My friend just made me two mixes of her all-time favorite artist – A-Mei. “You’re going to love it! It’s the best Chinese pop ever!!” she beamed. A-Mei is, in fact, truly representative of Chinese pop: hideously cheesy, ballady, and about 25 years behind the US in terms of sophistication of pop music. I’m talking heavy synthesizers, strings, and soft ballady singing that brings to mind Sweet 16 slow dances and the closing credits of Japanese RPGs. It’s music so ballady it makes Celine Dion sound like Cannibal Corpse.
So it was strange to put on this comp, supposedly an introduction to modern Chinese pop, and hear art-rock, post-punk, and indie rock. Obviously, this poorly titled comp is indicative of China’s underground scene and not their saccharine-sweet pop. In any case, I don’t mind, because it’s better than suffering through A-Mei.
But not MUCH better. Just as Chinese pop is 25 years behind the US, apparently so is their underground scene. Most of the bands here have a noisy 80s art-punk sound that’s raw and unpolished, but rarely exciting. Some other bands throw in electroclash, nu-metal, and dance punk, much of it sounding dated.
I did like the tracks by Caffe-In, Pink 09, Joyside, Tookoo, Hang on the Box, and Scoff – not GREAT songs, but differentiated by either a certain cuteness or rockin’ attitude. But because most of the bands sing in English (or broken English) this 18-tracker ends up sounding like a mediocre comp of crappy Steve Albini-produced Chicago basement bands from the late 80s/early 90s.
I’m not disappointed that this comp wasn’t pure Chinese pop, because god help us all, it’s awful. But I’d hope the world’s largest and probably most powerful country has better punk and indie bands to offer.
Addendum: Just read that the guy who put this comp together is from Chicago. That explains a lot.