Boys Climbing Ropes is an emblematic Shanghai band. They are a representative sample of the local bestiary, as is their sound. The characters behind the band have continued to grow in the wilderness of Shanghai’s indie music scene. You should not overlook this as a minor detail. It’s a great asset for these punk beasts.
Except for the Darkness is the second EP from the band. At first glance it may seem irrelevant that this is an EP, but to me it’s not. There is a certain care behind it, including a pinch of timidity and maybe a lack of resources (money, or free time out of their daily jobs), but I believe it includes strategic thinking. We are in a strange environment where it is not so complicated to go into a studio to record an album for a relatively cheap price you can record one thousand copies of a new album. After all, we are in a paradise city for CD and DVD copies. That’s why it’s not strange in China to get albums of new bands that haven’t been out playing a lot. But then, if you want a decent album with proper sound engineering, and a solid musical proposal, the story is different. So definitely, there are stories behind the EP concept for bands in China.
Boys Climbing Ropes have enough experience and stories to tell about their musical trip in China and, even though they have been around almost five years, they are as young as the local indie music scene. This means their development is linked to the local scene; they are becoming more confident while the scene is growing and empowering. They are becoming more creative while the scene becomes more solid. They are becoming better while the scene is becoming bigger and more popular. So, whether you love or hate rock, they are local treasures.
Last Saturday night at YuYinTang (another Shanghai cultural treasure) the first chords of the Boys Climbing Ropes’ Except for the Darkness release show sounded at 11 pm and those chords excited the atmosphere in a blink. It was already crowded in front of the stage, but with these magical chords it got even more so. People were running to the hall, chords calling them, and more bodies pushed for space to dive into the audience, looking for a spot to rock and, of course, to mosh. Every person that had to be there was there to celebrate the greatness of the moment. The show was perfect, the sound was awesome, the mosh was memorable. In summary, it was a great celebration for music.
On the tiny free spaces of these moments of music in China, I can never avoid wondering how the future will remember this one because in my world these are the spots “that build structures in places that they taught us never exist,” (as BCR say on their “Whale Song”).
The album Except for the Darkness displays with accuracy Boys Climbing Ropes’ best sounds to date. “Little Person”, the opening song, reflects well the initial call, the battle cry of the band when onstage. Even though the entrance comes at the ears aggressively, once inside, there’s a certain warmth that keeps you with it comfortably, and that goes on all through the album. As it evolves, this dark warmth becomes more palpable and clear. This characteristic could in time prove itself as the band’s identifying mark. For now I can say this punk music has room for you to be in it, which to me is the biggest accomplishment of BCR. This comes from a tighter coalition in the band, and a better musical direction. It’s about practice, practice, practice. How much do we appreciate Shanghai bands that are actually an effective team?!
As the songs go on, Jordan’s riffs mark a path through the album. The guitar sounds dirty and when it meets his voice they crash and match in a sour and rusty combo that moves the air around the speakers.
Little Punk’s voice gets always along with Morgan’s bass. They share a clandestine joy for playing with silences in between chords. Sometimes I lose the bass in the whole of the sound, but I believe it must be there because my instinct tells me that’s what’s keeping everything together. When it comes in again for a space, I breathe.
On every song there’s confusion mixed with rage and, strangely, with innocence too. Little Punk’s voice is always coming from the shadows and, with Jordan’s, either battling or agreeing on every other corner, having their own private discussion on what is transcendent and what is not. One could feel like joining the argument. Personally, I’d rather listen, but the situation is interesting and keeps me hanging in there, absorbing.
The simple set of four notes on keyboards can be part of that innocent sound heard all over, and it could also be read as a leitmotiv of the album. Because of the repetition from song to song or because of its simplicity, it comes to me as a flawed device. Instead of innocence, I think of lack, although creativity can happen in black and white, or only with squares and circles. Art is in the use of the elements.
The drums by Devin are a whole different artistic subject, the discussion of chaos against order in action. We know that on live sessions when the drums see Devin come, they (yes, the drums) pray for long, courageous roots to fix them to the ground. On Except for the Darkness the drums are well content, still on the front, but not as notorious as when I think of them in the live setting. I figured this could be the result of the sound engineering under Brad Ferguson, so I had to ask about it. Brad:
“I don’t want to give away any secrets… but the production of the drums was one of the most difficult parts and it’s obviously different from their live sound but it was what the band, and I, felt was best for the album. First of all drums are difficult to record well in general, and in Shanghai, there aren’t many good places to do it. Then, as you said, he’s a very powerful drummer, so I started by recording him playing in Juju’s studio, we did several takes of each song and then I went back and edited the drum parts using some samples of his drum hits and other drum samples to rebuild the drum parts. I just wanted a steady rhythm at a level that worked for the intensity of the songs. They’re very intense live, but for the album I was thinking more indie-rock, more jangly guitars, reverb vocals, etc. In the end, we all sat down and listened to rough mixes several times, adjusting them to sound how the band wanted. They wrote the songs, and they have the vision for the songs, I just did my best to capture their vision.”
The result is a well-developed and well-presented album, strong and solid in its simplicity, that brightly instigates curiosity in what will come after.
The CD kindly includes the lyrics, for which I’m thankful. If you are like me, then you’ll give also one more point to BCR’s new EP for this. I believe rock must have a big mouth, and often it’s difficult to understand what”s being said with all the yelling and the funny accents. When rock says something good the power grows bigger and faster. It’s important to understand what is being said. And Boys Climbing Ropes have many things to say.
I applaud this album because it builds tensions, and produces energy that moves, not only to mosh, but to pay attention, too. I didn’t get to listen to them before Little Punk joined them, but I’ve seen them evolve with her the last two years, the evolution has moved faster the last months. And now with this album they’ve moved even further.The six plus one songs flow smoothly, but every time I end up on the last song, the hidden one (no title for this one), the same ideas appear. I thought if this was a preview of what could come next, it sounds like an interesting prelude. Funny, when talking with Brad, he whispered to me that actually this is an old song Jordan and Devin wrote. They recorded it on the spot.
I’m listening to the last hidden track again, at the end, either as a reminder of the past or a preview of what is coming next. It establishes a range of sounds coming from Boys Climbing Ropes. This is the one that brings the change on the sequence of the six songs, and the one that raises the question: Are they going to explore further, to expand and extend their creative potential? … I can imagine them answering “We just finished this one…” However, they created the question with this album.