By Matt Taylor
Taiwanese singer-songwriter Sandee Chan 陳珊妮, now in her 35th year in the entertainment business, has earned a dedicated army of followers through her persistent and defiant artistry: consistently defining her records with a thematic concept, and through all stages of the creative process take a hands-on approach in formulating the eventual product. Whilst flitting in and out of musical genres, it is the guitar-led grunginess of her instinct that has prevailed from her first record to today.
The last time we heard from Sandee was on 2017’s critically acclaimed Martial God Cardea, an oft-melancholy war cry against modern technology. Her 13th studio album Juvenile A sees Sandy continue to push herself musically, developing a concept that sits naturally next to its predecessor.
The title stems from Japanese anime Akira, in which ‘Project Juvenile A’ was a research laboratory where a post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo was studied and observed. Inspired by the thoughts of American writer Isaac Asimov, it revolves around his belief that 2019 would be a watershed year for humanity where it would be a future dominated by technology and robots. Sandee takes this concept and reframes it, looking at the world of 2019 through a post-apocalyptic future.
Introduction-come-homonym '惡靈武士2054' is ethereal yet unnerving, dating the year in which we are viewing 2019 from. Closing the track with the phrase Forget today, will be forgotten tomorrow – Sandee frames the record through the inability of humans to either look too far in the past or future. We then lunge straight into 70s-inspired British prog-rock Where Are You Headed? 你要去哪裡?, cleverly employing a retro sound to discuss the very contemporary problem of fake news and the hindrance of television, internet and social media on our critical thinking ability. Comparing humans to zombies, the song is less of a passive experience and more attempting provoke a reaction out of the listener at the issues facing the world day.
This is followed up by Uncanny Valley 恐怖谷, a jazzy mid-tempo criticizing society for imposing unfair standards on women, poking fun at attempts to photo hop and apply filters to pictures in order to create a new online reality . Repeating the satirical advice of just fake it till you make it, Sandee also offers the sound advice of understanding the different between illusion and reality.
Similar in theme, What Will Hannah Say 漢娜怎麼說 focuses on the emotional turmoil of cyber bullying. Sandee is able to take this example however and use it to shine a light on how society often shames an individual who is different. We can see it not just in the school yard, but in the persecution of minority groups across history.
Satirizing the internet and social media era, Fair Lady Works Shuttle玉女穿梭 is an east-meets-west cultural crossover both musically and lyrically. Vocoders distort Sandee’s voice, whilst electronic sounds give prominence to the defining sound of the Chinese Pipa, cleverly using formal elements of traditional Chinese instruments and Beijing opera to convey entirely contemporary talking points.
Continuing the topic of satire, 35 is both a clever take-down on the concept of the surveillance state, a nod to the years Sandee has spent in the industry, and an insight into how men and women are treated differently as they get older. The track – based on the fact it is 35 years after George Orwell’s take on the encroachment of an authoritarian system of society – is a stark reminder of how technological developments have brought us closer to this dystopia than ever before.
Another song relating to age, Kidult 惡童 manages to both be funky yet make the listener feel ill at ease, seeing Sandee lament on cross-generational divides. Sandee manages to eloquently discuss how older people often misunderstand the actions of the young, leading them to lash out at these differences, rather than try to understand them.
The album also shines in its more subtle moments. On album closer Be an Extraordinary Ordinary Person, inspired by Taiwan’s 2018 referendum on marriage equality, she describes in vivid detail the heartbreak of powerlessness, capturing the essence of youthful depression, yet ultimately voicing her support to continue to make the world better.
Composition 構圖, whilst brief, evolves over time from minor piano ballad to dramatic mid-tempo exasperating about the battle between love and indifference in interpersonal relationships. Musically cheerful Pavlov巴夫洛夫 meanwhile hides a sorrowful sentiment of living vicariously through what we see on the internet and apps.
With each song exploring the concept in different ways and a high standard apparent throughout without sacrificing experimentation in the process, it’s difficult to be critical. At an absolute push we could say that there is so much detail in both the music and the album as a whole, that it creates a barrier to the average listener to fully engage and appreciate the songs for the level of detail that they entail. However is that lack of knowledge that Sandee herself is using this record to criticise?
Juvenile A is a masterclass in thoughtful and socially relevant pop music. Cleverly intertwining musical trends from the past 35 years to frame contemporary topics that will shape our future, Juvenile A may be a complex record, but it is a necessary record. Most importantly however, the concept doesn’t drown out the quality of the music, with all 11 tracks being intricate and delicate pieces which continue to open up on repeated listens. Juvenile A may arguably the most intelligent record of 2019, but there is no argument in saying that it is 2019s most important.
Debuting a completely new project without much hoo-ha, new Jazz fusion duo Indigo Soul Children are one of the most underrated yet promising new artists to come out of the Mandarin music scene. Yet the pair are far from newcomers to the music industry. Made up of veteran Jazz pianist and band leader Musaubach (Worked with Gary Chaw, A-Lin, Matzka, Lara Veronin); and vocal teacher/backing vocalist to the stars P.i.N (Worked with Kris Wu, Ayal Komod, Wilber Pan); the pair are truly raising the bar and challenging themselves with this new project.
Based around an almost-immiscible fusion of Jazz, R&B, Soul and World elements, Indigo Soul Children’s self-titled debut album reaches across cultural borders from never-before-seen perspectives. This is largely attributed to the duo’s wealth of perspectives accumulated from collective time spent in Argentina, Taiwan, China, and America, making for a truly unique set of sounds.
Kicking off the album with opening track ‘Water’, this song sets the scene with a soulful slow-burn that emanates from a pared down drums-and-keys arrangement. The fluid, ever-changing nature of the melody and lyrics on this track also reinforces new definitions of fusion as set by the band themselves; encouraging listeners to stay open-minded as they take in this sonic experience. Inspired by the famous ‘Water’ quote by Bruce Lee, the melody shapes itself around his words in ways that I have never before experienced. Not only is it unconventional to work direct quotations into song lyrics; I found it surprising that such an angular, lengthy quote with some very un-lyrical words (bottle, teapot) could be so skilfully fit to a melody; both working in sync whilst always evolving. Everything about this song from its songwriting to P.i.N’s rough-yet-gentle vocals and the song’s arrangement fully embodies the spirit of Water and Bruce Lee’s philosophy. And that in itself is no mean feat.
The second track/first single ‘Next Lifetime’ follows the architecture of a slow soul/R&B track but a myriad of musical twists. Starting off jazzy and slow, the electro-like keys hint at the vibrancy of the song which reveals itself in the chorus. Backed by a juicy rhythm that keeps on giving, P.i.N’s buoyant, flippant vocals keep things light while bringing new perspectives to the age-old topic of departure and moving on. Reflecting the clout these two have in the industry is second single/third track ‘Getting Old 剛剛好’ which features lyrics by Taiwanese veteran rock legend Ayal Komod (A-yue). One of the most ballad-like tracks on the album, this is the perfect track to listen to while sitting by a fireplace, whiskey in hand, thinking about life. The coalescence of strong, silent, brooding manly vibes in the lyrics with P.i.N’s luscious womanly vocals makes for a refreshing combination.
By Matt Taylor
From her beginnings in a prestigious arts school and learning to play numerous instruments at a young age to winning domestic singing competitions, Malaysian singer-songwriter Shio Quek 郭修彧 has enjoyed a life-long love affair with music. It wasn’t until she moved to Taiwan to dedicate herself to a career in the industry however did she truly begin to make a name for herself outside of her home country. She wowed on her debut album, 2016’s Abstract Painting抽象圖, a mixture of ballads and exciting synth-heavy mid-tempos.
Sophomore album Blind Spot盲點 sees Shio take a decidedly hands-on approach in its manifestation. Involving herself in the composition and production, as well as being the album's primary songwriter, Shio wanted to explore the concept of handling what we perceive to be our imperfections. This self-doubt means that we unnecessarily focus on the negative aspects of life and worry about how people see us, making us unable to appreciate the beauty in our lives.
Overseen by singer-songwriter and mentor Penny Tai戴佩妮, the driven veteran's aim was to push Shio to strive for a greater degree of authenticity. For Shio, this meant not only being her authentic self lyrically, but also trying to capture the sentiment of the songs through their composition. Aiming for a live-band sound, whilst making the album Shio would often lead musical brainstorming sessions, trying a variety of sounds and instruments to tests the limits of each song and what sound may best suit them.
Album Name: Arcadia
Release Date: 2nd August 2019
01. San Tao 三桃
03. A Picture of Death 手機的照片
04. Temporary Eternity 暫時永遠
By Jocelle Koh
With verdant guitar riffs and organic arrangements, Singaporean post-rock singer-songwriter Goose shows that he has truly left the idyllic amusement park he created in his previous EP ‘If I Left The Park?…’; and embraced new challenges and sceneries in his 2019 EP ‘Arcadia’. Moving away from the heady fuzz and childlike quirks of his previous works, Goose embraces new challenges from a more introspective and organic place; referencing Arcadia, a greek province often associated with unspoiled, harmonic wilderness and using it as his jumping point for this journey of self-discovery and a loss of innocence as he ventures out into the untamed wilderness.
For me, the EP is unique in its carefully crafted storytelling. Drawing on melodies that are influenced both by the East and the West (‘San Tao’ gives me a very Australian indie rock vibe, while ‘Arcadia’ reminds me of Taiwanese band F.I.R’s earlier mystical Mandopop works); Goose mentions that the message of the four-song EP is the experience of being locked out from paradise; so close yet so far to a thing or a person who seemed within your grasp.
Immediately what sprung to mind for me was English poet John Milton’s famous epic poem ‘Paradise Lost’ which details the story of Adam and Eve; a lost of innocence from eating forbidden fruit, and their eventual departure from God’s paradise, filled both with sadness and hope. The album seems to draw on many themes the poem touches on, and whether or not this was intentional, I’m here for it.
Starting off the album with happy-go-lucky track ‘三桃San Tao’, juicy, bright riffs characterise this luscious piece as Goose sings about the irony that lies in breaking up with someone, only for them to come back soon after having changed their mind. I love how the bright riffs and natural arrangement juxtapose with Goose’s signature wry and quirky lyricism; foreshadowing that all is never as it seems.
By Jocelle Koh
I once almost got into a minor car accident while listening to David Tao. I was really into his ‘I’m Ok’ album at the time, and was belting the words to ‘Small Town Girl小鎮姑娘’ whilst filtering onto the freeway. East-meets-West R&B has always been one of my favourite niche genres, and Tao’s album truly had me caught in the moment, mind, body and soul. Long story short, I was too busy singing that my steering wheel veered to the right causing my car to scrape against the rails.
You may be asking - what was even the point of that story? Such was the era of east-meets-west Mandarin R&B especially in the early 2000s; characterised by an innate groovability and bouncy, delicious melodies that you could have on repeat infinitely that involuntarily take up all of your headspace. And oh, those full, dynamic fusion arrangements punctuated by vocal improvisations which make even the most simple, repetitive melody refreshing and innovative.
These are all the things that I love and remember fondly about Mandarin RnB; so enticing to me that they are ancient-inducing; yet unfortunately in this new age where everything is about trap music and being woke, I had long put to rest hopes that those classic favourites as popularised by David Tao and Wang Leehom could ever be replicated. But miraculously, up-and-coming Taiwanese R&B band Sugarcat’s debut self-titled album effectively proved that this vein of East-meets-West R&B still has a place in contemporary Mandarin music; doing a superb job of transforming and effectively updating it to hold its own.
By Matt Taylor
It’s hard to believe that it’s been seven years since Fish Leong 梁靜茹, the Queen of Ballads last released an album (2012’s Love in Heart 愛久見人心). Although she has remained busy, releasing the occasional single and holding concerts around the world, it’s clear that music hasn’t been at the top of her agenda for some time. Instead, of late she's chosen to focus on her personal life, for example raising her first child who was born in 2014.
What took so long? For many years, Fish has been asking herself existential questions not just relating to how she viewed her future, but questioning herself to the core. Why is it that she chooses to sing, and would her future lack anything if she chooses to stop?
A two-year process in the making, Fish’s thirteenth album Am I Okay? The Sun Also Rises is a chance to reflect on the 20 year anniversary of her debut, 1999s Grown Up Overnight. The high quality production sees her collaborate with a team of experienced songwriters and producers with over two decades of experience, including executive Producer and long-term collaborator Tiger Chung 鍾成虎. Together, they've worked to curate a selection of songs exclusively for Fish, with songs that directly reflect her life.
The albums opening moment is also the most experimental. Glimmer 微光, which uses fireflies as a metaphor for the fragility and fleeting nature of love treads new ground musically for Fish. With an incredibly detailed and ever-evolving soundscape which adds to the movement of the lyrics; the song treads seamlessly from helplessness to stubbornness, and eventually to hysteria. By the end of the song, it truly feels as if the listener has been on a journey.
How Am I? 我好嗎 is interesting as Fish points the mirror at herself, in turn making the listener take an introspective look at themselves - the song does not relate to a relationship with another person, but rather the one that we have with ourselves. Before, during and after any emotional storm, we must be comfortable enough to understand and appreciate ourselves. A delicate piano slowly extends and interlocks with strings to set the mood, leading to the climax of sadness, and then slowly falling; swaying and touching.
Through using singing as a kind of therapy to relive and understand the events in her own life, the listener to is able to relive their own experiences and express themselves emotionally through Fish, who naturally tells the stories that we have all lived through. And the nuances in her serene voice makes her the perfect narrator for life’s most emotional moments. Over the past seven years her voice has matured, providing her storytelling with both with a sense of authenticity and believability.
Fish’s voice has always been a fascinating instrument. Honed in her youth through KTV and singing competitively, what may seem sweet and simple on initial listen is actually a complex and emotive tool. Where she may not have the range that some of her peers have, Fish is able to convey the sentiments of familiarity, understanding and warmth in ways only she can. This makes her not only an underrated vocalist, but also one that few can really challenge.
Sub-Lover 類情人 is this records best example of this; Fish’s voice soars accompanied by only piano, making the listener pay full attention to the lyrics lamenting a one-way relationship. Similarly simple (composed of just four sentences) but equally powerful, The Sun will Rise Again太陽如常升起 encapsulates the theme of the album poetically with the same four sentences (Don’t crawl, because you can fly / Yes, you really can).
The album does have some less than stellar moments. When Your Name Calls Me以你的名字呼喊我 suffers from particularly overwrought lyrics and leaves Fish seeming overwhelmed by the production. Paralleled Time & Space平行時空 is a generally unsatisfying experience, lyrically feeling overly try-hard, and musically half baked. Elements of rock and guitar are brought for no apparent reason, and the overall sound tinny and underdeveloped.
Whilst the album loses focus in the middle, momentum is built back up for the albums final moments. Non-Fish子非魚 is a light-hearted moment in which Fish reminds us to focus on the happiness and well-being of ourselves, meanwhile the atmospheric The Complete Me完整的我 signals the end of this existential journey, with an emotional and uplifting musical arrangement as Fish self-references her 20 year career, singing how looking for personal and professional fulfilment allows someone to become their complete self.
On The Sun Also Rises Fish successfully reminds listeners why she is an indispensable figure of contemporary Mandopop. Staying true to her musical roots and strengths for the most part, she has been able to mature her sound and remain musically relevant in 2019s soundscape. Although she could have pushed her forays into experimentation more, and this record likely won’t attract many new fans, for those who have patiently waited for the return of Fish Leong; it was a wait worthwhile.
By Matt Taylor
Golden Melody Award-winning duo MURMURSHOW 慢慢說, whose music has previously been described as being akin to a nourishing bowl of warm soup, have built themselves a reputation for being able to make listeners feel as if they’ve stepped into a surreal and magical musical world. Freda Li 利得彙 and Jack Shen 沈志方 are finally back three years after their last release with their third album 1+1<3. However after listening, will people be feeling <3, or more </3?
1+1< 3 as a concept takes a look at contemporary society not only in terms of love and relationships, but how these can be framed in societal dependence on new technology and using symbols to express feelings and emotions. Taking the title as an example, 1+1 is a mathematical equation equalling two, implying a connection between two people, objects or concepts combining to become something greater. Following this with <3, often used to symbolise a heart, implying that this connection is formed and bonded by love. However, is love really that simple? Can this equation really embody the nuances of life, or can a symbol truly convey a thousand words? In order to explore this, each song is also given a title comprised entirely of symbols which attempt to convey the respective songs' lyrical content.