Mamer – Eagle (Real World USCDRW165, 2009)
This hypnotic little daydream of a CD is going to be a revelation for anyone who believes they know what Chinese music sounds like. Mamer is the master of what’s called Chinagrass, a heady mix of traditional sounds, singer/songwriter sensibility and the restlessness of alternative country and acoustic rock. And it’s considerably better than such a description makes it out to be.
Hailing from the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang, Mamer grew up on both the music of the Kazakh culture and several levels of Western rock, pop and progressive sounds.
Eagle has evidence of the latter mainly in the form of guitars and bass, and that’s where most easily graspable points of reference go out the window. Which is not to say this music is completely lacking in familiarity- quite the opposite, really.
You’ll pick up on traces of Mongolian throat singing, Silk Road balladry, Arabic subtleties (Xinjiang is the where the main concentration of China’s Muslim population is to be found), songs that veer slightly into techno territory and wide-open ambiences similar to what’s sometimes heard in the fusion music of Native America or the Australian Outback. Mamer’s voice, usually double tracked, has a forebodingly deadpan quality in its higher and (mostly) lower registers, anchoring the quirky beauty of the music with odd perfection.
Acoustic guitars, traditional lutes and flutes, twanging Jew’s harp, shadowy percussion and shamanic vibes surface amid songs that range from slow and pensive to almost waltz-like in tempo. Despite a dusting of the type of modern production values that can leave traditional music cold and uninviting, nothing on the album feels too fussy. An intriguing, musically satisfying work from an emerging artist worth keeping an eye and ear on.
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Author: Tom Orr
Tom Orr is a California-based writer whose talent and mental stability are of an equally questionable nature. His hobbies include ignoring trends, striking dramatic poses in front of his ever-tolerant wife and watching helplessly as his kids surpass him in all desirable traits.