01. #MWHYB: the beginning
03. IKYK ( I Know You Know) ft (孟佳 Meng Jia)
04. BASS GUN
05. 屬於你和我之間的事 Faded Pictures
06. 蹦蹦 BOOM ft (Khalil Fong 方大同)
07. 玻璃屋 Glass House
08. 下一首情歌 One Last Smile
09. 愛是你 愛是我 All of My Life
10. Westside feat. brandUn DeShay (English)
11. #MWHYB (English)
Review by: CP
Interview material taken from: Jamie Deer (Yahoo Streetvoice)
It has been three years since Vanness Wu’s last album, and this time around he is back with his eighth CPop album, #MWHYB. It is nice to see Vanness back on the scene as the only member of F4 still actively making music after all these years. He has certainly reinvented himself time and again, and he continues to do so in #MWHYB.
The unique hashtag title translates to “Music Won’t Hurt Your Body”, which in many ways personifies and depicts the overall theme of this album. In that, if I had to summarize #MWHYB in one sentence, it would be an album filled with music that simply makes you feel good. It contains tracks evoking different feelings for its listeners, including sentimental, upbeat dance and futuristic sounding feels. Aspects of the album also encourages the listener to be open in exploring and appreciating different genres of music such as Funk and Soul.
In a Chinese interview with Jamie Deer for Yahoo Street Voice, Vanness said “a lot of this album was organically produced, without much restraint or hard structure”. He says “his new way of doing things is to be comfortable and appear natural in whatever he is doing.” In a lot of ways, I think the audience really gets to witness this idea in #MWHYB.
Encouraging listeners to expand their musical taste:
One message Vanness is trying to convey with this album is to “not limit yourself to a certain type of music” and I think the songs in “Boogie” and “Boom” does a great job of promoting that concept. Not only do they reflect back on some of Vanness’ earlier musical influences such as James Brown, often known as “The Godfather of Soul”, but they also showcase Vanness’ passion for dancing, which was evident to many fans during his early days with F4.
“Boom” is a nice elegant mix of Soul and funk music, with a touch of hip hop, R&B along with an ear-catching rap segment done by Khalil Fong. It promotes a similar ‘let loose’ feel as in “Boogie”, but lyrically I found the song to be more inspiring. As it metaphorically uses the idea of dancing to capture the imagination of the audiences. I feel that it personifies an important message, reminding us that sometimes it is necessary to be less consumed by our daily anxieties, and rather be more spiritually connected and focused on our deepest desires and ambitions instead.
Listening to these two songs makes me appreciate the genres of Soul and Funk music a lot more.The most impressive thing I found about this type of music is the dancing associated with it. I noticed how it is a huge element that goes along with the feel of the music, giving every beat and riff the attention it deserves.
In relation, the choreography put together by Vanness in his music videos was on beat and impressive, to say the least. In “Boogie”, I loved the throwback 80s theme with the “Back to the Future” intro, along with the rooftop and disco scenes which resembles and reminisces nostalgic Michael Jackson feels for me.
Sentimental Ballads and other songs in the album:
Similar, to the structure of his previous albums, there are a few slower sentimental songs with more traditional Cpop melodies. They include, “All Of My Life” 愛是你 愛是我, “Faded Picture” 屬於你和我之間的事 and “One Last Smile” 下一首情歌. Music-wise, nothing in particular stood out to me but the songs do give off nice tender feels and are perfect for days when you in the mood for something slow and sentimental.
A few songs in this album falls into the category of what I like to call “futuristic sounding” songs. In that, they feature modern sounding electronic instruments and accompaniments, somewhat similar to what we hear in today’s top 40 music. They include “玻璃屋” Glass House, “IKYK” ft Meng Jia and “Bass Gun”.
Out of those songs, “Glasshouse” 玻璃屋 stood out to me the most. It is a track with a blend of R&B mixed with futuristic sounding bass patterns and funky sounding synthesize layers. I really like the song because it gives off a dark but relaxing vibe, a rare combination I didn't expect to hear in this album.
Lyrically, it includes a rather deep message that is delivered in a simple, expressive manner. From afar, it seems like this song serves as a form of therapeutic relief for Vanness. As he expresses some of his more personal feelings about life, along with being in the public spotlight. The details regarding those issues are not entirely clear, but it create a nice touch of mystery, that intrigues the audience to want to revisit the song ,over and over again.
There are a few english tracks in this album including; “#MWHYB” and “Westside” feat. BrandUn DeShay.These songs cater more to the taste of western listeners. As a Chinese growing up in North America, I appreciate the inclusion of these type of tracks in a Chinese album. I feel naturally drawn to them ,as they create a sense of familiarity, that resembles some of the music I’m used to hearing in the Western world.
It also culturally showcases the diversity amongst Chinese artists and in Vanness’s case, songs of this context allows him to proudly represent his ABC heritage to the world of Cpop. I thought “Westside” did a decent job of depicting what the laid back California lifestyle is like. Imaginatively speaking, the song was able to transport me back to California, in the late 80s and early 90s, experiencing life as Vanness or an other American born Chinese growing up during that time.
Overall, I thought this album was well done, offering diversity to please very different musical tastes. Comparatively speaking, it is not as electronic sounding as the “Different Man” and less western sounding than“ V.Dubb”. I think listeners who will enjoy this album the most, are those who listens with an open mind and is looking for a “feel good” experience .
As for listeners who like to search for a deeper meaning or interconnection among songs, they may feel like there are many inconsistencies within the album. In that, they pull the listener’s interest into multiple directions, as several songs in the album promotes very different ideas. Therefore, I can see some people criticizing this album for that reason.
Nevertheless, Vanness did not pretend to create an album which was particularly consistent, instead opting for more of an eclectic variety of styles. Therefore, for his purposes and aims, Vanness has done a stand-up job with this album.
I am aware that some people aren’t fans on Vanness’ music, simply because they don’t think he has the best vocals. That is fair, but if they focus on that one element alone, they are probably missing out, a whole lot on what he has to offer as an artist. Fans must realize that Vanness wasn’t originally discovered as singer, as he has come a long way from his early acting days, to making eight Chinese albums and many other tracks in Kpop, Jpop and English.
We should also recognize that, as an artist Vanness offers the rare combination of being able to sing, dance and rap. In my opinion, he is one of the best C-pop dancers of his generation, and can use his dancing talents to help express his music better. Which in comparison, offers a lot more versatility and showmanship than other artists in the market. Perhaps fans who didn’t give Vanness’ work a chance in the past will gain better appreciation with this new perspective in mind.
Finally, as an artist with a western upbringing , it can be harder for Vanness to decide what the type of songs to include his albums. Regardless, I think he has done a valiant job, bridging gaps between Eastern and Western musical genres, in a way that is uniquely his. In the process, he is also able to create a solid album that shows off his unique energy and spunk.
02. I Don't Know
04. Home Remix feat. 40
Diana Wang has undergone a huge transformation as an artist since she first stepped onto the scene back in 2013. When I first set my eyes upon the Netherlands-born beauty, she was almost unrecognisable under a huge mop of hair and an offering of songs too varied for listeners to truly make sense of who Wang was as an artist. After leaving Warner music and a bit of time off, Diana, now signed with Cros Music is going back to her love for R&B music, starting with her new EP ‘Diana Wang’. The EP includes four tracks which give audiences just a little teaser of what is to come, namely her chart-topping single ‘HOME’, its remix version, as well as two other songs, ‘I Don’t Know’ and ‘Heartbeat’.
Although not much by way of a fully fledged concept (which is very understandable as it is just an EP at this stage), the EP offers a tasting platter of delectable gems which show off Wang’s clear, sweet vocals. However this time around, the focus is not on versatility, but on establishing Diana’s chops for the R&B genre in particular. ‘HOME’, the first single was a surefire crowd-pleaser, with lyrics that wax nostalgic against the backdrop of a simple piano and electronic beats arrangement. The bite to this song lies in its catchy melody, written by top-notch producer Skot Suyama, but also in Wang’s soaring meslismatic trills which are peppered throughout the song. Although some may find it a little too much, I believe such variations to conventional melodies are what keep people listening over and over again, so it in fact works in Diana’s favour. ‘HOME’ is certainly not an easy song to sing, but Diana pulled it off with aplomb, her voice thick with yearning as she sings of the conflict between chasing her dreams and coming home. (For a more in-depth analysis of the single, see my single review for Hello Asia)
Music Video Archive
1.From the Moment I Wake Until I Fall Asleep從醒著到願意睡著
2.Judge Me Not 我不要再比了
3.Indulge Myself 我寵愛
4.Love Is a Crime 明知故犯
5.Cross the Ocean for You 飄洋過海來看你
6.Love Is the Way 愛的方向
7.When the World Is Silent 當世界安靜
After a seven-year-wait, singer Rose Liu has finally released her debut album ‘Judge Me Not’. Composed of seven tracks, the album seemed a promising one, given Rose’s critically acclaimed vocal abilities, having placed highly in Taiwan’s One Million Stars singing competition and in Chinese reality singing show The Voice of China. Furthermore, given that the album featured songs written by the likes of honest songwriters Eve Ai and Kenji Wu, I was expecting an album that was heartfelt as it was beautiful. Nothing complicated, but nevertheless something which tugged at the heartstrings and showed off Rose’s beautiful, sweet-yet-husky pipes. However to my slight disappointment, the album was a little hit-and-miss for my liking.
Starting off solid with “From The Moment I Wake Until I Fall Asleep”, the song which was composed for her by Eve Ai encompassed Ai’s signature scent of deep sentimentality that reprises most of her works. A hauntingly nostalgic melody and lyrics which would melt even the coldest heart, Rose’s vocals treaded lightly across each note, folding each into her warm, heart-rending yet sincere voice. With an simple arrangement that comprised merely of a piano, the song was nevertheless able to clearly allow listeners to immerse themselves in the heady, serious atmosphere that is reminiscent of sleepless nights. Although on the surface the lyrics are about love, the imagery and scenario the song was based upon was unique and executed with aplomb. Despite her vocal proficiencies, Rose hit the nail on its head with her performance, embedding meaning in simplicity. Exactly what I would have expected from the skilled performer.
Her second track, “Judge Me Not”, written for her by Kenji Wu followed in a relatively similar vein as the previous track, but was more straightforward in its delivery and less complex in the message it was trying to deliver. With the makings of a ballad, Rose delivered the song perfectly once again, injecting her feelings of spiritual exhaustion from competing in various singing competitions into the track. However, its rather face-value message and solid but rather generic arrangement left me wanting more, craving that same transport to a timeless state feeling the previous track had given me. I will say however, it was a ballad with a great hook that made it relatively memorable.
01. Where Do We Go (English Version)
02. Where Do We Go (Chinese Version)
As a wise person once said, it is the responsibility of creative types to feel the joys and sorrows of life most deeply, so that they may transpose those emotions into material better understood by others. Likewise, Lara Veronin's latest single "Where Do We Go" is a reflection of the personal changes she's experienced over the past four years since her last album release. Since we last saw her, Lara's transformation has been subtle yet full of accomplishments and small milestones. Growing as a host, actress, producer and entrepreneur, Veronin's journey was not without its internal struggles, such as the loss of her mother and fervent efforts to let her individuality as an artist be known. Veronin describes 'Where Do We Go' as a song about her loss of direction, posing questions with no answer; thus is the predicament that she finds herself in currently.
The single showcases this particular state of limbo perfectly; posing a question with no answer that asserts the abstract and indistinct nature of life and ones' choices. Belonging to the air-pop genre, the twanging feedback of a slide guitar characterises the song, its elastic nature bringing life to Lara's words. Accompanied by stable, subdued electronic beats which imply to me a sense of reflection and clearmindedness, the twangs act like elastic bands, stretching to test the different directions laid out in front of oneself, threatened by the thought of losing stability and balance. The lyrics, melody and arrangement come together to produce a powerful imagery evoking shades of green and blue. Lara's lyrics skilfully use natural imagery that have been traditionally used as signals, like smoke, pathways and sand to give the song an organic edge, while the cool, lucid electric guitar brings to mind shades of electric blue.
Lara's voice is one of reason, the method to the madness that quietly, serenely cuts through the heavy mesh of sounds, like a nymph beckoning listeners to follow in her steps. Although reserved rather than emotional and passionate, her persistence in using a more reserved tone lends her perspective credibility, like the thread holding all the burgeoning elements of the song together. Soft and close to ones' ear, Lara's voice also give the lyrics depth. While the lyrics may be misconstrued as leading listeners on a wild goose chase, luring them in while not providing an answer, the warmth and earnestness of her voice seep into the cold grooves of the song, dissipating a sense of accompaniment rather than wily misdirection.
The only downside to this song are that it is almost too clear what the listener is intended to find. The arrangement is rather repetitive, like a ball rattling around in a pinball machine, and while this loss of direction is exactly what we are meant to understand, it would be nice for Lara to complete the story by positing her own spin on how to deal with or leave this directionless state. But perhaps that is what the rest of her album is for? One will just have to wait and find out where she goes with it (pun intended).
Review by: CP
Editor's note: Very excited to be working with Asian Pop Weekly's new contributor CP who has recently joined the APW team! This is his debut on the site, and also his first review ever! Welcome CP, and here's to many more album reviews!
2016 was a year of major change for Khalil Fong. After leaving his old record label, he embarked on his own cultural entrepreneurial journey by launching his own independent label - Fu Music.
This makes Journey to the West (JTW 西遊記 ) a very special double album! Not only does it celebrate his 11th year in the music industry, it is also the inaugural album for his newfound independent record label. Many of us may be disappointed to hear this but it might be the last full album of music we get to hear from Khalil for a while. As mentioned on his Facebook page :
“For the time being this will be the last full album of original works. I am in the process of evolving and re-shaping. There is an abundance of creative diverse ideas in the pipeline from both myself, my team and affiliates and I look forward to seeing these realized to their full potential.”
It is uncertain what he means exactly by “evolving and reshaping” but we can probably expect to see him come out with other forms of creative work in the near future. Regardless, of what the future holds, Khalil fans should definitely listen to this album and cherish it for the time-being!
With the liberty to create on his own terms, I think Khalil’s taken full advantage of this newfound freedom, putting out the most unconventional C-pop album we’ve heard from him to date. In a lot of ways, it seems like we only got to hear a portion of Khalil’s true musical ideas in the past.
JTW is a huge leap forward in terms of Khalil’s continual efforts to redefine new parameters for Chinese music. He remains connected to his vision of fusing western and eastern musical influences together and continues to introduce new sounds that are uncommon to the Chinese listeners’ ear.
Overall, this album has a wide array of of fast, slow, and mid paced songs - enough diversity to please all listeners. It is a collaboration-heavy album, featuring artists from all walks of life, with some selections of collaboration partners being most unexpected.
The list includes musical groups such as The Blessed Choir (New York), Mongolian folk music group “ Hanggai” (Beijing) and other notable Asian pop artists such as Wang Lee Hom (USA), Jane Zhang (China), Zion T (Korea), Crush (Korea), Diana Wang (Netherlands) and Fifi Rong (UK).
On a higher level, the album is separated into two versions: Black (黑碟) and Gold (金碟)
The Black Album
Overall, I consider this album to be more international sounding, as there are songs in English, Korean, Mongolian and Chinese. It also features artists such as Zion.T & Crush and Hanggai (杭蓋) who are well recognized in Korean Pop and Mongolian Folk Music respectively. The songs are also more unconventional, as many don’t sound like your typical mainstream C-pop. I feel like they really test musical boundaries and challenge the ballad-heavy mandarin music market.
悟空 Wu Kong:
This song initially caught my attention with its super catchy intro, strong electronic beats and soothing R&B feel - something we don’t hear often in Taiwanese pop music. After further research, I realized this was actually the foundational song of the album that ties back to the “Journey to the West” theme! Written from the perspective of Sun Wu kong (Monkey King), a major character in the classic Chinese novel “Journey to the West”, he was a rebellious character who was detained by the Jade Emperor and Buddha under the “Five Element Mountains” for 500 years. Eventually, he was set free and transformed into a loyal disciple and protector of Master Xuanzang on their journey to retrieve the Buddhist Sutras.
In a way, I feel like this song depicts Khalil’s own journey through the music industry and reflects his current phase of personal transformation.The music video showcases this new change as he loses his signature black rimmed glasses and embraces a new hybrid man-bun suited for the martial arts theme in the video. There is also a nice sentimental throwback included in this album, a bonus demo version of Wu Kong written by Khalil over 14 years ago!
Flow ft Wang Leehom
This is another interesting song worth mentioning (It is also one of Jocelle and my personal favorites). Not only is it a song that makes you want to get up and randomly dance. It is also a collaboration with the one and only Wang Lee Hom!
Many consider Leehom as one of the original forefathers with the vision of fusing western influences into Chinese music. A collaboration with a predecessor who shares a similar vision is special - it symbolizes a big step forward in enhancing the bridge between East and West music. It may also inspire a new movement of collaborations for like minded artists in the future!
Although, their styles aren’t exactly the same, this song seamlessly integrates both together into a catchy upbeat tune blended with hip-hop, rock and R&B elements. On top of that, it includes layers of traditional chinese instruments in the background including the Morin Khuur, Sihu, Erhu and Dombra!
Taste 味道 (feat. Zion.T & Crush)
For those of you who don’t follow Kpop, this collaboration is like having your favorite athletes from different teams join forces to play in one All-star game together. Chances are - if you like Khalil’s music you will also like Zion T and Crush. This is a perfect crossover of artists from both worlds as the song is right up in their soulful R&B alley.
Drunk 醉 (feat. Hanggai):
This is a rare but interesting mix of mongolian folk music with some modern rock influence. It took me a few listens to get used to but over time it really grew on me. With lyrics in Chinese, Mongolian and English, it is definitely something I have never heard from Khalil before. My initial thoughts of this song reminded me of how I reacted to Wang Leehom’s “Beside the Plums Blossom” 在梅邊 from his Heroes of Earth album. The first time I heard it, I didn’t know what to think as it sounded so foreign and unnatural but gradually it grew to my liking. I’m not sure how everyone feels about this song but I think one should definitely give Khalil credit for his creativity and willingness to try something different. Perhaps, this song foreshadows his intentions to integrate other unconventional genres of music into mainstream C-pop.
The Gold Album
Although, I don’t think Khalil’s music sounds like your typical C-pop (as there is always some western elements integrated in it), I feel like the Gold album is more C-pop friendly, in that more songs are in line with what we are used to hearing in mainstream mandarin music. Some listeners may prefer this album more, especially those who are big fans of his earlier works. The songs deviate less from those albums and will appeal more to those who prefer to stay in that phase a little longer.
This album features collaborations with notable names in Chinese music including Jane Zhang (張靚穎), Diana Wang (王詩安) and London-based artist Fifi Rong. The selection of artists are very interesting as they come from very diverse backgrounds with Zhang being a Chinese National, Wang being born and raised in Netherlands and Rong being based in the UK. Despite the different backgrounds, they all share the commonality of singing in Mandarin. This diversity further signifies Khalil’s vision to bring a multicultural experience to this album!
All Night (ft Diana Wang 王詩安):
This is a fun upbeat song that is well suited for Diana’s personality. It is probably the funnest song to listen to on the entire album. It has a very contagious feel good vibe that can bring up one’s spirit up to speed, real quick!
Que Sera - (feat. Jane Zhang 張靚穎)
This song is worth highlighting as it is a collaboration with arguably one of the most well known female artists in China! An easy listening R&B song accompanied by traditional Chinese string instruments, “Que Sera” is a simple sounding song that isn’t flashy but has the sophistication of a timeless duet that can be listened to for many years to come.
Overall, I thought this album very well done with very few things to criticize. But I kind of wish the albums were released separately, as I feel like it would have given listeners an undivided appreciation for all the new sounds introduced in each album, rendering this work is rather hard to digest all at once. It would also better highlight the originality and creative efforts put into all the songs. I also personally hoped for more heartfelt songs; ones where Khalil opens up and tells us more about his personal journey, adversities and experiences he had faced over the past 11 years. It would have been nice to hear him touch on this subject with a few more songs. I also feel that the multi-cultural theme could have been further enhanced through the context of the collaborations. It would have been interesting to hear artists like Diana Wang or Wang Leehom further incorporate their unique background and upbringings.
There are other songs that deserves honorable mentions on both albums. The Gold album features a medley of relatively more traditional songs, with Fong reverting back to his familiar R&B, Soul roots. Songs to look out for include the funky "Right Girl" and "HBDD (Not Very Low Key)", the Soulful "Run From Your Love", "Dark Night" and even the Gospel influenced "Once". The Black album features a good mix of easy listening songs. If you are looking for something slower, you should check out “NMW”, “Butterfly Dream” (夢蝴蝶) and “Love so much”. If you are in the mood for something more upbeat and catchy -“ Wu Kong (2003 Demo Version)”, “ Listen (聽)” and “Opening Smile (笑開)” are worth a listen.
I also think it is important to recognize the contributions, Hong Kong based producer Derrick made to this album. I feel like his work has the unique sounds of western influences mixed elegantly into Chinese music. It gives Chinese music a different demeanour - perhaps one that can better bridge eastern and western sounds together. A few examples include “Right Girl”, “Not Very Low Key”, “Listen” and “All night” . I definitely recommend everyone to check out more of Derek’s work in the future!
Through JTW, I feel like Khalil took a major step forward with his vision of redefining musical boundaries and fusing western influences into Chinese music. This album adds a refreshing sense of excitement back into the music scene, by battling against the stigma of sacrificing creativity for commercialism and creating sounds that compile with industry standards. In my opinion, music is a constantly changing art with no strict rules. Sometimes the best way for artists to nourish creativity and continue to keep fans intrigued is to create something out of the ordinary and JTW definitely achieved that for me!
Due to some events especially in the second half of 2016, I’ve been finding more and more that my mindset (and as a result my tastes in music) are slightly changing. Previously, I’d adopted a ‘go hard or go home’ mindset which aligned more with vibrant tracks that were upbeat and rhythmic. However lately I’ve been really trying to figure out a more sustainable way of chasing my passions, hence I’ve been more into folk music, or really just any music which is soothing, acoustic and promotes mindfulness. And Crowd Lu’s latest album “What a folk!!!!!!” appears to be everything I’ve been looking for and more.
Combining his previous banally happy brand of music with a heightened sense of self awareness, Lu’s latest album is a demonstration of his maturity over the past few years, in which he discovered that sadness or periods of melancholy are indeed useful, instead of forcing a constant stream of happiness. I guess I’m really able to relate to this album as it reflects a mindset change that I’ve been experiencing, rendering this album even more meaningful to me. Lu's new perspective really comes through in the tracks from his latest album, which is completely organic in its use of wooden, non-electronic instruments, and its subscription to the folk genre.
Songs like “Happy Chakra” and “Smartphone II” reprise Lu’s signature happy, yet nonsensical nature, while the majority of the album reveals a more serene, sombre side to him. As this is the first time I’ve ever taken a close look at Lu’s music, one thing which stood out to me was his actual aptitude for singing. Although I’ve always chastised Crowd for his nasal, almost stream-of-consciousness singing style, in songs such as “4.95m^2 Dream” and “Smartphone I” I noticed his skilful use of melismatic techniques commonly used by Taiwanese-language singers that many other pop or even independent artists of his generation would not be able to pull off. This led me to think more deeply about Lu’s choice of singing style. It was not that he could not sing in an aesthetically more pleasing manner, it’s that he simply chose not to. And having that choice really makes a big difference. It reflects upon Lu’s versatility as an artist; not only does he have the capacity to sing as well as any other mainstream artist on the market, he also has gone above and beyond to create a singing style which reflects his personality, and is uniquely him. This is something that very few can claim to have done.
Going back to “Happy Chakra” and “Smartphone II”, the former was a very simple ditty composed in Lu’s larrikin style. With no lyrics except du-du-du’s, only guitars and some masterful trumpet mimicking skills in the arrangement, the song’s simple melody goes round and around in Lu’s unassuming, cheerful tone, just like a happy mantra that can will any bad day to turn itself around. “Smartphone II” was instead a heavy rock interlude-type-deal which Lu’s team somehow managed to put together using majority of acoustic instruments. Add in some erratic screaming in Taiwanese to ‘stop looking at your phone’, you’ve got yourself a great ringtone reminder at the very least.
Sentimental favourites on the album include “4.95m^2 Dream”, “Smartphone I” and “Trust Yourself”. As I’ve rarely heard Lu write ballads, “4.95m^2 Dream” and “Smartphone I” are a refreshing insight into his musicianship. Unlike his 110% happiness packed signature tunes, “4.95m^2 Dream” features an organic and thoughtful folk-inspired guitar arrangement that is subtle in its delivery of emotions. Nudging the song gradually to a soulful peak, Lu’s warm and steady vocals render the flow of the song as steady as waves crashing onto the shore; conveying a simple set of emotions and themes in an effortlessly meaningful manner. “Trust yourself” was another standout point for me, and was the song which attracted me to the album in the first place. With simple lyrics co-written by Cheer Chen that deliver a simple but optimistic message, this song is so comforting that it’ll be able to tide you over any bad day. A very simple guitar arrangement with some simple percussion sets it off just right.
I also love how Lu incorporates themes of societal issues into his album, not only with his critique of smartphones and how people use them too much, but another track I truly recommend is “Sleep Here Tonight” which is dedicated to the homeless. In this track, Lu tells a compelling story about a young person who spends their days and nights sleeping in public places and train stations, shining a light upon a situation rarely espoused in Taiwanese music. Yet his lyrics talk about it in such a kind and encouraging manner; as is Lu’s style of social activism that it is admirable to just listen to the care that he’s put into the song.
My only qualm with the album would be that although the album is supposed to be folk-influenced, at several points throughout I felt that it was more putting a folk-influenced arrangement to Crowd Lu’s own melodies, rather than the melodies taking on obvious folk-like qualities. Given that the title of the album was inherently linked with this genre, I felt like they could’ve paid more homage to it, but Lu was nevertheless able to strike a rather happy consensus between having his unique sound heard and incorporating folk elements into it.
Lu’s “What a folk!!!!!!” is an album I will never get sick of. I am completely in love with what this album stands for; a call out for greater awareness of social issues that surround us, while also really reflecting Lu’s personal ideas and new perspective on life while retaining his happy-go-lucky personality and signature sound. Crowd is truly a rare species of performer in many ways; he was able to develop his own signature singing style, his own songwriting style, and also has managed to strike a skillful balance between his personal changes and his musical identity while holding on to his critical acclaim. An album that I truy recommend to all of you, especially when you’re feeling a little down or just have a moody day. Crowd is sure to cheer you right up.
There’s really something special about Erika’s voice. When I first heard of her through her first single “An Angel’s Secret” I was mesmerised. Although upon A wonderfully talented vocalist, Erika is as versatile as her voice is unique. With piercing, explosive high notes, a charmingly husky baritone and a sweet, breathy falsetto, it seems that there’s nothing this girl can’t do, rendering her an incredible asset to a music scene swamped by celebrities trained in the art of ‘fake versatility’. But her debut album “I am Erika” instead sends mixed signals and exploits this versatility.
I don’t think its any fault of hers specifically; but in promoting her as a ‘water-type girl’ when 70% of the album is upbeat R&B or pop-rock tracks just made me even more confused. When she released her first single “An Angel’s Secret” featuring Xiao Yu, I could certainly see the connection between this song and the ‘water’ theme of her album. Hoping to hear more of this mellow, clarifying R&B sound, I purchased her album but was surprised to hear that there was not one other song which drew connotations with this ‘water’ theme. Instead, most of them were what would be best described as ‘filler tracks’; songs which seemed to be meant for no one type of artist, but just generic pop tracks. I am saying this not in the sense that it is badly produced or badly arranged, but in the sense that I feel these songs are unmemorable, with very boring themes and with some not suited for her voice at all. Inf act upon closer analysis turns out most of these songs are cover tracks of English songs which makes more sense. Nevertheless, cover songs or not there was a real issue in my opinion with song choice that rendered this album overall quite disappointing to me.
If I were to compare Murmurshow’s music to a type of food, I believe that it is very much like Chicken soup for the soul. Nourishing, warm and simple, their reassuring brand of indie pop is easy on the ears and full of heart. Their latest album “Proudly Loving” is based on the idea that one should first learn to love themselves before being able to love others, a message that weaves itself naturally throughout their eclectic jumble of good-natured tunes. They tell this concept in simply worded yet meaningful language from all kinds of different perspectives; telling listeners to just be themselves in ‘Differences’, telling the story of a person who has done his lover wrong as a result of not understanding how to love himself in ‘Gone, and even songs about embracing those lazy stay-at-home days where you give yourself a chance to take a break in ‘Hate Rainy Days’ and ‘Like Staying at Home’.
Lead singer Li De Hui’s voice is especially interesting to unpack; although it does not contain the melisma of normal western-styled powerhouses, there is something very explosive about her sound. One thing’s for sure-that girl’s got a hell of a voice on her! Moving effortlessly between soft-spoken tracks such as the acoustic ‘Differences’ and soft balladic ‘No Sugar’ to more amped up tracks like the heart-wrenching ‘Gone’ and the funky ‘Valerian Root’, her lilting sound fascinates me with its depth and emotiveness with each song. Guitarist Shen Zhi Fang also was able to very skilfully incorporate guitar into most of the songs onto the album in ways that were unexpected, but fitted really well. I think his arrangements are part of what shapes Murmurshow’s laidback yet juicy works, which is something really special about them I do appreciate.
Favourites on this album include the simple ‘Differences’ which summed up perfectly the theme of the album in a sunny and cheerful way using just an acoustic guitar and simple percussion. What I really like about their music is that there aren’t that many surprises which is a good thing sometimes. From the beginning of the track, what you hear is what you get. No big, extravagant layering of instruments that cause frenzied mood changes just for the hell of it. All the way through, this song just became ore and more uplifting with its message of individuality and of deserving to be loved. A comforting song that will bring sunshine into your day when you need it the most.
Eve Ai's latest album "Talk about Eve" is exactly what its title proposes it to be. Like an intimate conversation between friends, Ai broaches a number of topics that span the themes of Love, Life and Escapism, like short anecdotes which are wispily threaded together and bound by Eve's intimate and unique vocals. Eve professed that prior to the creation of this album, she harboured a rather negative and pessimistic outlook on life before realising that love is the answer to all ill intentions and hatred. Shedding the thorny outer layer which she had previously worn in her social critique that composed her previous albums, this time Eve's latest album is a reflection of a freer, happier yet still strongly independent version of herself.
On the first track "Say", Eve collaborated with singer-songwriter Eric Chou who wrote the melody for her. Although the song was originally intended as a ballad, producer George Chen instead arranged it with strong EDM influences, injecting it with a mysterious aura of headiness and lust. The piece was an interesting concoction as the meatiness of Chou's balladic melody interacted with the EDM sound and paired off well with Eve's sensual, throaty vocals. The lyrics, which separately hint at a dedicated love between two people, instead to me react with the throbbing arrangement to give off a 'caught in the moment', transient meaning.
Another highlight of the album was one of my favourite tracks, "The Sum of Us". Eve professed that within this song, she tried to tell the story of a girl trying to look at things from the perspective of a boy she liked, logically trying to work out how he was feeling, cutting herself out from the picture. However, Ai's moral of the story was that love is not a puzzle or mathematical equation to be worked out (The 'sum' of us, get it?) which she eloquently put through in her lyrics. The absolutely beautiful acoustic guitar part was all that accompanied Eve's voice within this song, but yet filled the atmosphere with such depth, leaving the air heavy with regret and thoughts of logical explanations for lost love. The guitar and Eve's voice supported each other perfectly, picking up slack where the other left off, making for a reflective and organic piece.
The third track “Bad Check” is another high point of this album for its complete and engaging thematic experience. Borrowing inspiration from Quentin Tarantino’s film “From Dusk Til Dawn”, the song simply constructs a wild wild west atmosphere from nothing more than a guitar, tambourine and a little bit of whistling. This song was written during a period where Eve was facing a complex mix of emotions, and felt that nothing was going right for her. The somewhat pessimistic lyrics reflect this: “The world is changing Yet people turn bad”. Eve’s loose and emotive vocals and the passivity of the guitar’s lazy country-style twangs further build up this feeling of lost hope. However, whether ironically or not, Eve sings in the bridge of love being everywhere in our hearts, in the deep, in the palm of our hands as even just a small sliver of hope.
This was closely followed by another stunner, “Escape Plan” which made up the main song which espoused the sub-theme of the album, that of escapism. Starting with the increasingly loud buzz of white noise which is rapidly joined by the taut, urgent pluckings of the guitar, Eve’s voice comes on just like a security announcement over the loudspeaker, almost as if some kind of impending danger is coming. Eve’s high-voltage vocals which veer almost precariously on hysterics in the choruses “Find an escape plan/I’ll take you away” further drill in this sense of urgency and rush of adrenaline one feels while listening to the song. Skilfully placed is also a short period of downtime in the bridge where the lyrics and the chorus match perfectly, creating a sense of security and recharge before launching re-energised back into the chorus again.
The eighth track “Then You Come Along” is one that I know means a lot to Eve, so I wanted to break it down a little for you guys too. Although just simply done with piano and strings, producer Chen is skilled in using these traditional balladic elements in ways that are unexpected, and this song is no exception. The lyrics of the song detail Eve’s experiences of being lonely and caught in the dark before being pulled out by love. This is reflected in the large jumps of octaves in the piano which create a sense of uplift for the mostly sombre melody. However, this song is more complex in emotion than just a happy ever after love song, with the lyrics hinting at some conflict in finding love and ones’ self identity. “It’s hard to forgive/It’s just hard to stand/Falling for someone like that” signifies the internal struggle of perhaps compromising ones’ values for love. Eve’s vocals are soft and reflective in this song; rich with emotion that renders the imperfections of the song its strengths instead.
The last song I’d like to mention specifically is Ai’s collaboration with longtime friend and singer-songwriter-producer Evan Yo called “Lean On”. While Eve has explored the theme of escape in all its different aspects; from ‘Why’ one needs to escape (Bad Check), to ‘How’ one will escape ‘Escape plan’, I instead like to skip straight to ‘What’ happens after the escape which is essentially what this song is. Starting off with a beachy, seaside sound just on an acoustic guitar and Eve singing lightly, the first round of the song establishes an easygoing feel which is built on by layering in underlying groovy bass and electronic beats to give it that much-needed pop of energy that every adventure has. Once all the parts are added in, they constitute what I like to call ‘electric happiness’. With a really spontaneous feel in the melody, the sunny song is kept in throughout the whole song with the electronic elements driving it forward and giving it that much needed edge.
Overall, loving the album! But there are two points which I’d like to specifically commend Eve and her creative team on. Firstly; the way they were able to use such simplicity to put together an album with so much depth is truly a feat in itself. Especially with a textured voice like Eve’s getting the arrangement and everything whittled down to just the core elements is important. And producer George managed to do it while still skilfully creating all kinds of different emotions and sounds too! Secondly, I love how each of the songs are glistening anecdotes that each stand alone to tell a story too. In fact, I feel like the entire album is more like a collection of stories rather than one story together. Eve has a magical storytelling ability which allows one to understand what she’s saying simply, while also creating much depth if one bothers to look closely enough. One critique I have for the album however, is that there isn’t one overarching message that all of the songs adhere to. I found it hard to connect the dots between the songs, or see how they led into one another to tell a bigger story. Nevertheless, this album is chock full of Eve’s one of a kind gypsy-like energy which is unmistakable and irreplaceable. Well done!