Artists you should know

Artists you should know / Chyi Yu

Chyi Yu [Chinese: 齊豫] is a popular Taiwanese singer. While not far from a celebrity in Taiwan, having many hits and winning awards, she remains an obscurity in Western music circles today.

She found fame through the haunting “Olive Tree“, one of several songs she recorded with the late composer/songwriter Li Tai-Hsiang, known for his scenic orchestral arrangements. She’s considered one of his best proteges and a defining artist of campus folk, a style popular in 70s-80s Taiwan: strings, guitars, piano and flutes became signature sounds. Most of these songs have a mellow backbone, but they present Chyi’s voice in it’s full soaring power.

孀 / Widow

After her work with Tai-Hsiang, Chyi recorded Echo, an album of sung Sanmao poems with a fellow tai-pop singer Michelle Pan. In 1986 she released Stories, the first of many cover albums which took on English-language pop hits to somewhat mixed reception. She wrote the song “Turning” with Suzanne Ciani in 1999 and her last few albums focused on Buddhist mantras. She retired from making music in 2008, but continues to sing at special occasions including recent Sanmao tributes with Michelle. You can read more about her career at the below links.

Must-hears:

I’m yet to hear a good chunk of her albums due to their rarity, but here’s some highlights from what I’ve heard so far.

References + Further reading

 

Music Videos

Tamaryn – “Angels Of Sweat” (Dreaming The Dark, 2019)

Screen Shot 2019-02-21 at 3.14.13 PMScreen Shot 2019-02-21 at 3.23.30 PMScreen Shot 2019-02-21 at 3.21.03 PMScreen Shot 2019-02-21 at 3.18.51 PM

Watch here

I am LIVING for Tamaryn’s current aesthetic – glowing, pastel colors, moons (I mean hey, it’s my namesake here) and elegant gothic wardrobe + make-up. It’s like the good parts of the excellent Cranekiss album’s visual style but more colorful and ambitious.

I don’t love the song quite as much to be honest. I think it’s a big improvement from “Fits of Rage”, where she tried a little too hard to be Gritty and Angry in her delivery, but this song too has a few awkward vocal elements, albeit not as severe. I do think the backing music itself has a lot of potential. Hoping it will grow on me. UPDATE: Sure enough it did, and it didn’t take long to do so! Very blissful and catchy.

 

hidden treasure

Gossip – Arkansas Heat EP (2002)

ark

garage punk / punk rock

More like this – Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Fever To Tell + Self-titled EP + Machine EP; X-Ray Spex, Gossip’s “Fire With Fire

I have a theory that Gossip were the Arkansan equal of Yeah Yeah Yeahs and this EP is the closest they got in sound. There’s the unique and dynamic female singer in Beth Ditto, their later pop era, their indie rock breakthrough phase, and this early, very Fever To Tell EP. This isn’t a negative comparison; I’m convinced we don’t have enough like YYY’s, so I welcome it. After all, it’s been tricky for me to find much else that truly shares Fever To Tell’s special brand of  punk chaos, or at least without overdoing the edginess + noise. This made Arkansas Heat both a throwback and a breath of fresh air.

Through the whole EP the guitar and drums make a persistent racket as Beth Ditto yowls and quivers over them with exciting intensity. It’s the opposite of the more stylish approach in later projects like her excellent solo EP but true to her range as a singer, she pulls it off just as well.

Every song except the 10-minute “Take Back The Revolution” is over within 2 minutes, making it a fun and digestible listen. Even better is how they made it so catchy despite this brevity. “Revolution” drags a little too much, of course, but skip it about halfway through and it’s an addictive 14-minute burst of energy. I just wish they put out more like this in their early days.

Artists you should know · Playlist

Artists you should know / Teebs

teebz

Teebs (real name Mtendere Mandowa) may be one of the most exciting producers to emerge from the ‘wonky’ scene. Some critics dismiss him as a mere ‘student of Flying Lotus’, but his music sounds steeped in earth and nature much more than in space, for example. Mere comparisons doesn’t do his unique sound justice.

What I love is the way Teebs approaches a song like one of his own paintings (which make up the cover art for his releases); he blends all kinds of shades together into a coherent result, from harp to piano to windchimes, effects and mallets. There’s this immediate flourish to the end product that’s so hard to pick apart. I’m reminded of fountains, antiques, rain, ponds, arbors, birds, you name it; the imagery is vague, but always blissful and refreshing. Listening to Teebs is like taking a deep breath and dozing off in some secluded garden during the spring. It amazes me just how well he translates his visual style into the music.

For a long time I couldn’t get into Teebs even if I admired his style. What I later learned was that, for all the links to ‘beat music’, his songs aren’t as much about the rhythm as it is with his peers. The appeal lies much more in texture and setting moods. People like him put a whole new spin on the idea of ‘background music’: it’s all warped through this abstract electronic lens that’s very modern-sounding even now. After all, good ‘subconscious’ listening can be such a cleansing experience, and that’s exactly how I’d describe his music.

Youtube playlist

Like with my Reni Jusis playlist, I intend this as an accessible intro to his music. I’ve also included at least one song from every major release.

In chronological order except for the fan favorite “While You Doooo”

1. While You Doooo (Ardour, 2010)

2. Monterey Park Bells (CD 2009, 2009)

3. Comes To Mind w/ Jackhigh (The Tropics, 2010)

4. Anchor Steam (Los Angeles 6/10 EP, 2010)

5. Long Distance w/ Gaby Hernandez (Ardour, 2010)

6. Verbana Tea w/ Rebekah Raf (Collections 01, 2011)

7. LSP w/ Austin Peralta (Collections 01, 2011)

8. Untitled 5 (Cecilia Tapes Collection, 2012)

9. SOTM (E s t a r a, 2014)

10. Holiday w/ Jonti (E s t a r a, 2014)

11. Sachi’s Chords (E S T Outtakes / Remixes, 2015)

hidden treasure

Milan Pilar – Digital Structures / Space And Underwater (1990 / 1993)

 

library music / progressive electronic

Listen here

At this point I’m convinced this Czech composer was in a home stretch in the late 80s-early 90s. He could do no wrong.

One of my personal music missions is to hear just about every ‘aquatic’ library album I can manage, as it’s almost always a sign of quality. Therefore, I HAD to listen to Milan Pilar’s take on it. It turns out this album began as Digital Structures for the unusual Coloursound label, with no true song titles – “Digital Structure #3”, “#12”, and so on. This  Selected Sound re-issue has a new title plus a true name for every song. In fact, it turns out I’d heard Digital Structures before, and got fooled into thinking this was different. Library labels are weird like that; something unfamiliar will turn out to be another, older album, even from another label!

Even so, I’m glad that I wound up hearing this one again. I picked up on a lot more great tracks this time. Plus, the re-titling helped me tell them apart. Even though SS branded this with space/water themes, it does veer into other moods/imagery at times, like the twinkling fantasy that was the trademark of his also-quality Nature Study. Knowing the album’s origin, this makes some sense.

I’ve written about similar albums before; O’Hearn’s Indigo, Above and About, etc. so many of those same traits apply here. It’s the same fascinating mix of varied moods and soaring synth textures – pads that wash over like shores, glittering arpeggios, warbles, flutters. He really brings out the best in digital synths. The sci-fi/water theme in particular adds some interesting moodier elements to Pilar’s familiar style. It’s the best direction he could’ve taken from his previous albums, and with every song being a mere 1.5 minutes, very digestible. Through their brief length, the songs flourish and establish their grip right on contact.

I especially recommend this if you love a good 80s synth film score. That tension, build and release of a good synth score is here and pulled off in expert fashion. The quality it retains over 43 tracks means this would be one of my favorite scores had an actual movie used it. But, as library music continues to remind me, it turns out some of the best film music doesn’t even wind up getting used.