Dissonance – that was the word that popped repeatedly into my head when I listened to Roxymoron’s “Popular Wasteland”. That got me really puzzled because the music is definitely not harsh or unpleasant. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It is an attractive piece of work by the band.
So I set out to find out why I felt dissonant.
Maybe the dissonance is from the flow of the EP having an unstable transient feel and a lack of resolution? I sat back and listened to the flow of the EP.
I then realized that the EP is like a daytime soap opera. Shapes provides the soundtrack to the opening credits with loads of New Wave energy. Then the band introduces the evil villain and his capacity for untold atrocities with the menacing Crawl. Like any good daytime soaps, the song hints at hidden histories and adds drama to the flow. A quick shift in the drama then provides us with a potential love interest subplot with Cats – a subplot filled with miscommunication and unrequited affections. If the last two songs are akin to the first act of any drama introducing the characters, then Didn’t Mean is the start of the second act where a conflict happens. The refrain “I didn’t mean to do it at all” accompanied with the yelps of “hey!” suggests a key event in the progress of the storyline.
And then, the EP ends. Just like any good soap opera. Makes us come back the next day. So there it is – a lack of resolution but this is a structure that I have experienced from years of watching television. It makes me yearn for more. It does not make me dissonant.
Then maybe the dissonance is from the band’s background. Most of Roxymoron's members are expatriates from the West living in Taipei. Maybe the dissonance was from this state of conflict between East and West? I listened to the 4-song EP again.
The entire EP still sounds decidedly Western in influence. I spotted New Wave in Shapes with guitars mimicking sirens (instead of cowbells). The “I got the brains / you got the taste” lyrics in Crawl reminded me of Pet Shop Boys’ ironic Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money). The use of delay in Dan Semo’s guitar work harks to U2’s The Edge. The low-end bass rumble and swagger, especially in Crawl, points to a possible trip-hop influence.
By staying close to their musical roots of their respective upbringings, there does not seem to be any conflict in the band’s Taiwan locale and its music. In fact, the band’s attempt to blend English and Mandarin lyrics in Cats results in a tight balanced song. Pia Hsieh’s guest vocals on this track is awesomely emotive and expressive.
Finally, maybe the dissonance I felt was mine? Maybe I expected a Taipei-based band to sound, well, Taiwanese. However, I can hardly fault the band members for staying close to their roots and for being true to who they are. Maybe I expected tidy resolutions to the EP, given the polished nature of the songs. However, I also cannot fault Roxymoron for keeping us on the edge wanting more. It is part of the drama.
Maybe I was suffering from cognitive dissonance. The famous example of cognitive dissonance is the fox that cannot reach the grapes of its desire claiming the grapes to be sour anyway. I am probably just a sour reviewer who realizes it would be very difficult for me to achieve the same growling menacing energizing beauty of Popular Wasteland.
“Bah! Humbug!” on a brilliant EP, lads.