New Music: White+ Returns and Akini Jing Gets Conceptual

The Year of the Dragon is getting off to a good musical start, with a hefty dose of electronica, laidback hip hop, Xinjiang folk, and... Greek metal?

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7:15 PM HKT, Mon February 26, 2024 4 mins read

After a Lunar New Year-induced break, China’s music scene is back in full force, with a few of the biggest albums of the year so far having just been released. There’s new work from some big names: a long-awaited sophomore album by experimental electronic duo (and Carsick Cars side project) White+; post rock veterans Wang Wen’s first-ever live album; and a concept album by electronic pop star Akini Jing. There’s plenty more besides that, from raucous Xinjiang folk, to Scintii’s post-club torch songs and Sweet Sister Session’s dark psychedelic rock.

White+ – II

It’s been over ten years since White+ — which consists of Carsick Cars frontman Zhang Shouwang and The Gar’s Wang Xu — cut loose with their self-titled debut, a slice of electronica heaven that became an essential piece of the early Maybe Mars catalogue. And while the pair have never stopped playing, frequently popping up in festivals and clubs across the country, home listeners haven’t been able to get a taste of what they’ve been up to till now. Aptly named II, the duo’s sophomore release is a throwback in the best sense, sliding with ease right back into its groove of looping rhythms, woozy guitar, distorted vocals, swirling feedback and hard-kicking drums. Oscillating between club-leaning earworms and more sprawling minimalist jazz-laced jams, White+ hasn’t so much updated their sound as allowed it to marinate in a decade’s worth of creative exploration.

Akini Jing – VILLAIN 反派角色

Jumping headfirst into the sounds of China’s underground electronica scene — think techno, 2-step and deconstructed club — the multifaceted Chinese electro pop star Akini Jing (the cyborg alter ego of singer-songwriter Zhu Jingxi) looks toward wuxia martial arts culture for inspiration on her latest Villain. released with 88RISING and produced with multi-talented producer Chace. A more subdued and more human work compared to the artist’s previous efforts, Villain follows the fictional story of a deadly assassin who must come to terms with the code by which she lives.

Ὁπλίτης – Παραμαινομένη

The one-man progressive metal project Ὁπλίτης (Hoplites for those who aren’t caught up on their Greek), AKA Ningbo-based musician Liu Zhenyang, stormed onto the scene last year raising alarms all across the globe for his awe-inspiring technicality and punishing ferociousness. His fourth LP in just a year, Παραμαινομένη, might be his best yet — bolder than ever as acid-laced free jazz saxophones bleed out over its blackened mathcore rhythms and heart-stopping riffs. Audacious, delirious, and as grand as they come, it’s pure uncut catnip for metal fans looking to veer valiantly off into the deep end — a gateway drug towards the genre’s most provocative and unorthodox offshoots.

NaraBara – Dab Hi

After years of Mongolian metal bands evoking the grasslands with riotous rock and roll breakdowns, it’s refreshing to hear a band take the music of their ancestors in another direction. NaraBara — a musical collective led by prolific producer and singer Yider — finds refuge in the complex harmonies and intricate rhythms of jazz, injecting new life into the “mystical storytelling and atmospheric qualities of Mongolian folk.” Their latest EP, may not have the novelty of the band’s trailblazing debut Hamt Zamin Hümüs, but it proves there’s plenty more to discover in its merging of genres, firmly putting NaraBara on the map.

Scintii – wetlands, harbours… and stations in between

Scintii — the musical moniker of Taiwanese singer and producer Stella Chung — has played a prominent role in the thriving club scenes of not only Shanghai, but also London, where she once studied. This rootlessness and beguiling melding of cultures are at the center of her latest EP, wetlands, harbours… and stations in between, released with London imprint Houndstooth. A sonic fairy tale built on synth-filled electronica, atmospheric beats, and Scintii’s elegiac yet potent voice, it’s pop music made in the same vein as Portishead, with a slicker more club-oriented luster. A siren guiding listeners through the EP’s labyrinthine production and genre-bursting catharsis, here the multi-talented artist proves herself once again.

Sweet Sister Session – Filthy Floating Fantasies

Three-piece psych rock outfit Sweet Sister Session, straight out of Wuhan — in this case, apparently a cesspool of 1960s acid rock filtered through the likes of The 13th Floor Elevators, Suicide, and Spacemen 3 — are as direct as they come. Dabbed in layers of transistor organ, feedback and noise, muddy guitar riffs, and distorted vocals, they’re on a wavelength as pure as the static from your vintage television set. Making psychedelic space music with impeccable craft and a steady hand, Sweet Sister Session captures that perpetual descent into music-induced psychosis with glee.

Mekit Dolan Muqam Group – Bayawan

A distinctive form of folk music and a key part of Uyghur cultural heritage, Muqam are large-scale suites that include songs, dances, and instrumental sections, prominently featuring improvisation. On the latest release from Old Heaven Books, the Mekit Dolan Muqam Group pays tribute to what’s often considered “the wildest, if not the uncanniest tradition” of Muqam. Recorded at a studio session coinciding with the 7th Tomorrow Festival in Shenzhen last year, Bayawan is a beautifully realized achievement and a transformative listening experience. Ritualistic, welcoming, beguiling, and haunting, it’s familiar yet foreign at the same time.

李剑峰 JF Lee – 1602

Acting both as a commemoration of a lifetime of memories and a vessel for healing the wounds the world has endured over the past years, ambient electronic musician Li Jianfeng’s (AKA JF Lee) 1602 is a wondrous statement brimming with life. The album is named after JF Lee’s home address, where he has resided for nearly twenty years, all while shifting between the identities of rock singer, label owner, livehouse manager, and now ambient artist. There’s an analogue quality to the sounds at hand, a lived-in, organic vitality to 1602’s rippling meditative layers, abstract textures, and ornamental aura, vividly capturing the feeling of a waking dream.

Mdprl & GitBu$y Trio – Chicken 鸡

Mdprl & GitBu$y Trio, a Cantonese alternative hip hop group from Guangzhou, bring a cheeky irreverent charm to their new single, an ode to food soon to be physically released as a 7’’ on Space Fruity Records. Buoyed by a breezy jazz charm, ramshackle hip hop swagger, and a laidback demeanor that one can only find down south, Mdprl gives listeners a rundown of his deep affinity for chicken and duck — listing off various Cantonese cooking methods and techniques. It’ll work up an appetite.

Wang Wen – All Yesterday’s Parties (Wang Wen 25th Anniversary Live Collection)

Dalian post rock staples Wang Wen celebrate 25 years of manifesting gorgeous sonic vignettes with their first inaugural live release (and their thirteenth LP for those counting), All Yesterday’s Parties. A compilation of live recordings of tracks from across the band’s past albums, Wang Wen states that it’s less a birthday tribute and more their reflection on the past. It’s a must-have for fans of the band looking to revisit some of their favorite tracks, but also a great introduction for newcomers who want to jump headfirst into their extensive catalogue.

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