Round Eye, a band from Shanghai, plays some of the most insane experiment sax-laden punk music ever. That in mind, it was a surprise to me they weren’t ever black bagged or something. Truth be told, if they had an obscene political agenda, they’d probably be shut down in a similar manner to Russia’s Pussy Riot. That is to say, Round Eye is absolutely nuts. They pack each song with wicked saxophone lines, spine chilling vocals, maddening guitar riffs, haunting bass lines, and menacing drums. And the unsurprising catch to it all –For a period of time Round Eye was banned from playing live shows –of course China’s Ministry of Culture blamed it all on “crowd control issues.” There really is no proper way to introduce Round Eye than letting their own reputation and history speak for itself. The band is truly something else. This review isn’t about Round Eye’s reputation though –it’s about their debut, self-titled album. Soon it will become clear, Round Eye’s Round Eye delivers.
Horns, guitars, drums, free-jazz or rock, maybe punk –Round Eye is a bedlam of instruments and style. The album is like putting some ice, a few strawberries, a little bit of cream, and a goldfish in a blender, leaving the top off, and pressing the button associated with unleashing the most hell. The energy of the music is vigorous and relentless. There is not a boring moment in Round Eye’s debut.
The first portion of the album stands out as the biggest, brightest, most crazy portion. The first few tracks are insane and those saxophone players deserve a Nobel Peace Prize in being badasses. “PMS 2.5” the song that starts it all, is heavy. The guitar is filled with distortion and chugs along while the saxophones unleash something gnarly upon your ears. Those horns continue to let loose across the next few tracks. “Street Light A” has probably the best combination of instruments to be heard this year. The way those drums pound away perfectly, those horns create dizzying melodies to lose yourself in –it’s sickeningly good. Add a spiraling guitar line and we’re looking at a masterpiece. These early tracks really show what Round Eye has to offer. It’s all craziness. It’s all perfect. Round Eye’s album is freaky and fantastic.
With seventeen tracks (only an odd couple of which are closer to interludes), you would think that Round Eye’s album gets a little boring. On the contrary, the band is dynamic and smart enough to keep things fresh with an occasional shift in the ambience. While Round Eye never lets up on the weird, they aren’t afraid of toning it down or making a minor shift in focus just to keep things interesting. For instance, the song “God Doesn’t Know,” is slow but swaying –a serenade from a nightmare. The horns accompany an eerie guitar melody, a few simple notes to set the mood just right. Vocalist, Chachy, really deserves some serious praise in this one. The man really shines through and performs with an incredible intensity. As the song inches near its end, Chachy cries out, “God doesn’t know!” as keys intersect, the saxophones break into a sweeter tune, and like a scene out of some avant-garde horror flick, it comes to an end. Keeping right in line with the album, those interludes are fantastic as proven by the next track, appropriately named, “Segue For Lovers.” Here’s to thirty seconds of saxophone genius. A perfect transition from the solemn “God Doesn’t Know,” into a slightly heavier track. Round Eye makes every little moment count, and that makes both the songs, and the entire album itself truly special.
A few final words of praise; Round Eye’s debut album is by all means magnificent but very out there. Despite this, the album has enough to offer, that almost certainly a wide variety of people can at least find the album respectable in some way. We’re at the halfway point for 2015 and it still may be a little early to be making this call but Round Eye may really be album of the year material. Admittedly this probably isn’t the kind of music to overindulge in but it is brilliant.
Maybe a jazz fanatic may enjoy Round Eye, maybe those more into punk or metal. The noise crowd will most certainly get a kick out of this one. If you’re a fan of the more experimental side of the music world, you have an obligation to give Round Eye’s big debut a try.