New Music: Cai Xukun, Psy P and a Wuhan Anthem from Hardcore Raver in Tears

Your quick-fire guide to the best Chinese music from May 2020

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10:15 PM HKT, Fri May 29, 2020 5 mins read

New Music, formerly Yin (音, “music”), is a monthly RADII column that looks at Chinese songs spanning hip hop to folk to modern experimental, and everything in between.

Late Troubles – Language Barrier

The latest EP from Seattle-based Snapline frontman Chen Xi under his Late Troubles moniker opens with a tantalising guitar full of nervous energy. Sounding a bit like Leonard Cohen, the track teases out the themes and topics that Chen explores during the rest of the record as he dwells on ideas of alienation and dislocation caused by relocating to the US.


Following on from 2018’s Moon People, Language Barrier is similarly minimalistic, relying on repetitive drum machines, moody guitar lines and a swarming sense of inhibiting atmospherics.


Language Barrier is in some ways a precursor to a second full-length album, which Chen is currently working on according to the press release accompanying this record.

Psy P – PSYLIFE.25

Psy P becomes the last member of the four Higher Brothers to put out a solo record, after Melo dropped Old Master last month. As we remarked earlier, Psy P had an integral roll on that Melo record, while he also recently teamed up with key Chengdu indietronica group Stolen for “Why We Follow?”

PSYLIFE.25 reveals the Sichuan rapper’s integral musical talent. On the album’s second single, “Bad Habits,” we see Psy P criticizing a former love, his autotuned vocals giving an interesting insight into one of the less-visible Higher Brothers’ abilities. It’s masterfully produced by the one and only Harikiri, who’s been busy of late (see his work with CDC on their 2020 cypher.)

Other highlights on the album include “Lucy Liu,” which sees Psy P team with Bohan Phoenix, and which samples the Mamas and Papas classic ’60s anthem, “California Dreaming.” We also get aerial shots of California in the video for “King of the Jungle,” where Psy P again teams with Melo, and compares himself to Kris Wu.

That said, we’ve gone back and forth on these Higher Brothers’ solo albums. While it’s been nice to identify and listen to the individual styles of the foursome, we’re still of the opinion that none of the four has anywhere near the kind of draw that Higher Brothers as a group can demand.

Zeming Xu – Unspoken

Kunming rapper Zeming Xu’s Unspoken is described as being a Quixotic journey for the musician. Long associated with the distinct, unique hip hop scene in China’s southwestern province of Yunnan, Xu has frequently collaborated with the likes of Kafe Hu and Dizkar, the latter of whom makes an appearance on the record’s “Shall I Move to Somewhere Else.”

Another standout track is “Tequila Sunset,” where Zu teams up with Gulico, singer of Guangzhou-based funk outfit Power Milk. At around the midpoint of the track, a spine-tingling vocal by a singer of the Yi minority enters the fray. Largely based around southwest China, the Yi minority is one of China’s largest ethnic minority groups.


Hardcore Raver in Tears – “WUHAN 2020”

Hardcore Raver in Tears return with a new track, “WUHAN 2020,” set in the beleaguered Chinese city that was the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak. Lu Di, former frontman of legendary Wuhan band AV Okubo, leads the way for Hardcore Raver in Tears on this majestic track.

Following on from a pair of songs that were released last year, “Take Her To Wanda Plaza” and “复员,“ “WUHAN 2020” is set to be part of a four-track EP written when the city was under lockdown that will be released by Ruby Eyes Records on June 11.


Wang Xiao – The Son of Black Horse River

Something a bit different here courtesy of WV Sorcerer Productions. Documenting the ten-year anniversary of The Son of Black Horse River by troubadour musician Wang Xiao, this album has a distinct and dark energy coming right from the heart of the Gobi desert.


Born in Karamay in Xinjiang, Wang Xiao has travelled the country and led a nomadic existence for years. Making use of regionally significant instruments such as the dombra and tanbur, Wang’s music has very distinct mystical and spiritual properties, something that has led him to be termed a “folk shaman.”

Mirrors – Within An Endless Dream

Leading up to this album release, Mirrors dropped a couple of singles over on Bandcamp as well as accompanying videos on YouTube, including a mini-documentary about their recording process, the mastering part of which was done with the help of Gang of Four sound engineer John Webber.


While ostensibly playing on a genre of music called psych wave, the trio go back and forth between a variety of styles. “Delta City” for example is a twisted and lyrical surf psychedelic track, which is followed by “Hun,” a more introspective piece, playing with driving guitars and thumping percussion.


Uchokika – “Danchotei Host”

With a name that literally translates to “cosmic project,” Uchokika, or 宇宙企划, immediately set out a marker for what they’re about. Combining a variety of different styles and influences, our impression is that the Beijing group sound a bit like a drum and bass take on Indian raga music.

“Danchotei Host” is the second single off their new self-titled album, out soon on Ruby Eyes Records. It combines sitar, hard-hitting drum machines and synthesizers for a heavy sound unlike anything else you’ll hear outside of an underground club setting in China.

Lay Zhang – “Jade”

This new track from pop idol Lay Zhang (Zhang Yixing) carries forward in the trap-era, Chinese-nostalgia-revivalist style pioneered in recent years by folks like Kris Wu. That makes sense, since Kris and Lay used to perform together as part of K-pop group EXO, and along with other ex-members like Luhan, have become torch-holders in bringing back the polished professionalism of Korea’s sound and re-contextualizing it for Chinese fans.

The track opens up on the unmistakable sound of Chinese opera percussion — Vava how we feeling right now? — before dropping into Lay’s verse. It doesn’t hurt that the beat is an absolute banger, produced by Murda Beatz, the Canadian producer behind tracks for Migos, Rich the Kid and Chance the Rapper.

AR – “一丢丢”

If you think Chinese hip hop is just boyband posers and terrible propaganda raps, here’s something a little different.

AR professes to be the “real deal” while dropping bars about Tencent (who he’s previously called out over intellectual property issues) and Taiwanese TV star Matilda Tao, who was allegedly banned from Chinese TV after hosting 2018’s Golden Horse Film Awards. All this in a video that features Animal Crossing, our hero driving a toy Mercedes-Benz truck and a feature from Chinese rap OG Pharaoh, who adds lines such as “Boss wanted me to be an idol / But I turned out to be an asshole.”

Hualun – Homework in Quiet Time

Of the four tracks included on Homework in Quiet Time, two were included on compilations released during the Covid-19 pandemic. The record’s opening track, “Five Peaks,” appeared on Californian label Katuktu Collective’s Isolate With II, while “Roller” was included on Songs from Quarantine, a compilation put together by New Jersey musician Teen Idle.


“Five Peaks” and “Swimming in My Room” are gorgeous, slow-burning instrumental tracks. Both make use of a plodding bass guitar and drums, which lay the foundation for guitars and synths to dance. They’re soft and fragile songs, seemingly ready to fall away at any moment.

Cai Xukun “Lover” (情人)

The former leader of boyband NINE PERCENT, Cai Xukun has been a busy fella lately. While filming for the talent show Youth With You and also getting ready to debut on the hit Chinese idol-driven show, Keep Running, he’s somehow found the time to put out a new track, “Lover.”

Accompanied by YouTube comments that read, “Why this song is too short?? so sweet love this song so much,” the three minute track is a sultry RnB number that has been wowing the pop star’s legion of female fans.

Kun, as he is known to his fans, has catapulted to fame over the past two years, and not without good reason. While he’s known to uber-fans as being one of the most prominent among a group of young idols termed “Little fresh meat,” as “Lover” suggests, his musical chops are on point as well.

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