Sun, May 22, 2011 - Page 14 News List

CD reviews: Taiwan

Feather River (羽毛河), by We Save Strawberries (草莓救星); The Unbearable Heaviness of Being (生命無法承受之重), by KoOk (庫克樂團); Headstrong (頭好壯壯), by Unfamiliar Friends Party (不熟的朋友派對); R U Watching? (你在看我嗎), by Chang Hui-mei (張惠妹) aka A-mei (阿妹)

Staff and Contributing Reporters

Feather River (羽毛河), by We Save Strawberries (草莓救星).

Dream pop, post-rock and electronica wrapped up in a tightly woven package: Fans of Taiwanese indie pop couldn’t ask more of Feather River (羽毛河), the second album from We Save Strawberries (草莓救星).

The six-piece group, which formed in 1998, has long enjoyed a cult following for its picture-perfect indie pop sound. The mainstream has also taken notice — We Save Strawberries is one of the nominees for best band at this year’s Golden Melody Awards.

We Save Strawberries draws from the Beatles and British alt-rock in its sound, with songs mostly driven by electric guitars, drums and bass and adorned with sampled beats and synthesizers.

The band’s most alluring element is its siren and bandleader, Labi Wu (吳嘵萓). She has an icy cool, yet intimate, voice that slowly draws you in on tracks like Bus No. 11 and Plaque Youth (瘟疫青年).

Wu sings mostly in Mandarin, and at times it’s clear she has the knack for Mando-pop hooks, as on Something About You, a somewhat radio-friendly tune.

She avoids sounding saccharine, however, and is not afraid to get weird and edgy. Wu adopts a quivering voice, as if on the verge of a nervous breakdown, on Love Spender (白馬敗家子). This tune, sung in English, reads like a surreal dream that threatens to become a nightmare with its lyrics about heartbreak and jealousy, encapsulated by the line, “I can’t believe/I can’t believe/You kissed me yesterday/I can’t breath/I can’t breath/You kissed her tonight.” A native English speaker might find some of the lyrics nonsensical and grating, but Wu’s delivery hits the mood spot on.

We Save Strawberries saved the best for last on this album, almost to its detriment. The first half of the album doesn’t feel glued together: The first eight tracks stand well on their own, but it wasn’t until hearing Boom Your Ears (轟爆你的耳朵), a sparkling post-rock instrumental, that I felt charged with anticipation to hear more. The title track, driven by sampled beats and a violin-led melody, is a beautiful closer to the album.

— David Chen

Grunge is alive and well, at least for the fans of KoOk (庫克樂團). This trio from Kaohsiung has been around in one form or another since 1999 and just released its second album of guitar-drenched rock, The Unbearable Heaviness of Being (生命無法承受之重).

There’s no irony intended with the album title, in case you’re looking for a Milan Kundera reference. Lead singer and guitarist Leslie Liang (梁智雄) means it on the title track when he sings, “The unbearable heaviness of being/is pressing down upon me/Can’t escape, I can only accept it” (生命無法承受之重/壓著我/無法逃開只能接受).

The song is filled with pure angst and smells a lot like Nirvana, right down to the guitar distortion and crashing drums. Grow Up (獨立世代) has a similar vibe.

Overall, though, KoOk doesn’t get too carried away with its adoration of Seattle-style rock. The band manages to sound original on tracks like the album opener, Super Distortion, a classic garage rock romp with a catchy chorus.

The subject matter of Unbearable revolves around alienation, anger and depression. But there are brighter moments such as the relatively upbeat, mid-tempo ballad Because of You and the acoustic guitar-driven My Boundless Sky (向下望的天空), one of the album’s strongest tracks.

In general, KoOK’s music lends itself to the sort of catharsis that some seek in heavy metal. The soaring, high-octane jams on tracks such as Silence (無聲世界) and Sense of Security (安全感) simply feel good to listen to, despite the sense of despair in the lyrics.

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