Manifesto #3: Massive Mass of Music for the Masses

Roughly in order: Favorites, Pop Rock, Experimental, Synth Rock, Folk/Singer-Songwriters, Hard Rock/Metal, Punk & Garage Rock, Hip-Hop, Electronic, Industrial, Blues, Funk, and Reggae.

In the summer of 2011 I worked in summer camps in and around Beijing as well as one in Dalian, raking in well over 10,000 yuan and finding myself in the unfamiliar position of having more money than I knew what to do with. The solution: binge on Chinese alternative music! In the past three years I've probably doubled or even tripled my Chinese and Japanese music collections, both raising standards of greatness and dooming the mediocre. I wholeheartedly recommend Free Sound's selection and prices, around Fuchengmen in Beijing. Also receiving honorable mentions are the multi-purpose store by the drum tower, featured in the Handsome Fur's music video for “Serve the People” and the pair of Rock stores in Nanluo Guxiang (one near Mao Livehouse, the other in the thick of tourism). I'm still not caught up on everything I've bought there from 2011-2013, and being set to make yet another pilgrimage there in 2014, it's time to start manifesto #3 before I get hopelessly backlogged. While I'm a bit more critical of some acts here than in the past, it's mostly because more music is being made and I'm less easily impressed by the “whoa, that's just like ______, but in CHINESE!”-factor. The PRC still appears to be, by all accounts, a very hard place to be in the music business unless you're making syrupy pop garbage. I'll take a mediocre Chinese rock band any day over what the teenyboppers swoon to!

I admit I'm late to the game for 二手玫瑰, Second-Hand Roses, and I've only heard one album so far (8.5). Their reputation for interposing traditional Chinese music elements with rock and roll—and truly unique lyrics—is well deserved. Similar in inimitable Chineseness is , whose 1996 album 往生must surely be called a classic, though it holds up less well in a digital era (7.5). While undoubtedly skilled and interesting to listen to, both artists may just be too far out of left field to be the crown ambassadors of Chinese rock.

For that title, I submit Omnipotent Youth Society, 万能青年旅社, a bombastic chamber pop group who could well overshadow their indie rock peers in the West. At once accessible and artistically distinguished, their songs tend toward the long end but are full of unpredictable flourishes rather than repetitive riffs. The singer has a wide vocal range, can croon soulfully and belt out passionate lyrics backed by crescendos alternating between brass, guitars, and other strings (9.5).

If you can find the self-entitled album by 南無, its fancy packaging with a young man with odd facial hair and a shaved head rather stick out among the pack, pick it up no matter the price! Their sound is very refreshing and upbeat, and songs on the album have several times the variety of the average Chinese synth-rock band (8).

I'm also very impressed by 杨猛, whose nicely packaged album 太阳城日记 is full of daring songs which mix Chinese folk elements with indie rock cool (7.5). They're one of a very few bands I can recommend without reservation as making art and catchy music at the same time.

Fans of straightforward but slightly whimsical indie rock should join the travels of 旅行团 on their next Chinese vacation. Both 2008's 来福胶泥 and 2011's Wonderful Day are full of pleasant tunes that never get sappy. Nothing risky on either album, but surely China needs more acts that will appeal to most listeners of Western college radio. If you want something harmlessly happy which can still be called rock music, look up 旅行团 (7 for both)! If they're too adventurous for you, 果味VC (or SuperVC as I've referred to them in the previous edition) makes brief, happy rock songs with far fewer bells and whistles, on albums like 来自Vc的礼物 and 双重生命 (6) .

Melodic pop rock is being done well by bands which not only discover and absorb but also openly admire the Beatles. 坡上村 is one such group, but iTunes doesn't recognize the oddly titled album In summer, the melting ice-lolly at the zoo , so I can't comment on the music any further (2016 update: I prefer this album 7 to their next one). Yellow Submarine isn't recognized either, but its album Do Not Say Goodbye is full of joyful melodies and Chinese harmony evoking the Fab Four in both name and sound (7). Fancy World's album 7 isn't in the iTunes database either or particularly Beatlesesque; it is also a cut above average Chinese rock with tight songs and a driving beat (7).

虞洋 (Yu Yang) makes fairly slow rock music in songs which are slightly longer than the average pop song. There's always a lot of space between lyrics, and layers tend to be delayed a bit. I don't get the impression that the lyrics are particularly deep and thereby need time to sink in, but that's probably just Yu Yang's style. It's not bland or offensive, but that makes 平淡的生活不能把我们击倒a rather middling album, especially for being relatively new (2010). That said, there are some subtle electronics and distortion effects in the background (5.5). If you like your rock upbeat and harmless, you could do much worse in China.

骅梓 fills a surprising gap between rock and soft rock music with 继续的意义. While there are occasionally some loud guitars, the keyboard accompaniments and vocals are pure soft rock. The extremely mild funk and airy vocals of “你对我说”calls to mind bands from Roxy Music to Genesis, and similar comparisons could be made to other songs throughout the album (5.5).

I wish I hadn't started P.K. 14's discography with 2008's City Weather Sailing (7.5). The back catalog of 谁谁谁和谁谁谁 (2004) and 白皮书 (2005) is fair enough (both a 6.5), but together one gets less appreciation of evolution than a mild annoyance with the almost-single-toned singer's voice. P.K. 14's debts to Pere Ubu have been well stated, and this is one of China's most essential and interesting rock bands. I just need to hear a new album to confirm that they're getting more and more exciting.

As I hope I mentioned in Manifesto #2, I saw 小河 live in a DUMBO, Brooklyn bookstore in 2009 with Carsick Cars and found his more experimental performance the highlight. His 2002 album 飞的高的鸟不落在跑不快的牛的背上 is a mixed bag, mostly quite interesting, but experimental Chinese alternative music is going to be a hard sell for Western ears (5.5). In that regard, 惘闻's albums (5.5 for both) can serve as a post-rock Rorschach Test for the listener to project his/her aesthetics for “good” and “pointless” meandering. While I like some of the ideas on many of the songs, it would be hard to call any of them epic or transcendent in the way the best post-rock is. If 惘闻 can refine his drone into something more compelling or explore still darker themes and melodies, China will have a post-rocker worth his weight in gold. In the mean time, alt. rockers 沼泽 have taken a stab at post-rock themselves on 沧浪星, with mostly interesting results (6.5). I personally hope that this last effort is more a hiatus than a permanent shift in style—as much as I enjoy post-rock, I think a healthy verse-chorus-verse Swamp is more vital to the Chinese rock scene than its post-rock incarnation.

While I stand by my comparison of Queen Sea Big Shark 后海大鲨鱼to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, their new album 浪朝 Wave, is much heavier on the synths (7). Personally, I think this is a good direction for the band's sound, but it doesn't help their live act to have the sultry lead singer parked behind a keyboard instead of gallivanting around the stage like she should!

Mr. Zhou 周先生's new album, 旋律967, largely abandons the slow synths that made their debut notable, and they also tone down the lead singer's nasal vocals in favor of a more standardized soft rock sound. I will withhold judgment for a few more listens (5). I have a similar opinion of New Pants' 2008 album 野人也有爱 (5.5) . I'm all for playfulness, but I think they've largely ceded their position at the forefront of Chinese new wave to edgier acts like 后海大鲨鱼. Check out 新裤子's electronic remix album Go East (6) anyway to revisit some classics!

Chinese folk is hot! Or at least Inner Mongolia's Hanggai are probably well known enough not to need my fainting promotion. The two albums I've heard, 2008's Introducing Hanggai and 2011's He Who Travels Far, more than live up to the massive hype surrounding Mongolian neo-folk (7.5 for both). Some hard rock numbers and riding songs really liven up the sets. I wonder if they're popular in Ulaan Baatur or not.

I will praise 山人's 2009 album 同名专辑 to high heaven, despite being all over the map between rock, folk, and even a lights-out reggae anthem (8.5). Doing so many genres so well on one album makes 2013's follow-up, 听山, a bit of a disappointment simply because they largely stick to nondescript folk songs. By any other band, 听山 would be a revelation of artful easy-listening, but having heard the heights to which they can ascend it feels like a longer, less varied compilation with fewer highlights (6). Ditto for Kidney's album, 他们说忘了摇滚有问题, whose rarity and unique packaging are all-too-appropriate for the sparse, experimental folk music contained within the disingenuous title (6). All of both bands' discographies are worth checking out, despite these quibbles.

李志 only has eight songs on his 2006 album, 被禁忌的游戏, and it's conceivable that he knows no one will want to listen to his moaning voice for much longer. The simple, acoustic instrumentation and occasional electric guitar with vocal distortion are an unusual enough mix to keep my attention, but this recommendation comes with reservations. The best songs are those where his voice plays the smallest part (5.5). 仁科 has a folksy and whimsical collection of accordion-acoustic guitar duets in 春就很好聽了, though the singer's voice will strike many as tuneless (5.5). If 胡吗个 is not the vocalist on the album, his unique vocal cadence is an obvious reference point.

Speaking of whom, 1998's 人人都有个小板凳,我的不带入二十一世纪 is a truly unique folk album by a true artist ahead of his time. Mr. Hu's idea of what counts as a folk song—most are just him spouting off disjointedly backed only by an acoustic guitar—will challenge most listeners more than they are willing (6.5). On 2005's 不插腿 (Unpleg), synths are added to the act, including a series of vocal versions of a truly crazy song done in a dizzying variety of local accents (5.5).

蒋明employs a bit of child labor on the opener to 2011's 再见北方, a sentimental but not sappy collection of different voices and generally pretty arrangements. While the instrumentation varies nicely from song to song, the vocals are front and center in almost every one. It's almost like a Chinese pop album featuring a photogenic singer, except the songs aren't cheesy or overproduced and we don't know what the singer looks like. Well, almost none of them are cheesy anyway (6).

张玮玮 郭龙 have considerably more impressive acoustic guitar and vocal harmony chops than the average Chinese band, making 2012's 白银饭店 the kind of album most people can listen to from start to finish without being bored or offended. It remains questionable, however, how well tonal, monosyllabic Mandarin is suited to the blending of male voices. It's a choppy language, and presumably most acts which attempt this folksy style (Simon & Garfunkel, Kings of Convenience, Fleet Foxes, My Morning Jacket, etc.) intend to be soothing rather than jarring. Give this duo a listen if you're in a pensive mood and want something soft but not pandering (7).

刘东明 has a carefree tone to his voice, which can be nimble even in the low registers, and his 2013 album comes highly recommended for its polished songcraft and accessibility. Acoustic guitar features prominently throughout, with touches of flute, chimes, and accordion, not to mention subtle drumming. Incongruous synth-rocker “小两口问答”is a surprise insertion unlike anything else here, a rare M/F duet which sounds like a digitized traditional or minority festival song (and may well be), done with retro-sounding aplomb (6.5).

王娟's 2013 album 梦湖 solidifies her claim to have China's prettiest voice, but over the course of eleven songs, she could leave her comfort zone more often. Simple, delicate melodies are fine for a while, but after a while one wonders if there will be any further musical growth in her reportoire (6). On the opposite end of the vocal range, baritone王威's self-entitled 2009 album is a big step forward from 2006's On the Road, but it achieves only middling status among throngs of marginal singer-songwriters (5). These complaints plague the West as well!

塞宁 has the breathy female vocals I often enjoy in Western music, but the there's a bit too much of the near-inescapable Chinese lovey-dovey in the album 萌 to take it seriously as rock and roll (5.5). Usually I prefer my cheese to be in foreign languages, but Smart Kin 漂亮亲威 takes similarly sugary songs and charms with flawed English. She dabbles in English on a few songs, too, but it's much less adventurous. Between the maudlin piano ballads, which can be found on literally every Chinese (or perhaps even Pan-Asian) pop album, there is some pleasant, even interesting fluff here in loungey sambas.

低苦艾's self-entitled album takes a page from XTX both vocally and in song structure, though he lets loose from the vocal drone a little more often. The guitars are fairly heavy without veering into metal territory, though it's not without strong acoustic numbers. Watch out for strange vocal noises on “温柔的碾碎”and the closing waltz (5.5).

The best live act I've seen in China is probably 谢天笑, as his use of the gu qin on stage is truly mesmerizing, living up to the hype. His first solo album since leaving Cold-Blooded Animal is also one of my favorites. These may set the bar a little to high for Only One Desire and 2013's 幻觉, both of which are a little droning in the vocal department and not terribly varied in their instrumentation and song structures (6 for both). Perhaps XTX is more of a performer than a studio rat, and that's fine. China's rock legacy will be build on stage, not in headphones.

On finally identifying a song by 实话实说乐队 from way back in my 2001 study-abroad semester in Beijing, I snapped up their self-entitled album, and not surprisingly, there was little to recommend it other than said single “三儿的问题.” Calling the rest uneven or campy might appeal to those who want more variety (5.5).

Sadly, one of my previous favorites, 銀色灰塵 Silver Ash, doesn't seem much interested in burnishing its fragile reputation as the PRC's leading glam goth band. On the album 帤鴃摩 and the solo effort by guitarist 郭铁君, called 耶落音人 and apparently unknown by iTunes, metal is the operative description, and it's much harder than I'm inclined to give a careful listen (5 for both). Not to be confused with the operation fronted by Mike Patton, China's Tomahawk 戰斧, is also just too loud for me on its Dead City (死城) album (4).

陰影樂隊 Shadow sounds different than other rock bands, but in a way that mostly suggests a different intention than making rock music. With very simple guitar parts, in many of the songs the singer just seems to be doing vocal exercises, practicing his high range. Their album 一斤理想 is not without highlights, but a lot here feels like filler material, albeit still different than other harder rock bands (5).

There are some rock bands I've run into recently which I must simply call nondescript. 舌头 at least has the excuse that for its 1999 album 小鸡出壳 styles of rock had yet to really explode in a million different directions (4). 張楚 rocks with an acoustic guitar well enough, and if 孤獨的人是可恥的 is really from 1994 as iTunes claims, that should earn it classic status. Otherwise, this sounds too much like other rock bands that straddle the line between hard and soft, pleasing fans of neither (5). Lure's self-entitled album left no impression on me, and I'd be hard-pressed to pony up the cash for another one by them (5). I can only guess that the knowledgeable folks at Free Sound had either personal connections to Raven 3 or a lot of inventory to unload when they recommended the album 像一只快乐的橙子 to me twice in the past two years (4).

游海州 is part of a growing legion of Chinese guitar noodlers, and his 2011 album 偏执狂 is good example of hard instrumental rock. Hard rock guitarists in the West may or may not be interested, but as someone who doesn't normally listen to this kind of music, I was impressed enough to give it multiple listens, especially when it's just time to rock out and not worry about silly lyrics (5.5).

To show I'm not completely averse to hard rock and metal, I submit 天堂乐队 Heaven as an example of a group that can really rock the walls of any arena. 2006's 天堂 (6) and especially 2011's 爱在摇滚的岁月 (6.5) are examples of well-produced metal with Chinese characteristics without the histrionic cheese of Western hair metal. Some numbers are downright gleeful in their hardness, a feat which is very hard to pull off, while there are several which can only be called epic.

In similar territory as Heaven, but with more folk elements and less glitzy production, Buyi are somewhat limited by the lead vocalist's range but well worth a listen. Both their self-entitled album and Autumn have a uniquely Chinese take on hard rock, one that is by no means averse to acoustic and more traditional instruments (6 for both). I regret not traveling to Beijing's outskirts to see them live in 2011.

苏阳乐队is similar to Buyi, leaning slightly more on the traditional side than hard rock. Their cds, 贤良 in 2006 and 像草一样 in 2010, are packaged in booklets of thick, colorful cardboard and won't be on the same rack as other discs (6 for both). Neither the product nor the sound fits neatly with others!

痛苦的信仰 or Miserable Faith, a staple of the aptly named Scream! Records, drastically changed its hard rock sound on 2008's 不要停止我的音乐 (8) . This has undoubtedly earned them more fans in the Chinese mainstream, and I far prefer this album to their debut, but it presents an uncomfortable truth about Chinese rock bands' evolution. The evolution strongly suggests that death metal is a development phase for Chinese rockers, one which requires less skill and just louder guitars and vocals, and casts the VERY MANY death metal bands I saw in 2011's Tiger Beer Battle of the Bands in an even less flattering shadow. I believe they have another album out recently, and I hope they continue along this path to become something like a Chinese answer to Sleepytime Gorilla Museum.

One of my past favorites, 木马, has in recent years teamed up with someone called Third Party for a pair of very accessible rock albums, 2007's 丝绒公路 and 2011's 进化. I for one miss the darker and more epic Muma of years gone by, but presumably the band needs to sell some records in order to eat. In that regard, these two albums haven't sold out by any means, and both contain songs that could be played for friends with only the most casual interest in Chinese alt. rock (6 for both).

光磊 has much higher production values than the average Chinese band, for better and for worse. Sifting through the cheese, there's a lot to like here in different styles. “姑娘”is a catchy standout track, if poppy and glib in its folksy chanting (5). The guitarist for Second-Hand Roses, 王钰棋, put out an album in 2008, 北京之春, which is in many ways similar to 光磊's, though his reliance on keyboards is rather more surprising (5). 陈劲 has a distinctive, nasal voice a good bit higher pitched than most male vocalists, and it can sound odd when backed by heavy guitars on the 2010 album 自由穿行. He either samples or steals an 80s riff from “I Need You Tonight” on “还有谁”. There's plenty of sentimentality here, too, especially on the brass/synth duet “下一站的勇敢”(5).

废墟 Ruins takes its time on every song, letting dramatic drum and synth intros have their space, and that alone is worth the price of admission for 像叶子一样飞. Slick production is at play here without sounding at all overproduced. This is what albums by 光磊 and 王钰棋 might be shooting for, but both of them get bogged down in trying to escape rock music, churning out cheese where breadth of artistry was intended. 废墟 seems perfectly content to stay within the confines of rock music, and the refinement of craftsmanship is noticeable. Changes in tone seem purposeful when sudden, intentional when absent, rather than disjointed and meandering, respectively. The album took a few listens to grow on me, and it definitely benefits from comparisons to rock peers (6.5).

On the punk and garage rock front, there are unfortunately more similar acts than distinguished ones, in my opinion, though I'm biased against these styles. 便利商店 Convenience Store's album TV Monkey (电视猴) offers little other than straightforward and very simple songs which only seem to have energy to get to the next song (4). 病医生乐队, on the Scream! imprint of the venerable Jingwen label, has a couple of interesting songs on 2000's 夜上濃妝, but to call the other tracks here songs is a bit of a stretch. They seem to be striving for a cross between punk, glam metal, and noise, often ending up mostly like the last in a fairly grating mish-mash (4.5). It's quite possible I'm mixing this album up with 秋天的虫子's album from the same year, possibly the same label, 狂人日記. I have no strong desire to listen to either again. 哎吆, in addition to punk rock, plays middling ska, a novelty to be sure, but does not do much to push the style's boundaries (4.5). I would be interesting to know whether a ska enthusiast would consider the simple fact of their Chineseness to be a claim to fame. Liquid Oxycen Tin [sic] 液氧罐頭 is sometimes a cut above generic hard rock and punk, but usually just that (5). In similarly simple paper packaging and traditional characters to suggest non-PRC origin, 641
is a punk act of a kind I despise more than any: the band incapable of giving themselves a unique name and instead resorting to random numbers. I found nothing redeeming on their album 是誰在?! (4)
Finally, it's probably sacrilege to criticize Joyside, but I can only guess that this short-lived rock sensation was popular more for its live act and hard living than its studio albums. I found Drunk Is Beautiful to be an ugly mess, and not in a good way (4).

Inveterate live act 刺猬 Hedgehog is head and shoulders above its peers in the guitar-led bands, and prolific album production hasn't dulled its edge. I can't pick a favorite between the four albums I've heard, 2012's Sun Fun Gun, 甜蜜与杀害 from 2011, the synthier 白日梦蓝 of 2009, or 2007's Noise Hit World。With so many albums in such a short time, not all the songs are compelling, but there's enough variety for different listeners to disagree on which tracks stand out (6 for each).

反光镜乐队 Reflector is a rare punk band which manages to rise above the fray in my ears. Their songs are generally happy and tuneful, with even the requisite vocal yell usually sounding almost pleasant (5.5). Their English rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” could pass for an EFL version of Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.

吹波糖 gets a free pass for singing in Cantonese and being overtly Christian. Novelty in these two regards elevate their punk rock to being above average, though some one hopes for some evolution in their music on future albums. 青春殘酷物語 is worth a listen, and punk enthusiasts can probably pick out a few favorite songs (5.5).

By far my favorite Chinese band which could conceivably be called “punk” is Gala. They are my favorite because they maintain only the loosest of ties to their genre and have something new to offer it on almost every song. Their 2004 effort Young for You (6) is appropriately titled and only hints—in English, no less—at the splendor to be found on 2011's 追梦痴子心 (8.5) . The song 乌江挽歌 in particular is everything a Chinese rock song should be: undeniably Chinese, reflecting breakneck changes, rewarding repeated listens, and generally wildly optimistic. Gala is right up there with Omnipotent Youth Society as my favorite Chinese band that a Westerner could hear and be shocked to know the PRC was capable of creating. Go Gala or go home, you punks!

The past few years have gladly seen several contenders for being my favorite, active Chinese hip-hop group. LMF seems to release a new song every now and then, but I can't keep up with all the reunion and disunion rumors. While they remain untouchable, and I'd love to hear a new album, I'm not aware of any from them or their many members.

Count 大陆断层 among the most interesting Chinese rappers, with their album 熔岩 an exercise in many styles (6.5). I'm not sure if Hip-Hop Deetopia by 迪托帮 is a compilation or a single group, but judging by the variety and skills of the album's MCs and DJ(s), this deserves to go straight to the top of the charts (7.5). The beats are tight and melodies catchy, what lyrics I can understand are not only rapped but often sung, and there's a good mix of hard braggadocio and more meaningful themes.

關威 edges very close not only to Western hip-hop, but even inner-city sounds by interspersing an MC with what sounds like an entourage, including women rappers who take the mic intermittently. Where many Chinese MCs have a happy tone more befitting a pop singer, 關威has the sound of a difficult upbringing and a genuine attempt to intimidate others so as to deflect adverse attention. The rapping speed is such that only the choruses are generally comprehensible to a foreign ear, though a few English titles turn the tables. 2005's 单身俱乐部 has the beats and the melodies to match the hardened tone of its MCs, though its production is far from polished and may strike some as dated to the 1990s in the West (5.5). Of these three albums, 迪托帮 wins by a good margin for having several songs that are both catchy and memorable.

Singer Sen's 2011 EP Sirens (7.5) is the best-produced Chiense electronic music I've heard, and I'd like to think it holds up against Western standards of glitchy, ethnically tinged electronic music with distorted female vocals, especially on “Snow Queen”. “Drunk” is the first Chinese song I've heard which approaches dubstep. It's dark, hard, and dancefloor ready, but it's highly questionable whether Chinese ears are ready to hear it. Whether intentional or not, it can be difficult to tell what's affectation and what's distortion.

I'm doing my best to keep up with 超级市场, Supermarket, probably the only Chinese electronic act I fully appreciate. 2008's Concert album had several interesting tracks but hasn't stuck with me as much as 7 Weapon or 繁荣的. I only happened upon 2009's oddly named 二零零五我們零零碎碎的理論 last year, so I need to listen a few more times before ranking it in the superpantheon (6.5). I must assume there's a new album out by now, but I have no idea how I would track it down, as I have no consistent source for 超级市场 news.

Anyone who thought Hz or Dead J's minimal techno is still too loud and pounding should shuffle farther along the spectrum to Me:Mo's 2006 album 靜景 Static Scenery. Truly ambient and non-intrusive, you'll need a good system in a quiet room to remain aware that music is playing at all (6.5). This is an endorsement, not a condemnation!

Shanghai's B6 may or may not be aware that he is only ½ of seminal IDM act B12, but judging from flippant liner notes, he doesn't likely care. A decidedly “so what?!” attitude prevails on 2009's Post Haze. Sometimes this simplicity makes for a good groove to build on slowly over the course of six and seven-minute tracks, but other times B6 is just treading water. Stick to the toe-tappers, and there's a lot of potential here (6).

Another hit and miss electronic album came in 2003 from Digital Cutup Lounge, which may or may not be a band and might well not be Chinese. Several of the tracks on the Network Effects album are “live” in Beijing or Hong Kong, and there are enough interesting tracks to make this worth seeking out (5.5).

Mediocrity reigns on Skyee 天理 's two albums, 日升 (Sunside) and Moonside, possibly intended to show two opposite electronic styles. One's slightly faster-paced, but overall neither is a very interesting listen for those versed in electronic music of developed countries. Given the lack of vocals, being Chinese lends no novelty to the sound (5).

Judging by album art, IGO and their album Synth Love want very much to be the Chinese version of Air. They're content to leapfrog the early instrumental days of the French band, however, in favor of the synthpop with vocals era, and that's too bad. Instrumentals train electronic artists to know which loops are worth repeating over the course of an entire song and which ones grate after a few minutes. There's a fair amount of variety on the 2007 album, but with the handicap of English lyrics and apparently no big-name vocalists, many of these songs can't sustain five, six, and seven-minute run times. Like late-era Sneaker Pimps, there's a lot of competence and skill here, but not enough outstanding to attract attention from casual music listeners (5).

To end the electronic section on a positive note, 群星's 33島 (In Search of the King)/Dog&Stage is a kooky synth mystery. The songs are repetitive but so strange that the listener hardly notices. Knowing so little about the artist, all I can do is make comparisons to obscure Western bands like the keyboard-driven Think Tree and Momus. That iTunes lists the album under Various Artists is sign enough that nobody knows what to do with this music and, sadly, this makes it unlikely that there's ever going to be a sequel (6.5).

泰然's 虛幻 album is a lo-fi industrial slog that I could barely get through once and won't be revisited anytime soon. It's worth mentioning as a rare Chinese example of industrial music, whose aesthetic can be the grating sound of machinery itself (1.5).

杭天released an album in 2001 called 冷水浇头 which must still be among a very few which could almost entirely be called blues. Some folk elements are inevitable, and it can't be called Delta or Chicago-style. If your Chinese music collection is missing harmonica-driven songs, look no further (6).

G-Eleven is a Chinese funk group which does an extremely crowd-pleasing live act. Their self-titled EP (6) was released in 2009, but it contains only a couple of the songs which successfully set the night on fire at the 2011 Tiger Beer Battle of the Bands in Beijing. Charismatic frontmen who may be brothers and a full brass section make it likely that the group won't be able to stay together for long, so that makes them all the more intriguing. On stage, as a group of only slightly less than 11, they manage to be both cool and guileless.

龙神道's claim to absolute novelty as a Chinese reggae group is rather compromised by 山人, who can kick out the dubplates whenever they see fit, but since their music is compelling and unique, novelty ceases to matter at all. Catchy tunes and driving beats power 龙神道 to the same level as indie-reggae acts around the world. No two songs sound alike on their self-entitled debut (8.5), and one hopes that with another strong effort under their belts, they could be blasting throughout college freshman dorms just as loudly as their Jamaican inspirations (at least in China and possibly UC Irvine).

(early summer 2014)

One 2016 edit is to give a numerical RATING for all albums I mention, from 1-10, usually in parentheses near the album description. While part of me wants to cut Chinese artists some slack b/c it's especially hard to make one's living as a band/musician in the PRC's alternative music industry, that'd require even more explanation, and I'm sure your textual tolerance is already stretched thin!

Read Manifesto 1

Read Manifesto 2

Read Manifesto 4

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