, there’s some serious heft to what they’ve managed to do here – which is create a genuine and affecting ode that feels wise beyond its years. Their love for the genre comes through and through and doesn’t once go for the easy kill. It’s doesn’t hurt that the production is top-notch – capturing the ramshackle lived-in interplay between its members, making it sound as if you’re sitting in on a late night drinking session that inevitably turns into a full out jam session.
The Tricks, the Hangzhou indie rock quartet have, for lack of a better phrase, a few tricks up their sleeves on their ambitious and endlessly surprising debut release. Taking the intricate pleasures of math rock, the grandeur of post rock, a splash of flamenco stylings, with a hefty slab of indie pop aplomb that mainly comes through it’s My Morning Jacket-inflected vocals and it’s surprising accessibility, Tricks are checking off a heck ton of boxes. And while, the combination doesn’t always go quite where you would expect (or want) it to, leaning too much into their softer side at times, there’s always a tempo change or sudden build right around the corner that’ll win you back. They’ve having their cake and eating it too, and I kinda love that about the band. Expect this one to pop up on lots of year-end lists.
Zafka, aka Zhang Anding, is back for the second time this year with The Wild Ark, which once again demonstrates the artist’s penchant for ‘playing outside the box’ and taking every opportunity to take a sound and twist it on its head all the while remaining something that keeps you earworms wiggling in delight. Strange, buoyant, and full of minimalistic wonders, it’s electronic music that’s not afraid to have a little anarchic fun on its way to the dancefloor. IDM music for folks who ingested way too much Nintendo and anime, there’s a sublime joy to the simple pleasures and grooves that Zafka resides in. Intended as the middle part of a planned trilogy ‘about the reflection of the people, and the reorganization of the social contract,’ Zafka looks to be having a hell of a year.