Otay:onii
Ming Ming


4.0
excellent

Review

by JohnnyoftheWell STAFF
March 12th, 2021 | 43 replies


Release Date: 02/22/2021 | Tracklist

Review Summary: How many movements in a moment?

A good “art pop” record will make you question everything you thought you knew about that label. For the purposes of this review, I have zero knowledge of it. Let’s not talk about art pop (bleh); let’s talk about the riveting new album Ming Ming, freshly delivered to the world courtesy of Otay:onii, aka Lane Shi Otayonii, the China-born Brooklyn-dwelling frontwoman of Elizabeth Colour Wheel. It’s a lot. Despite its economical runtime, this record is saturated with thought-provoking and occasionally challenging ideas, equal parts sizzling crucible and desolate wasteland. It veers at times into seemingly alien territory; Elizabeth Colour Wheel’s sludge/noise sound is little use as a reference point here, but Shi’s visceral performance style should at least be a serviceable introduction to Ming Ming’s dramatic vocals, distinctive inflections and penchant for forceful beats.

These will inevitably draw lazy Björk comparisons from those who learnt (literally) everything they know about experimental pop from Homogenic, but this does a disservice to the strength of Otay:onii’s vision and the harshness of her palette. Ming Ming is different, and potentially a little difficult, though hardly impenetrable. It’s relatively easy to untangle the choices behind Otay:onii’s expression, but good luck to anyone set on pinning her down with a dinky thesis. This record represents an opposite of sorts to, say, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, which uses unconventional musical vocabulary to articulate highly graspable biographical and social truths. Ming Ming certainly sounds and feels like a statement, but it’s less a society piece than a fragmented scream into abstract space; its resonance is vivid and immediate in a way that briskly shuts the door on further deconstruction.

That’s not to say its vocabulary is ‘conventional’. The album’s constituent elements are hardly commonplace in crossover pop, but they are at least familiar in and of themselves; you don’t have to be an expert on industrial, Chinese folk, glitch pop, noise or tape experiments to parse them here. More importantly, their integration is borderline seamless and the album is a formalist doozy; Ming Ming draws disparate sounds together with such cleanness and clarity that it’s tempting to obsess over the sum of its parts like a Yank in the bullion room and leave it there. Let’s go there. The first three songs in particular are a rush of curveballs: “From Me II to Me” is an austere drone piece, opening the album with a buzz of traditional instrumentation over Otay:onii’s full-throated wail; the morbidly titled “Child No.22” is a Chinese folk piece transmuted into a mechanical lullaby; “Through Death A Cup of Coffee” chops and skews an industrial loopfest with unsparing irreverence to structural or rhythmic stability. The record stays largely in the same lane from the ghoulish “Subhuman Sings” onwards, with its backend alternating between ominous escalations of tension and the kinetic release of clattering beats. However, it holds onto a livewire tension; anything is possible at any given moment, and fuck me if it’s not gripping.

With such pervasive intrigue, Ming Ming is surprisingly accessible, something that is further facilitated by its arrangement. Many of its ideas are perhaps sophisticated in their interrelation and sheer number, but reasonably straightforward in application. This isn’t a Holly Herndon-esque showcase of conceptual methodology or a Lauren Bousfieldian genre firepie, although irrespective of this, the record’s title signposts its contents and atmosphere with similar aptness to Bousfield’s Palimpsest. The name ‘Ming Ming’ refers to present time as a superlative, hyperliminal state, constantly charted and redetermined by an ever-changing set of independent variables. It foregrounds itself as a site of immediate transformation, where everything transitions into anything and lasting developments are teased but rarely delivered. It’s about change, but not continuity. Or something.

Ming Ming’s delivery matches that brief: it’s every inch a work of ongoing, discontinuous mutation. Vocal tracks emerge hydra-like to strangle and replace one another; Otay:onii slips into English one moment and Mandarin the next, her inflections frequently distorting both languages beyond the familiar; her combination of glitch, reversed audio, analogue fastforwarding and digital layering brushes the prospect of a stable medium or continuity of timeframe into the ether. The album shifts its footing so fluidly that any need for grandiose Meaning disappears into the performance; we have hindsight for the past and prescience for the future, but Otay:onii’s nauseous portrayal of present space refutes the possibility of a similar faculty for the here and now. Instead, she doubles down on making that state as disarming and engaging as her various talents afford for. Recall once more her background as a visual performer: in that guise, her longstanding affinity for a commanding impression-in-an-instant has a clearer foundation than in the cosy user-navigable timeline of the studio album.

On top of that, the record has a highly reflexive and at points self-citational tone. “Subhuman Sings”, “Blackheart Breakables” and “Intentions and Emotions” all open with a variation on the same vocal glitch, as though some half-formed idea is struggling to emerge from Otay:onii’s matrix, freezing the album every time. This is the kind of immersion breaker that draws you straight back in, reinventing and emphasising the listener’s connection with the album’s fragile sense of the momentary. “Through Death A Cup Of Coffee”’s experiments in tape fuckage and reversed vocal tracks are another story, pervasive enough to land that good ol’ structural film-esque impression of is this music, or is it just sound built out of sounds. All in all, Ming Ming deconstructs its own makeup more than enough for considerations of ‘process’, ‘method’ and ‘mechanics’ to be focal to any of the long, long conversations about its aesthetics and experimentation and collage that could very feasibly be taking place in rooms across the world at this very minute. You know the ones; anyone who loves music for the sake of summative discussions might as well pour out a preemptive gin and tonic while they try to remember where they left their album of the year plinth.

For, uh, the rest of us, there’s more to say. It’s all too easy to fixate on the record’s minutiae until the wood and the trees get wound up in a crosseyed lumber jumble. Eyes on the road, please! Otay:onii’s delivery and vision are so focused throughout the album that it’s no great stretch to leave the devils to their details and give the wider scheme of her montage the attention it deserves; she sustains her moment, and then it is gone. The album doesn’t so much end as it expires; closer "Un Deciphered" terminates in a hissing explosion of noise, as though furiously scribbling over the preceding thirty-seven minutes and placing any recollection of them under immediate erasure. For all its myriad jagged contours, Ming Ming winds up as a greyscale blur as it finally passes its own transition between present and past time, but I wouldn’t change a thing about that impression; it’s true to the album’s form and allows its various details to preserve their intrigue on repeat listens. Whether all this ultimately amounts to a compelling takeaway or an excuse for cerebral artsiness will depend on the listener, but for those holding onto the right balance of patience and curiosity, there’s a rich experience to be had here.




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user ratings (24)
3.7
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
March 12th 2021


34741 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

almost 1000 ratings on rym, but 7 on sputnik wow nice stay woke

huge thanks to Phero, Rowan and especially Dewi for helping me through this. it was deeply unpleasant. this is the second best album I've heard from this year and you should probably listen to it. it is not long.

Digging: Xiu Xiu - OH NO

Gyromania
March 12th 2021


32221 Comments


well written review. that song you posted is great, esp the latter half. will check this out

Nocte
Staff Reviewer
March 12th 2021


13938 Comments


No ratings flex on this one babe?

hal1ax
March 12th 2021


15531 Comments


love this

dedex
Contributing Reviewer
March 12th 2021


7449 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

this is mighty shit

Digging: Andy Stott - Never the Right Time

Elynna
March 12th 2021


825 Comments


Interesting record. I'm looking forward to giving this more spins in the coming days.

Digging: Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The LSO - Promises

SowingSeason
Moderator
March 12th 2021


37098 Comments


Intrigued by that artwork for some reason. Good review as always Jotw.

Digging: Manchester Orchestra - The Million Masks Of God

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
March 12th 2021


24175 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1

Well this looks/reads WAY BETTER than the draft I saw Johnnyboy, good stuff.



The album is incredible.

Digging: Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The LSO - Promises

bloc
March 12th 2021


65089 Comments


Never thought I'd see myself digging an album like this but I randomly checked it yesterday and it is indeed killer

Digging: TWICE - FANCY YOU

Deez
March 12th 2021


7466 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0



'These will inevitably draw lazy Björk comparisons from those who learnt (literally) everything they know about experimental pop from Homogenic, '





Yeha Ive done that about 4 times already

Digging: John Coltrane - Live In Seattle

Pheromone
Contributing Reviewer
March 13th 2021


13537 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

i listened to this for a bit bcos i thought it would make for good night time listening



i was wrong

Digging: Julia Kwamya - Feel Good About Feeling Bad

Pheromone
Contributing Reviewer
March 13th 2021


13537 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

is this bjork

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
March 13th 2021


34741 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Cheers y'all and lmao Dewi, we will never speak of that draft again. What a tragic caffeine stain

@Nocte originally had this as a 3.9, but few enough albs have impressed me this year that it probs deserves a square 4 for relativity or smthng. Awesome shit either way

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
March 13th 2021


34741 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Lmao yeah this is not a chill night jam. I'm gonna start a self-help thread for people who compare musicians to Bjork brb

Pheromone
Contributing Reviewer
March 13th 2021


13537 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

do i am super awake and will read also can you make my av bigger

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
March 13th 2021


34741 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yeah okay I'm zooming super close on my phone screen rn. Looks qt!!

Pheromone
Contributing Reviewer
March 13th 2021


13537 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

that is the best joke i will read today and it's 1:15am



cancel tomorrow tbh

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
March 13th 2021


34741 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Brb getting out of bed :[

Evok
Contributing Reviewer
March 13th 2021


8373 Comments


Fuck that second paragraph dripped into my brain like warm honey. Smashing review.

Digging: Dvne - Etemen nka

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
March 13th 2021


24175 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1

"What tragic caffeine stain"



One that I am equally guilty of not being able to clean lol



Turned out great, that's what matters!



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