Indie-pop singer-songwriter Enno Cheng sticks to the basics and lets her breathy voice take centerstage on her debut album Neptune. The opening track exhibits her vocals as they surface to the foreground amid the backings of a lazily strummed guitar. Her restrained singing provides nuance to an unspoken melancholy, languidly winding its way into auditory consciousness. Drawing on a simple metaphor, the lyrics convey the singer’s wish to act as a nourishing Sun for the subject of the song, also the track’s title, Sun 太陽. The album name picks up relevance as the pedal distortions evoke an ambience that lends a feeling of distance nearly analogous to the vast expanse lying between the Sun and Neptune.
A few tracks into the album, the cerebral musings on romance become a bit exhausting. Of the songs succeeding Sun, over half retain the lethargic, bedroom-pop sound. This pattern is only interjected by a few upbeat songs such as Independence Day 獨立日 – an ultimately forgettable attempt at generic indie-pop-rock (there’s too much affected twang in the vocals) – and barely distinguishable from the trappings of mainstream Mandopop.
It seems there is little digression between many of her songs insofar as overall song structure is concerned. A minute-long bridge, sometimes awkwardly inserted, appears on most tracks around the two or three minute mark, depending on the length of each song, which seem a little redundant.
However, there are some deviations from instrumentation here and there – tracks Road 路, City of Heavy Rain 大雨城市, and Don’t Forget Yourself 別忘了你自己 serve to showcase Enno’s aptitude for contemporary orchestral composition. The lilting glissando of a violin weaves effortlessly with the accompaniment of a captivating cello part in Road; Don’t Forget Yourself has strings and brass joined in anthemic unison highly reminiscent of the baroque-pop sensibilities employed by bands such as Stars.
One song stands head and shoulders above its ilk – folksy Sayonara 撒呦那拉, the only track for which Enno delivers in Taiwanese. Perhaps it’s the complex inflections brought about by the change in language, but her voice suddenly loses much of its honeyed coating and transforms into something more full-bodied as she lamentably acknowledges a parting of ways between herself and a former inamorato. After a slew of cutesy guitar-pop that worked only to suppress her aching emotions, Enno finally sounds more honest and open in this track as she belts out wordless notes that crescendos into an unforeseen soulfulness before gradually receding into silence.
As the album closes with Fortress 城堡, Neptune appears to take on a new meaning – with the eponymous planet being a gas giant, it is obviously comprised of, well, GAS. It’s no stretch to say the contents of this album are equally vaporous, yet the logical extension of this metaphor suggests that at its core, there exists something solid. There’s always room for improvement, so long as Enno expands on that solid potential she possesses. With a mixed outlook, I look forward to see what she’ll provide for us in her sophomore effort.