Rotten Bun for an Eggless Century is the debut album from mui zyu. It’s the solo project of Eva Liu, who also serves as the lead vocalist of UK-based indie rock trio Dama Scout which combine often-chaotic rock sounds with Liu’s very pretty melodic vocals. Liu is assisted on Rotten Bun by her Dama Scout bandmate Luciano Rossi, who serves as co-producer. Unsurprisingly, mui zyu often employs similar chaos and melody tactics, albeit with a very different musical focus.
The single “Ghost With a Peach Skin” is a prime example. Liu’s vocals drift along sweetly but quietly while simple electronic percussion bumps along in the background. Twinkling and burbling synths flit in and out, giving the song snatches of catchy melodies and odd noises. Liu and Rossi also included Yijia Tu on the guzheng, a harp-like traditional Chinese instrument, but chopped and manipulated the performance to make it more like the other synth sounds. That description makes the song seem odder than it is because “Ghost With a Peach Skin” is ultimately an upbeat, accessible, poppy track.
“Demon 01” opens with shimmery synths from a 1980s video game and distorted guitar as white noise while Liu sings gently over the top. The song expands, and the noise increases when the beat kicks in just before the one-minute mark. The video game synths return as a solo after the second verse, followed by a brief burst of guitar fuzz. That fuzz plays the melody along with a keyboard for a bit, and Liu’s vocals return near the end to finish the track. It’s intriguing but far less catchy than “Ghost With a Peach Skin”.
Even less accessible is “Dancing for Drinks”, which at first sounds like a heavily processed guitar is subbing in for vocals. A typically sparse beat underpins the song while chugging guitars gradually in volume throughout. A closer listen reveals that vocals are combined with the lead guitar through an old-school talkbox or digital manipulation. There are lyrics here as well, but they are so distorted that they’re just beyond the range of decipherable. “Dancing for Drinks” is another fascinating piece from a technical standpoint but not necessarily a shining example of songwriting.
Most of Rotten Bun for an Eggless Century isn’t quite so out there. “Hotel Mini Soap” is a gentle ballad driven by soft beats, a squiggly little synth riff, and simple piano chords. “Mother’s Tongue” follows, with a lusher musical background that includes bass, spacey synths, subtle guitars, and sharper percussion sounds. “Talk to Death” comes later, utilizing bass, piano, and thumping beats. The synth riff that drives the song is a real hook, even as the chords change.
Rotten Bun for an Eggless Century opens and closes with a pair of mui zyu’s best tracks. “Rotten Bun” uses an unadorned piano figure to define the song. It’s an arpeggiated part that seems to circle, making it striking whenever it stops, putting the focus directly on Liu’s singing. The result is moody and melancholy and gradually devolves into noise in its final minute, giving a solid preview of mui zyu’s strengths. On the opposite end, “Sore Bear” begins with a sonically altered keyboard riff, a strange and distinctive earworm. The song has no percussion, allowing Liu’s vocals to draw the listener’s focus. The repeated chorus, “Sore bear / Don’t feed them your whispers”, is slow, drawn out, and memorable. By keeping the noise to a minimum, Liu’s gift for melody comes to the fore just as the album ends.
Rotten Bun for an Eggless Century is always sonically interesting but only sporadically engaging. Liu’s captivating singing voice gives nearly every track a worthwhile melody. Those melodies don’t always carry through the various, often distorted, sounds that comprise most songs. If Liu (and Rossi) can better synthesize their penchant for unusual sounds with Liu’s gift for melody, mui zyu could easily make a superlative album. When that combination works here, it’s wonderful. It doesn’t happen often enough for Rotten Bun for an Eggless Century to reach that next level.