Lanzhou homegrown folk music for the masses, a sprawling collaborative soundtrack featuring Beijing’s headiest artists, lo-fi indie folk to wade away heartbreak, and a Malaysian music collective’s take on one of Beijing’s most intriguing electronic producers. It’s a grab bag of earworms in the latest batch of releases, which includes the newest from Low Wormwood, P.K. 14, Uncle Hu, and thruoutin.
P.K.14 are back, though not as one would suspect. Music for an Exhibition, conceived as a soundtrack to an exhibition by artist Sun Qiuchen, performed live last year at Beijing’s Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, is a mammoth piece of art that pushes the band even further down the rabbit hole. The improvised set teamed up post punk stalwarts PK.14 with modular synth peddlers Alpine Decline and Zoomin\’ Night head honcho Zhu Wenbo, who contributed layers of clarinet, sax, and other electronic hardwiring over the walls of sound. And in doing so, they provide Yang Haisong and company an outlet to toss their sound into deeper waters, allowing their psychedelic and experimental tendencies only hinted at in their previous work to come to full fruition. Consisting of just four tracks, each above the fifteen-minute mark, it’s a rich piece of work – one that deserves and rewards repeated listening. It’s gleams with the idea of possibility and of exploring unknown waters, all the while maintaining a focus on the horizon. A collaborative slam dunk, and one that has me even more curious about the future of P.K.14. Get lost over on douban, xiami, and bandcamp.
Lanzhou folk rock heavyweights, Low Wormwood, have returned with their most somber work to date, with mixed results. Midnight Singer, the band’s fifth full-length album, finds the band relying on their lyrics to carry the brunt of the emotion. Which isn’t particularly troubling, as the band has always had a way with lyrics – from a description of sailboat finding refuge under a lighthouse’s warm flame; to life along the Yellow River; to an oak that refuses to perish – singer Liu Kun has a way of turning one’s natural environment into a metaphor for life, or finding solace and lonely acceptance in the mundane, and just as well, a flash of enraged nonconformity in how one lives. It’s a country album through and through, though one may wish there was more of a rugged cowboy spirit in there. Brooding and rich, yet often too restrained and drab to generate any sense of urgency, the band’s portraits of society have plenty of soul, but too little fire. Let Low Wormwood lay it bare over on douban and xiami.
Earlier this year, Beijing-based multi-instrumentalist and electronic producer thruoutin toured through Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. The journey put the artist in contact with two Kuala Lumpur based producers, VMPRMYTH and KAIN, and their musical collective AKHYLA. Eventually this exchange of ideas and music led to Akhyla showing their love the only way electronic artists know how – a remix album. Akhyla Pres. thruoutin finds the collective reinterpreting four of the pipa-wielding fresh-faced tracks and warping them into club ready, bass heavy jams that maintain the smooth glossy mainframe of thruoutin whilst cranking up the charm and glitz usually bubbling beneath them. If anything, one might wish these tracks were stretched out even further to their logical dance floor conclusion. Striking stuff – have your fill over at AKHYLA’s bandcamp.
Chengdu raised, Beijing based lo-fi indie folk artist Uncle Hu, whose been scraping away at the scene these past couple years, brings their melancholic sound to full fruition on their debut, When Memories Collide. And there’s really no way around this, but Uncle Hu is a dead ringer for Elliot Smith – the wistful, bittersweet lyrics and melodies could go side by side with the deceased singer-songwriter. And while it can become a bit distracting, there’s no denying the charm and talent on hand here. Uncle Hu is a skilled songwriter and vocalist, full of euphemistic observations and somber undertones which along with some of the subtle backing arrangements gives the entire album this warm, breezy autumnal shade that would be the perfect companion for a rainy day. Time will tell if Uncle Hu is a one trick pony, but for a debut, I’m mightily impressed. Tear into it on douban and xiami.