Artists must always create new language to describe new times — few can do this well. As foundational Beijing rocker Cui Jian says on his classic song “Evening of an Era”: “If there’s no new language, there’s no new form / there’s no new power to express new emotions.” Finding new energy through new language is something that Beijing trio Snapine has always excelled at, albeit at in their own understated, spare, sometimes harsh way, and they’ve done it once again on their third studio album, Shou Hua.
Shou Hua is a stark indicator, a road marker pointing out that even though the times are accelerating at post-human speeds, there’s still a space for true innovation, creativity, and anti-commercial grit at the base of things. It literally starts with an “Alarm” before gliding straight into the gut-punching lyrical directness that frontman Chen Xi has always had a gift for, as he cheerfully chimes on about impostor syndrome and the hypocrisies of social status-seeking on “What a Day”: “He’s considered to be smart / But he’s a fraud / He’s scared of the thought of being identified / But everyone seems to love him / Sometimes even more.”
But Shou Hua is more than a continuation of a recognizable thread in Snapline’s development; it’s also a system upgrade, a reinvention. On “Ironhead”, Li Qing and Li Weisi circle around each other in cascading minor chords on guitar and bass, like two spiders skating across a web, as Chen’s lyrics drive deep into our current technological dystopia with crisp, abstract precision: “ease, empty, fake, frown, socket, pipe, tin, can, stand, amp, vibrator, turbulence, turbulence, turbulence / a man with an ironhead.” And the band has never sounded more machine, less human, than on mid-album track “Lynnwood,” an absolute crusher grounded in little more than a whole-note bassline, a skittering mechanical hi-hat, and scratched guitar harmonics. “It was heavy,” Chen says, before screaming.
On Shou Hua, Snapline sounds older but not wearier — just refocused. There’s something like a heartbeat (but too regular, too inhuman) on the slowly pooling, uncharacteristically melodic album closer, “TheAnswerS#3”, a pulse as Chen cooly rues the uncertainty built in to our current techno-cultural moment, our environment where there’s “more and more to see / less and less to feel.” Despite this, Snapline’s third album is a sincere attempt to feel something in the nothing, to slip a jagged edge through the mental fog. Dehumanize to rehumanize.
*Shou Hua is the Pinyin of the Chinese title獣化 (Dehumanize)