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1976

Manic Pixie Dream Girl (不合時宜)

Sony BMG

To measure Brit-pop’s influence on Taiwanese indie music, look no further than one of the scene’s most beloved bands, 1976. The decade-old group has inspired a new generation of indie-pop bands and is seeing its own brand of new wave rock gain wider acceptance in the mainstream.

1976 stepped up its profile last year by signing with Sony BMG, and has been quick in releasing its second album with the label, Manic Pixie Dream Girl (不合時宜), finishing it in less than a year.

The haste has not made waste here. While the band hasn’t come up with new innovations in sound, Manic is a strong collection of songs that ought to please fans and will hold the attention of new listeners. 1976 has added polish to this production by working with several pop-oriented producers and singers, including label mate Deserts Chang (張懸) and Mando-pop singer Valen Hsu (許茹芸), who each lend their vocal talents to several tracks.

Lead singer Ah-kai (阿凱) sounds better than ever. His syrupy, effeminate voice, which grows on you, is well matched to the synth-pop of Sail to Neverland (世界盡頭) and The Smiths-influenced A Friend of Mine (我的電視迷朋友). He maintains a pitch-perfect delivery throughout one of the album’s most dramatic tracks, All Is for Love, which ascends into an inspired frenzy.

Manic is more atmospheric than the band’s last release, Asteroid 1976 (1976這個星球). Synthesizers and electronic drums play a bigger role this time around, which are featured on danceable anthems like Underworld (地下社會), a tribute to the indie-rock club on Shida Road (師大路).

On the surface, 1976 sounds like just another a throwback to the 80s and 90s. But the band’s long-standing appeal runs beyond the Brit-pop beats and mod-rock hipster looks. Many of the band’s lyrics tap into the thrill and confusion of youth. As another anthemic track, A Clockwork Orange (發條橘子), goes: “We are young and free/the me of tomorrow will perhaps not understand the me of today.” (We are young and free/明天也許我自己也不了解今天的我). — DAVID CHEN

Chthonic (閃靈)

Mirror of Retribution (十殿)

Spinefarm/Universal

If there were a heavy metal group to convince you of the merits of the genre, that band might be Chthonic (閃靈). The group has attracted a cult following in two different worlds: metal buffs voted them as the second best band in UK magazine Terrorizer (they placed ahead of their heroes Megadeth and Slayer). In Taiwan they are celebrated (and vilified) as champions of independence for the nation, with the articulate and charismatic lead singer Freddy Lim (林昶佐) playing an offstage role as a spokesman and high-profile activist.

But the metal is much heavier than the politics in Mirror of Retribution, the band’s fifth album and first major label release.

Drawing inspiration from Scandinavian black metal bands, Chthonic has been working toward creating what it calls “Taiwanese metal” by incorporating local mythology and history into its music. Lim, who is also the group’s lyricist, weaved an elaborate background story for Mirror, which takes place at the time of the 228 Incident of 1947.

The album’s hero, a young mystic named Tsing-guan, travels into the spirit world of hell to steal “The Book of Life and Death.” The book holds the key to saving his friends in the material world, who have started an armed rebellion against Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) troops descending upon Taichung.

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