The Hsu-nami – Hsu-nami – Album Review
The music of The Hsu-nami is one of the wildest rides I’ve experienced this year. Those that follow along and read us daily are already familiar with how ‘different’ the music can be here…and also how much I enjoy that personally. The last thing in the world that I’d ever want is for these pages to be lined with a homogenized image of what music would be like if we were to say, review what’s happening in the mainstream all the time…I can’t imagine what we’d look like if that was the direction we chose. I suppose we’d look exactly like the mainstream sounds for 99% of it – just like wallpaper.
Instead…quite happily…I get to be chillin’ with music like what I’m hearing in The Hsu-nami! Words cannot describe how brilliantly unique this truly is…though of course, I’ll try. To start…it’s probably best described as how they have on their social-media pages…which claims the music is a blend of Chinese Traditional, Prog-Rock, Instrumental, Metal and an all-out Jam; and honestly – I couldn’t put that any better myself. That’s exactly what I’m hearing in the music of The Hsu-nami – and for anything associated with Metal or Rock music…the last way you’d probably think to describe it would be beautiful – but that’s also exactly what I’m hearing here on this self-titled record. I mean…to be honest – this is astonishing…the talent on this album is absolutely incredible and stunning throughout the entire record. I love The Hsu-nami!!!
First off – EVERY player in this band deserves a ton of credit…this is by no means easy music to make, play or compose – yet everything I can hear is played flawlessly with intense passion and precision. Undoubtedly…it might end up being a lot more ‘straightforward’ were it not led by Jack Hsu, who leads the band with a traditional instrument called the ‘Erhu’ – which is a the Asian-version of the violin. At least I suppose so…I mean…I’ve heard a lot of violins in my lifetime – but I don’t know that I’ve ever heard one that’s played so well and sounds as beautiful and mystical as this does! The songs by The Hsu-nami aren’t short by any stretch…they’re quite long in terms of time – but in terms of listening to them and the experience itself – it all seems to just fly by with complete innovation and unexpected twists & turns in the music that are so entirely satisfying and enjoyable that it would be impossible to NOT love this record. I’m absolutely amazed at what they’ve pulled off on this album…and I’m thinking that quite possibly, if someone were to ask me to pick ONE album to listen to throughout the rest of my life – this could very well be THE ONE I’d choose. There is so much to listen to here – it’s breathtaking.
The complexity & the beauty of a song like “Rise Of The Vermillion” will hook you in right away. Now…because it’s based in its progressive-attitude and it’s instrumental – The Hsu-nami is always going to challenge the public for acceptance…but for those musician-types out there that are looking for more to the music they listen to – it just doesn’t get any better than this. The timing switches, the melody of the Erhu, the incredible drums of John Manna…I mean, c’mon! Right off the bat, this album aims to impress and it never stops for a single-second from there on in. The combination of sound in players like Jack and John when playing alongside Brent Bergholm on guitars and Derril Sellers on the bass in a track like “The Great Race” will absolutely blow your freakin’ mind. You add in the subtle layers that Dana Goldberg brings to the music with the keyboards…and you’ve got a recipe for success in this genre. It’s the exact kind of music I was always raised to accept readily, but so truly rarely comes along. “The Great Race” has some incredible trade-offs with Brent and Jack that shine with stunning depth & sonic-brilliance. The rhythms and grooves in this metal-infused music they’re making is absolutely nothing short of spectacular. The unsung hero award goes to Derril on bass throughout “The Great Race” – it’s almost easy to pick out every other instrument as they flash their incredible skills throughout the song – but it’s that relationship between the groove of the bass and drums of Manna that really keep this second track moving. Check it out below – this is AWESOME!
I mean…Manna is an octopus of a drummer if I’ve ever heard one. There’s no ‘keeping the beat’ here – Manna takes full-ownership of the drum-kit and often leads the charge through these incredible parts, which gives each and every player the freedom to roam through vastly unexplored terrain overtop of his reliable beats. Just listen to the way he rips through “The Black Tortoise” and you’ll hear exactly what I mean – this guy is an inch-short of being completely insane – his parts are absolutely astounding. Dana shines as well throughout “The Black Tortoise” as does the intricate playing of Brent’s guitar-solos. I’m not going to lie to you though…I’m always listening for that next moment when the Erhu takes over, just for the pure-beauty I can hear in the passion and performance of Jack. Admittedly…it feels like there’s a little less of it in “The Black Tortoise” – but that speaks a lot to the depth of the band and their talent & how dependable it truly is. It’s also an eight-plus minute epic track…so right when you figure it’s drawing to an end at around the four-minute mark, this whole thing switches with incredible insight to a whole new-life in its second half. Jack takes over for the switch, then allows Dana to really bring out some of the best accents to the music alongside a slower tempo from John Manna before the entire band brings it all home with a fueled and unrivaled intensity to take “The Black Tortoise” to its end. Absolute perfection.
Layout and flow…always an important thing to a successful full-album – and this is definitely no collection of singles, this is that elusive and rare full-album whereby none of the songs feel out of place – it flows and transitions perfectly. Listening to the beautiful & melodic opening of “The Heart Of The Azure Dragons” and Jack’s sparkling performance in the beginning is a gorgeous experience. There are a lot of traditional instruments used in making this record as well, some of which I think are spread out throughout this track’s beginning…and it all combines together in one seriously moving composition. Of course though…Manna is a beast that cannot be contained and shortly around the corner, the intensity kicks in again. I mean, it really kicks! With a stomping beat that begins an incredible transition towards its final third…”The Heart Of The Azure Dragons” finds a gear full of vibrant hooks in the instrumentation. It remains light-enough that many people would enjoy this sound I’m sure. Even the following-cut, “Celestial Wolf” is undeniable in its intensity…but the different layers of the composition reveal melody that is as bold as it is beautiful. Jack’s erhu performance on “Celestial Wolf” is impossible to outshine…there’s much to love about this song and the amazing layout and flow that it possesses – but you just can’t beat the incredible tones and melody that come out of that instrument when it’s played this well. Solid performances from Brent on his solos and Derril & John in the rhythm section of The Hsu-nami here…and I’m not entirely sure – but there are layers of vocalizations that I’d assume we’re hearing Dana pitch in on as well. They add to the music exactly like instrumentation – and the resulting combination is mesmerizing.
As much as I enjoyed “White Tiger’s Tale” – had I not known that this was coming from players that incorporated traditional Chinese instruments into the mix – I think I actually would have mistaken a lot of what I heard on this track for a more Celtic-influence. Like something that would have come more from the Irish or in the UK somewhere…which again speaks to the amount of terrain that the music of The Hsu-nami truly covers. Great flute-work here…I’m guessing maybe something a little less straight-forward, like perhaps a shakuhachi making that sound perhaps…or maybe it’s even Dana from the keyboards…but whatever it is, again, sounds fantastic to listen to. And for those of you rolling your eyes at the potential of something with a Celtic-sound…we’re not talking Riverdance here…it’s still true to the sound and style of The Hsu-nami and loaded with their now familiar intensity.
And of course…the best advice I can give you when listening to this record, is to expect the unexpected – because just as the intensity ramps-up again in “White Tiger’s Tale” – it’s immediately followed up with one of the most tender & gentle melodies on the album with “Reincarnation.” If you want to know what putting your whole heart & soul into a performance sounds like…listen to the way that John, Jack and Brent begin this track…because that’s true fucking beauty right there, pardon my language! The sincerity of which they play throughout this seven-plus minute song is absolutely stunning…and when the full-band kicks into gear with them, it just soars into brilliance. On an album like this, lined wall-to-wall with incredible compositions…it’s tough to single out any one track, but each time I heard “Reincarnation” and the stunning emotion put into it…all I could do was sit and stare forward…and just listen. A song like this is one that truly needs no words – the instruments are speaking clearly enough to get every bit of feeling and emotion through the atmosphere it creates. As “Reincarnation” shifts, it ranges from uplifting beats to the purity of the erhu and its melancholy, yet hopeful and inspiring tones; the contrast in this song is 100% gripping and captivating to listen to. Ending in the beauty of which it began – this track swings perfectly full-circle and comes to a perfect conclusion…it’s gorgeous.
The rock-riffs lead the way through “Ride The Open Seas” with The Hsu-nami once again showing us all just how diverse and versatile their sound can truly be. These have ALL been compositions and arrangements to seriously be proud of…and the ‘classic-rock’ influenced guitars meeting the brightened sounds of the erhu & flute sound great together. One of my favorite breakdowns on this entire record, you actually get ready to brace yourself throughout the entire moment – because you fully expect them to come roaring back on this one…and they certainly do. It does edge much closer to the rock-side than perhaps most of what you’ll hear on this record from its beginning to ending – but certainly still a rad song. AND…after looking them up on their official page – it turns out that I was right about those flute-sounds belonging to a shakuhachi…just so y’all don’t think I’m going crazy over here!
As a melody guy…there’s so much to appreciate about the music of this self-titled record from The Hsu-nami…and one of the moments I loved most is one of the album’s most understated. Coming in the form of an introduction, the “Dragon King Intro” is quite simply as stunning as a flawless diamond is. It sparkles with beauty and is incredibly well-played. Shortest tune on the record by far being that it’s only an introduction – but it really does lead fantastically into the grinding & winding guitars of “Dragon King Of The North Sea” to follow. Though the sounds of The Hsu-nami are much more melodic in their full-scope and range…for those of you familiar with a band like, say Mars Volta…you’ll easily appreciate the complexity of the arrangements and just how well this band pulls it all off together. I love the way that “Dragon King Of The North Sea” moves and flows…it has tension, drama, beauty, emotion, sincerity and tremendous melody-lines that drift in and out of the crunch of the rock-layered overtop. Keyboards from Dana truly help bring the atmosphere in this one and the intro beforehand to life – and one of the best compliments you can give to this entire record is just how amazingly captivating it truly remains. It would be impossible to be bored listening to ANY of these songs…it’s like a serious smorgasbord of complete awesomeness. The Hsu-nami dishes it all out and serves it up perfectly…and just when you think you’re full – they pile on desert and you magically want MORE all over again. I’ve spent an enormous amount of time listening to this record…its signature time-changes and ideas are so fully-realized that it just leaves my jaw on the ground every time the album runs from beginning to end. Jack plays the erhu in spots like on “Dragon King Of The North Sea” where it almost sounds like he’s playing a theramin – that’s how good the guy is…he can even make his instrument of choice sound entirely like something else in addition to playing it with a master’s touch in its more natural violin-esque sound.
Won’t lie to you though…it demands a lot of attention and a lot from your brain as the record spins. As “Entropy” began the final track of the album, all I could think to myself was how exhausted these players would certainly be if they were to play this entire album wall-to-wall live…and how amazing of an experience it would be were it to happen. Excellent bass-lines subtly mixed in from Derril once again, great chord-choices from Brent to complement the overall melody from Jack on the erhu; “Entropy” ends the record with sheer brilliance and beautiful breakdowns and transitions that highlight just how creative this band seriously is. Definitely one of the absolute highlights of my year – it’s been a great month at the homepage here for amazing music, and I couldn’t think of a better record to end off what’s been an incredible May as we head into June.
And there’s some great news in that for you too…because right now, I’m listening to this album pre-release! Sorry guys! You’ll have to wait until the official release on June 30th coming up…but what I can tell you for certain is that The Hsu-nami has created an album that will be more than worth your waiting. I recommend this one as highly as I possibly can – this was a complete adventure into music like I’ve never personally experienced and a ride through music I look forward to taking on again & again. The Hsu-nami – you’ve done an incredible job here that you should all be proud of – I’d look forward to hearing anything from this crew of highly-skilled musicians, any time.
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