15 years, and 8 albums. This is the mark of a truly impressive band, by anyone’s standards. Wang Wen, China’s largest Post-Rock band, just celebrated their 15th year together as a band by releasing their 8th album, Eight Horses. I know I’ve already mentioned this album in passing in my Sundry Commentary article, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to delve deeper into this album. The fact that none of the other writers are willing to write about Wang Wen made me a bit sad and sympathetic.
If you’ve ever listened to Wang Wen’s remarkable discography, you’ll notice they mature and develop their sound very steadily. I first heard of Wang Wen after they released 0.7, which has grown to be one of my favorite Post-Rock albums, even to the point of paying an absurd amount of money for the vinyl record. My wallet is thankful that the Eight Horses vinyl has yet to be released (They say it’ll be pressed by this September, but the vinyl world is a finicky world to say the least.)
I firmly believe that this album could be a good soundtrack to the “Wild China” documentary series. My point is driven by the opening track ‘Northern North’, which brings pictures of all sorts of wildlife and majestic landscapes to my mind, with its sweeping sounds and subdued ambience. Like the sounds of nature waking up, the song gradually adds more layers until it reaches its climax, complete with vocals and horns. I think this is the first time I’ve heard a post-rock breakdown with this eclectic combination. It definitely makes for a very unique experience.
The rest of the album has a mysterious sort of feel to it, almost exotic in nature, but they still make everything feel like it belongs there. From the Sigur Ros style of bowstring on guitar to the lyricless vocals to the horns and strings, it all feels so expertly orchestrated. It feels familiar and new all at the same time, because it’s conveniently accessible and simultaneously ground-breaking. This is one of the biggest technical achievements I’ve heard all year.
Something I thoroughly enjoy throughout this album is the fact that they continuously avoid sounding like other bands. Just when they start to sound like Sigur Ros, they change it up. When they begin to resemble Mono, they flip the music on its head. The impossibility to mistake Wang Wen for any other band is something I truly admire.
However, I have listened to this album over and over again, and there’s something that keeps nagging at me in the back of my mind. It’s not anything that has to do with song structure, instrumentation, recording quality, or even the overall feeling of the album. Heck, even the titles fit the mood of the tracks. But for the life of me, I can’t get anything from this album stuck in my head. It’s just not a memorable album, in my opinion. Every other album has some point or another that gets stuck in my head, but this one fails in that infinitesimal aspect.
If I had to rate this album, I’d give it 100%, absolutely no doubt about it. It’s like Mary Poppins; Practically perfect in every way. I would recommend this to anyone who likes anything related to instrumental music, ambient, post-metal, whatever. If Wang Wen decided to disband with no more recordings, they would certainly be ending on a high note.
Next week: The Wax Girl – Anosmic EP