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#25: December 2022
the best Mandopop of the month from the new sensual and sentimental HUSH album to smooth flirtatious R&B to a pop-rock track that changes speed in grief
Unfortunately the readers’ survey results are a bit small since there were only two responses for songs and three for albums, so posting them in completion below.
2022 Song of the Year:
1. icyball - “No Six”
2. Crowd Lu - “MySoulMemory”
3. icyball - “让我余生只为你唱情歌”
4. Chih Siou - “我还在你的梦里吗”
5. Hu Xia - “爱我久久”
6. The Chairs - “Shangri-La is Calling”
7. Xing Zheng - “Honey Honey”
8. Virtual E - “CHILI PIGGY”
9. Cosmos People - “Ocean”
10. The Chairs - “进入下一层新的梦之前”
1. Shi Shi - “jagi (feat. KIRE)”
2. HAOTING - “Drowning Sorrows (feat. Enno Cheng)”
3. Yo Lee - “Remember Me”
4. 还潮 - “三江夜游”
5. Robot Swing, Chen Yi Heng & Pei-Yu Hung - “My Heart is Plastic 2.0”
6. Wen Zhaojie - “爱神”
7. Serrini - “樹”
8. Lala Hsu - “行走的魚”
9. Han - “Out of the Court”
10. Ricky Hsiao - “說故事的歌”
2022 Album of the Year:
1. Enno Cheng - Mercury Retrograde
2. Bloodz Boi, Claire Rousay, & More Eaze - a crying poem
3. L8ching - Dive & Give
4. Vincy Chan - Dark light of the soul
5. Sheng Xiang & Band - Kafka on the Rivers-And-Lakes
Thanks for those who participated! Not too much overlap with my own lists so lots of great supplemental listening worth checking out!
Also the 2022 Douban lists below:
1. oaeen - 魚丁糸不同名專輯
2. Wu Qingfeng - Mallarme’s Tuesday
3. Kendrick Lamar - Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers
4. Zhao Lei - Teen on Shuqian Street
5. Black Country, New Road - Ants from Up Here
6. (G)I-DLE - I NEVER DIE
7. TAEYEON - INVU
8. Penny Dai - The Passive Audience
9. Hikaru Utada - BAD Mode
10. Beyoncé - RENAISSANCE
1. NewJeans - NewJeans
2. IVE - LOVE DIVE
3. BIGBAND - “Still Life”
4. NewJeans - “Ditto”
5. Faye - “訣愛”
6. LAY - West
7. TWICE - BETWEEN 1&2
8. Billie Eilish - Guitar Songs
9. Lana Del Rey - “Watercolor Eyes”
10. Kendrick Lamar - “The Heart Part 5”
Fun lists!Seems the people know what they want (more Sodagreen).
I’m still playing catch-up on some of last year’s releases. A little less than before to sift through since the Chinese music scene is a bit on edge with their recent influx of cases but still going through.
This month, I wrote about the new Julia Wu and HUSH albums, as well as singles by YoungLee, Anni Hung, Zoe, and last but not least, Tizzy Bac on their great return. Check it out below.
Julia Wu - IDFK
Like any great R&B star, Julia Wu has mastered the art of conversational frankness. She sings the way she might hold conversation: an angry rebuff comes with disgust and annoyance, a sighed request is filled with so much longing you can hear the relief when it’s fulfilled, and desperation and exasperation ooze out when she cuts to a demand. Julia Wu makes each line sound exactly like whatever she means.
The lush 2622 was riddled with confusion in the aftermath of being ghosted—Wu sits with questions of whether or not to block a former lover before he can block her, of whether the city the couple shared could still be her home, of whether the sunset holds meaning without him. Her fifth studio album, IDFK, holds a different kind of confusion, not by the actions of a potential romantic partner but as a question of what she herself wants from them. On her most diverse album yet, she trades the luxurious strings for a thrilling yet tight exploration of genres and desires.
IDFK doesn’t abandon R&B, even if it chooses to step out of it at times. At its centre are two tracks cut from the same atmospheric R&B Wu’s polished over her short but fruitful career—they’re swooning and needy, rendered seductive with liquid instrumentals and whispery coos that adorn her vocal melodies. But where Wu used to leave the words undelivered, IDFK desires to be heard. She calls for the touch of a romantic partner. “Forget the time and just feel me,” she drunkenly slurs on the off-kilter melody of “if only you,” the words strung together with little thought. There’s little resistance on the ØZI-assisted title track despite her begging for pause as she finds herself lustfully enchanted while staring into a lover’s eyes. She’s aware of what she’s demanding, even if she’s no longer in control.
Full of needy tension, “the one” sparks suspense with heart-racing disco funk courtesy of additional production by bedroom pop producer Everydaze’s as Wu bites back at a compliment. It plays out like a challenge. She isn’t up for playing games, wondering which will come first, whether you’ll make a move or she’ll leave. “Baby, give me a reason not to fly away,” Wu demands. If the neediness at the core of “the one” makes it sound like an empty threat well then the message blared over the speaker system on “retail therapy” makes good on the promise. Wu constantly shapeshifts over its plinky department store beat, from the barely audible purr filled with disdain to the “over it” attitude carried when drawls its title. Sandwiched between two tracks that are so desperate to be treated to luxury, it’s a message that any partner is easily irreplaceable.
Julia Wu wants for both immediacy and forever on IDFK. The combination of R&B and dream pop on “otherside” ponders how long a relationship could last but doesn’t worry about the answer as she loses herself in a buried “fuck it” and the blissful swell of a kiss. But when she actually finds herself falling for someone on “if only you,” she’s conflicted, cautious about actually expressing her adoration. IDFK opens with skin set ablaze in a moment of passion and closes with the content desire to cruise in the passenger seat. At the end of 2622, Julia Wu watched the sunset alone but here, as the jadedness dissolves in the motions of flirtatious beginnings, she allows some hope, letting herself be ready to watch the sunrise with someone new.
HUSH - Pleasing Myself
HUSH has often been more interested in the philosophy than the experience. On the singer-songwriter’s debut solo album, Monopoly, he largely avoided the first person and sidestepped anything too intimately revealing. Framing love and life from some larger perspective of chance and destiny, HUSH danced around his gay identity on “同一個答案” (“The Same Answer”) months after publicly coming out, instead, dedicating the track to marriage equality, deflecting to the larger collective community, and then riddling off affecting, but somewhat hollow, maxims of love.
That kind of distance in his songwriting has helped make HUSH a prominent lyricist in Taiwan’s pop landscape, including for a-mei, Yisa Yu, and Yoga Lin, but on his latest album, Pleasing Myself, he takes a more inward-focused approach to his songwriting. Written and recorded over the past three years, Pleasing Myself is part escapism in its unabashedly lustful first half that forgoes introspection for sexual pleasure, and part introspective examination, as the second half reverses course to explore insecurities.
The desire to be loved on Pleasing Myself is explicitly HUSH’s own, not generalized by the singer as a human need but a reflection of his own desires and experiences. On the summery indie-pop of “Garbage Time,” he sings about the awkward phase in a relationship as it approaches its end. “Don’t want absoluteness, I like open endings,” he sings, avoiding the confrontation, content with being two strangers who still have feelings for one another. Alongside co-producer Masa of Mayday, the pair strip everything back to make it feel more intimate as “Garbage Time” itches for contact. Like a drunk flirt on the push-and-pull of “Icarus,” he outwardly portrays confidence as he allows you to take in his beaty in the privacy of its lounge piano but recoils at the touch, like someone once burned and clumsily learning to love again.
There’s always another person at the edge of HUSH’s self-pleasure. On the heady title track, he sings about masturbating as practice for a partner. Arranged by Tokyo Jihen’s Seiji Kameda, “Pleasing Myself” is rife with tension in its clutter of frantic drums and blistering guitar melodies. The words “I thirst for you” linger in its disorder even as his voice pierces through the climax and clarity of its title. While the rest of Pleasing Myself may not come to the same heights, it features experiments in a city-pop song about a love triangle and introspection through retro funk. It lingers with the feeling of fingers trailing exposed skin: on “Toy Boy,” he melts in the hands of a lover, pleasure settling in its saxophone wail, while “Ouroboros” is a tender chase in the cosmos that imagines an infinite number of entangled positions. There’s a satisfied blankness that comes with met desires as HUSH calls out on the outro, “I’m closest to eternity when you kiss me.”
“Shadow Song” is the most objective examination of the self, written from the third person about a singer who struggles to sing his own song, fearing what others might think. It comes twice on Pleasing Myself, after the pleasures of the first half in a fittingly lush electronic arrangement with layered vocal melodies, and again after its realization of emptiness in its original more stripped back solo arrangement. Each time, it feels like paring back a layer of HUSH. Across Pleasing Myself, he’s driven by lust, then later, a deeper need for love, without any other characters written to disguise himself. There are no answers but clearer portraits, something relatable in its open search for pleasure and taxing desire for love.
Anni Hung - “Golden Hour”
Can you believe it’s been five years since Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour? It’s an album where her pessimism adds to the disbelief, which in turn makes its adoration even more swooning (although, the bitterness of follow-up divorce album star-crossed slightly sours it). I get the same feeling of incredulousness in Anni Hung’s “Golden Hour” as I do with Kacey Musgraves’ track of the same title, especially in the line, “in the magic moments like such, right and wrong seems so little.” Hung’s voice adds to the disbelief with its fragility, lightly buoying over its synths. And while Musgraves sighed as if thankful it was everlasting, Hung doesn’t hold permanence to the event. She sees the back-and-forth, she sees the simple act of kindness in buying two cups of coffee, and she’s just grateful that such a moment existed, the waves receding to a more acoustic arrangement.
YoungLee - “孩子怕什麼”
Sandwiched between YoungLee’s intense rap and its drill beat is a swirl of ghostly voices that dulls the violence but not the pressure—“a marathon not a hundred meter race.” YoungLee aims bigger for the new year, two years on from the opening hook at twenty one, answering the title question of “孩子怕什麼” (“What Do You Fear, Kid”) with ambitious drive: “I’m not afraid of losing,” he raps, “I’m just afraid I won’t hold the drive to win my entire life.”
Zoe - “Escape”
Zoe imagines the funk production as an urban oasis, with the intention of giving you a fifteen minute breather from the busyness. Slick hooks with the catchiness of a commercial jingle and a repeated call that makes her sound like the thrilling leader of a girls’ night out, “Escape” is boisterous but inviting. Zoe’s a figure who quickly eases you into things, handing you two shots and commanding you to scream in relief.
Tizzy Bac - “Flower in Snow”
At times, the farewell of “Flower in Snow” almost sounds like a welcoming reunion. It can’t be, no matter how warm its piano line feels, no matter how passionate its drumming hits. Tizzy Bac’s Chen Huiting knows as much as she sings with so much despair about being frozen in the cold, knowing that embrace will never be felt again.
Four yeas ago, partway through the recording of Him, bassist Xu Cheyu passed away from cancer, leaving a third of Tizzy Bac’s sixth studio album unfinished. The trio had previously been on tense terms but with his diagnosis came together to produce their most poignant album yet, in portraits of final moments and last farewells. The band’s work has often been characterized as piano rock due to the absence of a guitarist but on Him, emptiness hangs heavier than before.
“Flower in Snow” starts with what it knows in emptiness and cold numbness. But it’s chorus feels like a direct confrontation of that loss, as Chen’s piano and Lin Chienyuan’s drumming attempt to guide the melody and change the rhythm to something they own, fighting off the snaking guitar and bass lines as they change its tempo. “In the end the thoughts related to you were all mine and don’t at all belong to you / the opposite of love isn’t not loving anymore but a bleeding heart.” It’s a stark acknowledgment of their pain as the grieving.
Grief isn’t a one time process but a sadness that pervades the rest of your lifetime. When the electric guitar arrives on “Flower in Snow” in a cold flurry, Chen acknowledges “it’s absurd to say that two frozen hearts will keep one another warm.” Coming back to the chorus feels like an acknowledgment of their own life, that it’s time to let go of that paralyzing numbness. The tempo change feels like reconnecting with their lives beyond Xu’s grief, even if it feels cruel and difficult. As Chen plaintively laments about the fragility of the frozen flower, each fallen petal feels like a promise to Xu that the duo won’t forget him, but that they’ll also stop suffering in his passing and take care of themselves in whatever comes next.
Some of these picks are… well they got Hikaru Utada and NewJeans right!