No more singing, screaming, or sampling of dialogue: by concentrating on pure instrumental bliss, China’s Wang Wen has made their best album to date. We challenge our readers to identify any other band who’s been able to do this in their ninth outing, as most artists either peak early or give up long before then.
The words of the title each have their place in the recording. The album is sweet, marked by numerous segments of poignancy, many carried by strings and horns. These arrive as early as the gorgeous opening piece, “Netherworld Water”, which makes the perfect accompaniment to a morning of rain-streaked windows, an afternoon of highway driving, or an evening of rest. “Heart of Ocean” contains a trumpet line that bleeds into cello like summer into fall. The mood is a mix of melancholy and positivity, a difficult blend to fuse; but the band does so without a single seam.
The songs take their time to get to where they’re going. Three land in the quarter-hour range, three in the ten-minute range, and one (the sole vocal track, an a cappella coda) only two minutes. And yet, both separately and together, they arrive in a place that might be called home, or even better, sweet home. The destination is never in question, only the time it takes to arrive. Sometimes there’s a rest break, sometimes fuel stop, sometimes a detour, but the album continues to move forward, toward comfort: familiar beds, comfortable couches, leftovers in the fridge. An hour after the album begins, the glockenspiel and flute finally arrive, but they don’t seem late; instead, they appear just in time.
And now, the final word: Go! The exclamation point is crucial. As much as thoughts of sweet home provide solace and comfort, we want more out of life: adrenaline bursts, surges of energy, get-out-of-bed motivation. Wang Wen makes the listener excited about the trip back to one’s stomping grounds, not only through thick, slow, pounding segments, but through faster, kick-in-the-pants pieces. Lead single “Red Wall and Black Wall” bears the album’s most energetic guitar work from start to finish, but electronic drums make a surprise appearance on “Children’s Palace”, while “Lost in the 21st Century” follows with a synthetic opening, repeated mid-piece. Go! the band seems to say. Go, go, go!
Finally, in an abandoned factory, they sing: harmonically, beautifully, wordlessly. For two minutes, the album vibrates like a prayer. Now it is time to take off the shoes, to relax, to enjoy the evening and the fruits of one’s labors, until the next bittersweet outing pulls us away from home once more. (Richard Allen)
Release date: 30 September