Shanghai Restoration Project - R.U.R. - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Shanghai Restoration Project - R.U.R.

by Joseph Majsterski Rating:7 Release Date:2017-12-01
Shanghai Restoration Project - R.U.R.
Shanghai Restoration Project - R.U.R.

Shanghai Restoration Project is not entirely new, having been around for nearly a decade since the release of Dave Liang's debut album using the name. And second member Sun Yunfan has been part of the collaboration for six years. But R.U.R. is the first album the pair have released together. The title calls back to the 1920 play of the same name by Czech playwright Karel ńĆapek, in which R.U.R. stands for Rossum's Universal Robots. The name fits, as the concept of the album is a world in which humans have been replaced by robots, who search for meaning in humanity's artifacts. The two musicians are influenced by old Chinese jazz bands, modern hip hop, and even tropicalia, making the set quite a grab bag of sounds. And for all the disparate roots of the music, it comes together remarkably well into a very unique whole.

'Alpha Go' leads things off, with sampled layers of vocals and lots of piano, but doesn't quite jell into anything compelling. The album hits its stride on the second track, 'Tropical Spice Garden', where an ultra groovy beat propels the song forward beneath a collage of synths, vocals, and barnyard samples. 'Expedition Voyage' is similar, but feels happier, with a lovely xylophone leading the chorus and steel drums and synths taking turns elsewhere.

It's an odd fact of music that many bands have a certain talent level at which they perform, but occasionally pull it together for amazing tracks that fly high above the rest of their output. Such is the case with 'Last Bachelor Oceanthus', one of the best songs I've heard all year. Leading with a goofily distorted synth, the song blossoms into a joyous pseudo-tropicalia romp filled with island percussion and loads of layered piano melodies. It modulates itself through quite a few variations and recombinations of the pieces before ending all too soon, and is absolutely the highlight of the album.

After such an amazing track, almost anything would be a disappointment, and so it is with 'Spooky Party', officially the first single from the album. It's not a bad song, but the beginning too prominently features an atonal synth and not-quite-offbeat percussion, making it extremely jarring in the early going. Luckily, after about a minute it too has found its groove, with half a dozen different melodies flowing through performed on synths, drums, and all manner of doodads. 'Wish You Were as Happy as Me' is less interesting, but strongly reminds me another oddball band, British electronic group Lionrock, who also bolted lots of incongruous sounds together but weren't quite as talented as SRP.

Another super groovy track follows that, the head-bobbing 'Supermega Cosmomall'. It relies on a whipsawing beat and mellow bassline to give it personality, and has some fun electronic noodling. 'Self-Run Diagnostic' taps into that Lionrock style again, but gets a bit funkier with the bass. The last major highlight of the album is 'Library Breakin'', a jazzy little number with a fun percussion section that includes what sounds like spoons, giving the tune an off-kilter vibe that somehow works. Other songs, such as 'High Culture Tour', use "do-be-do" styled vocals and instrumentation that make them sound like twisted lounge throwbacks in the storied tradition of old school geniuses like Juan Esquivel or more recent electro-imitators like Tripsy.

If I haven't made it clear, this is an album packed with grooves. The duo are at their best when they get into a flow and go with it, and less so when they overwork the music and get bogged down in annoying effects. R.U.R. is a pretty fresh and different sound compared to most of what's going on in the electronic scene these days, and for that reason alone it's worth a listen. And luckily, it's more than just a novelty.

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