Here are three new homegrown albums from musicians around China on our radar this month.
1. Phantom Rhythm by Gong Gong Gong
Made up of guitar and bass duo Tom Ng (The Offset: Spectacles) and Joshua Frank (Hot & Cold), Gong Gong Gong formed in Beijing in 2015, playing in DIY spaces around the city and building a cult fan base. Phantom Rhythm is the clearest representation and most digestible album that we have gotten from the pair thus far. They lock onto the mystique of blues here, grating the sound down to its bare bones at times, summoning the phantom sound of percussion throughout, with Tom Ng singing in Cantonese on all of the album’s 10 tracks, adding to the mystery that the band has built around themselves. Tracks like ‘Some Kind of Demon’ allow a certain space around Ng’s vocals, so that they echo, as if from some desolate stage. This is beautifully done, considering the duo are beloved for their excellent live shows. Meanwhile, the interplay between bass and guitar, with the bass setting the tone for large portions of the album, is infectious, clear, minimal and easy to hang on to and never let go. They keep song lengths at around five minutes or less for the most part, and cram a bunch of quirky hooks into each song, making Phantom Rhythm an extremely enjoyable listen.
2. Fury by C.O.W. 牛
This enigmatic group made up of four artists from China and Germany are back with their latest EP, Fury, which is apparently the second element of an upcoming album, after their previous release, Epic. It’s hard to find much information on the group, but they are signed to legendary German label Compost Records, and the four artists in the group have coagulated their personalities into one, which certainly is an interesting step in terms of building the group’s brand. While the name of this EP, Fury, seems to indicate anger or disenchantment, it’s not necessarily reflected in the music, which, although exciting and danceable, does not sound overtly menacing to us. EP opener ‘General Ling’ gets straight to the point with a few vocal strands playing over each other. They go between English and Chinese lyrics as they seem to build a personality around General Ling Da Jie (General Ling Big Sister). ‘Gang Brain’ goes in another direction, reveling in thick bass beats – there are no vocals on this one, which allows for some interesting kettle drum sounds and a certain sense of voyage, seemingly more concerned about depicting an atmosphere. It’s a nice bridge to the album’s final track ‘Swear,’ which again lifts the intensity, this time introducing a male vocalist rapping in Chinese. The album as a whole combines a variety of strands of music, like trap, grime, dancehall and EDM in parts, but is largely a snippet of what we should eventually find on their debut album when it comes out.
3. Arthropods by 33EMYBW
What is an arthropod? For 33EMYBW it is the isolated form of a mythical Jewish figure called a Golem. Perhaps, then, we should view this release as a follow-up to the producer’s excellent 2018 release, Golem, which, like Arthropods, appeared on Shanghai label SVBKVLT. Made up of seven tracks and three remixes by Hakuna Kulala’s Don Zilla, NAAFI’s Lechuga Zafiro and Hyperdub’s Ikonika, a crop of producers that once again prove SVBKVLT’s excellent outreach in global underground music, Arthropods is a gentle horror show, giving us gorgeous bell-sounds in parts and tortured screams in others. 33EMYBW is awesome at this, combining these bipolar ideas seamlessly, making an album that would get the dance floor hopping, but would also not feel out of place as a film score. ‘Symmetry’ opens Arthropods, loping gently at an easy pace, using robotic vocals and high-pitched synthesizers to set a bulbous oceanic scene. ‘Tentacle Centre’ follows and tears away this veil, immediately using hard, fast synthesizers to emote alarms, buttons being pressed, commotion and the arrival of something unfortunate. Later, ‘Arthropods,’ which features Li Jianhong, straddles a thin line, leaving us in suspense like victims in a dark and spooky hallway. While the album could certainly be read as a narrative, you can also take excellent tracks like ‘Arthropods’ and ‘Adam Bank’ as singular entities. The diversity that this album offers affirms our love for 33EMYBW.
[Cover image via C.O.W. 牛/Bandcamp]