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New Music: Melo, Wu Wei and Conceptual Merriment from Howie Lee

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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.

It’s been a good month for electronic music in China. Howie Lee returned with his latest album, Birdy Island, a conceptual record that shows off Lee’s propensity for combining Chinese musical elements with more traditional electronic facing elements.

Eating Music affiliate Cocoonics also dropped her new EP, wu​.​.​. / HA!, while Chengdu-based producer Kaishandao’s track “Hearsay,” and Yu Su’s remix of Gong Gong Gong’s “Some Kind of Demon” were also released.

Howie Lee — Birdy Island

Birdy Island is magnificent and sees Howie Lee exploring Chinese folk music elements more than he ever has, crafting what has been called his “most organic album yet.” Since founding his Do Hits imprint, much of Lee’s work has dwelt on the idea of what it means to be Chinese, but Birdy Island feels like it goes one step further in that process.

The concept behind the record is an imagined Sicilian theme park that is inhabited by birds and ancestral spirits. In his effort to construct this park, he deconstructs Chicago footwork and UK grime, blends choral vocals from the likes Yehaiyahan, West by West and Fishdoll, and includes Chinese instruments like the guanzi (a saxophone-like woodwind instrument) and the yangqin (a hammered dulcimer).

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Cocoonics — wu​.​.​. / HA!

Released via Eating Music, wu… / HA! has been one and a half years in the making, going back to the creation of the EP’s opener, “Fresh Pandora,” which she made in November, 2019. As such it collates a lot of producer Cocoonics’ experiences since then, moving between Hong Kong and Shanghai, and Guangzhou, where her family lives.

In our interview with her, she told us, “The four tracks are from different stages of mine. I am just trying to be honest with my feelings and finding an outlet for my emotions. Sometimes music can convey what words can’t. I think those who have a similar experience would connect to my music. The songs are personal, yet universal.”

Osheyack and Nahash — Club Apathy

Osheyack and Nahash team up again for their new collaborative EP, Club Apathy, released on Shanghai label SVBKVLT this month. The pair have previously teamed up for a track on Nahash’s 2020 release, Flowers of the Revolution.

The EP is very much club-based, and tracks like “Pegged” and “Less Than A Pound of Flesh,” are harsh and percussive pieces that establish a dissonant and raw rhythm.

Kaishandao — “Hearsay”

Released in advance of her upcoming debut EP, Homeland, “Hearsay” from Chengdu-based, New Zealand-born producer Kaishandao is an absorbing minimal garage track, ready-made for summer.

The track also comes with a music video made by excellent VJ, Mengkii. It depicts a couple ostensibly made from the same material as the Sun embracing as sun spurts exude from their bodies.

Wu Wei — Consultation After Drinking

SMZB frontman Wu Wei’s new record Consultation After Drinking is full of the influence of his move to the countryside on the Iberian Peninsula. “Lovers Prattle for Donghu,” the first single from the album, was a sign of something a bit different than what we might expect from the punk music stalwart. The 11 tracks on Consultation After Drinking are full of ambient moments, gently plucked strings and delicate, introspective vocals.

On “Rat Poison,” we hear him using synthesizers and buried, baritone vocals, while on “Chinese Character Tattoo” we hear guitar lines that wouldn’t be out of place in a Southern blues track. Title track on the record, “Consultation After Drinking,” is a piano-driven confessional, while the eight-minute “Mao’s Braised Pork” is an epic, operatic outro.

Gong Gong Gong — “Some Kind of Demon” (Yu Su remix) 

Ahead of the release of an album of remixes of tracks from their debut record, Phanthom Rhythm, Gong Gong Gong have again teamed up with Kaifeng-born, Vancouver-based producer Yu Su for her remix of “Some Kind of Demon” (half of the duo, Joshua Frank provided bass duties for her debut album, Yellow River Blue).

While the original track is raw and bluesy, Yu Su’s reimagining is sleek and urbane, burying Tom Ng’s vocals in a vaporous dreamscape of ambient sound. The second track from the remix album, “Moonshadows,” by Simon Frank is also currently up on the band’s Bandcamp page and supplements the original’s hypnotic guitars with tight and fast drums and cymbals. Other remixes set to feature on the album will come from the likes of Zaliva-D, Howie Lee and Knopha.

Produce Pandas — “Dream”

Produce Pandas, a five-piece boyband that promote an ethos of body positivity and define themselves as a plus-sized group, have steadily been growing a devoted fanbase. In the past year, they’ve released an album, provided songs for Chinese TV shows and took part in the huge variety show Youth With You as trainees.

Looking at the pop music landscape, they’re unlikely stars, and that’s a sentiment captured in their latest track, “Dream,” a ballad to their huge ambition to make it in the pop industry on their own terms.

Melo — Old Master 2

One quarter of the Higher Brothers, Melo returns with his second solo album, a follow-up to his debut, and aptly titled Old Master 2. He invites fellow Higher Brother, KnowKnow to join on tracks “Fraud” and “Wait a Minute,” with both of those songs employing nicely produced, minimal beats.

On the record we can hear Melo experimenting with his sound, and trying to move away from his “member of the Higher Brothers” label, towards something new and unique. You can find the album on Tencent Music now.

Bryan Grogan
Bryan is RADII's Culture Editor. He is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with an interest in culture stories with a social bent. He once correctly guessed all 151 original Pokemon in seven minutes for an online quiz. He also correctly guessed all 100 second generation Pokemon in eight minutes for an online quiz.