Review Summary: A touching post rock odyssey...
I randomly discovered Wang Wen by clicking on a link a friend posted online, along with a photo taken by himself of a peaceful sunset. It led me to their album Sweet Home, Go!
, which I soon realized was a strong effort with several styles blended into a massive, moody journey. After a few listens, I dug deeper in their discography, only to realize how volatile this Chinese group is. Playing a mix of post rock with ambient, jazz and noise influences, you get multiple detours and unexpected turns on each track. Active since 2002, the guys decided to record their latest work in Iceland in the dead of winter before a European tour. The isolated environment and low temperatures influenced the sonic atmosphere too, however, ultimately, it was a desired effect as the recurring theme here is the slow “death” of a city (their hometown, Dalian). Since people move constantly to more energetic, developed places in China (a case available in each country), the respective city becomes quieter and colorless with each year passing by. One member also mentioned Italo Calvino’s book, Invisible Cities
as the inspiration for the title.
Moving on to the actual music, Invisible City
seems to have taken a step towards a more settled, post rock affair, relying less on experimental outbursts. You can say it’s more conventional in the band’s repertoire or boasts a more western sound. Regarding the latter, I listened to a few similar bands from eastern Asia and found a rather specific, uncanny undertone (should work smoothly with the shrilling atmosphere crime thrillers from that area create), so, weirdly, I found myself intrigued by it. There are many contrasting sounds painting puzzling scenes throughout the LP: the slow beat of ‘Daybreak’, accompanied by mournful horns and icy piano leads suddenly turn into an ‘80s inspired pop beat. It’s like the sun temporarily coming out on a foggy autumn day. The two disparate sounds work beautifully together, but soon you’re slapped back to reality. ‘Stone Scissors’ creates a warm vibe, the equivalent of running from the rain into a cozy café. The gentle rhythm plays for minutes, reminding of Mogwai patterns, until all guitars burst into staccato leads. Meanwhile, ‘Mail from the City’ develops an urban-esque sound with steady beats and faint guitar notes. The lovely horn section and piano embellish the foundation, whereas the distorted coda pops up rather unexpectedly.
It seems the second half of Invisible City
follows tighter the main theme, with public announcement samples appearing on a couple of tracks, plus the sense of detachment is a bit stronger in my opinion. ‘Solo Dance’ features an interesting blend of harmonic progressions interrupted by meticulously picked dissonant chords. The background synths reminisce Ulver's Perdition City
, which is a cool, appropriate addition overall. From here, the record gradually slows down, ‘Bamboo Crane’ acting like a soundtrack to watching the snow fall in a town square with very few people scattered throughout. The bittersweet moments are augmented by addictive, sharp, but melodic guitar leads, as well as an engaging bass which nicely wraps itself around them. Moreover, the nostalgic horns & piano leads softly carrying ‘Silenced Dalian’ are very touching. Before fading away, there is one final, noisy build up as if you’re just angry and frustrated you can’t do anything about the situation and have to let it all out. After the powerful climax where some actual riffs are raging, the ambient closer, ‘Outro’ puts everyone to sleep through its hazy, reverb & echo-laden drones. As a fan of ambient music, I love the simplicity of this ditty and I find it a very fitting ending to such an emotionally charged album.
In the end, Invisible City
might not be Wang Wen’s magnum opus (I feel they can push more to create something even better), but it is definitely a record to check out, provided you have some patience with. It isn’t an LP you can listen at any hour of the day, requiring a certain setting to properly capture your attention. Still, it represents a beautiful yet melancholic experience with an impressive sentimental and cinematic value. Previous record, Sweet Home, Go!
had a more visceral tone, still, kudos for not repeating themselves and moving on.