As noted by That’s Shanghai in their year end roundup, my ‘New Releases’ column has been one of the site’s greatest treasure troves for discovering new music. From scouring douban, xiami, online record stores (cheers Indie Music!) to even random weibo followers forwarding us new tunes, there has been no bigger treat than stumbling upon an album that I feel heads over heels in love with. So without further a due here’s the top ten releases to grace my ears this year followed by another essential twenty releases that I just have recommend.
Chinese Football – Chinese Football
Perhaps the year’s most consistently engaging album, one whose influences are loud and proud – and yet that doesn’t take away one ounce of how frigging entertaining the whole package is. Midwest emo rock at it’s finest. A jangly mess of emotions and track after track of warm indie pop sensibility with bite, pathos, and gut that never dips into shtick. An album that demands repeated listen, and one that puts Wuhan’s Chinese Football on the map in a big way.
Wan Xiaoli – The Sun Looks Round
Xiaoli clearly has a way with words – scattered phrases, poetic and mundane all at once, that linger and burn into the background – are prominent throughout the folk renegade’s latest. But what I’m more impressed by is how well the mandolin, old school keyboard, and his terse folksy melodies fit in with his more indie, downright experimental sensibilities. It’s an album that flows together so seamlessly so effortlessly, that has altogether breathed live in the often times rudimentary genre.
Mr. Trouble – Nice
2015 has been a flagship year for hip-hop and rap. From the bubbly soulful jazz rifting of j-fever, and the anarchistic jaded marathon of MC Daiwei (whose release will likely be in next years top list), China has been making its mark on the hip-hop scene this year. Most prominent was Shanghai producer and rapper’s Mr. Trouble’s early 2015 release Nice, which blew the competition out of the water, with its stellar production, which jumps all over the map, to the MC’s fluid almost effortless flow, which bounces, engulfs, and excels. A raw, confident barnburner of hip hop triumph.
iimmune – Ocean
Blissed out indietronica that feels like the anti-thesis to the dark, steely, cynical world of electronic music that we live in today. Don’t get me wrong – I love my beats dark and malevolent too. But there’s something so triumphant and endearing about music that goes for broke and isn’t afraid to slap on the gloss and let that sun shine through and bright. A leap of joy and the best electronic album of the year.
Tom Cruise & Katie Holmes – A Million Farewells
Emotions run high on the bombastic, spellbinding swan song of Tom Cruise & Katie Holmes, the little band that never was. There’s a driving urgency within the album’s framework that’s raw, insecure, and adolescent in nature. A tangled, dreamy, sprawling journey through the ups and downs of love that’s at once claustrophobic and cathartic. Love is a wreck, and this is truly a breakup album for the ages.
Wu Tiao Ren – Canton Girl
A glowing sanguine rollicking night out – there’s something universal about the way Wu Tiao Ren sings about urban life. The Guangzhou-based outfit who hail from Haifeng, Guangdong switch to the more universal Mandarin language on their latest, but that doesn’t change the warmth that pours out all over this thing. Like a southern Chinese version of Billy Joel, it’s in love with the act of storytelling. The type of music that would light up bar with equal amounts of tears and cheer.
Chui Wan – Chui Wan
There’s some beautiful mischief going on in psychedelic trope Chui Wan’s wonderful and intoxicating new album. Using an array of influences – from ‘southeast Asian folk tunes’, ‘sufi music’, and ‘20th century avant-grade composition’, the album is a delicate, lavish psychedelic playground that garners as much from its restraint to its complex arrangements.
Li Xiaolu – The Land of Many Pots
Golden Melody Award nominee singer and a classically trained theater performer, Li Xiaolu has created a lusciously delirious piece of chamber pop that demands ones attention. Sprawling and transcendent, the artist’s robust and classically trained vocals, combined with the sparse yet dense arrangements (the production on this beast is top of the line) create once again one of the year’s most pleasant surprises – an avant-grade substitute to the sugar-coated indie pop world most singer-songwriters reside in.
Horse Radio – Horse Radio
What a pleasure it is to hear a band finding new ground with an arguably overplayed genre. That’s exactly the case for Inner Mongolian Beijing-based outfit Horse Radio and their debut. While the album does contain it’s share of knee-slappers – reggae-infused rock-tilted jams that one can imagine would ignite a crowd at just about anywhere – there’s an inherent exploration within their sound; an improvisational vibe that elevates the material and truly feels organic and made in the grasslands.
Jia Huizhen – Demos
Back in March, ethereal elecro pop artist Jia Huizhen, an artist whose been hanging on the margins of underground success and mainstream stardom, and perhaps one of the scene’s most underrated acts, released a new single ‘About Blank’ with the promise that every following month, the artist would be releasing a new single. And not only did Jia Huizhen, who sings over production by longtime partner Yao Sichen, keep on her word, but shocked and surprised listeners with one glorious hit after glorious hit. What I find most refreshing about the tracks is vulnerable there are. It’s beautiful, powerful and abrasive, and sounds a million times more authentic than any of the much-lauded female stars of the indie scene. And while, the duo are currently in the midst of rerecording all their material for a big grand album that will hopefully push the artist into mainstream success, these ten tracks showcase an artist in their prime and in compete control of their sound.
20 Other Badass Albums
Stolen – Loop
D-Force Records had a hell of a year including the Chengdu’s darkwave debut release which that feels fresh, vital, and just out there enough to find an audience – as much a product of China’s indie music scene as it is of the West’s.
Luv Plastik – Electric Fantasy/Luv Plastik vs Nano Zoo
Beijing based British noise funk duo, one of the hottest commodities of the year roared with two EP releases off of new label Ran Music and it’s a riotous party.
Hiperson – No Need for Another History
Chengdu-based post punk outfit Hipseron, young and ruthless, impassioned and riveting, presented their confident and assured debut this year – a bleeding heart of an album held together by vocalist Chen Sijiang’s raw gasping existential voice.
Alpine Decline – Ink
Alpine Decline does it again with Ink, which trades in the band’s signature dystopian guitar ‘n drums ‘n buzz for a modular-synth-led choir. And it’s glorious. A cathartic overwhelmingly beautiful album which elicits emotion like none other.
Soundtoy – Midas Touch
Chengdu staples whose rich storytelling, multi-layered instrumentation, and rife with emotional melodies that soar are all present on their latest indie pop opus, one not afraid to lay on the grandiose.
Zuriaake – Gu Yan
A bloody black-tinted masterpiece and some of the most cinematic music out there. Switching faultlessly from folk metal to blistering depressive black metal, this is soundtrack music to one’s fall from heaven into the gates of hell.
Howie Lee – Mù Chè Shān Chū
An intoxicating mix of traditional Chinese instruments among synths, 808s, and other samples of trap music Howie Lee’s vibrant debut is a striking, vibrant harmonious marriage of styles.
Zhaoze – Yesternight, Yes Tonight
Guangzhou post rock veterans Zhaoze return with anoter lush guqin-infused post rock offering finding transcendence in the most unlikely of places
P.K.14 – Music for an Exhibition
A collaborative slam-dunk and improvised set that teamed up PK.14 post punk stalwarts with modular synth peddlers Alpine Decline and Zooming Night head honcho Zhu Wenbo. And in doing so, provide the band an outlet to expand their sound into deeper waters, allowing their psychedelic and experimental tendencies only hinted at in their previous work to come to full fruition.
Round Eye – Round Eye
The anarchistic streak which runs through Round Eye’s veins is split open and wide, spilling in every facet of the album’s production and overall atmosphere on the band’s debut – a free-wheeling funhouse of free-jazz, doo-wop, and punk that plays out like the best and worst drug trips of my time.
thruoutin – Service (Shanghai Mixes)
Seamlessly integrating classical Chinese instruments with intricate electronics, thruoutin gives his more full-bodied effort on Service – which consists of just two tracks (and thus was almost disqualified) but sneaks in with its inclusion of a handful of solid remixes from Shanghai’s electronic elite
Hedgehog – Neurons
Best b-side album of the year – Neurons includes b-sides, unreleased material, and new singles from the past ten years. Psychedelic jams, one-minute ditties, and as always, catchy as ever numbers, the album stands as a fine testimony to the bands longevity, vitality, commitment and evolution and is a most have for any Hedgehog junkie
Pan – The Great Blues EP
Frontman and guitarist of indie rock favorites The Gar invokes the upbeat indie pop flavorings of yesteryears with an inventive, fresh, and enthusiastic, allowing his lucid lyrics and hook-filled guitar riffs to carry the music almost effortlessly without once taking the easy route.
Li Daiguo – Commissions I/II
Li Daiguo, the American transplant who’s been a staple of the experimental and improvisational scene struts his instrumental chops on Commissions I and Commissions II, a collection of compositions that utilizes the artists knack for composing dense, layered, improv heavy, loop friendly arrangements that give traditional instrumentals like the erhu a modern, soundtrack worthy edge.
The White Tulips, Forsaken Autumn, City Flanker, The Sound & the Fury – China Shoegaze Compilation
A bit of a cheat but I couldn’t simply give each of these excellent bands a slot on the list (The White Tulips, Forsaken Autumn, and City Flanker all released great stuff this year) so I figured I’d include the China Shoegaze Compilition we released this fall – a fine entry point in the beautiful walls of sound being created across the country.
Dirty Fingers – Dirty Fingers
Shanghai punks are a cosmic force of nature – relentless, disorienting, charged and scrappy as all hell, it’s a mess of a good time, one that captures the glorious unholy matrimony that punk can still be.
nara – Pillow
A day dream of an electronic album, the EP, a remastering of the artist’s work from between 2005-2006, is the perfect sleepy time album chock full of ambient soundscapes that wouldn’t be out of place in a Nintendo game.
Little Wizard – Little Wizard I
Shaoxing math rock outfit give a fine introduction on their debut. Vibrant, sophisticated arrangements that invigorate yet never descends too much into the whole ‘post rock cascading’ the genre is often known for.
Wusuozai – Drunk Island
Indietronica with the soul of jazz – the five tracks EP is an ambient-filled trip hop lucid dream whose greatest asset is its restraint and the dynamic voice of Sagel whose soothing drunk love lyrics drive the trio’s sound.
Various Artist – XY #001
Centered around the theme of capturing a ‘non-musical performance about voice, people, and city, it is an auditory exploration employing the visual and encourages one to pause, experience, and observe’, the compilation features ten Chinese musicians creating ambient and experimental soundscapes including 8gg, Alok, Bai Tian, Huzi, jfi, me:mo, mulian, Yin Yi, Zen Lu, and zo-on slows.