Beijing bands hit Calgary

I first came across Carsick Cars circa 2010 around the peak of free download music blog mayhem. You know a time where if one wanted to have some vague idea about what independent music sounded like over in China you could probably just Google it and find a few gigabytes worth of music to download.

Carsick Cars initially caught my attention for a few reasons. First the connections to Sonic Youth both in sound and history: not only does guitarist/frontman Zhang Shouwang know his way around an effects pedal or two equally capable of wrenching out dynamic harmonic swirls as he is walls of droning feedback but the Beijing-based rock trio also had a hand in Sonic Youth’s first attempt at touring to China in 2007. That appearance was cancelled but Carsick Cars were invited to join Sonic Youth on tour through Europe later that year. (Pro tip for new music listeners: find out about other artists that your favourite artists are into — it’ll usually be far more rewarding than being spoonfed advertisements.)

Skip ahead to 2014 and Carsick Cars are touring North America on their first new album since 2009 and third overall (it’s appropriately titled 3 ). Remarkably that trip includes a stop at Local 510 on Sunday March 23.

Joining Carsick Cars on this North American tour will be White+ another project of Shouwang’s albeit with a more experimental direction than Carsick Cars’ guitar rock. The project’s described as a “hardware electronica band” wherein Shouwang trades his guitar for a keyboard and an array of effects pedals (though I’m sure he’s using loops and plenty of pedals in both bands) while Wang Xu’s percussion drives everything forward.

The duo travelled to Germany to record its most recent album a fitting locale for its minimalist/kosmische electronic workouts — and also perhaps a telling indicator that Shouwang and co. are astute listeners as well as musical historians: Carsick Cars’ 2009 effort You Can Listen You Can Talk was recorded with Wharton Tiers (who helped produce records from Sonic Youth and Glenn Branca — to name but a few — throughout the ’80s and ’90s) in New York; Blixa Bargeld from Einstürzende Neubauten helped produce their first album in 2007 and this streak continues on 3 where Carsick Cars travelled to New York and enlisted production input from Spacemen 3’s Sonic Boom and The Clean’s Hamish Kilgour. It all reads like a collection of stamps upon the Bingo card of cool western underground rock history curated by 20-something record collectors who have only recently had any access to this stuff.

Sound wise 3 is as slick as one might expect given the names involved with every effects-laden texture captured with dynamic aplomb. Song wise the trio manage to avoid any rigidly studious and overly self-aware posturing that poisons much contemporary rock; there’s also little of that languid “easy ’n’ breezy” chic that’s made “indie rock” so unbelievably dull these past few years.

It’s charming and almost naive this wonderfully exuberant and sometimes noisy rock. Perhaps I’m missing something in the lyrics (Shouwang sings in both Mandarin and English) but the music speaks for itself in a manner both familiar and wide-eyed unburdened by cynicism — as if to say “Find and make what you like and keep running with it.”

A nervy and infectious listen 3 is sure to only be made bolder in the context of live performance so if you dig cool music that sounds like Steve Reich and Thurston Moore listening to The Feelies be sure to take this rare chance to see Chinese indie rock without having to go all the way to China.