Panai (巴奈) A Piece of Blue (那片藍)
Crowd Lu (盧廣仲) 100 Ways of Life (100種生活)
88 Balaz (八十八顆芭樂籽) The 44 Stone Lions (肆十肆隻石獅子)
Wu Bai (伍佰) Spacebomb 太空彈
TC Yang (楊祖珺) A Voice
That Could Not Be Silenced: The TC Yang Collection 1977-2003 (關不住的歌聲—楊祖珺錄音選輯1977-2003)
While politicians bicker endlessly and people eye the economy nervously, Taiwan’s music scene seems like the only thing that’s moving along these days. To be sure, the Mando-pop industry keeps churning out new stars and regurgitating the old ones, but the gems lie in a new generation of independent-minded musicians with a polish and sheen of their own.
If you buy only one CD by a Taiwanese artist this year, make it Panai’s (巴奈) A Piece of Blue (那片藍), a dreamy and sublime collection of acoustic songs spiced with jazz, Brazilian folk and reggae rhythms. This long-awaited second album — inspired by a group of artists in Taitung County’s (台東縣) Dulan Village (都蘭) — shows the 37-year-old singer-songwriter at her best. She naturally draws from her Amis and Puyuma roots, but doesn’t let traditional music dominate her original songs, mostly penned in Mandarin. The various island music grooves sprinkled throughout the album bring a lighter shade to Panai’s melancholy-tinged voice, which sounds both detached and intimate. The result is a beautiful balance: soulful, poetic reflection at a drifting, beachside pace.
There’s a near-magical energy to 23-year-old Crowd Lu (盧廣仲), whose guitar-fueled, sunshine pop is winning the hearts of college kids in the Chinese-speaking world. His full-length debut, 100 Ways of Life (100種生活), sounds as inspired as his personal story: he was in a serious car accident, and while recovering in the hospital he resolved to learn to play guitar. The instrument turned out to be a good match for his agile and highly capable voice; his geek-chic charm and earnest songwriting glued the rest together. Lu’s tunes are about exams, making breakfast and toy robots, which haven’t sounded like so much fun in a long time.
Special mention goes to 88 Balaz (八十八顆芭樂籽), whose solid debut album, The 44 Stone Lions (肆十肆隻石獅子), is full of punk verve and rock ’n’ roll heat, but best of all captures the zany spirit of Taiwanese rock. On the other side of the taike (台客) spectrum is the venerable Wu Bai (伍佰), who has gone into outer space with his latest, Spacebomb (太空彈), a sci-fi concept album that stuffs light social satire into a rock party.
In light of this fall’s Wild Strawberry student protests, TC Yang’s (楊祖珺) retrospective album of folk and protest songs is timely. A Voice That Could Not Be Silenced: The TC Yang Collection 1977-2003 (關不住的歌聲—楊祖珺錄音選輯1977-2003) is a collection of the folk singer-turned-college professor’s recorded output, which includes her renowned version of Formosa (美麗島), a tune that rang throughout various protests by the Dangwai (outside the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party, KMT) movement of the late 1970s and 1980s.
Another of this year’s best albums was Gaga, the first full-length release by 54-year-old Atayal (泰雅) singer Inka Mbing (雲力思), which includes traditional Aboriginal songs as well as original works. The album has an intensity of deeply felt experience, and can be seen and enjoyed as a musical portrait of a people, one that takes in the children’s playground as much as the vast prospects of the mountains which many Atayal call home.