In the kitchen, one finds different knives. One is smaller and sharper; it cuts quickly and precisely. Another is bigger, blunter, older; it cuts to the bone P.K.14 is the latter, a band of patient urgency. As he always has throughout the band’s 20 years of existence, vocalist Yang Haisong delivers his message with elegant abstraction, setting the tone on album opener “Imagine A City”:
Imagine this city’s people / Who have never lost their strength / But while trapped in a city made of sand / They have come to live out other people’s stories / While still thinking that the world is theirs.
P.K.14’s long-awaited, seventh album What We Talk About When We Talk About His Name is as much about mastery as immaturity, as much about “illustrious brushstrokes” as “babbling prose” (“Bad Timing”). It’s about the slow rise of angry bile, about crowded streets and restless harbors — phenomena that only get clearer with the honing perception of age and careful attention to poetic detail.
Musically, What We Talk About When We Talk About His Name is thoroughly true to form throughout. Old fans will be emphatically reassured with the band’s consistent reworking of early NYC punk and Manchester post-punk arrangements, fed through the filter of art-inflected, experimental leanings that have been the hallmark of P.K.14’s output for decades. The most musically thrilling moments of the album come not as jarring calls for attention, but as slow-building instrumental interludes added by members of Berlin avant-garde ensemble Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra on “Mystery of Shadows,” “Twenty Minutes,” and “Your Name.” These additions on flute, sax, violin and clarinet add resonant depth to P.K.14’s enduring message, which has already echoed across generations of aspiring poets and rockers in China for many years, and which continues to capture the ears and hearts of listeners all over the world.
Like a persistent shadow thrown against the wall of a skyscraper, P.K.14’s music contains the potential for long-term upheaval. An emotional knife, this album perhaps cuts deeper than any of the band’s already celebrated previous releases. What We Talk About When We Talk About His Name is a record that plays like the wait for a storm to brew, like the anticipation of a cleavage already in progress. As Yang says on album closer “Your Name”: It’s like talking about / Something otherworldly.