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Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Kaoru Abe No Future 阿部薰没有未来 - Another Wrong Way, Again 路又走错一条 (Presses Précaires, 2022)

By Keith Prosk

Liu Lu, Zhao Cong, and Zhu Wenbo play eleven post punk songs for guitars, voices, and percussion with guest Dong Xing contributing trumpet on the 29’ Another Wrong Way, Again 路又走错一条.

The core trio collaborates often in different constellations, usually through Zhu’s Zoomin’ Night label, which is a significant publisher of experimental music from China and beyond and for which Liu frequently provides visual work. Their band, Kaoru Abe No Future 阿部薰没有未来, has previously released three live albums, Musik Los Concert, Cry in Public, and Vital 2021, across which most of the songs on this studio recording crop up, as well as a 7” split with Norwegian improv noise punk trio Moe. While firm song structures appear here, the kind of music these musicians might be most associated with is field recording and object-based ‘eai’ or electro-acoustic improvisation, like the recent REW from Zhao or twice from Zhu with Yan Jun.

Tracks are short. Tempos don’t thrash but they’re punchy. There’s a rawness. In peaked-out highs, the rough-edged textures of lo-fi, articulation both apathetic and fervent. And that same quality that signals punk attitudes lends a spontaneity that feels akin to improvisation, if that could ever be identified in sound. Each takes turns singing, Liu’s cries recalling the urgent melodrama of Richard Hell, Zhao’s the sultry lethargy of Rosie Cuckston or Dawn Smithson, and Zhu’s a desperate but distant disenchantment, distorted and reverbed. Electric guitar and electric bass guitar frequently repeat contrapuntal melodies for the duration. Basslines often occupying a saurian space between the melancholy buoyancy of something like Lou Reed’s “Street Hassle” and the driving lurch of Red Krayola’s “Hurricane Fighter Plane,” guitar usually stressing the acidic bite of staccato stabs, the industrial chug of chords, and angular movements like Gang of Four, their contemporaries, and their afterbears. The other guitar plays unstable sounds, small movements surely difficult to control, fragile harmonic chimes, gestural attacks of chaotic character. All together it makes for off-kilter tunes that stick in the ear, like “damn song 活见鬼” or “make dog be as a dog 让狗成为狗.”

Why write words for what is ostensibly a post punk record here? Maybe it’s just that. But the context of the kind of music these musicians usually operate in along with that spontaneous sensation and seemingly aleatoric approaches of the textural guitar nudged me towards another perspective. Comparative listening across the live records doesn’t show much change beyond the small variations that a rock listener would expect, a little faster or slower, the relative timing of sounds shifts a bit, the space feels different, each shows shades of the instruments and especially the voice based on energy, mood, and other intangibles. At a granular level this occurs in a single track, melodic phrases recognized to repeat minutely varied in series. So not the wholesale moment-to-moment decision-making of, say, free play, but at the scale of performance, in consideration of its contingencies.

Listen and download from Bandcamp