Rachel Liang (梁文音)
Poems of Love (愛的詩篇)
Rachel Liang’s (梁文音) release of Poems of Love last month marked a relative high point in the slew of albums that have come out of the first two seasons of CTV’s One Million Star (超級星光大道) pop idol “reality” show. The series has generated a number of success stories already, and although Liang’s album has been slow in coming, it has certainly been worth the wait for her fans. Compared to other recent albums from One Million Star alumni, Poems of Love (愛的詩篇) is remarkably free of gimmicks and bombast, and relies solidly on Liang’s strong, expressive voice.
The songs are very firmly placed within the mainstream of the Mando-pop ballad, and all the conventional musical tropes are present and correct. The album is far from innovative, but there are some decent songs, the most successful being the playful Peppermint and Nail Scissors (薄荷與指甲剪), which is cute, trivial and a good deal more evocative than the more strenuous romantic lyricism that characterizes most of the other tracks.
The predominant mood of sweet sorrow is enlivened by You Can Now Stop Loving You (可以不愛了), a narrative ballad of young love, which has just a hint of snarkiness to give the otherwise sugar-sweet lyrics a little depth. There is also The Most Joyous Thing (最幸褔的事), which has a catchy chorus and just the right degree of technical difficulty to show off Liang’s vocal command without any ostentatious display.
Sadly, little musical reference is made to Liang’s Puyuma (卑南族) heritage, making it impossible to assess her potential as the next Samingad (紀曉君). This is disappointing to anyone who noticed Liang’s moving performance of Song of the Wonder (流浪記) in One Million Star. The raw emotions of loss and alienation in that song brought out the depth of her vocal expressiveness in a way that is only very occasionally evident in this album.— Ian Bartholomew
When Orangegrass’ lead singer and guitarist Klark Chung (鍾體學) told the Taipei Times in a recent interview that he liked rain, he wasn’t kidding. He and his band named their first full-length album Cumulonimbus (積雨雲), a meteorological term for the puffy clouds that cause heavy rainstorms. Nearly every song is filled with the “wet” sounds of reverb-drenched guitar distortion and a wide palette of snare drum smacks and cymbal crashes.
Orangegrass is sometimes described as a post-rock band with a singer, which works as a description for those in a hurry. The album has a distinct atmosphere built on a large collection of electric guitar tones, yet each song avoids over-abstraction and has a clear form. Chung’s guitar pours out drifting sheets of sound that range from quiet rumbles to screeching howls, but in the end the noises serve the music, particularly on songs like Tumbler Gold Fish (杯子金魚).
The vocals are delivered with a combination of dreamy detachment and youthful verve. When the music gets loud in Goodbye My Friends, Chung sings softly but assertively, and he occasionally breaks into emo-tinged sneers on tunes such as And Go and Exercise (習題).
Chung says he tends to come up with the structure and sonic idea for a song before writing his lyrics, which often gravitate towards loneliness and youth. The album decidedly sets its overall tone by beginning and ending with the sounds of children in a playground. In the first track, the band enters the picture with a barrage of pent-up, angst-ridden rock sounds, while on the final track the guitar sound is acoustic and resolves with a sad but hopeful sentiment.
The album is impressive for balancing consistency and variety — the “stormy” mood prevails throughout, yet each song develops in a different, satisfying direction. Sometimes the band gets a little heavy-handed; on the title track they added recorded sounds of rain and thunderstorms, as if worried their theme wouldn’t get across. But the music succeeds in speaking for itself, and with clarity.
Nanwan Sisters (南王姐妹花)
Nanwan Sisters, Honey Voices
Taiwan Colors Music (TCM, 角頭音樂)
The Nanwan Sisters are a singing trio of close friends from Taitung. They grew up singing the songs of their native Puyuma heritage with another childhood friend, the award-winning singer-songwriter Pau-dull (陳建年), who conceived and produced this recording of both original and traditional folk songs.
The album is aptly titled — the Nanwan Sisters’ harmonies are sublime and indeed sound as sweet as honey. Here Pau-dull presents their voices with a sensitive ear while displaying his talent for songwriting and composing. He penned five of the album’s nine tracks in the Puyuma language and played nearly all of the backing instruments, which range from percussion and acoustic guitar to the piano and flute.
While the music is rooted in tradition and the concept is inspired from childhood memories, the album is far from a collection of old museum pieces. Pau-dull creates a fresh, contemporary sound with prudently chosen and tasteful arrangements. The acoustic guitar intro to the breathtaking and wistful Romance of Two Rivers (雙河戀) hints at Irish folk music, while double bass, mandolin and an accordion lend a Mediterranean feel to Soul Sisters (姐妹花). Yet the sisters’ voices always remain the centerpiece and the melodies have a timeless feel.
With its warmth and intimacy, this album is very much a family affair. Mother’s Wreath (媽媽的花環) features a chorus of voices of Puyuma singers from Pau-dull and the sisters’ extended musical family, including Jiajia (家家) and Leo Chen (陳永龍). The album ends with a celebratory medley of drinking and wedding tunes, which includes recorded excerpts of a village party where revelers laugh and clink their rice wine glasses.
Nanwan Sisters, Honey Voices also marks a refreshing and solid addition for TCM records, which continues to carve its niche as a label for indie-rock and Aboriginal artists who celebrate a musical spirit that might be described as uniquely Taiwanese.
Mister Green and Highway 9
A Few for the Road (出發)
Himalaya Record Corporation
Sometimes you just need a dose of straightforward, feel-good rock, and Mister Green and Highway 9 offers such grooving solace with A Few for the Road. The group is led by Canadian expatriate Jason Grenier, who sang, played guitar and wrote all the songs for this debut album at his current home in Hualien County.
At the start, the lyrics are unapologetically direct, and delivered heart-on-sleeve. Anyone wishing to escape the urban grind will relate to the first track Farewell to the City. As Grenier sings: “Sick and tired of living my life, getting told to stop and when to go by the traffic lights/Glass, concrete and steel, block after block.”
Act of Will, which playfully flips back and forth between reggae and fast rock, is a humorous song about trying to stay on the wagon: “Mary Jane I adore you/Don’t be mad when I ignore you/It hurts me more than it hurts you/To say no to you.”
The moods grow denser as the album progresses. Home on the Range treads along at a steady but weary pace, offering a tip of the hat to the Neil Young school of guitar distortion. Oh, My Darling Boy is an acoustic number with a classic Irish folk flavor, while Paradise rocks out with American-heartland charm.
The songs are sung mostly in English, but Grenier makes sure to express his affection for his adopted homeland as he sings on the final track, Angels: “Taiwan/This song I give to you/Beauty and freedom
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