Sa Dingding‘s latest album is unlike anything she has released before. Infact, it’s not quite like anything you’ve likely heard before. This is a truly fresh, singular experience that DEMANDS your attention. It has a hard bite and refuses to let go for it’s entire playtime. Dingding could have gotten away with doing what she has done for the last three releases and I would have been happy- but no– she takes her blend of music to a completely different plain. It’s got a far more Euro/UK feel (and also is mixed with Indian flavor- parts of it were recorded in Mumbai) and it works WONDERS. This is a new, different beast for Dingding, so much so that you will possibly sit there wondering WTF for quite a bit of it on initial spins. In the best way possible.
Production is unlike other Dingding albums- whereas before she went for a more floaty, atmospheric mix, this time it’s direct, loud and crunchy. This is likely to the fact that production duties were given over to Karsh Kale. It punches you in the gut and sounds absolutely wonderful. Instrumentation is highly electronic based- of course, it wouldn’t be Dingding without the trademark mix of traditional Chinese instruments- but instead of being the forefront, they feel slightly less pronounced this time, and only become the highlight when they push a song forward. Beats are more intense and modern sounding, often verging (but never quite devolving to) trap and dubstep at times. There are times where it has a very Indian or Bollywood feel, and this adds some fresh new sounds. There seems to be a lot of direct ‘song’ structures (verse chorus verse) this time too, making it instantly more catchy and approachable– and this is a plus in this particular release.
Some of the biggest highlights:
The almost rock like single “Swallows” which has a beautiful melodic acoustic guitar as it’s main instrument. It almost reminds this reviewer of the most beautiful tracks by bands like The Tea Party, yet made even more beautiful by Dingding’s hypnotizing voice. It works as a single and is easily the most inviting song on the album. It soothes the soul and is hard to resist repeating right after it’s over.
The utterly cathartic opener “Ding Ding Sa“, making sure you KNOW she’s back and midway track “Play” which mixes intense, Mumbai style beats with traditional Chinese children’s games lyrics. This is the biggest departure for Dingding on the entire album, and she truly brings something new to the table with it. I have been blown away by her before, but I’ve never been this surprised.
“So I Have Heard” is the most beautiful song of the album, and Dingding perhaps brings the very best vocals she has ever put to record. The song swirls and grows, Dingding’s voice reaches highs that most vocalists can only dream of. The use of layering really adds to the effect, it’s mind-blowing and heart-wrenching. It’s the kind of vocals that transcend language, you can feel the song without having to know a scrap of her dialect. And that truly is testament to the power of these songs.
For those who crave that rich, trademark sound of earlier albums, you aren’t fully left behind. Songs like “Oriental Beauty“, “Peach Blossom Fairy” and “Origins of Sound” indeed do invoke those earlier flavors, but add some new spice to the mix. You’ll still get them amazing, operatic and downright otherworldly vocals that have been an anchor in her music since the start, but this time Dingding is not afraid to push her vocal range to intense and jaw dropping new heights. I have never heard her get her vocals as high as she does in the little flourishes in “Origins of Sound” for example. It’s all great, great stuff.
We reach the album’s finale and hardest hitting track, “Good Luck Song“. Harking waaaay back- right to Dingding’s Zhou Peng roots, it goes on a simple, almost trance style melody and gradually builds and builds as the vocals reach an almost punishing climax. You are left crushed, drained and utterly blown away by what you just heard. You take a breather to let it all sink in and enjoy the brief silence you have.
Then you go and press play on track one to start it all again.
9.5/10 An experience like no other. Serious AOTY contender material.
Edit 20th November 2015: Now that the album has been released, the placeholder artwork has been replaced with the official album artwork, which may I say, is really beautiful!