In many ways, Jade 玉观音 is the opposite of Lack, although one might regard the two as operating in compliment, approaching from different sides of Pan Daijing‘s personality. After the success of that vital 2017 release, we wished only the best for the artist, and in many ways, that’s what she underwent: larger canvases, greater opportunities, an ever-more-public splaying of emotion. On the down side, the push was harrowing, narrowing, intrusive. Here she is on the cover: no longer crisp, bright, in control, but blurred, obscured and betrayed. Herded to the edge of her limits, she retreated to the “sanctuary of self” to scrawl and rejuvenate. Jade 玉观音 is the result: another brilliant yet challenging listen, a sonic diary akin to that of a breakup, although the breakup in question may be a person or a mindset. It hurts to listen, and yet we receive the art as a byproduct of pain, a beautiful thing that would not exist without the unflinching ability to stare into one’s own abyss.
The album starts with a pounding and a howling. This is life, and she will howl back, until the artist becomes the wolf and not the meal. Pan Daijing’s sound design and arrangements remain unique, with little attention to accessibility but a full dedication to honesty. “Was I not stronger alone?” she asks in “The Goat,” vacillating between moods and commands, stay-don’t stay. She’s talking to the goat, but is she also the goat? Can she be both at the same time? A sudden laugh escapes her lips: madness or amusement?
In lead single “Dust,” a repeated question lies atop frantic percussion, no answer forthcoming. A fine self-control is needed to draw out and harmonize the question. The world is in dissolution; the artist is starting to regain herself. Compare the opening tempo of “Ran” to that of “Clean” and one can intuit increased resolve. The title means “Chaos,” and our guess is that the track ~ the album’s most powerful and abrasive ~ is at least partially inspired by the Kurosawa film of the same name, a gargantuan vehicle of excess, ambition, death and rumination. Out of this maelstrom seeps “Let,” direct and accepting. I take my bath in the ocean, the artist intones. I can’t get out. Water battles drone. In “Metal,” bees swarm around the bath. Shall she stay underwater forever? Now, finally, the emergence of the operatic voice, the powerful inner sound kept down for so long.
In the finale, the admittance: I forget her. But who is she? Whether the antagonist lies apart from Pan Daijing or is the artist herself, the implication is the same: it is time to remember who you are. The bell tolls for the raging of a new and savage life. (Richard Allen)