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Carsick Cars Rocking in the Free World Out of China

Sonic Indie Band from Beijing Tours the West

Sometimes you find something when you aren’t looking for it. That’s how I discovered Carsick Cars, an incredible trio from mainland China that surely does not fit the mold. As an early riser I often tune into WKCR 89.9 FM’s Saturday pre-sunrise program Sounds of China that airs until 8:00 am, and showcases contemporary music from China. The show usually plays classical, pop, Chinese opera, and modern composers from China, most of which are super mellow. I was impressed with the two broadcasts the show featured of Carsick Cars, a noise band that left me with a hankering to hear more.

I likened them to Sonic Youth and composer Glenn Branca, and as I sought out the group’s material and I found out that Carsick Cars played Vienna and Prague with Sonic Youth in 2007. There are many similarities between Carsick Cars and Sonic Youth: Carsick Cars is a trio and has a compact sound whereas Sonic Youth is a quartet and has a bigger sound (two guitars as opposed to Carsick Cars’ one guitar. Sonic Youth also has the addition of female vocalist Kim Gordon who added extra counterpoint and texture to the band’s vocals). I am also willing to bet that Carsick Cars, like Sonic Youth, uses unorthodox guitar tunings to keep their sound interesting. You could say Carsick Cars is the Smart Car of noise bands.

Carsick Cars are a fairly new band, founded in 2005 in Beijing. To date they have five releases out. Their debut album, self titled Carsick Cars has a few standbys on it like “Zhong Nan Hai”. The track reminds me of bands such as  Cure, Echo & the Bunnyman and even Pavement a little. You don’t have to understand Chinese to enjoy this LP. My Chinese is limited to ordering dim sum. I can say “roast pork bun” and “chicken over rice” in Cantonese as the locals in line laugh out loud at what I’m sure are is a brutal hack of their language as they wait for their soy chicken and chicken feet in my predominantly asian neighborhood. There is another interesting Chinese language cut off their first album, “Hui Shou” which is mainly a spoken word piece with a soundtrack. It brings to mind “The Gift”by the Velvet Underground.

Carsick Cars second album, You Can Listen You Can Talk from 2009  has more English language tracks like the title track “You Can Listen You Can Talk.” On this the vocal styling remind me a bit of Devo. Do you remember “Beautiful World?” They also have a release that is only available on cassette, “She Will Wait” b/w “Could You Be There”. Released around 2011 and on cassette? That might be a good interview question.

Their live album Live @D22 is kicking. Some notable tracks are  “Piece Of Fire” and “Panda”.

Carsick Cars has great energy live. These tunes have a driving beat: machine music with a touch of angst. I am not trying to put Carsick Cars in Sonic Youth’s shadow, they have their own signature characteristics but much of the tone and texture on this live album, and I mean this as a compliment, is much like Sonic Youth’s premier LP Sonic Youth.  “Burning Spear” from that album is a good snapshot of what Live @D22 is about.

Carsick Cars most recent album, 3 from 2014, has even more English language tracks such as “The Shelter Song,” “15 Minutes Older” and “She Will Wait”. I was impressed with their lyrical content,

“I remember nothing but a shadow, she will wait,” is a good line and these words have a subtlety about them that are formidable and could give some American and UK bands a run for their money. I couldn’t get “The Shelter Song” out of my head after I heard it on WKCR.  

In my search for more background on Carsick Cars I found that my instincts were correct and that on my first hearing I knew was listening to artists on the tip of the creative edge. Besides reminding me of  Sonic Youth, their music brought to mind minimalist composer Glenn Branca. Then I discovered that founding Carsick Cars member Shou Wang performed Branca’s Symphony 13 in 2006.  Symphony 13 is a composition for 100 guitars, Branca often will create a wall of sound by writing pieces of music that literally call for  dozens of guitarists, many playing in unison or other interesting harmonies to engulf the listener. In addition, another member of Carsick Cars, Li Qing has performed with  modern composer Elliott Sharp. Check out Sharp’s recordings with his band Carbon, they are seminal in the world of experimental music. This makes me look forward to what the future has in store for Carsick Cars.

Carsick Cars do a lot of touring. When I looked at their concert schedule they were booked almost everyday of the week. In May they will be playing different venues in  the UK. I haven’t heard anything about any new material but I am sure they are working on something to top what they already have out. Keep your eye out for them. They quickly became one of my favorite new bands.

Brooklyn native, Frederick Gubitosi, is a musician, artist, songwriter, and music journalist. Alumnus of Pratt Institute and Brooklyn College, the former teacher writes as an insider to world of music and the humanities. In the '90s he had two solo painting exhibits in NYC and was involved in a performance art group which merged live music, improv theater and multimedia. In 1995 he participated in Philadelphia's first performance of John Zorn's "Cobra" as a musician. In 2005 he wrote, directed, and created the musical score for his comic play, "Love, the Happy Disease." He now participates in events for Brooklyn's Creators Collective making improvised music for modern dancers.

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