That’s not to say in any way that Muscle Snog’s Mind Shop is not a good album; quite the opposite, actually. However, I have lived in Shanghai for almost five years now and that’s quite a long time to go without voicing some opinions on local recorded music in your area. I have been doing a bit of study and I will have more thoughts in the future, but I’m happy this is the first one.
Mind Shop is one of my favorites from the Chinese rock albums I have been listening to recently, mainly because it marries two of my favorite things in music: noise and pop.
The album starts off rather clumsily with an off-brand ode to tone poems. It is an interesting precursor to the album in that it sets the tone for the noise to come later, but I am more interested in where the noise and the pop intersect.
This is what happens in the second song, “Mind Shop is on Sale”. This is an interesting play on words that I find all the more hilarious because this album is barely on sale. I had a hard time getting it, although that also may be due to my laughable dearth of connections and my even more laughable level of Chinese linguistic proficiency. However, one wasn’t popping down to the local DVD/CD emporium to pick this album up the day it came out because one couldn’t. I picked it up at a show at MAO Livehouse from one of the 0093 boys. They have pretty good stuff, in case you’re interested.
Anyways, if “Mind Shop is on Sale” blew my hair back a little; “Fuzz Rabbit” damn near scalped me. I really enjoy the interplay between the rollicking bits and the eerily, quiet bobs.
“Happy Dreamer on a Sad Bed” is a good counterpoint to “Fuzz Rabbit” as it is, well, dreamy. The singer’s voice is so dressed-up, made-up doll (if that makes any sense). Not to make comparisons, but this song really reminds me of the best Blonde Redhead songs, but without all the wired tension.
“A Specimen of Bad Chicken” is just weird. I don’t recommend anyone listening to this song if they are pregnant, have heart conditions, or are vegan. Just don’t do it.
“Call it a Pop Song”? Don’t mind if I do; and I mean that in the best sense possible. It’s just a pretty straight-ahead rock song with solid drumming, cool keyboards, and a really simple riff. It sounds like the kind of song that would be great live, unfortunately, I don’t even think this band is together anymore, so that will never come to be. Isn’t it strange? These guys have this great album and now what happens to it? We need to carry on this Muscle Snog torch.
By the way, can we decide once and for all what “Muscle Snog” means? Is it two muscles kissing or just a really forceful snog? I like to think about my bicep and my deltoid kissing. Kinda sensual. No? OK, back to the review.
Speaking of sensual, “The Reverse Cowgirl”: It’s not just a fantastic sexual position anymore; it’s also a truly strange backwards sound piece by Muscle Snog. It sounds like a guitar trying to describe its life from back to front after it’s been smashed to smithereens.
“Cat” moves like a possessed feline in heat. It’s the heaviest song on the album and it has its share of noise.
Moving into “Think and Shit”, we have another rock song, but a less straightforward one than “Call it a Pop Song”. The guitars are allowed to feed back more here, and there is recorded gibberish going on in the background. The riffs are still pretty big, though.
“The Boy with Burning Legs” is a song I like, but I can’t really describe why. Its drone-y guitars seem kind of restless, but the kind of restlessness that is held inside. It reminds me a bit of MONO, but this time with singing. The song gets more and more frenetic, until the final, cathartic outburst. It reminds me of a tortured soul moving from quiet psychotherapy into a visceral regimen of primal scream therapy.
The closer, “A Day in the Life”, a Beatles cover, disappoints. It’s built around eighth notes on the guitar and the singer’s voice, but it devolves rhythmically in the middle to the point that it sounds amateurish. It’s the only time in the album when the tone becomes melodramatic and contrived. It finally ends with a whimper, which is not what you want from the last track of your album.
Although it’s kind of bad on the ends and rad in the middle, Mind Shop is an overall great listen. It sets a high bar for the Chinese albums that I will be listening to and reviewing in the future.