All posts by zhuang

Prairie WWWW

Prairie WWWW

In the tsunami of musical creativity that has washed over Taiwan in recent years, one of the more original and innovative bands to have emerged on the scene is Prairie WWWW (落差草原 WWWW). Adjectives such as psychedelic, tribal, folk, experimental, ambient, and noise hardly do justice to their music, even when applied collectively. Perhaps their music could be included in any playlist that has ‘hauntology‘ in the title. Then again, hauntology includes such a wide range of sounds that it is not so much a genre label as it is a name for a process of making music—a process that begins with collecting sounds from past and present cultural landscapes and pasting them in to musical collages that convey a sense atemporality in human existence.

In a way, Prairie WWWW’s music is like the tip of an iceberg—the end product, or visible aspect, of a process of creation that begins with observing, feeling, and sampling their environment. The samples they collect include those from the natural landscape, such as the sounds of the ocean, running water, or footsteps crunching the earth, as well as human-created sounds such as poems, or chants heard at a carnival. They also manage to collect an interesting range of creative percussion sounds from non-traditional sources (somewhat reminiscent of Hunters and Collectors in their early experimental period). While sometimes this material is left more-or-less in its raw state, usually it is mixed with, or serves as inspiration for, their unique brand of avant-garde electronica.

The lyrics tend to be chanted and spoken rather than sung, which gives the music a kind of quasi-religious feel. But this is not just some kind of veneer or a gimmicky attempt to be different. Prairie WWWW are serious about their art, something that has been clear right from the beginning with their first EP which is called ‘Entering the Void’

Each of their records is a separately conceived project. In fact, the same could be said for each individual song. For example, the beautiful ‘He Almost Doesn’t Feel Anything’ (他幾乎什麼都沒有感覺) and ‘Rising of the Sun’ (太陽升起) on the second EP evoke feelings of seeing beyond the banalities of daily life and gaining awareness of a much greater cosmic cycle. Another great track is the title track of the most recent EP, Wu  Hai (霧海), meaning ‘foggy ocean’, with its gentle droning vocals and light but insistent drumming is described as like watching the dead linger before entering the void while we watch filled with consciousness and memories.

Prairie WWWW, who are cofounders of the Lonely God label, have been around since 2010, during which time they have released four records—three EPs and one LP. They played at the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia in 2016, and this year they performed at the Fuji Rock Festival, where they were placed second (according to votes from the audience) among 15 rookie bands.

They can be followed on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr, their music can be streamed  on Soundcloud, Spotify, and Streetvoice, and their records can be purchased from Bandcamp, Indievox, and at their live shows.

Do check them out you are ready to enter one of the more esoteric of realms Taiwan’s indie music and expand your awareness of what music can be.

Queen Suitcase – ‘The Joy of the Singer who Transcends Time and Space’ (超時空歌女的快活)

Queen suitcase

Listening to Queen Suitcase’s (皇后皮箱) first full-length album is like listening to an American top 40 radio station circa 1967. There’s plenty of twangy guitar, beating tambourines, and whirling Hammond organ to capture the distinctive sound of the era, but for me the most impressive feature is that every song sounds like a hit.

The album, which can be streamed on Spotify, is called  超時空歌女的快活. In English it means  ‘The Joy of the Singer who Transcends Time and Space’, which I take to be a declaration of lead singer Kala’s (卡菈) pleasure in singing the kind of music that was popular 50 years ago in another part of the world.

The range of styles that are included on the album is quite diverse. Naturally, rock & roll and R&B are the most prominent, but there are also elements of garage, surf, swing, blues, Motown, even boogie-woogie and doo-wop. Basically, if it was a popular genre in the mid 60s to early 70s, you can hear it to some degree on this album.

The album starts with a classic sixties-style rock & roll song called Bang!, which conjures up images of black and white footage and go-go dancers, and it ends with a gentler more melodic acoustic track, Dreamer, somewhat in the style of John Lennon in the late Beatles period.

Some of the highlights in between include:

Without a doubt, my favorite track is  Hold me tight – a driving R&B song with a euphoric chorus that I’ve played over and over without getting tired of it in the least. I don’t know why no advertisers have picked it up yet. It’s such a catchy tune, it could sell any product.

After listening to the album a few times (something you are sure to do), you begin to develop a deep appreciation for the great job the producers did in precisely nailing all those distinctive 60s and 70s sounds. The achievement is especially impressive when you consider not just range of instruments and backing vocals, but also the fact that no two songs have quite the same style.

My only criticism is that Queen Suitcase are like a great cover band. They have the talent to be able to faithfully reproduce a wide range of songs, but at the end of the day, that diversity prevents the emergence of a truly characteristic sound of their own. Hopefully, they can find a bit more musical focus on their next album.

 

Mozigon – Turtle Waist (烏龜腰)

mozigon
Mozigon (寞子宮), whose name means ‘lonely uterus’, are a band (actually, they call themselves a religious organization) from Taipei who combine elements of goth-rock, trip-hop and dark wave. Their vocalist has a wailing style that is reminiscent of Siouxsie Sioux or Nina Hagen in their more sonorous moments. Worth checking out if you like Skip Skip Ben Ben.

Their songs tend to deal with with dark impulses, such this one about removing another person’s organs and wearing them oneself in order to see the world as they do.

Of course, they all dress in black and shoot their videos in black and white.

Follow them on Facebook and listen to them on Soundcloud, Streetvoice, Indievox, and YouTube.

Rebel Sound Studio Live Session V III-Mozigon from Rebelsoundstudio on Vimeo.

Pacers

Pacers

Pacers (步行者) are a four-piece post-rock band who started out playing heavy metal. However, a few years ago when their vocalist had to take leave from the band in order to do his military service, the remaining members decided to turn their skills to post-rock. Somehow, what was supposed to be a temporary situation became permanent; their vocalist never returned, and the band never went back to metal. Even their name, Pacers, was supposed to be only temporary. But it too has become permanent.

During their three years as a post-rock band, they have been quite active, honing their craft while performing over 60 times, predominantly at venues in an around their hometown of Taichung. This month saw them visit Kaohsiung for just the second time when they played at In Our Time on Oct 21. I must admit that, to me, their music sounds quite similar to that of several other Taiwanese post-rock bands. But that is of course a good thing. Their compositions typically ebb and flow, exploring variations on a simple motif while alternating frequently between loud and soft, energetic and gentle. Some connoisseurs of the genre may distinguish a fuller, heavier sound, with longer periods of crashing cymbals and thumping toms – perhaps a throwback to their heavy metal origins – or detect something distinctive in terms of the richness and diversity of the sounds that they manage extract from their instruments.

Like that of Taiwan’s many other excellent post rock bands, their show really is a great way for anyone with limited Mandarin to experience the warmth and passion of Taiwan’s vibrant indie music scene on an equal footing with locals. It is not interrupted with any banter with the audience, for, as they say on their Facebook page, we should just close our eyes and find our own lyrics within music.

They have released a three-track self-titled EP that can be heard on YouTube and Streetvoice or downloaded in FLAC format from Indievox. My favorite track is ‘Dawn’, a seven-minute piece with a simple melody that starts slowly and then undergoes several abrupt changes before its satisfying symphonic finale.  The songs are all collaborative efforts by the four members, who are:

Yu Jung (尤容) – guitar

You Chun (祐鈞) – guitar

Chia Yu (家佑) – drums

Chi Hsuan (啟軒) – bass

Blush

hung xuan

“Noise is an expression of optimism” says Huang Hsuan (黃軒), guitarist, vocalist, and main creative force behind Blush—a three-piece experimental rock band based in Pingtung. I would go further by saying that noise is also a space that opens up unlimited possibilities for artistic expression. In fact, this is the reason why it can produce feelings of optimism for artists.

In Blush’s case, noise takes the form of a sweet wave of swirling, shimmering, distorted guitar melodies together with a powerful rhythm section overlaying simple songs about life’s most immediate experiences, which include not only the joyful but also the morbid and painful.

The secret side of me
Hiding in the dark
Every time I think of you
It hurts like looking at the sun

While similarities with bands like My Bloody Valentine are noticeable, and Huang readily admits to the influence, he balks at the ‘shoegaze’ label, saying it was never a term that My Bloody Valentine and bands of their ilk applied to themselves. (Somewhat facetiously, he classifies Blush as a ‘cutie-pop’ band.) More to the point, however, shoegaze is probably too broad and vague a label to meaningfully describe Blush’s sound.

When pressed, Huang describes Blush as a noise/experimental band. Of course, this is also a broad term that could mean many things, but Blush are many things. In addition to My Bloody Valentine, Huang claims inspiration from artists as diverse as grunge pioneers Nirvana, avant-garde American composer Steve Reich, Taiwanese pop star Deserts Chang (張懸), and experimental soundscape artists Prairie WWWW (落差草原). The result is a captivating aural experience that demands attention.

Blush is the third band Huang has put together, the previous two being Dismiss and Mon Cheri. The different names reflect not just line-up changes, but new materials and a progression in style from ambient to noise.

To fully appreciate the Blush project, you do need to see them perform live. Audiences of live shows are treated to a kaleidoscopic multi-sensory experience though the videos of collaborator Chiang Chun-Yi’s (江俊毅) assemblage of floating, sliding, pulsating images that have been created specifically for Blush’s music. Check out some examples of Huang Hsuan and Chiang Chun-Yi’s earlier work together here and here.

Blush

Despite the extremes Blush sometimes go to in terms of maximising the sensory impact of their shows, stripped back from all the noise and the psychedelic visuals, the core of Blush’s music—Huang’s honest songs about love, sex, and death—remains.

Pink Skirt
Fishy snow with pretty mini spirit
When you woke up in something cruel
Flowers are still alive

(from ‘Daisy(Gross Love)’, a song about latent pedophilia, inspired by a scene in Lars von Trier’s 2013 film, Nymphomaniac. Hear the entire song here.)

 

Even if you don’t understand the songs, Huang says that you will definitely be left with a strong impression.

The Blush line-up consists of:
Huang Hsuan (黃軒): guitar, lead vocal
Gao Da-Ren (高達仁, aka Silver): drums
Huang Lin-Rong (黃琳蓉, aka 皮球): bass

Upcoming gigs:

Follow them on Facebook

Bad to the Bone

Processed with VSCO with a2 preset

You have to respect a band like Bad to the Bone. It can’t be easy to write and perform songs that constantly express themes of despair, alienation, and existential angst. I guess such artistic expression may provide a kind of therapeutic relief for some, but speaking personally, I’m happier observe it from a safe distance than have to experience it for myself. That said, there is still something irresistible that draws me to their music, something about dark side of human existence that can’t be ignored.

Bad to the Bone were formed in 2015 from former members of two post-grunge/trip-hop/psychedelic/alternative bands, Far From Answer and Be Right. Their songs, which are sung in both Mandarin and English, can basically be described a bluesy style of post-punk goth rock. There are immediately recognisable influences from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Joy Division, and Einsturzende Neubauten, but Bad to the Bone aren’t a band stuck in the past. They also claim inspiration from recent UK bands such as Fat White Family, Filthy Boy, The Amazing Snakeheads, and Family Rain.

Lead singer Nuo Lin (林諾) has an Ian Curtis-like baritone voice that is well-suited to the dark, heavy, thumping, rumbling, sound produced by the band, namely: Chui-ssu Ta (吹斯達) on guitar and synthesizer, Cheng-Kai Hsu (徐承鍇) on bass, and Cheryl (雪莉) Lin on drums.

While the word ‘bad’ in the band’s name may have connotations of something spoilt or rotten, it’s actually more philosophical than that. ‘Bad’ here refers to a gloomy sense of alienation that never goes away. And gradually without one even being aware of it, the badness seeps into your bones until eventually you have no choice but to give vent to it in a mumbling, howling stream of dark poetry.

Come on
Sad person
You are spellbound by this feeling of alienation
The beloved world is too remote
Side by side, we move towards the dark side
Singing the praises of loneliness, while falling*

(from the song, Dark Star)

When I saw Bad to the Bone for the first time in a suitably dark basement in Pingtung a few months ago, I was really impressed, so I’m looking forward to their tour to the south of the island again later this month.

Dates:

10/21 (Sat) at TCRC, Tainan

10/22 (Sun) at In Our Time, Kaohsiung

The opening act for both these gigs is Nina Hagen Band sound-alikes, 寞子宮 MoZiGon.

Tickets for the Kaohsiung gig are available through IndieVox

Their music can be heard on their YouTube Channel, on Soundcloud, and on StreetVoice.

10 songs are available for download (PWYW) from INDIEVOX

* 來來
傷心的人
妳迷上這疏離的感覺
親愛的世界離我們太遙遠
肩併肩走向黑暗邊
在墜落中歌頌孤單

Fuermosha

Fuermosha 2 color

Many artists want to be cool. And why not? After all, coolness is all about being calm, confident, and getting what you want without appearing to make any effort. Against this popular ideal, however, Taiwanese post-rock band Fuermosha adopt a quite different yet equally powerful ethos—that of warm. To emphasize the point, the band’s Mandarin name is Nuan Dao, which literally means warm island. The ‘island’ being referred to here is of course Taiwan (‘Fuermosha’, by the way, is what you get when Taiwan’s other name, Formosa, is written in Chinese characters – 福爾摩沙), and you would be forgiven for thinking that ‘warm’ refers to Taiwan’s tropical climate. But it’s much more than that. It’s also a description of the national character—friendly, easy-going, peaceful, and warm.

This warmth is always there in Fuermosha’s  music. The gentle ebb and flow of their small but impressive collection of melodic compositions definitely produces a warm, soothing, comforting, and at times almost narcotic feeling in the listener. Which is just what these four young Tainan-based musicians are trying to achieve. Life, they say, inevitably has its ups and downs, but the warmth of humanity is always there. We just have to have our attention drawn to it.

The sound is not unlike more well-known Taiwanese post-rock bands such as Sugar Plum Ferry, Pleiades, and Selfkill. There’s plenty of variation in volume, but it never gets loud for long, and it always seems to flow along at a leisurely 70 to 80 bpm. There’s no droning—the lead guitar always sounds bright, with a clear ringing reverb sound that never gets drowned by the only slightly distorted rhythm guitar. The bass is really smooth and liquidy, and the gentle cymbal swells and snare rolls of the drums further add to the atmospheric sound. The surprising thing is that the band’s members come from quite diverse non-post-rock backgrounds that include heavy metal and pop.

Their live show is a real pleasure. Unlike some post rock bands I’ve seen who sit down for the entire performance, don’t  talk to the audience or even look at them very much, Fuermosha play with passion and spend time between songs to talk about them and the philosophy behind them. The performance is enhanced with recordings of natural sounds such as waves. In my opinion, some video projections of Taiwan’s natural beauty would make it even better.

Fuermosha have been together for a year. The members are Joy Liu (劉樵) lead guitar, Bingze Gan (甘秉澤) rhythm guitar, Jack Chen (陳瑋) bass, and Chih-ying Chen (陳致穎) drums.

Their first EP is due for release in early 2018. After which there will be a hiatus while the members do their military service. Currently, their music can be heard on Streetvoice and Youtube. High quality downloads are available from Indievox and they can be contacted through their Facebook page.