By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
“China’s music gets evil,” promises Nova Heart’s website, about their self-titled debut album. Well, if “evil” means beats scraping along like a hunchback in a haunted house, some deep-twang surf guitar, swirly synth, heaving (and even heavy) breathing, and cymbals that show up at the climax of a song like they’ve registered at a tri-state cymbal conference, then got shocked at how many cymbals actually exist in the tri-state area…well, that’s not “evil” in my book. Evil in my book is when you betray the people who worship you. Evil is when you laugh at other people’s pain.
But Nova Heart takes a decent stab at novelty, even as it assembles this novelty notion out of discarded tropes, pieces of ‘90s electronica and ‘90s singer-songwriter guitar (clean, almost oppressively clean), and a drummer, Atom, whose high-hat sounds like Ted Danson on “CSI” quietly misting down his mushroom collection. I don’t hear any explosive originality, but I hear slyness, melancholy, stuff you put on to dance by yourself at 3 a.m. because you have to dance at 3 a.m.
Helen Feng, the head honcho, was a VJ for MTV in China for some time, so she presumably knows the score over there, what she wants to push back against. The electrobeats from her keys pulse in a variety of ‘90s textures, including guitar textures. Everything she sings, seems haunted. Like she’s sending her messages out into a cold night where someone, somewhere, might be dancing at 3 a.m.—but mostly it’s just cold, and windy, and bright neon fails to warm anyone. The voice in these songs wants to get to someone, touch someone, but knows enough to adopt a cool fatalism. “I hang in,” and that’s about all she can do. And make it as pretty, icy-pretty, as possible.
I wish I knew more about Chinese society, and Chinese pop music. She’s singing mostly in English, with a bit of what sounds like Mandarin in one song. They’re rebelling against everything cute, and everything that twerks, everything they see and hear as a received idea. Ironically, though, they’re assembling their own revolution out of bits and pieces of other folks’ revolutions. I wish it sounded more like a breakthrough. I’m not sure what to make of this impression, finally, that all over the world stand lonely people trying to get home, in the cold. Trying to find a light in a window. Someone dancing. (end)
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at email@example.com.