Loved by some, missed by many – here’s a list of our favorite Mainland albums from 2015. What started three years ago as a last-minute attempt to fill empty magazine pages has turned into a growing tip of a hat to a thriving music scene.
Indeed 2015 was a big year for the professionalization of China's music scene. Budding monoliths like Modern Sky, JZ and MAO Livehouse built livehouses across the nation, new media giants like Douban jumped into the record business and even more domestic stalwarts toured or signed deals overseas. With the recent government mandated crackdown on unlicensed music online, things are only looking up for artists.
In 2013, we made note of a few of the year's Notable Albums. Last year, we debuted our Top 25 list. This year, we're going deep into this thing with our Top 50 Mainland Records of 2015. Before we start, special acknowledgement must be given to Live Beijing Music and their weekly William Griffith-penned New Releases column, which are absolutely essential for anyone interested in Mainland music.
30. Round Eye: Round Eye
Notorious for their controversial band name, their wild - but polarizing - live shows and their self-proclamation as “China’s hairiest and sexiest rock and roll band,” Round Eye gets serious on their full-length debut. Enraged by the group’s “party band” reputation, frontman Chachy taps into the spirit of the Florida punk scene he cut his teeth in for a tribute to the scuzzy side of his adopted city of Shanghai. Round Eye is a hotpodge of driving guitar riffs and squealing saxes, in the vein of freak rock legends like Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart. Stalwarts of the city's jazz scene lend a hand, as do alternative icon R. Stevie Moore and especially, Steve McKay. The legendary saxophonist who has memorably contributed to The Stooges and Violent Femmes played on half of the album and history will show that his final live show took place in Beijing with Round Eye. Released in China and America, the boys spent the summer touring both countries and have already wrapped up recording sessions with P.K. 14's Yang Haisong. For more, check out That's Shanghai's feature on Round Eye.
29. Nakoma: Nakoma
This Beijing group of expats eschews all scenes with a difficult to categorize sound. Too hard to be post-rock; too abstract to be hardcore; the instrumental trio's "modern prog-punk" has nonetheless struck a huge nerve in the capital city. Partially recorded at Yang Haisong's Psychic Kong studios, Nakoma captures the precise fury of their live shows from the pounding opener, 'The Fray' to the slow-burning 'Caravan.' Their notoriety is starting to spread, with the group wrapping up their inaugural seven-city national tour this month.
28. Momo Wu: The 90s Power
No VPN? Listen to The 90's Power on Xiami.
Ever since finishing runner-up on the first season of The Voice of China, Momo Wu has been tabbed for stardom. She shattered records with over 200 million views of her 2013 Pepsi sponsored single 'Live for Me, Momo,' but it's on this independent online release that she shows the savvy needed for a modern pop star. On The 90s Power, she collaborates with emerging upstarts from across China's underground like Nanjing bass producer 3asic and Do Hits approved Zhi-16. However, in an industry where uncredited ghostwriting is the norm, Momo shines a spotlight on her collaborators' contributions. The Qiqihar-born singer tapped into her sizeable fan base, asking them to choose their favorite song while fully introducing all the participants in a gala performance. More importantly for Momo, the album sees her carefreely experimenting across a myriad of genres, opening all sorts of roads for her to take modern Mando-pop and leaving the "China's Jessie J" tag behind. For more, check out That's Shanghai's feature on Momo Wu's first producers, Mr. Fantastic.
27. The Flyx: Find Myself
菲利克斯: Find Myself
Since 2008, The Flyx have been a vital part of Beijing’s punk underbelly with rousing shows and an old school sensibility. While they’ve released tracks on respected indie labels like Maybe Mars, Wuhan Prison Records and Genjing Records, it’s taken the group seven years to finally release their first full-length disc. The wait was worth it. Find Myself opens with a grandiose Marricone cover and is followed by 10 furious tracks jampacked with power chords, full-throated sing-along choruses and lyrics full of social outrage. Fingers crossed that a national tour will come in 2016.
26. Supermarket: Limit Infinity
Often dubbed as China's "first electronic band," Supermarket continues their astounding run of conistency. 17 years after their debut, the Modern Sky originals still mange to find new nooks to explore in their dark electronica. Despite this being their seventh official release, there's few signs that the Beijing group are slowing down. They follow last year's standout blackeclipse with a warmer piece of work. Limit Infinity is still full of haunting piano keys, sinister breakbeats and heavily processed vocals. However, there's a light that shines from the soaring traditional wind instruments and the trip-hop inspired beats, while songs like '云 (Cloud)' are downright poppy.
25.Tengger Cavalry: Blood Sacrifice Shaman/Overture for Carnegie
铁骑: 血祭萨满 /卡内基不插电
Nature Ganganbaigal is one of China’s great musical geniuses. As a university student in Beijing, he brought the traditional music of his Inner Mongoloian background with metal and a genre was born. Now living in New York City where he’s the subject of Vice profiles and where his NYU competition winning scores are performed on Broadway, Nature spent 2015 laying the seeds for what promises to be an abundant 2016. He released his debut solo disc and his pioneering group Tengger Cavalry re-recorded their debut Blood Sacrifice Shaman with updated arrangements. However, it’s their acoustic Overture for Carnegie Unplugged that proves the group’s visceral power isn’t reliant on distortion. Tengger Cavalry continues to conquer new grounds, performing a Christmas Eve show at prestigious Carnegie Hall - an unfathomable amibition when they formed in 2012.
24. Zaliva-D: E.V.I.L.
As a member of black metal band Evilthorn and with his dark ambient project Enemite, Li Chao has been exploring the more sinister side of music for years. However, E.V.I.L. never sounds so enticing as it does on the first full-length release of his dark electronic duo with Aisin Gioro. The follow-up to 2014’s Tribute to BDSM is an abrasive mix of twisted Eastern melodies and skewed techno beats contorted into cult-like bangers. Standout Beijing producer Howie Lee is a huge fan and the disc was released by respected Nanchang metal institution, Pest Productions.
23. Proximity Butterfly: Medusae
Following the darkness of the Sichuan Earthquake inspired conceptual album, Reprieve, the Chengdu multicultural psychedelic rockers return in a gentler frame of mind. Inspired by his mother, frontman Joshua C. Love has crafted another loose concept album paying tribute to the struggles faced by women everywhere. By turning down the screaming, Medusae signals another turning point for the group, which first formed in 2002, as they discover the potent power of hope. A D-Force and Maybe Mars co-organized national tour added to the good vibes and the group is already in the midst of a songwriting binge for a follow-up. For more, check out That’s Shanghai’s feature on Proximity Butterfly.
22. 3asic: This Album Made My Friends Bas Sick
The young Nanjing producer’s star in China’s bass scene continues to rise after a stellar 2015. While he first gained attention with his 2013 Asia Bass Volume 1 release on Conrank’s Rankadank Records, 3asic has graduated to boss. On the first full-length release on his Project Sync Records, he explores all the different shades of bass from the ethereal ('Jelly') to the tough ('Handy Dope'). A successful national tour accompanied the album release with 3asic continuing his mission to spread his brand of 'Nanking Electro' across China.
21. Yang Fan: What Happened After 1,001 Nights?
For three decades, the singer-songwriter has been a vital part of Beijing's underground. Her first group Hang On the Box was praised by Newsweek as China's first all-female punk group. Her next band, Ourself Beside Me, were one of the first acts signed to Maybe Mars. Despite producing two sterling discs from that label this year, Yang still managed time to release her hypnotic solo debut. Described as “fugue state music,” the nocturnal disc is a whirring dirvish of odd sounds from the glockenspiel to brass bells to Yang’s mysterious guitar licks. Follow Yang’s advice - “turn off the light, close your eyes and slip into the story.”