Sun, Dec 26, 2010 - Page 14 News List

CD reviews: Taiwan

By David Chen and Andrew C.C. Huang

Hang In the Air
A Big Piece of Scenery

Reggae and dub’s growing popularity in Taiwan over the past few years has trickled into original music from homegrown artists, most notably Aboriginal rock sensation Matzka.

But while the dreadlocked Taitung musician infuses the pop mainstream with a few Caribbean beats and some hip-hop attitude, Hang In The Air (盪在空中) revels in wandering experimentation on its reggae-laced debut EP, A Big Piece of Scenery (一大片的風景).

Hang In The Air sounds a bit like its name. The four-piece group’s music is a pastiche of breezy Taiwanese indie rock, psychedelic jamming and hypnotic dub atmosphere.

Lead vocalist and guitarist “Lai Q” (賴Q), real name Lai Wen-hsuan (賴文軒), sings exclusively in Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese). He has an angsty voice and at times sounds like a punk singer trapped in a dub recording.

The title track — aptly named for its medley of moods and rhythm changes — is grounded in a soothing reggae beat driven by a pair of guitars: one playing the upstrokes, the other letting out breaths of gently rolling arpeggios.

Patience is needed to keep up with the song’s train of thought, though. The tune shifts between reggae and straightforward rock, and then out of nowhere comes a melodramatic pop coda.

Many of the other songs are also full of similar twists and turns, such as the ska-flavored Bravely Taking a Step Forward (大膽走一步) and Parkside Dream (公園邊的夢), one notable track where the meandering resolves with a satisfying conclusion.

The band, which formed in 2007 and includes a former member of 88 Balaz (88顆芭樂籽) and Taimaica Soundsystem, has a few rough edges, particularly in their rhythm section, which sometimes lacks the tightness to make those quirky interludes fully convincing. Still, the EP is a decent debut effort and presents Hang in The Air as a band worth watching.

— David Chen

Soft Lipa (蛋堡) has garnered a loyal following for his jazz-flavored hip-hop, which continues to mature with his third release, Moonlight (月光), recorded in Tokyo with Japanese jazz outfit Jabberloop.

The album marks the steady ascent of the Tainan-born, Taipei-based rapper who floated to the top of Taiwan’s hip-hop underground after graduating from university in 2005.

Taiwan’s most compelling rap music is often rhymed in Hakka or Hoklo. Soft Lipa is an exception: He raps mostly in Mandarin and is the rare artist that makes the language work with hip-hop.

His flow is smooth, his lyrics are clever and his phrasing is musical — none of the limp delivery and awkward posturing one often finds in Mando-pop-flavored R ’n’ B.

The track Classic (經典!) has a catchy refrain delivered with a keen sense of funk, and here Soft Lipa displays hip-hop bravado with cool confidence.

What is it that we call “super classic”? (什麼叫做超經典?)

It can’t be exchanged/It can’t be forgotten (不會被換/不會被忘)

It can’t be stopped/It won’t stop being sung (不會被停止/不停地唱)

There are a few underwhelming moments on the album. The opening track, We Got Jazz, feels flat and seems to be there only to state the obvious; I Want You misses its target, despite its cool jazz flair. On the refrain sung in English, it sounds like he’s saying “I warned you” instead of “I want you.” But the rest of the tracks on Moonlight are excellent and worthy of repeated listening.

On the song Process (過程), Soft Lipa’s lyrics have a Taoist/Zen vibe that melds perfectly with Jabberloop’s soul jazz groove. Under The Moonlight (月光下) is a meditative ode that celebrates the romance and mystery of summer nights, and Roaming at Night (夜間漫遊) is a funky party song fueled by a fiery hot Latin jazz jam.

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