Music

Shanren: Left Foot Dance of the Yi and Other Chinese Folk-Rock Anthems

Left Foot is a varied album but not a restless one.


Shanren

Left Foot Dance of the Yi and Other Chinese Folk-Rock Anthems

Label: Riverboat / World Music Network
US Release Date: 2014-01-28
UK Release Date: 2014-01-27
Amazon
iTunes

That's interesting. The press blurb says that the four members of Shanren, who are also members of one of the 26 ethnic minority groups that live in the province of Yunnan, saw a parallel between their own situation and the fringe existence of Chinese rock musicians in the 1990s, when the band was formed. "[T]he band came to see the outcast position of Chinese rock musicians as a mirror image of the Yunan [sic] tribes’ struggle for cultural identity. Early Chinese rock and rollers were considered to be on the fringe by members of the mainstream Chinese machine and so their sounds were drowned out by the louder, brasher conventional pop music pumping out of urban cities."

It's an equation that would probably not have occurred to any minority group in any English-speaking country during the same period of time, since the same conditions did not apply, rock musicians were not a minority creeping diligently and bravely around the outskirts of society, and how naturally and unexpectedly things get tweaked as they move around the world: what different forms they take as they respond to their area's pressures and releases.

The same press blurb wants to compare the group to the Pogues -- "Likened to having the energy of the Pogues, the raucous Chinese indie folk quartet Shanren plays traditional instruments alongside amplified Stratocasters" -- but if that's true then they need a better recording because one of the key sources of that energy is invisible on Left Foot Dance of the Yi, and that's the implicit threat of unstable mutiny from the band's front man, the possibility that he, or one of the other musicians, might get so volatile and drunk that he decides to say, "I'm going to punch someone, or I'm going to stop playing and do something else." The energy might become so restless that it bursts out of the song into some other, less contained, area of physical activity. Left Foot is a varied album but not a restless one. It's an album of reliable harmonies, the men on "La Suo Mi" hopping in gladly to add to the group effort, the flute brilliantly round, liquid, and clear, nothing veering or really threatening to veer, the musicians making "Whee" noises with clean-living willingness on one reggae-sounding track.

You can smell it though, you can sort of smell that energy lurking inside the title song when you hear the shrill noise that shoves the music forward until it's almost uncomfortable -- not quite, just on the edge there -- and then the hard gallop of their singing voices -- and I can see how, in the flesh, they could absolutely sound like the Pogues. Just not here, where the rowdiness is kept inside its paddock.

But one of the other parts of that energy is present and audible, and that's mateship, or communal grace. They're a group of men who like to be together, singing and playing. They enjoy the "Left Foot Dance" song so much that they applaud themselves at the end as if to say, "That was a good thing and look, we did it well." The song itself was taught to them by "a family in Daguokou" while they were travelling around their home province, searching for material in as many places as possible. Left Foot is a deliberately sociable album. It's clear from the blurb that the musicians are aware that they're not just representing themselves as a discrete quartet, they're also representing the Yi and the Wa, and whoever else, and the experience of coming from a rural mountain area to the city, where they found some field recording noises in a transport station to overlay through the music in "Wandering". Community enjoyment and self-respect seems to supplant and dismiss any anger or despair that they might have been expected to feel as they contemplate the subsumation of their customs and musics by the Han majority. That could be the key to the non-rowdy and respectable aspect of their sound: they feel the pull of a duty other than music.

6
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Reviews

PC Nackt Deconstructs the Classics with 'Plunderphonia'

PC Nackt kicks off a unique series of recordings dedicated to creating new music by "plundering" unexpected historical sources such as classical piano pieces or chamber orchestra music.

Music

Counterbalance 24: The Doors - 'The Doors'

Before you slip into unconsciousness, Counterbalance has put together a few thoughts on the Doors' 1967 debut album. It's number 24 on the Big List.

Reading Pandemics

Parable Pandemics: Octavia E. Butler and Racialized Labor

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, informed by a deep understanding of the intersectionality of dying ecologies, disease, and structural racism, exposes the ways capitalism's insatiable hunger for profit eclipses humanitarian responses to pandemics.

Television

'Tiger King' and the Post-Truth Culture War

Tiger King -- released during and dominating the streaming-in-lockdown era -- exemplifies in real-time the feedback loop between entertainment and ideology.

Books

Ivy Mix's 'Spirits of Latin America' Evokes the Ancestors

A common thread unites Ivy Mix's engaging Spirits of Latin America; "the chaotic intermixture between indigenous and European traditions" is still an inextricable facet of life for everyone who inhabits the "New World".

Film

Contemporary Urbanity and Blackness in 'New Jack City'

Hood films are a jarring eviction notice for traditional Civil Rights rhetoric and, possibly, leadership -- in other words, "What has the Civil Rights movement done for me lately?"

Books

'How to Handle a Crowd' Goes to the Moderators

Anika Gupta's How to Handle a Crowd casts a long-overdue spotlight on the work that goes into making online communities enjoyable and rewarding.

Music

Regis' New LP Reaffirms His Gift for Grinding Industrial Terror

Regis' music often feels so distorted, so twisted out of shape, even the most human moments feel modular. Voices become indistinguishable from machines on Hidden in This Is the Light That You Miss.

Reviews

DMA's Go for BritElectroPop on 'The Glow'

Aussie Britpoppers the DMA's enlist Stuart Price to try their hand at electropop on The Glow. It's not their best look.

Film

On Infinity in Miranda July's 'Me and You and Everyone We Know'

In a strange kind of way, Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know is about two competing notions of "forever" in relation to love.

Music

Considering the Legacy of Deerhoof with Greg Saunier

Working in different cities, recording parts as MP3s, and stitching them together, Deerhoof once again show total disregard for the very concept of genre with their latest, Future Teenage Cave Artists.

Music

Joshua Ray Walker Is 'Glad You Made It'

Texas' Joshua Ray Walker creates songs on Glad You Made It that could have been on a rural roadhouse jukebox back in the 1950s. Their quotidian concerns sound as true now as they would have back then.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.