Since the Cold War went on hiatus, the underground rock of Russia, China, and other countries once closed off to the West is being heard a little more widely in the US and Western Europe. China's White is a coed duo (Shenggy, vocals, percussion, and samples; Shou Wang, vocals, guitar, and organ) and its Western debut was recorded in Berlin and produced by Einsturzende Neubaten's Blixa Bargeld.
White's sleek, spartan, and somewhat harrowing approach recalls punk-era electronic combos Suicide and Throbbing Gristle and pre-punk minimalist electro-rockers Kraftwerk — for the most part, forget verse-chorus-verse song structure and instrumental solos. Vocals in Chinese and English, more spoken and chanted than sung, are set to detached and distant-seeming rhythms and bits of melody and embellishment by guitar, organ, and theremin. The somewhat lilting "Bai" is practically a ringer for Stereolab, except the rhythmic undertow is far more sinister than seductive. The eerie "Space Decay" could be either a tribute to or a satire of space-rock bands such as Hawkwind, Amon Duul, or Pink Floyd — instruments hum, buzz, and crackle while voices drift in and out of phase. The mechanized cadence of "Conch Crunch" conveys the austere, strictly regulated ambience of ... a factory, a school, or a society?
White has clearly learned well from its Western forebears without succumbing to imitation. Further, White shows the duo is wise enough to offset the gloom with drollery and alluring, almost soothing, waves of sound. (Open Note)
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