Consummate dilettantism!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Your New Favourite Band(s): In Chinese! (Awesome Chinese Music! Keep Reading!)

No good Chinese music, right? It's all stupid love ballads, right? Nothing to listen to while you're studying nearly 17/7 and are unwilling to listen to English music, right? Wrong. Trust me, dude, you're wrong. Well, not about the stupid love ballads: there are a lot of those, and I've actually found that if you force yourself to listen to them, they start to grow on you*. But see, you don't have to force yourself to listen to crap, because there is awesome Chinese music out there: awesome, creative, weird, inspiring, original, sublime, etc: you simply haven't found it yet. You're not looking, and what's worse, you're just making excuses to listen to your sweet, sweet, Backstreet Boys. So where is it, you ask? Hey! Don't talk to me like that! Be patient and it'll come to you!

Haha, I'm kidding. (Couldn't you tell?) Here are some fantastic bands, followed by some neat tracks to get you started:

二手玫瑰 (Secondhand Rose): My favorite of all on the list. Their music is a combination of traditional Chinese crosstalk-like banter and modern rock tunes, with a whole bunch of weird sound effects (and occasionally throat singing – I've heard kids and choirs singing a few times too) and offbeat instrumental flairs thrown in. Rather unusual, but the singer's voice rocks those tones like you wouldn't believe – from one note to the next with such sharpness it's breathtaking. (At least to me. I dunno if you guys get turned on by stuff like this.) It's like he's singing Beijing opera with a backing band. What's more, a lot of the lyrics are actually pretty funny and very, very sharp. And tremendously original: there are very few bands as original/crazy as these guys. (Well, good crazy: there are plenty of bands that are crazy but just suck. Like this one.)

What should you start with? Well, basically all of their songs are worth a listen. (And I really do mean that; there are no filler tracks.) But first, a word of caution: a lot of them start off kind of slow or silly, but then get really deep and plain freaking nuts towards the end. (坚持就是胜利!) And most change so quickly from one melody/genre to the next that's it's often hard to find continuity.
Take 公益歌曲; it's a lighthearted, summer beat at first, but they throw in these Nirvana-like riffs every 30 seconds or so, and it's got this killer, epic finish.
娱乐江湖 is in the same vein, but it's even better. Probably my favorite song of theirs, actually. If you're impatient, skip to 3:20 for the good stuff.
野史 is a little too weird, but it gets nice at the end, almost like System of a Down.
因为所以 is nice; they do this cool bagpipe thing.
允许部分艺术家先富起来 is badass. Listen to it.
春天的故事 is nice, real slow, and beautiful.
命运 is just real cool.
A song that I’m not particularly fond of is 伎俩, but it's got the lead singer's voice at its best.
起飞 is kooky.

扭曲的机器 (Twisted Machine) is a heavy metal band. It's not exactly my cup of tea, but there aren't many Chinese bands like these guys, so they're worth a mention. Scratch that; these guys are great.
别惹我 is sick. Badass-action-movie-soundtrack sick.
存在的意义 is pretty cool, and not quite as heavy as 别惹我.
镜子 is similar, real smooth. Can't really put in the same genre as 别惹我.
理想的背后 is another sick, sick song. I would enjoy it more if its lyrics were vehemently anti-American. (I'm actually serious about that; for some reason, some songs just sound better as anti-government pieces.)
我快不会照你们说的去做 actually is an anti-establishment song. It's not really so good, but I'm putting it on the list because it's really interesting to hear songs like this from a *PRC* band. (Nothing explicitly anti-China, though.)
TV秀 is another song with lyrics that I'm sure try the patience of the Chinese government. It is, however, actually a pretty sweet song.

The band 刺猬 (Hedgehog) got me really excited, because they play beautifully, but then I heard the lead singer sing. Ugh. At the very least, they've got some brilliant opening riffs.
春天来了's is fantastic, end-of-the-world-grade material. Real nostalgic feel.
电影 is so light and fragile, so lovely – mmm!
They have quite a few songs in English, too, so if you're into English music, give that a try.

Carsick Cars. Chill alternative stuff. They're like China's Arcade Fire. I mean, I don’t actually like Arcade Fire, but they're all low-fi and stuff; I'm probably just not cultured enough. Anyway, this isn't my favorite type of music, but I really do like 广场, one hell of an epic song.

The album 谁是崔健; no, not a band, but it's got a bunch of really awesome songs, so go out and get it.
The first 10 seconds or so of 浪子归 are incredible; the rest are decent, with the exception of this really neat electrobeat at 2:20.
一无所有 is the best song on the album by far. Yes, that good.

The Hero soundtrack – some insane instrumental pieces on that one. No lyrics, but feel free to add your own.

Random, neat tracks I've discovered: 新长征路上的摇滚 (反光镜乐队 – awesome punk feel), 不是我不明白 (挂在盒子上 – electronic riot grrl!), 狐狸 (万晓利 – simply a sick, sick song), and 机器猫 (新裤子 – again, just a really neat song).

For the first few weeks of listening exclusively to Chinese music, I put up with Jay Chou, J.J. Lin, S.H.E., 邓丽君, 胡彦斌, etc. Alright, I shouldn't say “put up”; they're all pretty good, actually. Jay Chou is magnificently talented, 邓丽君 is obviously delightful, and 胡彦斌 has...well, some awesome socialist songs. But you have to go beyond the pop surface, because there is actually a lot behind it.

Now where to get them? Well, if you're in mainland China, get yourself straight to the incredible, thank-god-for-unlimited-legal-free-downloadable-nondrm'd-music Google Music. If you're not, well, sucks to be you. Try Baidu, because you're almost certainly not going to find physical CDs in the West (or anywhere else, for that matter). Bittorrent should have them too, if you want to break the law.

P.S. I'm just covering rock/metal/alternative music here. I highly recommend instrumental classical music, which, again, you can your own lyrics to. Give 成公亮 a go.

*Who can't help liking 姑娘我爱你? Srsly.

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