Lin Sheng-xiang (林生祥)
The Land Is My Study (大地書房)
Trees Music & Art
Hakka singer-songwriter Lin Sheng-xiang’s (林生祥) music only gets better. The Land Is My Study (大地書房), the 40-year-old’s fourth solo release, won the best album and best songwriter gongs at this year’s Golden Indie Music Awards (金音創作獎). The accolades are well deserved, as The Land is his most inspired work yet. With lyrics adapted from the writings of the late Hakka author and activist Chung Li-ho (鍾理和), Lin weaves stark tales of rural life in southern Taiwan to a beguiling mix of acoustic roots music sounds, jazz and traditional Taiwanese folk.
Touming Magazine (透明雜誌)
Soul Music (我們的靈魂樂)
Lots of Taiwanese indie bands know how to get a crowd moving, but few pull it off with the verve and humor of Touming Magazine (透明雜誌). The four-piece band’s debut release, which is better translated into English as “Our Soul Music” (我們的靈魂樂), pays tribute to the sound of late 1980s and early 1990s American alternative bands like the Pixies and Superchunk. But 28-year-old lead vocalist and guitarist Hung Shen-hao (洪申豪) also has a penchant for Motown and hip-hop, and those elements sneak their way into this peppy collection of well-crafted tracks. Pop-punk sung in Mandarin hasn’t sounded this good, or fun, in a long time.
Wang Yu-jun (王榆鈞)
The Tracks on the Beach (沙灘上的腳印)
This album stems from an experimental theater production, but the music feels like a world of its own. Wang Yu-jun (王榆鈞), 29, does a beautiful job of piecing together this collection of noirish-acoustic folk, contemporary classical and electronica. The music is melancholic, sweet and vaguely sinister, with a palette of sounds including piano, cello, acoustic guitar and sampled drums and noise provided by Jerry Fang (方宜正) of KbN (凱比鳥). There’s plenty of space for the imagination to roam, whether or not you know the backstory: the music was the soundtrack to a production by the Shakespeare’s Wild Sisters Group (莎士比亞的妹妹們的劇團), which performed a play based on the novel The Ravishing of Lol Stein by French writer Maguerite Duras. The main character is haunted by the memory of a fiance who deserted her, and is driven to madness. The recording also features collaborations with Wild Sisters director and actor Hsu Yen-ling (徐堰鈴), who delivers several mesmerizing monologues that flow with the restless spirit of Wang’s music.
At times it can be bombastic and brash, but Matzka’s (瑪斯卡) music is always rousing and fun. The 28-year-old Paiwan Aboriginal enjoyed a fast rise to grassroots fame with his distinctive mix of reggae and rock, with bits of hip-hop and Mando-pop thrown in. Matzka’s signature tune, Ma Do Va Do (Like a Dog, 像狗一樣), is infectious and catchy, and showcases his talents at rapid-fire “toasting” (the equivalent of rapping in dancehall music). On No K he laments the mindless worship of American hip-hop, and he waxes romantic a la Bob Marley on I Love You No Ha Ha. Matzka has a great voice, and his raspy timbre complements whatever language he’s singing in, be it his native Paiwan (排灣) tongue or Mandarin. Listening to this solid debut album, one gets the sense that Matzka is just getting started.
Big Big Intersecting
If you think modern jazz is over your head, the music of Flaneur Daguerre may change your mind. This Taipei-based quintet, made up of both local and long-term expat musicians, loves to shift genres and bend them to its will. The music on Big Big Intersecting Clusters runs the gamut from free jazz and bebop to Balkan gypsy folk and rock. An accordionist playfully clashes with a saxophone player; a pianist tries to outsmart the drummer. The band thrives on artful mischief, and the result can be equally fun for open-minded listeners. Flaneur is currently on hiatus as several members are abroad, which is all the more reason to pick up this CD.