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Yin: Snapline’s Chen Xi Fuses David Lynch and Electric Ukulele on “Moon People”

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Yin (音, “music”) is a weekly RADII feature that looks at Chinese songs spanning hip-hop to folk to modern experimental, and everything in between. Drop us a line if you have a suggestion.

Having emerged as part of the “No Beijing” experimental/rock movement in the mid-’00s, Snapline are one of those bands who seem to be almost universally revered in Chinese music circles. Originally formed by Li Qing and Li Weisi — whose “other” band Carsick Cars were one of the acts who ended up defining that whole era of Beijing music — Snapline quickly found a devoted following for their dark-edged industrial awkwardness.

Here’s a classic from them:

 

After years of limited activity, Snapline joined Maybe Mars’ 10th anniversary celebrations last summer and are currently gearing up to release a new album — something they’ll apparently be promoting by playing their studio LPs back-to-back on a China tour in the coming months.

But before all that, gangly frontman Chen Xi — the third point in Snapline’s triangle and the band’s supplier of vocals and drum machine parts — has just put out a solo record via Douban’s D Force label. It’s released under his Late Troubles alias, which he’s been using since 2014, around the time Snapline went into hibernation. Entitled Moon People, it came out yesterday and you can find it on Apple Music here and Spotify here.

Because both of those platforms are annoyingly embed unfriendly, here’s the only track from the album that’s currently on Bandcamp: “Her Song”.

 

This was one of the first songs that Chen put together for this project and has been floating around the internet in various forms for a little while now. The drum machine beat, low-slung sparse instrumentation and Chen’s enunciated vocals at the track’s opening may have you thinking that Moon People is just a collection of Snapline cast-offs, but while fans of the band will find little to quibble with on the record, there’s more to dig into too.

If you’re looking for a quick taste, we particularly recommend you check out the Alpine Decline-featuring “Weather Report”, which starts out with scattered sonic showers before some vocal warmth breaks through (even if the lyrics are about an approaching typhoon), and addictive instrumental track “Sammamish Rain”. (The album’s not all about weather, honest.)

Chen and his family have been living in Redmond, WA — due to his day job at Microsoft — for the past couple of years and with two young kids he’s embraced opportunities to explore the great outdoors in the US. Also seems like he’s got a nice backyard:

All of which is not to say Chen has completely abandoned his and Snapline’s industrial foundations. The album promo material also name-checks David Lynch and Twin Peaks as inspirations, and appropriately there are still moments of oddball eeriness dotted across the dozen tracks. But the record is also not quite as dark and weird as all that might suggest. Whether it’s due to fatherhood or easier access to nature (or both), there are significant moments of brightness on Moon People too, which make for an intriguing listen overall.

Images courtesy of D Force Records

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Jake Newby
Jake Newby is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with more than a decade's experience living and working in China. Previously managing editor of Time Out Shanghai, he's also written for publications such as South China Morning Post and the Financial Times.