Album Review ::: Kelly Dance – ‘Wild Grass’

From the outset, Hong Kong-based Australian artist Kelly Dance’s 2017 release ‘Wild Grass’ is a gorgeously crafted set of cohesive songs all unified by the strength of layered instrumentation and breathy vocals; both at times meandering on dreamy paths that add to the introspective and contemplative tones of the album. Interwoven stories of her Asian travels, exploration and demystification are among themes explored lyrically, while carefully constructed arrangements sublimely emphasise the emotional highs and lows. From the guitar-oriented spine of the songs, the intermittent swells of brass and string sections, illusive tubular bells, decorative flutes, and pounding drums all add to the vibrancy of colour across the soundscape of ‘Wild Grass’.

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The optimistically titled, ‘Infinite Possibilities’ kicks things off with twanging guitars and shuffling drums that effortlessly lay the tarmac for KD’s lines, ‘What’s real in my head are the visions that shape my reality’; immediately setting this album aside as introspective, demure and highly self-aware. High-pitched synth arrangements flow smoothly, then dip and ascend to reveal lyrics that are surreal, and dreamy while there is a harmony to the lethargic vocal style, equally smooth and stylistic in delivery.

‘All That Seems’, is chilling as it opens with a minimal lonely guitar (sounding alot like a traditional Chinese guzheng) and breathy vocal like a polished poltergeist wailing in the distance. One-minute in, the full band kick in to reveal a joyous gospel tune whose chorus is layered with backing vocals that swell and continually builds til the organ and distorted guitars growl to a fade.

The 2016 Ep title track ‘All That’s Gained’ is nothing short of ingenious with the gorgeously mystifying tubular bells. They continue deep into the song as vocals as well as other instruments build and entwine around the pivot point. Lyrical surrealism continues in the lines, ‘This shiny city is built from dirt/ Money courses through her veins/ She’s got a tiger’s head with a snake’s tail/ She’s all or nothing either way.’ The song apexes with juxtaposing false-starting guitar stabs with a sublime brass arrangement. Sitting next to the experimental but furiously catchy tune ‘Socotra’, Dance delivers a song so mercilessly cool that you can’t help bopping your head, while simultaneously listening out for all the intricate details in the composition – check out those background bass vocal hums! Brilliant stuff!

Socotra Reprise is an intimate piano lead song, decorated with washes of distorted cymbals, percussion and an assortment of abstract sounds that tremor and agitate. Airstrike is laced with nightmarish imagery of a military airstrike with lovely use of lyrical metaphor, placed alongside the chirpy and playful calls of the flute and brass sections, with touches of piano highlights. Definitely among the best moments of the album with hints of Bonnie Prince Billy, and Bill Callahan.

With a lovely studio sound,‘Birdman’ is distinct as an acoustic ballad. Broken Stone label mate Aidan Roberts (Maple Trail), gives the song an additional element of flavour with his baritone vocals succinct and methodical in his choice of refrain, ‘ Don’t leave me high’. Yes, very cool! While drums shuffle underneath, brass intensifies the mood and lovely piano flourishes convey a sombre meaning to the song. Plucking acoustic guitars on ‘Lost Good Hell’ call and reply on each other while sounding much like an Irish harp. The chorus is a swell of orchestral strings and timpani as Dance sings sweetly, ‘You’re too nostalgic for our lost good hell’.

‘Dangerous Visions’, which also appeared on 2016’s ‘All That’s Gained’ EP is equally one of the highs on ‘Wild Grass’. It is a melody-fueled mirror up to a humanity that currently seems to be on a one way road to self-destruction. Check the lyrics, ‘The Gun club meet to talk this thing called peace/ Our artillery is destined for obscurity/Our chance is now to liberate the people’ With a beautifully delivered oxymoron, there is an undertone of political and personal uncertainty throughout the song, not least inspired by the artist’s current environment. Century Sleep is another fine example of Dance and Robert’s collaboration, with a highly infectious chorus and melody throughout as they interchange the lead vocal line without once disturbing the weighty emotional inflections of this song.

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‘Remember Me’ takes a step back in terms of arrangement, and comes as a melodious and dulcet change of pace from the rest of the album; yet no less gorgeous than it’s musical siblings. ‘The Track’ is a heavenly piece of storytelling about a jockey who has fallen from her horse and is down on the track, but the artist choice of words and unwavering optimism plays out so well as the punter in this story looks on. The lyrical counterpoint shifts and he says,’Baby/ it makes me feel so alive/ And it’s a perfect day/ Because the favourite is giving way’.

The title track ‘Wild Grass’ brings closure to the the album, surmising sounds and textures along with Dance’s commanding and distinctive breathy lament. One last musical crescendo swells with drums and crashing cymbals, brass, guitars and reverberating vocal effects all at once over, ending a highly impressive album of unlikely inspiration in Chinese Science-Fiction stories; written as a tribute to living, loving and coming of age in Modern China.

We at ‘The Sound Of Fighting Dogs’ have purchased this record, and suggest you do too.

https://kellydance.bandcamp.com/album/wild-grass

https://www.facebook.com/kellydancemusic

http://brokenstonerecords.com/

 

 

 

Album Review ::: Alasdair Roberts ‘Pangs’

Scottish musician Alasdair Roberts, previously of indie folk rock band Appendix Out, has released his new album ‘Pangs’ with Drag City. Among his arable discography of traditional Celtic muscle, myths and fables Roberts’ new album ‘Pangs’ is tightly packed with a wealth of creative arrangements, all threaded with impeccable detail. From the harmonic droning of synths and strings to the melodic bass. The playful blare of punctuating whistles, dynamic drums that gallop and then amble expressively. Pangs showcases a host of songwriting talent that is surely one of the peaks of the folk genre in recent years.

‘Pangs’ title song, is Celtic and medieval in it’s enunciation. Lyrically, Roberts’ plays with themes of mythological stories but there is a tangible sense of realism in the imagery throughout. At the same time, percussion and drums assault the song tunefully with a wayward sense that connects perfectly with the guitar melodies and arrangements.

‘No Dawn Song’ is equally creative with additional flourishes of piano layered gently under the song, as an underlying poignant tone is dispersed with a lightly spoken and melodic brogue. ‘An Altar In The Glade’ is curious and unabashed with it’s spirited barks and lovely cymbal work that never disconnects music from story. A listening treat that sparks memories of the work of the celebrated 17th century Irish composer Turlough O’Carolan.

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The Breach is no less out of touch with tradition as the vocals contrast with the violin and string sections in a gorgeous call and response; all built on an immense double-bass whose grainy drones are monstrous. Brass sections also add highlights and glimmers of light instrumental phrases that swell over the refrain, ‘You’re always gonna find me’. Brilliant tune!

The Angry Laughing God is the poppiest moment among the track listing, with a catchy  head-bopping guitar riff playing while the band is in full swing. I find this song reminiscent of elements of traditional song ‘The Irish Washerwoman’ previously recorded by The Dubliners; while a mischievous slide whistle cheekily streaks across, as the drums continue with their dynamic and snappy rhythmic changes, cowbell, shuffling rolls and hi-hats a-plenty.

Wormwood and Gall is beautifully arranged with violins, flutes and vocal harmonies while quirky percussion (a musical saw?) dips into the arrangement with rippling oddity for the chorus. Piano and guitars carry the song and the sublime character of the song comes to life among these strangely flirty sounds. The Downward Road is the most experimental on Pangs. Vocal echoes and tremolo effects not usually associated with Celtic folk music take progressive turns and digress from the rule book ever so slightly but are delightfully palatable, and colourful.

Scarce of Fishing is a charming ballad that is plucked with skill and tenacity. It is emotional and lyrical, as a flute carries the musical melody. Lyrical detail is visual and laments a family and love separated by their work at sea. Vespers Chime is a prayer, where instrumentation is full as strings and guitars match each other. Musically it reminds me quite alot of Bonnie Prince Billy, but I find the local patois gives alot more vibrancy and realism to Alasdair Roberts, rather than a make-believe character or version of himself. He is organic, pure and natural.

Song of the Marvels brings this album to an end with similar creative musical brilliance. It summarises the album, and goes one step further in key changes, droning and expression. Synths add to a burning texture that is gravelly and ear-piercing all at once providing a respite and further affirming the ingenious creativity of ‘Pangs’. While songs are sung in typical folk like stories, musically Alasdair Roberts veers away from anything close to linear songwriting and instrumentation. Every phrase is a source of invention, playfulness, and deviceful harmony, organic and tuneful.

We at TSOFD have purchased this album, and very much recommend that you do too!

https://alasdairroberts.bandcamp.com/album/pangs

http://www.alasdairroberts.com/

http://www.dragcity.com/artists/alasdair-roberts

 

Live Review ::: William Gray – Matz Andersson – John Carroll @ Cosy Bar, Ningbo, China

Medic Records Presents William Gray/Matz Andersson/John Carroll @ Cosy Bar, Ningbo (Saturday 22nd October)

Without wishing to pour cold water on the considerable improvements taking place regarding China’s live music scene in recent years nationally, and even more recently, finally, in Hangzhou, a remaining bugbear is solo acoustic acts are still perhaps not getting the spotlight they deserve. Take for example the recent Xihu Music Festival in Hangzhou – why was there no stage dedicated to acoustic acts? Would it be all that hard to set up a small tent for a more intimate experience than that offered by the main stages? It would provide welcome shelter from the rain if nothing else.

Festival circuit aside one might be forgiven for thinking there’s not enough appropriate venues? Well think about the amount of coffee shops that exist in a city such as Hangzhou and I am sure many other metropolises in China. One would do well to remember it was the cafe scene of areas such as Greenwich Village in New York that spawned the likes of Bob Dylan, a long time before he went electric. An acoustic or folk scene is one that could potentially thrive here and perhaps save the odd coffee shop from going under, such is the highly competitive nature of the business environment, simply by getting more bums on seats. And acoustic music is, logistically, so much simpler to host. A small PA system is pretty much all that’s needed. Less expense. Less hassle. Arguably, for a smaller venue, even a PA system is not necessary.

The feeling is that many in China believe full band = better. Solo acoustic performers may well find, if wishing, be it reluctantly, to take on a corporate gig to earn much needed revenue (not much to be made from selling music these days) those booking will specify they want more than one performer or a band. It seems what can be seen with the eyes rather than heard with the ears is more important to many of those doing the booking. When those hiring acts openly state their preference is for a band rather than a solo act one can only assume this is down to ignorance on their part, unless they are specifically stating what type of band they want and why that is, for example if it’s for a funk night where wanting a funk band rather than a singer-songwriter is of course entirely justified. Our assertion is that wanting to book a band and not a solo act is fine as long as the reasoning is not based on a lack of understanding or the belief that a solo performer is unable to provide a performance that is as competent or as arresting as a full band. Indeed, a solo performer can in fact often provide a performance that sounds better than a full band. There is no hiding when performing alone, a mistake is there for all to see and this often means solo acts are a lot more rehearsed and have their material more finely honed.

Anyone that argues an acoustic performance is somehow less than what you might get with a band, that the time of Bob Dylan the acoustic act was long ago or that an acoustic performer can’t cut it in certain live environments or please the punters, should perhaps tell that to people that saw the likes of Elliott Smith or Jeff Buckley perform solo, or, if more inclined towards mainstream pop, they’d do well to note, as we’ve mentioned before on this blog, that Ed Sheeran sold out Wembley Stadium three nights in a row. And that’s before we’ve even mentioned the two words that are ‘Jon‘ and ‘Gomm‘. Think that these are all Western acts, and there’s not the same quality in Hangzhou? Wrong. Feast your eyes and ears on this, an act Singapore-based Soi Music TV recently filmed near West Lake in Hangzhou.

Now I’ve got that off my chest, how grateful we are then to Medic Independent Records for providing us acoustic lovers with the much needed means to get our six string fix. Tonight we witness three quality acts in their acoustic guises. First up is John Carroll. Much missed on the live circuit over the past year or so, only periodically gigging, Carroll has been hard at work on new material he is aiming, we are told, to release next year. Tonight is his first bash at performing many of these new songs live and, going by what we’re hearing, we’re going to be in for a treat when the new release arrives. Immediately striking is the fact this material sounds very different to previous album ‘Cenotaph Tapes‘ which was quite an inward looking work, largely melancholy and downbeat, the sound of a man who perhaps had a lot to vent and channel. This album is a rewarding listen for anyone who enjoys acoustic music, but particularly those who empathise with feelings of alienation, particularly the sensitive laowai marooned in China types.

However, Carroll’s new creations are rewarding in a different way. To put it bluntly, there are earworms aplenty. Some of the songs are rough around the edges, as might be expected from a first outing, but what is noticeable is that this doesn’t detract from the catchiness. So catchy in fact that this reviewer overheard the barman attempting to sing along even though he didn’t know the words due to English not being his mother tongue. A casual glance around the bar sees many transfixed and plenty of foot-tapping going on. Positive signs indeed and some who are only familiar with ‘Cenotaph Tapes’ might just find themselves surprised by Carroll demonstrating such unabashed traditional pop sensibilities. Take ‘Ambushed From All Sides‘ for example. A hook Teenage Fanclub would be proud of and you could even imagine Lennon and McCartney choosing to pen a ditty of the same name after spying it as a potentially promising headline come song title in whatever newspaper they happened to pick up that day.

Disappear Into Thin Air‘ is another example of this. Less jaunty than the aforementioned song and more reflective but similarly enticing in terms of a great pop melody. Whilst there is something very Ireland and the UK about these two songs, the song ‘Gravedigger‘ perhaps conjures up influences from the other side of the pond, sounding like Neil Young spliced with Thurston Moore, be it with an Irish twist. Old favourite ‘Don’t Shield Your Eyes‘ also comes out of the bag for those who know Carroll’s older material. All in all a great performance. Check out John Carroll’s Bandcamp page here.

Next up is Matz Andersson. Andersson is becoming something of a veteran of the Chinese music scene these days. And not only as a solo artist, for he has also toured extensively fronting rock outfit Exit 4, and this includes televised festival appearances no less. A Swedish-Chilean songwriter and a well traveled one at that, Andersson has much to draw upon in terms of his cultural heritage and life experiences to channel into his songs. His laid back guitar style which combines finger-picking and strumming is easy on the ear and he possesses a singing voice which is husky and reassuring. If you have heard his album ‘Lake Khovsgol’, recorded in Ningbo with musicians he struck up a rapport with locally at open mic nights (another example of why space for acoustic performance is so important) you will know Andersson is certainly an accomplished songwriter. If not, if present tonight in Ningbo, you would certainly know by the end of this performance. Relaxed on the microphone, Andersson treats an eager audience with an assured delivery of tracks from the aforementioned album such as ‘Chasing Ghosts‘ as well as newer songs, ‘In The Rain‘ and ‘Hold On To Yourself‘.

Joining Andersson onstage for ‘Chasing Ghosts‘ and also ‘The Eternal Return‘ and ‘That Old House‘, are Tom Rutherford (percussion) and Joe Patterson (bass). These two know exactly what the songs need. With this type of material less is often more and they provide the necessary delicate touches quite wonderfully. Musicians like this should be cherished because, more often than is preferable, otherwise able players lack the musical maturity to resist the urge to play all over a songwriter’s carefully crafted material. On November 25th Andersson plays at Time Beacon in Ningbo where he will be supporting Pinball City. The following day, as befits a man who relishes the act of bringing his music far and wide, Andersson will be playing in Nanjing, again supporting Pinball City. Those looking for quality acts to book – look no further.

Listen to Matz Andersson on Bandcamp here. If you’re more of a SoundCloud person, follow him here.

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Final performance of the evening comes from William Gray. With a new EP ‘Seine’ to promote and a busy year all round for Gray given he also released his album ‘Flounce’ in March, the headline slot was more than appropriate. Would the performance live up to the billing? The answer is definitely yes. With gigs such as these, running order can be a bit of a conundrum. Basic logic states that as you work up to the final act you get a bigger and bigger audience and the evening peaks at the end. However, on a Saturday night people often hit smaller venues such as Cosy Bar as a precursor to other events such as club nights. This can be a blessing or a curse. For bands, it can be a bit ego-deflating to wait all night to go onstage only to find numbers have thinned out for your set. However, for an acoustic act it might actually provide something of a relief, as less people also means less noise.

There is a deftness of touch about Gray’s guitar style and a softness to his approach to some of his material that warrants an attentive ear. This then is one of those occasions where an event benefits from less drunken chatter and a core, still sizable, audience of people remaining primarily for the music as well as to socialise. Once a quieter foundation is established this then gives the act the capacity to play the room rather than battle it. It is actually the case tonight that Gray plays a more upbeat set than some who have seen him perform might be used to. For example, he opens with arguably one of the standout tracks from ‘Flounce‘, the lyrically zany ‘Heather‘ which, with its palm-muting, is positively new wave in its rockiness, be it a more lo-fi, laid-back sounding incarnation. Just as happy to fingerpick as he is to apply a solid rhythm guitar approach when needed, Gray will also more than happily combine the two and this adaptable philosophy is also mirrored in both his singing and his lyrics.

At some moments in the set he is positively belting out the songs, at some points his voice is quite soulful. At other times it can rise to falsetto. In terms of the words sometimes they are minimalist, see ‘There’ off the new EP, at other times quite wordy, for example ‘Black Dog Underfoot‘, a song which is all the better heard live. Once settled into his set, Gray is reveling in the occasion, not going too loud too soon, always holding something back and toying with the audience, so he can crank up the volume where necessary simply through touch or how loudly he sings, rather than needing to turn things up on the dial. One standout moment is ‘Open Season‘ which I just had to dig out by later listening through all of his material here on Bandcamp. I found it on his 2010 release ‘Vertical Wealth‘ which contains some lovely, woozy sax that Destroyer would be proud of. The live solo version this evening lulls the audience into a false sense of security with a repetitive one note refrain which then turns into a somewhat Elliott Smith style chord progression before Gray really lets rip for the outro. All the material comes across well and Gray performs a remarkably long set, picking a wide range of material from his now sizable back catalogue, including all of the songs from his latest EP ‘Seine’. For a 30 RMB entrance fee the performers tonight have really given people their money’s worth. Ruddy well done.

Follow Medic Records on Twitter and Facebook.

Premature Evaluation ::: William Gray ‘Seine’ Ep

After the release of his recent album ‘Flounce’ with local Hangzhou collective Medic Independent; William Gray is at it again and set to release his new Ep ‘Seine’, this coming October 1st. We’ve been trying to keep our ears close to the ground of late and so we are delighted to have received this Ep pre-release for consumption and evaluation.

William Gray’s musical output since his arrival in Hangzhou, China has been nothing short of staggering. In just a few short years (since 2013) he has already put out two homemade solo albums, as well as a 5-song Ep ‘Tish‘ just last year. His brand new Ep ‘Seine‘ is about to drop. So what of it, and how does it hold up?

A FRONT COVER

‘Seine’ (unlike the Qiantang) is a five-song indie-folk Ep that swings more on the acoustic side of the river bank than its audio ancestry. It is immediately striking how much mellower the current of this recording is as Gray takes an approach not too far removed from the likes of Beck‘s balladeering heydays. The acoustic guitar is at the helm and lays foundations for the main spine of the music, while Gray’s lyrics take account of witty and winding stories of life as an independent artist, as well as adding his unique humourous analogies and turn of phrase.

‘Drops in the Ocean’ opens with a spacey tremolo that warbles warmly behind Gray’s layered vocals just before the bass, drums and acoustic guitar groove begins to set the wheels in motion. Offbeat rhythms drive the main melody throughout with additional synthy brass sections that lead the melodic bass on an instrumental, finally contorting and twisting out of shape with backwards samples that suck and pull at the already hallucinogenic mind space.

‘There’ is a huge and roomy acoustic ballad. Opening with the elusive words, ‘You don’t know where I am’, and ‘I’m already there’, perhaps giving us an insight into Gray’s curiosity in psychedelia, existence and metaphysics. It is repetitive and trippy with a contagious backing beat with hand claps to boot! While still retaining some experimental sounds,‘If You Had A Diamond’ on the other hand has a blues swing shuffle feel to it. Distorted bass lines and lyrical refrains make this a catchy number with some lovely guitar fills and dynamics throughout.

‘Sonic Middle Age Spread’ jumps straight into storyline. The dialogue depicts an aging pop-star wrapped up in themselves and the motions of the lifestyle they’ve come accustomed to, with a humourous description of the onslaught of age in ‘a wrinkling derriere’. For me though, one of the less endearing moments of ‘Seine’ is the weak synth violin/string timbre on this song that barely lifts the slow-paced shuffle.

‘The Present’, feels much like an extension of the former song. The production here is really nice though and offers a textured layer that compliments the organ languidly hanging from the vocal melody. The song comes to a close with a crumbling and distorted sample of two people speaking on the phone just to say goodbye. A perfectly placed sample capturing Gray’s end of Ep humour risk. Overall an experimental new release from William Gray. ‘Seine’ definitely ventures into new sonic territory for his acoustic music with some lovely bass and drum grooves, organ melodies, and a reliable sense of wit, sturdy songwriting and craftsmanship.

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Opinion ::: Best Home Recorded Albums

Who isn’t recording music at home these days? And why wouldn’t you? The most basic equipment that you’ve got to record at home in 2016, is already way beyond what The Beatles were using back in the 60s. Depending on the equipment, home recording generally checks all the boxes for our tech savvy generation – it’s affordable, comfortable, portable and if you’re lucky, your precious little domicile might even sound half decent on record! The fact is, whether you record at home or not these days, for the majority of artists it seems to be a matter of preference rather than being your sole choice (as it might have been in the past).

You’ll find plenty of high-profile artists indulging in the art of home-recording as well as those who are continually arguing over it’s pros and cons, the quality of sound, and the ‘real’ value of music etc. For one, David Byrne (Talking Heads) has made some key points on this topic in his interview ‘When to Resist Technology.’ To sum it up… It’s the song that matters, not the technology; but then again we haven’t quite figured out if the term, ‘home recording’ still applies if your home happens to be a 16th century mansion.

There are currently infinity musicians recording at home at this very moment in time; so here are our favourite home-recorded albums that we currently know about and that you may or may not have already heard.

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Bruce Springsteen/Nebraska (1981) – Basically, this album is a diamond. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like it. I’m not just talking about the songs which by the way are an undeniable weapon of grit, sentiment and passion; but the mood and essence of the recording screams volumes and might as well have just taken a giant shit-kicker boot to the cojones of the whole modern digital music revolution. This entire album is a home-recorded cassette tape demo that Springsteen took into the studio in the hope of working on with some other musicians. He didn’t like the final studio result, so he ended up releasing the demos as the official album instead. Respect.

Daniel Johnston/Songs of Pain (1980) – A cult favourite, you’ll either get it or you’ll hate it. Musicians/artists can get a tad wrapped up in themselves and their talent, or whatever sometimes. What you get here though, is a passionate kid at home recording and giving it everything he’s got with a tape recorder, piano/guitar, and voice. Despite the very lo-fi quality of the recordings, Johnston’s raw and emotional tunes are as good as you’re bound to find in the pop/indie-folk genre.

Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band/Trout Mask Replica (1969) – Home recorded and produced by Frank Zappa, this highly influential album is among one of the 20th centuries greatest in terms of Modern Jazz, and Avant-garde musical theories. It not only went on to influence many other genres and experimental artists but was also important for its unusual musical structures, using polyrhythms and atonality influenced in part by Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg.

Miles Davis/Walkin (1954) – Recorded by a much younger Rudy Van Gelder in his parent’s living room, ‘Walkin’ is the debut recording of the influential Jazz composer and trumpeter Miles Davis. Given the date and quality of this home recording, it’s stood the test of time for a good reason. Obviously the talent and musicianship here is extraordinary, and ‘Walkin’ lives on today as a debut classic from one of the 20th centuries most acclaimed musicians.

J Mascis/ Several Shades of Why (2011) – The debut solo album by Dinosaur Jr frontman, J Mascis was recorded at his home in Amherst, USA with a bunch of other musician friends including Kurt Vile, members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Band of Horses, Broken Social Scene and released on SubPop Records. Wielding his acoustic guitar, there’s a very organic/unpolished sound to this album, but Mascis proves yet again why he’s so good at what he does.

Daft Punk/Homework (1997) – Given the title, this debut release by French house/electronica artists was written and recorded very quickly but was certainly good enough to find the duo in a bidding war with a number of major labels. It still holds strong today and is widely regarded as a critical work that shone a refreshing light on the French house scene. It is an infectious head-bopper with an optimistic and robust feel throughout. Influenced: The Avalanches, MGMT, Justice

Johnny Cash/ American Recordings (1994) – Cash’s 81st album was recorded and produced by Rick Rubin in his living room, bringing a minimal folk feel to this album and given life by the late great iconic songwriter. It is performed with a hauntingly tender touch as equally as it is produced, and a uniquely impressive Cash album with minimal need for decoration.

Bert Jansch/Bert Jansch (1965) – The Scottish Folk revivalist/Jazz guitarist gives away very little on his debut album cover but his talent is undeniable. Producer Bill Leader captures the beautiful sentiment of Jansch’s first album with his Revox tape recorder (for 100GBP), throwing in the egg-box soundproofing for free, and shoving the artist in the wardrobe; all making this a classic folk record worth spending your time and a few glasses of highland whiskey on.

Ween/The Pod (1991) – Along with many of Ween’s early lo-fi albums, ‘The Pod’ was recorded on a Tascam 4-track cassette recorder while band-mates apparently suffered from mononucleosis in their apartment giving the album a gloomy, broody sound. ‘The Pod’ was remastered by Elektra Records after the success of later records, ‘Chocolate and Cheese‘, and ‘Pure Guava‘. The guitars are textured, sometimes ambient, fueled by various drum-machines, and samples while the vocals and lyrics are often humourous, spontaneous and free-spirited.

PJ Harvey/4-Track Demos (1993) – Consists of 8 demos of songs from her critically-acclaimed second album, ‘Rid Of Me‘, as well as 6 more previously unreleased demos. The passion and energy of these bare-knuckle demos are really all Harvey would have needed. I’d nearly consider some of these demos better than the final album versions. Recorded at home with a Yamaha MT 2X 4-track recorder before Island Records famously gave it away as a promotion.

Honourable Mentions –

Boston/Boston (1976) – Recorded in Tom Scholz basement

Bon Iver/For Emma, Forever Ago (2007) – Recorded by Justin Vernon in a cabin in the woods (myth?!)

Imogen Heap/Ellipse (2009) – Recorded in the basement of her house

Steve Vai/Flex-Able (1984) – Recorded in a converted shed.

***Further Reading :

  1. http://www.trustmeimascientist.com/2013/12/02/a-brief-history-of-popular-home-recordings/
  2. https://mic.com/articles/78949/15-legendary-albums-that-were-recorded-in-bedrooms-kitchens-and-garages#.y5NcONkrb
  3. http://www.sonicscoop.com/2015/02/12/10-classic-albums-made-outside-the-recording-studio/
  4. https://www.pastemagazine.com/blogs/lists/2012/01/10-great-albums-recorded-at-home.html

 

Playlist #1 ::: This is ‘Made in China’

This piece is based around a playlist we created called ‘Made In China’ (https://goo.gl/5mU7gx) and was originally featured in That’s China Magazine (Hangzhou).

The playlist was created to promote a diverse range of artists, both Chinese and Western. The Sound Of Fighting Dogs aims to cover both well known and not so well known artists from all over the world. As many of the writers that contribute to the blog are based in China, there is often an emphasis on China-based artists.

Here’s hoping this article will provide a jumping off point for you to investigate more China-based music.

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Track 1: ‘Road Prayer’ – John Carroll

The first track on this playlist is by Hangzhou-based singer/songwriter John Carroll. It is in fact the opening track of his 2014 masterpiece ‘Cenotaph Tapes‘ (https://carrolljohn.bandcamp.com/album/cenotaph-tapes). Originally from Limerick, Ireland, Carroll landed in Hangzhou via South Korea and his lengthy period based in Zhejiang’s capital has seen his musical time put to extremely good use, not only in creating the wonderful album mentioned beforehand, surely a benchmark for anyone in the city wishing to record acoustic music, but also as a founder of a small independent label called Medic Independent Records. John has toured extensively around China in bands and as a solo artist, and helped other emerging artists do the same. If you want a route into China’s burgeoning music scene, particularly as a solo acoustic performer, then this is the man to seek out advice from.

Track 2: ‘山羊哥哥‘ – The Herdsman

Hailing from Yunnan, this group includes a number of different Chinese minorities within its make-up, and this results in an enticing combination of traditional instrumentation and dancing, grounded in Pumi music but encompassing a range of influences. This group has played all over China, including big festivals such as Midi and Made In Chengdu, and have even been abroad as far as Russia and the UK. To this writer, somehow, they evoke 60s UK group The Incredible String Band, a musical recommendation interviewee Wang Niejing was more than open-minded enough to investigate further. Good lad. They describe themselves as having a natural folk sound but with an electronic edge. Does this make them folktronica? I don’t know but whatever it is it’s bloody great. Find out more via the blog.

Track 3: ‘Anyway’ – William Gray

Regular readers of that’s will no doubt have come across Gray in his capacity as a contributor to the magazine as a writer, or indeed, in relation to his output as an artist. Born in South Wales, Gray did a lengthy music apprenticeship in Leeds, home to one of the UK’s leading music scenes. After relocating to Hangzhou his album ‘Wensan Rd‘ caught the attention of Medic Independent Records who seized the opportunity to add him to the roster and get him gigging in different provinces of China. His first release on Medic was the ‘Tish’ EP in 2015 but this track ‘Anyway’ is taken from his newest release ‘Flounce’ which came out in March 2016 and has already received plays on BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio 6 Music. The video in question features some great footage of Hangzhou and its people, the woozy 90s home video feel perfectly suiting the lo-fi aesthetic of the song.

Track 4: ‘Heart On Fire’ – Hedgehog   

Could our first list of modern Chinese music be complete without a song from Hedgehog? We didn’t think so. Aficionados of the Chinese indie scene will no doubt be aware of this band. But not everyone’s an aficionado right? But that doesn’t mean you don’t want to hear great music right? Exactly. Of course you do. From Beijing, which that’s China Hangzhou will have to grudgingly accept is currently the cultural centre as well as the capital of this great land, Hedgehog slotted nicely into a homegrown Chinese music industry quickly gaining attention globally, with their trippy, fuzzy, poptastic offerings. If you like US college rock then you might well like Hedgehog. A special mention must be given to their tiny and aptly named drummer Atom, who kicks all kinds of ass.

Track 5: ‘Slipstream’ – Junks

Anyone who has been to a Junks live show will know this group is the real deal. We just don’t think there’s a more interesting live act than this right now in Hangzhou. If not Zhejiang. If not the whole of China. We make bold statements like this because we’re trying to rile readers. Disagree with our cocky assertions? Well then point us towards something you like and tell us why it’s amazing. We crave new music. Junks certainly hit the spot where new music is concerned, with ‘new’ being the operative word. Taking inspiration from the city landscape they have sprung from and an exciting, steadily developing Chinese electronic scene, this outfit have a look and sound that is both futuristic and retro at the same time, very fitting for the times considering the context of higgledy-piggledy Chinese megalopolises, that somehow manage to combine the past, present, and future in one fell swoop. Currently on hiatus as they work on weaving more elements into their live sound and prepare their debut release, expect this group to me making (synth) waves whenever they see fit to once again honor us with their presence. 

Track 6: ‘Macherie’ – Skip Skip Ben Ben

Like Hedgehog, this group are considered Chinese Indie royalty. Important to be diplomatic and point out though that the group’s history is rooted in Taipei, Taiwan. But in terms of the overall history it’s all China right? Anyway, clumsily sidestepping that thorny issue, they’ve been compared with the likes of My Bloody Valentine, Stereolab, and The Cocteau Twins which of course conjures up shoegaze but they’ve also got that grungey three-piece thing going on as well so if we’re talking lazy comparisons you could also throw Dinosaur Jr and Sebadoh in there as well for good measure. Whichever Western bands we’re annoying them by comparing them to, if you’re into melancholic scuzzed up indie pop then this could be the group for you. What are you waiting for?

Track 7: ‘Chasing Ghosts’ – Matz Andersson

We’re proud to champion Matz on our blog. He’s a prime example of an artist who flies completely and undeservedly under the radar. This track is taken from his 2015 albumLake Khovsgol‘. The first gig proper we saw Matz perform at was when he was supporting Bill Callahan no less. We get the impression he’s done a fair bit of traveling in his time and experienced a fair few things along the way. That’s what his music implies anyway, tenderly conveying the pent up feelings of a man who sounds older than his years. What’s incredible about the album this track is taken from is it was recorded in a tiny little studio in Ningbo with limited equipment. And it sounds completely organic because Matz has a great rapport with local musicians in his area who he plays with regularly at open mic nights and the like. The album is a fantastic example of what can be achieved on a limited budget if you have the right people alongside you.

Track 8: ‘Let’s Play’ – Queen Sea Big Shark

Another big Beijing band, their emergence around 2006 saw them labeled as China’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Was this fair? Kind of, it appears, BUT a kinder appraisal might be they experiment rather than copy as their willing flirtation with nu-rave and disco perhaps attests to. Despite appearing like they could gain global prominence things suddenly ground to a halt in 2010 but this year has seen them come back with a bang, including a set at Strawberry Music Festival. We’ll be keeping an eye and an ear on them to see how things evolve from here on in.

Track 9: ‘All That’s Gained’ – Kelly Dance

Another Medic Independent Records associated act in the sense Dance was indebted to Medic regarding her first proper tour of the Chinese mainland, in terms of finding suitable venues/promoters and booking dates. An Australian based in Hong Kong, this is an artist with one of those voices that sends shivers down your spine and makes even the noisiest of drunkards sit up and take notice. More than just a brilliant performer though, Dance is an able songwriter and is equally as accomplished in the studio as she is on a stage where she astutely surrounds herself with some very able collaborators. Our first encounter with her thoroughly beguiling music was the album ‘Goodnight Berlin‘ which was recorded in an East Berlin studio over ten days and nights. This track is taken from her recent release of the same name. It’s a very strong follow up and we’re keenly awaiting her next release which will be an album we believe.

Track 10: ‘Listen To My Back (That’s What I Know)’ – Brain Failure

I’ll be honest, when I heard about Brain Failure I just assumed they wouldn’t be my bag. I don’t really listen to punk music these days. But when I heard this track I was transported back to my rowdy adolescence which involved, too much of the time if I’m being honest, underage drinking with my friends, loud music, jumping up and down, around, into things and one another. Perhaps one of us would even manage to get off with a girl if we were really, really lucky and one was in a charitable mood. That of course would involve achieving the delicate balance of being drunk enough to lose all inhibitions but not being so drunk that vomiting would inevitably occur. Seeing as I can’t drink too much anymore or aspire to getting intimate with young women and still expect to be allowed back into the apartment and marital bed, listening to Brain Failure will have to do. And it’ll do rather nicely. Over and out.

 

Introducing ‘Miserable Faith’ ::: 介绍北京痛苦的信仰乐队

Miserable Faith are a 4-piece rock band from Beijing, China who’ve been carrying the flag in Chinese rock music since formation in 1999. Their current sound spans ballad folk, pop and indie rock with subtle touches of traditional Chinese music, and run along a similar vein to bands like GALA, (Omnipotent Youth) 万能青年旅店, and (Fragments of Sound) 声音碎片 and they have become a staple in many music festivals around China over the past 15 years. They are currently on tour in Europe and the UK. Miserable Faith have steered their course through various genres over the years including Rap, Metal, Pop and Hardcore Rock before arriving at their current highly melodic and tuneful place, rewarding them with legions of followers across China gleefully singing along with their anthems.

miserable-faith 2

In 2001 they released their debut album, ‘This’s a problem'(这是个问题), and went on to independently release the ‘No’ (不) EP in 2006.  They have always remained a highly experimental band rather than genre specific (not a particularly admirable trait in my book, especially for an album) an example of which can be heard in the more reggae/world music efforts of the past few years on the album, ‘May Love Be Without Worries’ (愿爱无忧/2014) particularly since signing a contract with one of China’s biggest labels Modern Sky Records. However, nothing has remained as well-loved than the pop melodies and sensibilities from ‘The Music Won’t Be Stopped’ (不要停止我的音乐/2008).

For me, the first track here Highway Song‘ (公路之歌) is as good as it gets – a great live, catchy anthem with strong guitar riffs and a playful repetitive chorus to catch and reel in the populous! Singer Gao Hu’s (高虎) lyrics seem to play on certain elements of Chinese society in his opening words (Where are the dreams?/’meng xiang zai shenme difang?’) ‘梦想在什么地方?‘ If you are used living in China at all, you’ll regularly see street signs and slogans that read, ‘zhong guo de meng xiang / shi wo de meng xiang’ roughly translated into ‘China’s dream is my dream’, for me this sentiment although brief, reads heavy. In my experiences meeting locals who feel that those in circles of influence and power seem to have very different agendas from that of the ordinary middle-class. It is sung with an emotional and heavy heart, yet never settle long enough for a grey cloud to form.

Listen to more from Miserable Faith – http://i.xiami.com/miserablefaith