Brooklyn’s Shanghai Restoration Project is known for its sunny disposition, bright art and eclectic pop sound. How would this change during a pandemic? The happy answer is “not much.” Brave New World Symphony is an attempt to come to terms with the pandemic and its effects while preserving a sense of optimism and fun. This juxtaposition is laid bare on the album’s cover, which includes a needle, a pill and a bedbug (hopefully not drawn to scale), but has the allure of a children’s book.
The best song (available for public consumption on December 11) is the last: “Zoom Christmas.” The title alone is a perfect summation of our looming holiday conundrum. The track is delivered with cheer and a wink, as if saying, “this is what we have; will we still sing?” Chirpy, wordless vocal samples loop atop catchy beats, harmonizing with each other like members of a virtual choir. Better yet, it sounds like Christmas. In the United States, we seem doomed to a Zoom Christmas because we have an extra holiday (Thanksgiving) a month before, and people show no sign of wanting to be apart. Then there’s “Hart Island Hymn,” which pardon the pun is extremely heartbreaking ~ this small uninhabited island in the Bronx was once the home of a prison and is now where homeless New Yorkers, stillborn babies and those unable to afford plots are buried. Did we just ruin your vibe? The fact that anyone wrote a kind, peaceful lullaby for this island is remarkable, a gift to those who never had much in their lives.
Shanghai Restoration Project (Dave Liang, Sun Yunfan and friends) looks directly into sadness and goes on. Surrounded by death and despair, they crafted these quarantine tunes. “Balcony Garden” is an upbeat groove track utilizing the duo’s trademark mallets along with droplet noises, reflecting the appreciation of a balcony garden more than the lack of a backyard. The oxymoronic “Positive Disintegration” implies that while we’re social distancing, we might dance on our balconies like Italians did this past March. And here comes a jazzy keyboard solo, along with a wee scratch ~ quarantine brings a whole new meaning to Cut Master DC’s phrase, “Brooklyn’s in the house.”
By all accounts, this has been a horrendous year. While many musicians have composed studies in isolation, heartfelt elegies and protest tracks, few have sought to produce cheer ~ perhaps because it has been so hard to access. This album’s sanguine attitude is a rare reminder not to give up on joy ~ not now, with Zoom Christmas right around the corner. (Richard Allen)