Best Albums of 2016
selected by William Griffith

Baishui <BR>“Sound in Motion: Puzzle Suite”

“Sound in Motion: Puzzle Suite”

Sichuan musician Baishui is a jack of all trades – a film composer, a neo folk hero, an avant-garde renegade, and one of China’s most unique artists.

On his latest, “Sound in Motion: Puzzle Suite” (聲動​:​拼圖), Baishui attempts to write a “sound poem without words” using simple improvisation instrumental recordings, vocal samples, and field recordings. The second full-length in his “Sound of Motion” series, whose goal is examine the “relationship between sound and movement”, features some ace contributors including sound artists Yao Chunyang, Yuan Tian, and Anna.

It’s a beautifully realized project, where one sound, one voice or one instrument is explored to its deepest lengths. It’s sparse, minimal in its approach yet rich in details and emotion. A must have for anyone interested in the unexpected.     

♪♫ Listen: “Four Strings” + album stream

Baishui on Facebook, Bandcamp, www.

SMZB <BR>“The Chinese Are Coming”

“The Chinese Are Coming”

The godfathers of punk return! Seminal Wuhan punk outfit SMZB, whose Celtic-based socially conscious punk rock has made them a staple of the Chinese punk scene celebrate twenty years and “one thousand ways to rebel and fight” with their latest LP, the sneakily titled “The Chinese Are Coming”.

It’s engrossing collection of songs – catchy, timely, engaged and enraged yet victorious at the same time. The addition of bagpipes, banjo and the always-reliable tin whistle only add to the jubilant defiance that SMZB stands for.

It’s amazing the band is able to infuse their music with as much social commentary (“The Chinese Are Coming”) and political critique (“Born in the PRC”) as they do – a testament to the band’s long lasting power and stature. 

♪♫ Listen: “One Night In Prison” + album stream

SMZB on Douban, Facebook.

WoGui de HuoChe <BR>“Aftermath”

WoGui de HuoChe 

Hangzhou indie trio, WoGui de HuoChe have prepared a hell of a welcoming party for themselves on their debut LP, “Aftermath”.

Intricate, rich in emotion, with plenty of rock and roll gusto to spare, the band manages to avoid the many pratfalls that have caged and hindered many bands of its ilk. There’s a looseness at play here, a genuine appreciation of not only melody, but mood, and often times it sounds and feels like a lo-fi bittersweet moment caught in time.

And where other bands might have taken the easy route, WoGui de Huoche seem to relish those moments of uncertainty.

♪♫ Listen: “谜底帝国

WoGui de HuoChe on Douban, Xiami.

Alpine Decline <BR>“Life’s A Gasp”

Alpine Decline
“Life’s A Gasp”

Beijing based reverb drenched indie rock duo Alpine Decline continue to stretch their arms on their latest love letter to the smog-filled city, “Life’s A Gasp”.

The double LP, off of Maybe Mars label, which introduces Yang Haisong (of PK14) on bass, may be the band’s most ambitious album to date. Stuffed to the brim with psychedelic unease, obscure lyrics, and layers upon layers of sound, it’s a lot to take in one go.

From the calm desolate beauty of “Aftertaste of Gold”, to the synth lunacy of “Pre-Columbian Gold”, to the tender and somber catharsis of “Broken, Mistaken, Confused”, to the blistering drive of “I’ve Been Hit” – it’s an rewarding, invigorating, distorted trip through one of Beijing’s most captivating bands.

♪♫ Listen: “Aftertaste of Gold” + album stream

Alpine Decline on BandcampFacebook, Twitter, Douban, www.

New Pants <BR>“Because of You Life is Hot”

New Pants
“Because of You Life is Hot”

After a lapse of five years, seminal synth indie rockers New Pants (新褲子) return with their eighth album “Because of You Life Is Hot”, and it is very much a more somber affair. Scratch that – this is a more mature New Pants.

One where rhythm doesn’t rule and instead, the emotional melodies become the focal point. And while that may scare off some folks, particularly those accustomed to the anarchistic spirit of the band (including myself), there’s something satisfying about a band coming to terms with their place in the musical spectrum and looking back with new eyes whilst plowing ahead.

A bit off-putting at first, but new New Pants is starting to grow on me.

♪♫ Listen: “About Insomnia and Night of the World” + album stream

New Pants on Douban, Facebook + beehype.

Streets Kill Strange Animals <BR>“McDKids”

Streets Kill Strange Animals

Unsung heroes of the underground rock scene in Beijing (and China for that matter) – Streets Kill Strange Animals return with their sophomore album, “McDKids”, off of Modern Sky Records.

Intense, visceral, and cerebral, the band relishes in the seedy underbelly of noise rock, with more than enough post punk musing and demeanor. Leng Mei continues to be one of the city’s best lyricists, capturing strikingly the dark resonance of an increasingly unrecognizable and “carnivalized” city.

And while musically, the band knows no bounds – jumping from shoegaze slow jams to post hardcore firebombs with ease – it remains one of the most assured albums of the year. 

♪♫ Listen: “McDKids” + album stream

Streets Kill Strange Animals on Douban.

Queen Sea Big Shark <BR>“To Wild Heart”

Queen Sea Big Shark
“To Wild Heart”

Queen Sea Big Shark (后海大鲨鱼) return and they’re never gonna be the same again. Bigger, bolder, and yes, even more foolhardy, this is the emergence of a band entering the pop world in style.

Aesthetically, it’s all over the place – from Bollywood breakdowns, doo-wop summer singles, to hip hop jams, arena rock worthy anthems, and even some Kenny G sax thrown in for good measure, “To Wild Heart”, is derivative as can be. But good lord is it fun.

There’s something utterly refreshing about a band that’s ready to shed its old skin so willingly and move forward with such reckless, joyous abandon. If I believed in such things this would be my guilty pleasure of the year. 

♪♫ Listen: “88 Olympic Games” + album stream

Queen Sea Big Shark on Facebook.

Yue Xuan (岳璇) <BR>“Entrance & Exports Remix Project”

Yue Xuan (岳璇)
“Entrance & Exports Remix Project”

Changsha raised piano composer Yue Xuan brings her classical trained aesthetic to the underground electronic scene on “Entrance & Exports Remix Project”, an expansive diverse remix of the artist’s 2015 breakout hit “In & Out“.

Yue Xuan hands the keys to her lush and emotionally charged compositions to a cast of electronic producers and sound smiths, including iimmune, Broken Thoughts, Cvalda, 14?, Wisefake, Chenchenchen, MHP, Ocean Walker, Gavintoo, Loga (Hong Qile), and Hou Chenzhong.

Minimalist, post-rock, drum & bass, techno, glitch, drone, hip hop, experimental, ambient, IDM – it all gets a fair shake in the sonically rich “Entrance & Exports Remix Project” that remains hands down my electronic album of the year.

♪♫ Listen: “intro(Hou Chenzhong Remix)

Yue Xuan on SoundcloudFacebook + beehype.

yourboyfriendsucks! <BR>“Episode 01”

“Episode 01”

Guangzhou noise pop outfit yourboyfriendsucks! – one of southern China’s most prominent fixtures of the DIY scene – swing for the fences on their debut EP, “Episode 01”, released on newly formed Qii Snacks Records.

Offering up six bewitching dream pop singles (including a MBV cover) sung in Chinese, English, and even German, it’s an intoxicating mix of shoegaze reverb tones and indie pop bliss that simply kills it for me.

An authenticity, a lo-fi earnestness that’s prevalent throughout that tugs on those heartstrings whilst having you bop your head in delight. One of the best surprises of the year.

♪♫ Listen: “All Your Secrets” + album stream

yourboyfriendsucks! on Facebook, SoundcloudBandcamp + beehype

Wang Wen (惘闻) <BR>“Sweet Home, Go”

Wang Wen (惘闻)
“Sweet Home, Go”

Post rock heavyweights Wang Wen (惘闻) are at the top of their game in their ninth studio album, “Sweet Home, Go!”

What else can be said about these guys – the Dalian trope’s grandiose sound has only enriched over time, evolving and metamorphosing as the band surveys the musical landscape through older more mature eyes. The crescendos cut deeper, the turns and tempo switch ups feel organic, and every sound and texture feels fully embodied.

There’s a bygone jazz heart underneath the hardened old man at sea heart of Wang Wen and the intricacies and intersections of these two mindsets is a beauty to hear and behold. Spellbinding. 

♪♫ Listen: “Lost in the 21st Century” + album stream

Wang Wen on Bandcamp, Facebook.