Wuhan, China is an industrial wasteland; crowded, dusty and forebodingly urban. Driving through the city, it is hard to miss the scenic views of cordoned off construction sites with their massive cranes and bulldozers, either erecting new high rise skyscrapers or destroying old buildings for the sake of better urban planning. It is one of the fastest growing cities in the country and also the hometown of Hualun, one of the few post-rock bands in China. Two years after their debut, Silver Daydream, they release their sophomore album Asian River, a more cohesive and polished effort.
Post-rock has always been interested in exploring the dichotomy between quiet build ups and controlled noisy chaos. Asian River explores this traditional concept with great care, featuring the classic post-rock template of clean and reverbed guitar melodies which coalesce into crescendos of distortion and delay, supported by clear cut drumming and solid bass lines. During the relatively silent sections, there is minimal interplay between the guitars, allowing for more appreciation of the individual trickling string melody.
The first half of the album evokes shades of Mono, with long and intricate passages (all songs are over six minutes long) and strikingly epic climaxes. Songs like ‘Echo’ and ‘The Pilot’ showcase disciplined driving bass lines around which the guitars faithfully build their melodies. The album ender, ‘Shanghai Tourists,’ takes a familiar Chinese string tune and reworks it into a beautiful modern day interpretation with a gentle duel between the rhythm and lead guitar. The band is careful in reeling in their indulgences; the songs never overstay their welcome.
The album is relatively short for a post-rock album, with seven songs barely crossing over the forty seven minute mark. The production is refreshingly traditional, in that there are no drum machines, synthesizers or any overt digital manipulation, allowing the instruments to shine in their rightful manner. Hualun doesn’t test the boundaries of the genre, but, it does an excellent job of working within its confines. The songs are forceful in evoking feelings of melancholy and nostalgia; perhaps longing for a simpler time in industrial Wuhan.-Ashish Lohani