Exposé Online banner

Zhaoze — Birds Contending
(Bandcamp no#, 2018, DL)

by Jon Davis, Published 2019-04-11

Birds Contending Cover artFor their newest album, Chinese post-rock band Zhaoze takes their art to a new level, presenting a single piece of music more than 40 minutes in length. It contains all the qualities that have made their last few albums special, with a unique blend of Chinese and Western sounds. Hoyliang’s electric guqin is featured prominently. The guqin is one of the most iconic Chinese instruments, and its fretless nature allows for infinite variation in pitch, tone, and technique — with the addition of non-traditional methods such as bowing, the instrument’s capabilities are extended even further. Hoyliang also contributes xiao, one of the many variations of the flute found in Chinese music. Littledream’s guitar is often cast in a supporting role, with arpeggiated chords, washes of distortion, and long, ringing tones, though he does occasionally take off with a dramatic melody, usually with tremolo picking. There a many passages where the drums drop out, and in some of these, Seasean plays celesta, providing delicate lines to complement the other instruments. Roy’s bass is solid support, rarely drawing attention to itself. The music ranges from calm, meditative beauty to throbbing, intense power, sometimes with a gradual transition, sometimes abruptly, and the entirety takes listeners on a journey through impressive territory, deploying tension and release masterfully to tease emotions out of sound. The massive buildup between 25 and 30 minutes in is particularly awe-inspiring, though they manage to follow it up with a section that changes direction and feel without seeming like a let-down. I will reiterate my contention that Zhaoze is one of the best bands on the planet — their music, in spite of its ambitious length, is both accessible and powerful, and the emotional and intellectual depth is almost without equal. A bit about the name Birds Contending… The Chinese name is 争鸣, which means “to contend” — nothing about birds. But the two characters that make up the word, when taken individually, are “dispute, fight, contend, strive” and “the cry of a bird or animal.” So Birds Contending is a bilingual pun, the kind of wordplay that only works with a language such as Chinese, where words are constructed of parts with individual meanings that may be fairly different from the combined meaning. This is the kind of underlying subtlety and thoughtful cleverness that is also found in the music.

Filed under: New releases, 2018 releases

Related artist(s): Zhaoze (Swamp)

More info
http://zhaoze.bandcamp.com/album/birds-contending

Latest news

2019-04-10
The Pineapple Thief to Tour North America – November and December of 2019 will see The Pineapple Thief bringing their music to Canada, Mexico, and the US, and famed drummer Gavin Harrison will be on board. The band has been touring extensively in Europe, but North America will be new territory for them. » Read more

2019-03-25
Scott Walker RIP – Noel Scott Engel, better known as Scott Walker, was one of the most intriguing and enigmatic musical figures in the second half of the 20th Century. His strange career started with The Walker Brothers, an American pop group that featured no one named Walker and no brothers. After moving to England in 1965, they had a series of hit singles. Scott's solo work started with Scott in 1967. Starting in the 80s, his work took an increasingly avant-garde turn. » Read more

2019-03-20
Freedom to Spend Unearths June Chikuma's Archives – Jun (June) Chikuma is well known for her video game and anime soundtracks, but she also released an album of experimental electronic music back in 1986 called Divertimento where she indulged the kind of spontaneity that wouldn't work in a soundtrack. RVNG Int'l label Freedom to Spend is bringing this overlooked item to broader attention with a deluxe reissue. » Read more

2019-03-03
Seaprog 2019 Lineup Almost Complete – The Seaprog festival in Seattle is scheduled for June 7-9 this year, and they've announced their lineup of performers. The revitalized Trettioåriga Kriget will cap Friday night, perennial favorites Marbin are on Saturday, and District 97 will finish off the fest on Sunday night. In support, they've booked a stellar variety of artists from the Northwest and around the world, including EchoTest, Markus Reuter and Trey Gunn, and the live debut of the amazing Troot project. » Read more

2019-02-21
You Can Be Part of an Ambient Electronic Project – The Gesture of History is a new electronic project put together by Sam Rosenthal of Black Tape for a Blue Girl, Steve Roach, and violist Sam Shadow. The music started as an instrumental track Rosenthal was working on for a Black Tape album, but took on a life of its own and demanded further enhancements. The majority of the funds raised will go to manufacturing costs for LP and CD editions, as well as other items as detailed on the Kickstarter page. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Last Turion - Circle Logic – There's mediocre neo-prog, and then there's albums like this, which almost make me want to cry. As usual, influences are acquired, but not absorbed, from Marillion, IQ, and post-Gabriel Genesis. The...  (1994) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues