Life… death… friendship… regret… apologies… weird chats with cab drivers… biscuits. All are addressed to various degrees on the second album by Hiperson, ‘She Came Back from the Square’, which marks the return of China’s best contemporary bands, fully invigorated and ready to talk in depth about crunchy snack-based metaphors.
“Everyone has their own concepts of Pursuing and Awaiting,” says singer Chen Sijiang, when asked about the inspiration for ‘Pursuing and Awaiting’: a standout track on the Chengdu-based band’s new record, which will be released May 3rd on Maybe Mars. “For example, a child’s ‘pursuing’ is for biscuits, but a parent sees biscuits as ‘awaiting’ because they don’t think biscuits are healthy enough. How do parents use their ‘awaiting’ to fight against a child’s ‘pursuing’?”
If that explanation makes little sense to you, then don’t worry too much. Chen, who has established herself as an enig-magnetic presence front of stage since Hiperson began gigging in 2012, is prone to oblique explanations of her band’s dark, beguiling music. But ‘She Came Back from The Square’, the follow-up to the band’s 2015 debut album ‘No Need for Another History’, is no obtusely twisty art-rock album. It’s got depth, sure, but also contains the most bloody-steak-raw, direct songs the five-piece have ever released.
Just listen to ‘He is as Proud as my Teacher’, which sounds like a serrated guitar string being scraped across ‘Metal Box’-era Public Image Limited’s John Lydon’s face, complete with yelped male-female panic-shouts that sound like they’re emanating from a serial killer’s cellar. Or the menacing ‘Taxi Driver’s Body’: a guitar squall hurricane that comes across as angrily noisy as, well as a Beijing taxi driver whose just been stiffed of a fare.
Songs are often confidently stripped back by guitarist Ji Yi’nan, who acted as producer when the band, completed by singer Chen, guitarist Liu Zetong, bassist Wang Minghui and drummer Wang Boqiang, recorded in their home city in Sichuan province in summer 2017. “We just went with the flow,” says Chen with a shrug about the new, more direct sound, which often sees affairs boiled down to simple, hypnotic grooves balancing on just bass and drums. “There was no-one else in the studio, just us, so things were simple and direct. We finished the whole thing in a month.”
Musical touchpoints for the band included The Viking of Sixth Avenue: the posthumous compilation album by the blind, homeless and heavily-bearded US multi-insturmentalist Moondog. The squalling saxophone squeal of ‘History’, meanwhile, is likely a byproduct of Chen obsessively listening to Norwegian jazz musician Jan Garbarek. Steve Reich, Akio Suzuki and Sebadoh are other artists the band reels off when asked about the deep well of influences the band drank from when recording the new album.
During this process, everyday conversations with strangers were seemingly as influential as rifling through the back catalogues of various pillars of alternative music history. Chen recalls a chat she had with a taxi driver that ended up shaping the lyrical content of the short, largely spoken-word intro ‘Someone Said’, plus the aforementioned ‘He is as Proud as my Teacher’, that follows it.
“I was chatting with an Uber driver and he started to calculate how much money my parents had to spend on me when they were raising me,” Chen says, recalling an interaction that sounds at best mildly inappropriate, at worst a downright creepy. Not for Chen, though – she found it intriguing. “He even gave me a final number,” she continues. “I liked him and thought the way he calculated the total was interesting – how much money does a person’s life cost? It was a surprising way to think but I didn’t think it was wrong – gaining something, calculating, spending… it’s their life cycle.”
Chen ended up using the conversation to shape lyrics such as, “He is as proud as my teacher/How proud he is – experience of the general public/He calculates to survive/Is he wrong/Care for Him! Talk to him!”, immortalising arguably one of the weirder cabbie conversations than most get to experience.
Perhaps this head-on collision of cerebral life view analysis and rip-roaringly raw rock is fitting for a band that balances the deep and the direct so deftly. Whatever, along with the biscuits, it’s another slosh of petrol on the crackling fire of intrigue that is ‘She Came Back from the Square’. Trust us, you really want to hear this.