Brittle strings gently creep out of the silence as we descend into the mighty melody that opens up “Last Straw,” one of ten exciting new tracks to be discovered in China’s all-new album And Then Nothing Happened. Soon, singer Michael James Tapscott is harmonizing with the vibrating textures that a couple of guitars are emitting simultaneously. The sway is reminiscent of The Beatles’ acoustic material from their legendary self-titled “white album,” but it isn’t quite as cerebral in its delivery. Although skewed with a spacey psychedelia that is at once undeniably prevalent and yet fleeting with every verse, “Last Straw” is straight up folk-rock gold in an era desperate for an organic sound, and in this sense, it represents what listeners can expect from the whole of China’s searing new LP.
“St Jerome,” the title track,” “Until This Then This is the End” and “Bitter Sailor” are incredibly moving songs that boast a physicality that one wouldn’t typically expect out of such a subtle, understated variety of indie rock. Constructed using conventional simplicity, they manage to capture the very essence of China while also appealing to us through a familiar swing that was once the rage in American pop music. Influenced by artists such as Neil Young and The Band, these players don’t strike me as the type to take any shortcuts when it comes to hammering out a full-length album, and these tracks really show off just how devoted to their craftsmanship they truly are.
I hear a lot of crossover appeal for fans of dream pop in And Then Nothing Happened, notably in songs like “Carnations” and the introductory track “Marnie,” which deceptively invites us into its supple rhythm only to crush us with its brooding poetic wit. The psychedelic overtones are at times too potent for the quieter elements in the track to keep up with, aside from a tender country twang that seeps to the surface of the mix every now and again. I love that while designed with a straightforward premise, China wasn’t afraid to get a little wet and wild on their latest album and explore the depth of their tonality with no preconceptions as to where the line should be drawn artistically. They sound relaxed, confident, and frankly, tighter than ever before.
And Then Nothing Happened is unquestionably one of my favorite records due out this winter (February 22nd to be exact). It’s cinematically produced with a close attention to detail, riddled with soft melodies and constructed sturdily, with none of its signature sonic nuances tethered to popular trends of the moment. It’s hard for me to imagine forgetting the rhythm of “Crossing the Ohio” or the glowing reverberations of “Satan’s Got a River” anytime soon, and something tells me that this could easily be the album to break China into the mainstream once and for all. While none of their previous releases failed to garner critical support, I don’t think they’ve ever sounded as on top of their game as they do here, and if this is on par with what we can anticipate out of their camp in the future, it could be the beginning of a whole new chapter in the storied history of alternative folk music.