If there were such a thing as a school of rock n’ roll and 88 Balaz (88顆芭樂籽) were enrolled, its members would come away with straight As. The band’s third album, More Handsome Than an Animal (比獸還帥) is a thoroughly satisfying romp full of punk angst, catchy chord changes and raunchy rock, all sung in Mandarin. Bandleader, guitarist and vocalist Lee Chi-ming (李奇明), better known as Ah-Chang (阿強), stands out in Taiwan’s indie rock community as one of its more talented and energetic live performers.
For 88 Balaz fans, More Handsome is more of the same, but better. This ten-track collection is the band’s best recording yet. It feels punchier, tighter and more balanced than their last venture, Man Is Worse Than an Animal When He Is an Animal (比獸還壞). That 2010 release offered plenty of verve and bravado, but the album felt a little bit stuck, as if the band were trying too hard to make every song sound like a rock n’ roll anthem.
More Handsome doesn’t fall short on infectious rock, to be sure, but this time around, the songs come across as more inspired and the lyrics feel like they have more depth. Attitude (態度) is a bread-and-butter blues-rock number that will speak to hardened musicians and rock n’ roll romantics, with its refrain “I’m 30 years old, I’ve got a rock band / My lover left me, I have no money in my pocket (三 十歲的我,有一個搖滾樂隊/愛人跑了,口袋裡沒有什麼錢).”
Then there are lines like this, which could be Ah-Chang offering a few slices of autobiography: “Always thought my lyrics were weird, Always thought my weird songs would fly / I sit in the park drinking and talking about big ideas with friends, then I go home and fight with Mom over what I’m going to do to get by (常常覺得自己寫的歌很怪 常常覺得很怪的歌很帥在公園和朋友喝酒暢談理念 回家和媽媽唬爛未來).
Indeed, Ah-Chang dishes up songs that have quirky and odd lyrics but make for great rock. Jimi and Mary is about a person whose top half is a man (Jimi, who plays drums) and bottom half is a woman (Mary, who plays guitar); its ska-punk interlude would make The Clash proud. The penultimate track, Eat Some Mushrooms to Become Big Mario sounds like a tongue-in-cheek recollection of a psychedelic experience, as well as a tribute to the video game Super Mario Brothers.
The brashness and bratty attitude of the album gets offset by more thoughtful tunes like the noisy ballad Flower’s Ear (花的耳朵), and a dubstep-flavored electronica track, a remix of Bad Temper Fish (脾氣不好的魚, from the previous album), which makes for a surprising but fitting finish.
— David Chen, Staff reporter
Forests (森林) is a point of pride in Taiwan’s indie rock scene. The trio opened up for Death Cab for Cutie in Taipei in March and left a strong impression on frontman Ben Gibbard, who wrote on his Twitter account that Forests was the “best thing I’ve seen in a long time.”
The praise is deserved, but it should be of no surprise to fans and followers of the band, whose members are behind some of the more interesting projects in Taiwan’s indie rock scene. Drummer Lo Zun-long (羅尊龍) and bassist Tseng Kuo-hung (曾國宏) have another trio, Sunset Rollercoaster (落日飛車), and along with guitarist and vocalist Jon Du (杜澤威), they were part of the brilliant but now-defunct Boyz & Girl.
The Moon Is Man, the band’s debut, contains all elements of the aforementioned groups. Forests’ sound is power-pop punk and noise rock at its core. All three band members sing, with Du leading most tracks, but a lot of the vocals on the album are obscured, intentionally, in reverb and distortion that sounds like it was produced from a cheap vintage radio microphone.