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CD Reviews: Taiwan

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The Peppermints (薄荷葉)

Banished (流放地)

myspace.com/twpeppermints

Having been together for more than a decade — practically an eternity for a Taiwanese indie band — the Peppermints (薄荷葉) are showing their age, and in a good way.

Their third and latest release, Banished (流放地), is a solid album of guitar-driven rock that dwells on a brooding fascination with mental illness.

Lead singer Shine Lin (林倩) says she drew from a personal crisis in writing the lyrics for Banished. She spent time in a psychiatric hospital last year to receive treatment for severe depression, and says “80 percent” of the experience informs the album’s 10 tracks.

Don’t let the heavy-handed song titles turn you off. Someone in My Brain (腦海裡的小人) has a sedate, dreamy groove and is convincing for Lin’s detached vocal delivery and the mellow harmonies.

On Claustrophobia, which is about a suffocating train ride on the Taipei MRT, the band’s catchy, electric guitar-drenched hooks bring to mind Sonic Youth and The Breeders. The track ends with some playful sound effects by artist and musician Yalin Wu (吳亞林).

Lin’s whispery sweet voice sounds both vulnerable and disaffected on For the Dead, a hidden track on the CD and one of the album’s better songs. She sings with pitch-perfect execution, and the band benefited from having the vocals mixed by indie-folk musician and producer Ze Hwang (黃小楨).

Although it doesn’t appear obvious, the band says Banished is also dedicated to “society’s disadvantaged.” Lin and drummer Zheng Gae-tan (鄭凱同) served as activists in the controversial campaign to preserve the Losheng Sanatorium (樂生療養院), a home for sufferers of Hansen’s disease that is being torn down by the Taipei County government, and have been outspoken supporters of Aboriginal laborers’ rights.

The unsettling mood of the album is carried by macabre tunes like Bala Bala Party (肢解派對), which was inspired by a grizzly murder in Japan. But one has to wonder if the band is pushing too hard in songs like Deja Vu (既視感), where Lin sings in English, “maybe I need a favor/a favor of someone/pushing me to commit suicide.”

—DAVID CHEN

Windmill (風籟坊)

Demo II (Demo 乙)

White Wabbit Records

ON paper, Windmill (風籟坊) sounds like the typical Taiwanese indie band. Its sound is full of references to Brit-pop, post-punk, post-rock and Neil Young, among a laundry list of alternative rock subgenres.

But what sets this trio apart is how it puts these elements together. Windmill’s latest release, Demo II (Demo 乙), is a five-song EP that is unabashedly Western rock delivered with a uniquely Taiwanese soul.

A running joke within the band is that lead singer and guitarist Chris Lin (林育詳) started writing the band’s lyrics in Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese) because his voice tended to stray off key when singing in Mandarin.

You get that sense from the EP’s only non-Hoklo track, Zhu Feng Lan Yu (竹風蘭雨). It’s not that Lin doesn’t sing well in Mandarin — he offers a fine performance on this number — rather he sounds more at home and thus more convincing in Hoklo.

The music and lyrics, included with Mandarin translations in the liner notes, play like a sound track to an indie movie for 20- and 30-somethings in Taiwan.

On 1982 (民國七十一), which has a catchy vocal refrain and nicely textured guitar tones, Lin waxes nostalgic about the innocence of childhood and growing up on the east coast. Summer’s End touches upon youthful rebellion and coming of age, driven by a rousing guitar and bass groove that borrows from Joy Division.

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