New Music: From Southwestern Chinese Psych to Surf Rock and Bedroom Pop

March sees stellar albums from scene stalwarts Li Jianhong and YADAE, the return of avant folk legends Glamorous Pharmacy, and quirky pop from Mola Oddity

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11:36 AM HKT, Wed March 27, 2024 4 mins read

This month once again brings an exciting array of Chinese music to your ears! Interestingly, things are quite guitar-heavy this March. Whether this is down to a series of coincidences in record release schedules or an emerging trend, it fits perfectly with the hopeful-yet-still-melancholic spring weather we’re going through and showcases the dizzying breadth of guitar music being made in the Chinese scene today, from Li Jianhong’s free associative psychedelic noise and YADAE’s smooth, jazz-infused indie, to Coastal Surf Club’s classic surf rock and Mola Oddity’s intriguing mix of alternative pop and world music — Editor.

Run Run Run – 五雷轰心掌

Beijing psychedelic rockers Run Run Run find resonance in the humid retro sounds of southwest China on their third LP, 五雷轰心掌, released with Spacefruity Records. While not as full of the krautrock-laced twists and turns of their previous records, the band — which has gone through quite the personnel shake-up — taps in something more elemental here, cooking up a zesty dish of electric guitar-drenched melodies, hazy grooves, soulful rhythms, and authentic vintage vibes that adheres closely to the psychedelic funk that’s currently undergoing a resurgence across Southeast Asia. While traces of their love for The Velvet Underground still worm their way to the surface from time to time, this Run Run Run is a very different beast.

The Grinding Ear 逆耳 – Endless Dream Tide 无尽梦潮

Beijing’s The Grinding Ear has floating around the capital for well over a decade, and are often cited as one of the unsung heroes of China’s post rock scene. Though the band called it quits for a bit, they have been back stronger than ever over the past few years. This reawakening has now resulted in one of the genre’s best recent albums. From the propulsive drive tethered to narrative change in “Time Driver,” to the sheer musical heft of “Escape Scene” and the evocative, resonating “The Last Postman,” the band has no issue steering the ship across multiple canvasses in search of treasure. A great surprise.

Li Jianhong 李劍鴻 – Soul Solitary 魂靈獨居者

If there was any question about the esteemed air that surrounds experimental scene figurehead and noise guitar legend Li Jianhong, just soak in the exquisite artwork (by Du Kun) for his latest release, Soul Solitary, a co-release from Australia’s Ramble Records, French/Chinese label WV Sorcerer Productions, and America’s Echodelick Records. Amassed from two live recordings made in France and China in 2018 and 2019, respectively, it features the artist at his most aggressive and mystifying. Throaty bawls, chant-like musings, shrieks, and plucked guitar punctuate its gloomy yet alluring atmosphere. Like in all his best work, here the sonic shaman puts listeners in a trance.

YADAE 鸭打鹅 – Night Gloss 夜光

Shanghai indie outfit YADAE (formerly known as Duck Fight Goose), led by Han Han (Gooooose) and Wu Shanmin (33EMYBW), return with their latest cosmic jam Night Gloss. The long-standing band continues their descent into the lush world of funk, soul, and electro jazz — adding a simmering psychedelic edge and an elegant classical touch. While the tonal shifts in their previous outing were sometimes jarring, Night Gloss finds the band on steadier footing, more assured in their cosmic tapestry of nocturnal grooves, deft instrumentation, and futuristic jazz, and even giving air to some of their indie rock roots. Geeky in the best way possible.

Jimaoda 鸡毛大乐队 – Eight Thousand Miles at a Time 动不动八千里

Psych rock wanderers Jimaoda (having abandoned the “xin” from their original name Jimaoxin in pursuit of their Grammy) return with their latest trip: the epic, striking, and gorgeous Eight Thousand Miles at a Time. Beefing up their already robust sound by adding a trumpet and keyboardist to the lineup, the album taps even further into the band’s almost primal rhythmic sway, with everyone in the band joining in on vocal duties, passing them off to one another like a game of musical hot potato. Yet there’s a layer of pathos to the sprawling arrangements that slowly sinks in, grounding their delirious, delightfully off-kilter folk-laced psych-pop ramblings in unexpected ways and always guiding listeners back to the core melody at hand. A rousing, singular work from one of the rock scene’s best acts out there.

Glamorous Pharmacy 美好药店 – Loud As Deadly Silence 喧嚣的死寂

Formed in 1996, Glamorous Pharmacy is still one of the most experimental and subversive avant-garde rock bands in China. Headed by surrealist folk minstrel Xiao He, and rounded out by an equally star-studded lineup that includes Ye Penggang, Li Tieqiao, Zhang Wei, and Zheng Zhiyong, their topsy-turvy blend of alternative folk, avant-garde rock, and free jazz has made them cult legends of sorts. After an extended hiatus, the band resurfaced last year to rapturous fanfare, with a tour following soon after. Old Heaven Books, a Shenzhen book/record store and label that maintains one of the most vital archives of Chinese rock, have now released a live recording of the band’s tour. This collection of songs beguiles, bewilders, tickles, stuns, and simply put, rocks.

Me and My Sandcastle – Love is Waiting

A little more refined, a bit more layered, and a heck ton catchier, the latest release from rising lo-fi bedroom pop artist Me & My Sandcastle is a major step up. Led by Xiao Liu, and swimming in a vat of cough syrup-y guitar tones, woozy synths, and tender vocals, Love is Waiting finds refuge in its gentle sway and warm atmosphere, recalling acts like Homeshake and Mac Demarco as well as 70s pop and the more whimsical touch of composers like Jon Brion. It may not win over new fans, but it proves Me & My Sandcastle has plenty more juice in them.

Mola Oddity 莫拉怪乐 – The Other Side of Hope 希望的另一面

A supergroup of sorts — consisting of Mandopop singer Amber Kou aka Birdy K, Yider, and Asr (the latter two of Inner Mongolian nu-jazz outfit NaraBara) — Mola Oddity brings esoteric grooves, world music embellishments, and more to its pop concoction. Expertly made, its production brimming with flourishes that feel both organic and otherworldly, Mola Oddity seems to be trying to stand out from the hordes of pop acts, carefully crafting an opportunity for their singer to stretch out her wings and go art house on listeners, at times evoking Fiona Apple.

Coastal Surf Club – Final Round 最终回

Surf rock that’s not afraid of collecting a little dirt on the way to the “glittering shores” at the end of a long road trip, Coastal Surf Club delivers a heck of a good time on their riotous debut LP Final Round, out on Fluorite Records. From the chugging hard rock riff of “Incantation” to the spry country twang of “Malacca,” it’s clear the Xiamen band (which features guitarist Soda of Cheesemind and Kirin Trio fame) understands precisely how surf rock can elevate and complement rock and roll’s most classic sounds, granting their music a texture that’s gnarly, psychedelic, and above all, badass.

SAMECUP 黑甜一枕 – Stand Still 按兵不动

Emerging Hangzhou post punk trio SAMECUP 黑甜一枕, formed “amid a wave of technological anxiety and technical embarrassment” joins the ranks of other post punk acts across China, leaning into the fatalistic undertones of the genre with relish on their debut EP Stand Still. The release is full of slick, melodic cold wave-inflected tunes whose methodical precision, particularly in singer Zhao Yiyang’s smoldering voice and its Y2K-fitted flourishes, only add to the band’s aura. It’s a promising introduction to the young band.

Banner image by Haedi Yue.

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