White+, a project by Zhang Shouwang (the driving force behind Carsick Cars) and Wang Xu (the drummer from The Gar), is a group of tight, bright tunes that might change a lot of people’s ideas about experimental music if they heard it.
If you don’t know either of the players’ names I just mentioned, you probably don’t listen to much modern Chinese indie rock. They are two of the most important people on the scene.
I’ll let the band tell how the album came about. From their press release:
“White+ traveled to Germany in 2011 to record their first album at the celebrated Anderebaustelle Studio, where Blixa Bargeld, frontman of Einstürzende Neubauten, had produced White’s album in 2007. PK14’s Yang Haisong along with Marco Paschke, a frequent collaborator with EN, handled the mixing for White+’s debut album while its cover was designed by Fu Han, the vocalist of Queen Sea Big Shark.”
I saw the group in Shanghai awhile back (can’t remember when) with a friend who doesn’t really like so-called “experimental” or “noise” music. He was blown away. The two-piece band has a big aura and Wang Xu’s drumming really comes through live, holds everything together, and pushes it further. He was a wild man that night. That energy makes me think White+ could open up a lot minds.
The track “silveR” has the same kind of energy. There is a notable pulse orbited by a constellation of interlocking sounds and grooves. The feel is upbeat, positive, and intoxicating; I imagine it’s like smoking mercury. It has that quicksilver aroma that drips down the back of your spine.
“purplE” begins with madcap piano, punctuated by a William S. Burroughs quote about life and death; from there it just explodes. It’s seems like a cyborg reggaeton track hell-bent on destroying us that just might succeed.
Sometimes the tracks spin out of control, listing to the side like a warped battleship in a whirlpool. However, what I think saves them from getting blown to smithereens is the ever-present return to a pulse, a life preserver to which you can cling. That is the case in the track “greeN”, where the whole thing threatens to spin out of control. However, it is rescued in the final minute by Wang Xu’s propulsive sixteenth-note throb.
Wang Xu’s influence also comes to bear in the next track, “bluE”. This is a drum ‘n bass track with thick layers of noise and distortion draped on like so many shaggy animal pelts. The song is nonstop, and even pushes further toward oblivion when they add electronic beats to the concoction.
“orangE” is a tight little number, shortest on the album and with the fewest digressions. I like this one for its simplicity, even though there are countless elements taking part. It’s starts with a strict formula, sticks to it, and ends at the perfect time.
To my ear, “yelloW” sounds a lot like something out of the more recent Animal Collective oeuvre. It’s not terrible, but it’s also not doing a whole lot. I think Shouwang got a new pedal right before he recorded this one. That’s just a theory, though.
There’s only one thing to do with “whitE”: sit back and let it wash over you like someone is pouring buckets of milk over your head. It’s a classic Shouwang track with some many threads you wonder what would happen if you pulled just one. Would the whole thing fall apart?
The album ends with a very cool song, featuring a rap by Han Lei. It’s definitely unlike any rap song you’ve ever heard, though. The beat is almost drumline-esque and, of course, there’s just an ungodly cascade of noise coursing through it.
So if you didn’t like experimental music, why would this album change your mind? Well, it might not. I had a conversation with a guy in Beijing I like a lot this weekend. He mentioned he didn’t like anything by White+. When I asked why, he said he just didn’t like the “Carsick Cars sound.” There are people who just aren’t into the intertwined layers and seeming disorder that comes along with Shouwang’s compositions. I am not of this persuasion, but I can see where one could make the argument. Some of their songs can come off sounding a bit homogenous when taken in album form.
However, while there are of course some Carsick Cars-y elements to White+, I think this project has a lot of different elements going for it. First of all, almost none of the tracks come in at the length that many Carsick Cars songs log in at. This brevity is a real asset in experimental music. Secondly, while they always had nice drummers, Carsick Cars and the first incarnation of White never had Wang Xu. His drumming and drum programming lend a lot of credence to the affair and, as we all know, drummers make the world go ‘round (I might be a bit biased, being a drummer myself but, hey, it’s my review.)
In the end, maybe White+ won’t change anyone’s opinion on experimental music and that’s probably not the aim, anyway. I just think that, because of its creativity and its overall quality, it should be given the chance.