Published Jan 08, 2008Spending 24 days over the holidays in China was a lesson learned that music isn't always as accessible as we all think it is. With no iPod, computer, CD player or even internet connection, the trip left me at the mercy of the hidden music scenes and barely existent record shops in Beijing and Shanghai, and even more so at the hands of the country's cruel music video channel, V, which taught me 99% of the country's musical makeup is either derivative done-to-death dance pop, painfully pensive female singer-songwriters or worst of all, heavily coiffed young men pining for their lost loves in melodramatic fashion. Alas, I found out quickly that all was not well in China for this music lover.
Having said all that, some luck did come my way in Beijing at the indescript "Music Store" (yes, that is what it was called) when I asked the clerk what Chinese artists he could recommend. A strict hip-hop lover, he handed me a local hip-hop act, which I passed on when he played a few songs for me. Instead I grabbed a disc by Carsick Cars, who I recognised after reading they were a resident act at the city's famed venue, D22. The clerk wrote them off as a "punk band" who weren't his thing, but the desperation inside me to find something good amongst Chinese music's glut of uninspired drivel pushed me to pay the affordable 49 yuan (approx. seven dollars) for their self-titled full-length.
Like one of those rare pleasant surprises that come to buying music without any knowledge as to what the band sounds like whatsoever, Carsick Cars grabbed me from the opening detuned strums of "Zhi yuan de ren," instantaneously revealing a heavy desire to give Beijing its own Sonic Youth (who personally invited the CCs to open for them last year). The album's standout, however, is "No gu" (aka "Panda"), which recently found a spot on Bloodshot Records' Look Directly Into the Sun: China Pop 2007 compilation. A boisterous blast of simplified indie rock, it floats and stings with some well-known alt-rock structuring (verse-chorus-verse-chorus-noisemaking) and pristine harmonies brewing from the chirpy guitar lead. Very similar to the late '90s Scottish greats Urusei Yatsura, this trio claw at their instruments with adorable imprecision, displaying chops for making rudimentary melodies and clearly uncalculated rackets. The lyrics aren't in English, but as I learned all throughout China, nodding and pretending to understand is the best way to deal with language barriers.
Carsick Cars "Panda"