Album Review: Shan Ren’s Listen to the Mountain- A Schizophrenic Enjoyable Conversation

I last left Shan Ren riding high at the end of the 2012 dongpai festival, heading into a break after setting themselves up as sole representative of a new China genre called tractor metal. Their first record was unique in the way it blended heavy riffs with some ethnic sounds thus delivering something completely unique! fast forward to 2013, they set up to release the new baby, Listen to the Mountain.

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well, i got my hands on it and listened to the mountain.. what did i hear? Well, we got 15 tracks (but only really 11 songs) and apparently, this mountain is extremely schizophrenic! We kick things off with 左脚调 and get transported right away to the Yunnan in a little mountain village, hanging out around a campfire where the band is leading a conga line. It’s definitely playing heavy on the ethnic side of the band, more so than anything they’ve done before. This minority sound sticks around through the following 3 songs with mixed results. It’s almost too much but it works!

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By song #5, we can hear the band going “can we step it up a notch of two?” enter 螃蟹 (crab song?) that brings in some nice island reggae flavour fused again with those mountain harmonies. It’s an easy sound that i could see myself appreciate while sipping some mijiu as i sit by the rivers in lijiang. I guess that’s the local equivalent to sipping rum by the beach.

Still, it’s not until song 7 that i’m actually intrigued and enjoying myself without trying. 朝九晚五 ( 9 to 5) is what i think shanren does best: fun song, a little reggae, a little rock and some good lyrics about not wanting to waste life away. And now we’re getting serious.. are we ever. As they open up on 过年 ( New Year Celebration), we’re really getting somewhere! Musical explosion and fusion of style, heavy and smooth, melodic and repetitive. Guitars, cymbals, singing, small chabudian made gizmos… I’ve heard them play this one live and it’s as good as the recording.

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From this little high, we go on to 无声世界 (silent world), a post-rockish/indie song that showcases the band’s talent and diversity but leaves me at the edge of puke-land. Thankfully, the skip button makes an appearance halfway through the song and leads me through the quick spoken “grass song” and finally 佤歌 (Kawa song). This is a beautiful song, any way you look at it: a mix of ethic sounds from yunnan, African rhythms, harmonies and good sound. My understanding is that it’s a modified take of a traditional tribal drinking song. I’ll drink to that.
Which brings us to the real Drinking Song, 酒歌.. now we’re ready to party! The chorus is simple enough and you should learn it for the next time you find yourself hanging out with the band… good fun drinking song that’s easy enough to play with. The closing number, 佤歌, sees the band take on an old South African song of celebration. It’s comfortable in a way that can’t be explained so you oughta go hear it for yourself.

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I honestly didn’t start this review with the best of opinions but it’s been a few weeks since i first heard the album and it has absolutely grown in me. The strongest numbers are by far 朝九晚五, 过年, 佤歌, 酒歌 and 佤歌.. all winners in my book. The first half of the album feels like what someone who never saw the band play live would expect out of their record, maybe a nod to all the music festivals and the overseas press looking for that special flavour. The rest of the record though is an absolute joy to listen to, well crafted and diverse. So all in all, the band didn’t lie:
I’m climbing the mountain as i listen to it. the first part is beautiful but tiresome whereas when you get back to the top, everything gets better and easier.. and the journey is worth it.

Listen to the album on Xiami
http://www.xiami.com/album/1468771348?spm=0.0.0.0.VqSjJC
Check out their Douban
http://site.douban.com/shanren/

and keep an eye open for a review of their album release party at Mako Livehouse

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