When I heard that the noisy, irreverent Shanghai rock duo Pairs recorded an album with the meticulous French House producers The Acid Pony Club (called The Horses when producing others), my first thought was: “I bet they had some battles in the studio.”
You get the angle, right? Lo-fi rock atheists meet gear head, effects-loving beat machine deities? It’s ripe for controversy and conflict. It’s a music writer’s wet dream.
But Pairs and The Horses just won’t play along. Check these quotes:
First, from Laura Ingalls of The Horses. “I can say that not only did it (the recording project) go smoothly but we met new friends. We share lots of ideas and visions with Rhys and F is a very sweet girl. Fun times!”
Aw, how sweet. Blecch. I’m surprised I didn’t have to edit out a cutesy smiley face emoticon from that dreck.
What about Pairs drummer and singer, Xiao Zhong? He’s always good for an incisive statement.
“I’m a little bit bummed we were so efficient, because hanging out with them for four days, whilst we got everything done, wasn’t enough. The conversations were really funny and good hearted. They know their shit, they don’t waste time and they wanted to make a rock record, not a dance record. They got us, and they gave us two ideas on songs that really made the songs.”
Oh my god. Will this love fest ever end? What about you, Pairs guitarist, F? Come on. Be mean. You can do it!
“Usually I prefer to work with people I know and trust to be more relaxed and productive. But these are the people really easy to work with and respect our ideas. They gave us some nice and useful advice during the recording, as well. In one song, when they suggested I hit the delay pedal, I felt I couldn’t agree more!”
Ugh. It’s all so nice. Thanks for ruining my juicy angle, guys. Guess I’ll have to talk about the music now.
Oh, yes, the music. The new album is called If This Cockroach Doesn’t Die, I Will. It’s a double-vinyl LP being released by Metal Postcard Records these days. It will also be available on Bandcamp for, if I know the band at all, cheap cheap cheap!
This is an ambitious record for Pairs and could signal a new era in their evolution continuum. If you love Pairs, you probably love them for their live show spontaneity and their raw energy on recordings. The energy is still there for this album, but some of the spontaneity may have been lost. I mean, Xiao Zhong actually pre-wrote lyrics! And that wasn’t the only change from their previous bare-bones style.
“Writing lyrics beforehand I was much more confident in having what I was saying heard so the vocals are up a bit more. They put some effects on my voice, one was my idea I had before I knew that we’d be recording with them and the rest were their idea.”
Pre-written lyrics? Vocal effects? Audible vocals? WTF, Pairs? There are multiple songs on here that are over five minutes long!
Before you proclaim them sell-outs or past-their-prime shark jumpers, you should know that there are also multiple songs on here that are under two minutes in length, too. There are a lot of songs, of all shapes and sizes. And you know what? They sound great, mostly.
The opener, “Permanent Residence” is a super catchy track, and a great start to the record.
The delightfully titled “A surgeon at a hospital in Shanghai severed a nerve in my groin” is action-packed and features a lot of dropped names you might recognize if you know the band and are paying attention.
“Front Door” features a frenetic beat and some interesting guitar work.
I also enjoy the line from the song “Part Songs”. “I wonder if there’s a another place/ Where we don’t have to pay fifty kuai to see a girl get date raped.”
Despite its bright moments, I wonder if Pairs is suited for a double album. Xiao Zhong expressed doubts himself. “Truth be told, we didn’t want to do a double vinyl. When Metal Postcard approached us, we turned it down, but Sean is a persistent guy and pushed us to write a bunch of songs [...]”
There might be doubts about the length of the album, but there are no doubts about its sound and production, which is The Horses’ responsibility. The veteran DJs and House producers who have recently been moonlighting in the rock scene seem to be invigorated by dipping their toes in the rocky stream.
“It is satisfying to meet nice people who are not in this for the money, people who write music and like to put on a show and bring a certain energy on stage. Also…it challenges our sound engineering skills and allows us to work in the studio, which is where we always wanna [sic] be.”
Besides Pairs, The Horses have produced an album for Shanghai punk trio Friend or Foe, and have collaborated on stage with the freak punk duo Death to Giants, under the name Death to Ponies. They will be helping Death to Giants with their upcoming album, as well as a collaboration between New Zealand’s RST and the singer Lenz from Androsace. There’s some other projects rumored, as well, but we will save those for a next time.
The collaborations have worked well so far, and it’s exciting that there’s more to come. At least, it’s more exciting than their stories in interviews, that’s for sure. In a last-ditch, misguided attempt at hilarity, I asked Laura Ingalls for a couple of funny anecdotes from the recording session with Pairs.
“You wanna hear a funny story? House Music producers recording Pairs.”