AM444 make head-nodders for spaceships. Their latest album, Rooms, sees them taking one giant leap for dance.
AM444 is a duo comprised of ChaCha, the hyper-talented chanteuse originally from Shanghai’s Uprooted Sunshine Crew, and Jay.Soul, a hyper-talented producer from Holland. Their previous album, 2010’s Eye Wonder, made them well respected in Shanghai, and also allowed them some airplay and gigs around the world. They are undoubtedly one of the Chinese underground’s most exportable products. It’s only a matter of time before this rocket blasts off.
Rooms should help in that regard. The album’s sound, in the band’s own words is, “Hard to pin down.” Maybe that should be their genre title because they certainly own it. The sound is, at alternating intervals, dark, hopeful, funky, tranced-out, beautiful, foreboding, buoyant, and back to dark and funky. It’s the drug equivalent of smoking opium, then taking a hit off a crack pipe, and following that up with some downers and a six-pack of Red Bull. It’s Portishead with a bad case of manic depression.
For example, 就快要窒息 (Jiu Kuai Yao Zhi Xi) is a super upbeat, funky number so you think it must be about something positive, right? No, actually, the title translates, roughly, to “Suffocated”. I realize that I am at a disadvantage not being able to understand most of the lyrics, but that one threw me for a loop.
They start off the album super grizzly, too, with 像是有光 (Xiang Shi You Guang). They had to have put an effect on one of the layers of ChaCha’s voice because there’s a mean-ass, uninviting growl in there. Given their propensity for dichotomy, I bet that song is about playing tiddlywinks on the front porch swing on a warm summer’s evening.
The next track, 各种人 (Ge Zhong Ren), is pretty dark, also. It sounds like the soundtrack to the underground levels in The Legend of Zelda for the original Nintendo. And then, out of nowhere, Jay.Soul goes and bangs on some coconut shells. It’s crazy. This song also features a sample of an opera singer who sounds like she’s singing a dirge for a long-lost love.
“Born, Burn” is fairly straight-ahead, though. It plods like a digital dinosaur, taking down trees and anything in its path, really.
“Lies”, a collaborative effort with the San Francisco-based electronic band Tussle, is a violent affair, with a bone crunching break beat and soul-sucking synthesizer sounds.
The album’s final two tracks are also bangers – 坍塌的床 (Tan Ta De Chuang) and “Whatsoever”. There’s not really a bad track on here, though, and if you listen with it on in the background it turns into one long, strange, evolving voyage into the unknown. Jay.Soul has also thrown in a few interludes, which is a departure from the last album.
Speaking of Jay.Soul, his production here is pretty much impeccable. He should be lauded for his choices. He always goes with the understated and classy, never breaking out of the character AM444 have constructed for themselves. His quality is extremely consistent.
And then one must expound on ChaCha, but it’s hard to describe her excellence. It’s difficult to imagine her even hitting a bad note. Her voice has dynamism, but also a bit of a too-cool, bored drone. I can’t really comment on the quality of her lyrics, but their rhythm is always on point. I wonder if it’s easier or more difficult to rhyme in Chinese? I’m pretty sure ChaCha can handle either way.
All in all, Rooms, brings a lot of force to bear. It will not disappoint people who have been eagerly awaiting Eye Wonder’s follow-up, including your humble critic, who can’t wait to better get to know this one and is already looking forward to the next. It’s hard to believe there’s still room for growth, but this duo holds all the potential of the cosmos.
AM444 can be found on Soundcloud and at The Shelter this Friday night, the 26th of November, when they will officially release Rooms.