Double take on Hanggai’s new Album: They’ve traveled far!

Both Ruby and I have had a few weeks to listen to and digest Hanggai’s latest record… with the official release party taking place tonight at Yugong Yishan, it was time for a double take.

Beijing Daze on He Who Travels Far

I got mixed feelings about Hanggai as I’ve mentioned a few times but I’m not really gonna talk about the band on this one, it’s all about their sophomore release: 远走的人 He Who Travels Far. First things first, if the price stays at RMB150 like they had at 2 Kolegas last month, I would consider long and hard before getting it. I just think it’s too freaking expensive and I don’t care where it was recorded. It’s actually cheaper to buy online!
Now, unto the music! 17 songs, 14 of which are new and 3 are cleaned up do-overs from their amazing first records. If i had to pick one adjective to describe this release, it would probably be: “Polished”
The sound is crisp and clean, almost sanitized and I’m not sure i like that! Sure, most of the songs are solid and I like the harmonies they’ve managed to get in on there, especially in tracks like Borulai and Zhan Dan but it’s too sanitized. It’s like the difference between camping out in the wilderness of the grassland (their first record) and using a camp site in a park.
Both experiences are enjoyable but I’m more interested in the grasslands. The drinking song, available in both records, is an extreme example of that. That said, Ilchi et Co. have done a great job expanding their catalog and bringing in new songs. Truth be said, the album has grown on me after a few weeks… It’s definitely worth listening to a few times in a row with a good sound system to get the full experience.
That said, I can’t help but wonder how this would have sounded like if Ajinai was still in the band.

Ruby on He Who Travels Far

Hanggai were the first live show I went to in Beijing and I remember it well. Drinking Y2 Yangjing on the grass outside YGYS, then dancing and singing along to The Drinking Song inside. Their live shows are just so much fun to be at, so I try to get to as many as possible. Around a month ago I had a friend Z in town who lived in Ulaan Batar for awhile so I decided to take her out to 2Kolegas to see Hanggai and picked up their new album at the same time. It wasn’t cheap at Y150, and I did think twice about getting it, but I finally decided to fork out the $. After all it was recorded in Europe and had 17 songs, almost double what was on the first album.

I have to say I was a little disappointed on first listening though – I was expecting NEW songs. But some of my favourites from the first album are on there under different names! – Ayrhindu (The Drinking Song), Borulai’s Lullaby (Lullaby), Uruumdush (Wuji), Dorov Moraril (Fours Seasons). For someone who’s just discovered Hanggai this is great, all the best songs from the first album plus the new ones. But for someone who owns and loves the first album I did feel a little ripped off. I can see the copy being advertised now on their bandcamp has only 14 tracks, not 17, but states “fourteen new songs”

In saying that though, the new songs are great. They show the band’s Mongolian heritage blending with their individual rock backgrounds. I love how they combine the electric guitar with the morin khuur (horse head violin). Hanggai are masters of the horse riding songs (which Z tells me is only one style of music in Mongolia) I’m not a musician, but it’s the time sequence they use that just makes you feel like you’re on the back of a horse, especially in Xiger Xiger, Brothers and of course Beautiful Mongolian Horse. (Also listen out for the electric guitar mimicing the sound of a horse in a couple of songs as well!) These songs are great for getting a crowd going at the live shows, but it’s impossible not to tap your feet listening to them at home either. I’m still not sure I like the title track You Zou De Ren though. It starts off with almost a country feel with only stringed instruments and deep throat singing, but halfway through it totally flips to high almost operatic singing from Ilchi, then it goes back to the country feel. I like the slower tracks on this album more though, so far my favourite tracks are Daya and Gobi Road.

I’m hoping they’ll drop the price a bit for the album launch, especially if it’s going to be 14 tracks, instead of 17. Y150 is a little excessive for China! It is an awesome album though and I can’t wait to hear it again live.

Catch Hanggai tonight at Yugong Yishan ( November 24, 2010) with Blackwater opening for them

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