As some of you are aware, I’m a diehard Detroit Tigers baseball fan. Recent years have been kind - they are supremely talented, they play well, and by all accounts, it is a group of swell guys. But they just can’t win the Big Game. Every year there are mutterings (even from their own manager): they need more swagger.
In the late 80’s / early 90’s, the Detroit Pistons basketball team were known as the Bad Boys. They played aggressively and went on to win a few championships, killing off the giants of the league along the way: the Boston Celtics, Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, and the LA Lakers.
The USA World Baseball Classic team roster is always filled with talented, top-grade marketable players. But despite their winning smiles, they never play to their potential. They lose.
See where I’m going with this?
So what are we going to get here with Formosa Romance, the equivalent of a Taiwanese indie rock supergroup? Pretty posers or real rockers?
Well, thank whatever god or gods are on the skies or holes in the ground, these guys come out swinging. If they let up it, it seems more as a step back to assess the damage and give a smirk before resuming the pummeling.
Their songs and this band, how shall we say... they have swagger.
When I walk in the room / I look around for a while / and stab you from behind / make my way to survive (When I Walk In the Room)
Propelled by thick, prominent bass lines, burning guitars, and charismatic vocals, Formosa Romance is the rare superband that actually fits together and rocks.
I remember guitarist Ethan from back with Rabbit Is Rich, particularly his choppy chords and wild playing, and have always been intrigued to follow his projects. Vampire Watching Television was a fun kick. Macbeth established themselves quickly as a go-to band. In a switch from playing guitar and performing vocals in Macbeth, Howie now tackles the bass and with the way he’s manhandling it, it would appear he’s won over his new instrument. Check out his manic riffing, with Sweet Little Thing, Good Deeds, and When I Walk In the Room being Exhibits A, B, & C.
Rounding out the group are guitarist Huang Qin-Zhong of Flux, drummer Ian Chen, and vocalist Bixx Song. While Howie’s bass makes the most immediate impression, I’ve come to admire Ian’s drum work more with each listen - it’s little things like the fills on Skin to his steady presence throughout, especially the driving energy of Good Deeds. And for guitar, various complementary riffs pop out, adding to the depth. The aforementioned Good Deeds has a repeating four note phrase at the breakdown at the 2:12 mark that totally sets up the furious race to the end. Nice.
Vocalist Bixx has gone on the record saying he’s learning as he goes, but he’s a quick study. This is not me simply praising a friend, as there is ample evidence throughout the album to prove his skill. He can deliver a wealth of expression. Aside from carrying a tune, we get treated to mean bites, raspy stare-downs, menacing whispers, and deep Nick Cave flourishes. Oh, and then there are the saucy lyrics:
I cover your face with my basic instinct (Get You)
Is your skin strong enough / to take all those bullets down (Skin)
Give me a reason to love you / and make a mess with you (Your Love)
The dominant, darker moods of the album, highlighted by tracks like Gone and Done, shift by the end of the disc, beginning with the stompy beat of Get You and culminating in the Strokes-y finale, the uplifting Way Out. It may well be a deliberate “radio-friendly” tune, but it works without breaking stride or confusing the overall aesthetic. Perfectly executed, they pull off a happy ending. And we all like those, yes?
Swagger. It’s naming your debut album The Best Of. It’s equal parts humor and bravado. It’s knowing you’re good and knowing you can’t take yourself so seriously, and then going out and being awesome anyway. It’s the fists of fury of the album’s opener Nobody. It’s looking someone straight in the eye and spilling your heart. It’s this band and this album. It’s the real deal.
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