Dawanggang - Wild Tune Stray Rhythm
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Wild Tune Stray Rhythm
Jaro (www.jaro.de)

The story goes that the lack of sufficient funds to release the three albums the band had recorded led them to compile one single album from the three. This has resulted in one album filled with a wide range of diverse themes, musical ideas and expressions. At the same time, these ideas work surprisingly well together and actually help create the sense that this is a complete album, rather than an odd collection of songs.

Wild Tune Stray Rhythm, the title of the album, is a direct translation of a phrase describing someone slightly out of tune and rhythm, as used in traditional Peking Opera. But the two characters for Wild and Stray may also be translated as “wasteland” and “walk” or “wander” and this album can be heard as a journey through an untamed landscape; a daydream to places far away from the modern city-structures, the ubiquitous coffee shops and their green logos, the politics and raging capitalism of contemporary China and Beijing, where the band is based.

Indeed, before forming the band, singer and songwriter Song Yuzhe spent a long time traveling through the different parts of China collecting musical inspiration. The band itself seems to be a loose structure of friends and members of the Beijing folk music scene, including improvisationalists Xiao He and Li Tieqiao and Chinese electronic music pioneers Wang Fan and Zhang Jian. Together they bring together musical elements from China's north east, far west and Tibet.

The first track brings us straight into a rather barren musical landscape, where the noises and voices of rattlesnakes, wolves, strange birds and cicadas (in the form of Mongolian throat singing) follow a man whose lover has just left him, who is seeking the purifying sound of a temple bell after a night of too much drinking.

This relationship between man and a spiritual nature is a major theme throughout the album, and the band successfully places itself within a tradition of Chinese folklore, storytelling and music, while at the same time creating a very personal musical language. Song Yuzhe's lyrics come with a peculiar sense of humor, tapping in to a kind of vernacular style of satire, as in this little fable "Talking about birds II."

Vulture, oh vulture
You odd creature of a bird
Head looking like an ordained monk
Yet you feed on corpses' dead meat

Hoopoe, oh hoopoe
You snug little bird
All silk and satin, looking like a queen
Spreading a foul stench with each flap of your wings

Turtle dove, oh turtle dove
You bird of vanity
Sitting high on a tree
Without a single melody to share

Black crow, oh black crow
You noisy old bird
Draped in black armor, looking like a knight
But when battle comes, you seem more like a shrew

Goose, oh goose
You big-butted bird
Walking like the nobility, with your head up high
While mud drips from your beak

Elephant, oh elephant…elephant, oh elephant

The album continues with a blend of haunting melodies with roots in northwestern and western China (such as "Four Ways" and "Thin Bear"), improvisations, electronic soundscapes and other sections that seem more like a collage of ideas and fragments of lost melodies. No grand gestures, but Song Yuzhe's voice is passionate enough to fill his somewhat subdued style with drama and emotion. The stories of the lonesome men traveling through the desolate Chinese west, and the howls and mutters of the instruments as they mimic all kinds of wild animals, are in some way spiritually connected to the classic Spaghetti Western soundtracks by Ennio Morricone.

The folk music scene in Beijing and other Chinese cities has, for the last 10 years or so, developed a confident and inspired voice, where musical traces from many different parts of the world naturally blend together and form something that ultimately has a distinctively Chinese expression. Wild Tune Stray Rhythm is a great example of this development, and deserves a global audience. - Erik Cronqvist

The artists' web site: www.dawanggang.com

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