Sunday, April 30, 2006

Indie-Pop vs. Wanna-Be Mainstream - The Gap is Closing

Every blue moon I stop in the Ximending Rose Records to check the listening stations, usually just for 10 or 15 minutes because there's always somethig enjoyable about how dumb the latest S.H.E./Machi/Jolin CD is. What surprised me a couple days ago was most of 12 CDs in the players - at least 7 or 8 - were local indie releases. I'm not sure if MC Hot Dog counts as indie anymore, but aside from him the lineup included recent CDs by Tizzy Bac, Natural Q (自然卷), Bear Babes, Rose Din, one folk/ethnic/aboriginal comp, something else that escapes me, and also the Aprils, a Japanese group distributed by Silent Agreement.

So what this basically means is a victory, and if not really for indie, then definitely for indie pop.

Tizzy Bac, Natural Q, and Bare Babes are all predominantly feature female vocalists, and while instrumentals have various influences, the singing is mostly in the pre-R&B Mando-pop starlet style - as in, the milky-tea love melodies of fake Taiwanese virgins? This has something that's never really happened in Taiwan's band scene before as a trend, but now I'm wondering whether the idea of indie pop really ever heralded a different direction? Anyway, now the ugly head is reared.

Ok, some quick reviews (all links have song previews):

Bear Babes I fast-forwarded through with few reasons to stop; they're a semi-competent rock band that at times manages to be cute in singing about how bored and dreamy their lives are. Some songs would make passable radio play, like maybe late night on UFO with Johnny talking over the music and doting on how cute it is.

Natural Q, "C'est la Vie 2" is the most polished, and at times it is not bad if you're in the mood for fluffy light Japanese-style bossa nova, but is even more cutesy than Bear Babes for the simple reason that they're better at it. The CD also has songs that might as well be commercial jingles and these will annoy the holy fuck out of even Stephanie Sun. This is a band, a duo actually, that has achieved reasonable notariety - for example, I heard the news that they "broke up" last month on a Beijing radio station while in a taxi. (I think they're actually just on haitus.) They site Cornelius as an influence, and while they try to make music as comfortable as his, they ignore the reasons why he is rough and jarring, i.e. that easy feeling has to come in relation to something. I'd rate this one: Listenable.

Tizzy Bac - While I've always loved Chris' singing and jazzy almost-ragtime electric piano, and while I also like the way the backup instrumentals are moving more into a driving, heavily rhythmic new wave kind of thing, I'm still waiting for them mesh. This is an interesting album, not bad in a lot of ways, but at times it sounds like two different kinds of music happening at the same time - indie rock + female pop (the vocal melodies here are much less dynamic than on the first album). So I dunno, maybe they should have recorded separately and made a mashup?

And finally, Rose Din, well they just kind of suck in the way that skinny long-haired rocker dudes with nothing else to distinguish themselves other than being skinny long-haired rocker dudes tend to suck. And on top of that they're also trying to be pop stars. But I don't think they're good enough to be May Day 2.

Ok, was there anything that should have led me to be optimistic here? No, of course not. But there is still plenty of marijuana in the Shida area, so music here still may have a future.

For the moment I'll stick with White Eyes (白目) as the best new band to make a showing at last month's Spring Scream. Don't know much about them, but the girl singer really goes nuts on stage, kinda like P.J. Harvey or Yeah Yeah Yeahs style, and the rocker dudes backing her up just step up and rock it like all they have to do is press play. Rock 'n roll power. Nuff respect!

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