By Rikki O.
Lisa Liu (guitars, vocals)
SMV (keyboards, vocals)
Jim Archer (drums)
Imagine if you can the infinite possibilities that arise when you discover musicians who have NOT sold their souls in exchange for purchased-with-gimmicks hits and flashy, image-driven sing-alongs. Now imagine if you can the rare probability that said musicians might find each other in a city as vast as
What – you say you can’t picture any such thing?
Don’t worry; I thought the same thing before I listened to ‘the phoenix’ – the new debut full length album from Renminbi (REN-MIN-BEE). Formed around four years ago by guitarist Lisa Liu and the artist known only as SMV on keyboards, Renminbi are an incomparable self-described “experimental indie/post-punk” band that have created a purity of sound that is reminiscent of Sonic Youth’s glory days mixed in with some Mogwai and Yo La Tengo. As with their previous two EPs, 2003’s The People’s EP and 2004’s The Great Leap, “the phoenix” relies on the music itself to tell the song’s story through a landscape where noise meets emotion. Lyrics grace only about half of the songs on “the phoenix”, and come as what seems to be almost an afterthought. Using the “call and response” method, the song lyrics seem to be birthed from the melodies and rhythms of the song itself, rather than crafted beforehand with the music creating a backdrop to show them off. In “Fight Song”, rather than evoking harsh sounds and words, lyrics (You only gave me a song/ I thought you’d give me a sign/ Tell me/ What have I done?) and lolling guitar evoke the sense of two people who are seemingly perfect for each other and yet live on parallel planes, never destined to connect. “Big Sur” again brings tension without relief (So long, my love/ Knowing you/ You’ll never change,/ you’ll never change/ And I’ll always wait); it’s a bit like climbing the stairs of a thousand sliding boards and never getting to let go and slip back down to the ground. While the lyrics might take a minimalist approach, they nearly always seem to tuck themselves down inside the songs perfectly and only where they are needed; nothing more and nothing less.
Combining SMV’s eddying synths and Lisa’s incredible guitar work with the cadenced and intricate drumming by Jim Archer, “the phoenix” builds rushes of adrenaline in songs like opener “The Shore” followed by a dream-inspired wanderlust in “Siobhan”. Ambience is truly the driving force behind this album, but it comes with a purity of focus and desire for truth with no icing that truly makes it unique in this day and age.