3. Way Way Back
5. Bugs in Amber
7. Monday is a Bitch
8. 3 is a Party
9. Cat Café
10. Sunday is Gone
12. When I Dream of Grapes Turning Blue
13. So It Goes
Gloomy alt-rock shoegaze trio So It Goes first burst onto the Hong Kong music scene in 2017 with their debut single When I Dream of Grapes Turning Blue, a swirling phaser-infused post-punk tune which marked their signature sound, to create a bit of buzz around the brand new trio entering the indie scene. But save for a handful of performances and festival slots since that effort, they have remained essentially underground since that initial launch, and switching drummers along the way. The trio then resurfaced in 2022 with the single Three, and now have just dropped their long-anticipated self-titled debut album.
The album release coincided with an album launch show at MOM Livehouse a few weeks back, and after listening to this LP in full, it certainly feels as if the band has intentionally written this set of songs with these type of 200-300 capacity Hong Kong venues in mind.
The aptly titled Intro is a great indicator and mood-setter for what’s to come throughout this 13-track release. With an alternating, descending post-punk bass riff paired with bell-like guitar chimes ringing out, airy and bubbly synths rush in to emphasise the already reverb-drenched atmosphere being created. It’s only draw-back is that the track ends quite abruptly, and could quite easily extend to fade-out or have a much smooth reverb decay before launching into the next song.
Although When I Dream of Grapes Turning Blue is one of the strongest moments at the tail end of the album, the standout moments really come much earlier on in the tracks Old and Loneliness. A scatty hi-hat from drummer Leung Kin Man highlights his most intricate parts, punctuating a relatively muted ambient mood from the bass and guitar. Although Emily Chak’s vocals metering feels quite elongated in the verses, they lead into the battle cry refrain, “Goodbyes always come too soon. I, I, I can’t let go” belt out with immense angst. Her guitar supports this even more as it develops into a scuzzy wall of sound for an epic crescendo. Loneliness is similarly emphatic (especially with the big dynamic shifts between verses and choruses) as the group channel a strong Warpaint vibe with a half-time beat sinking beneath the immersive moody soundscapes. Although vocally buried by the instrumentation, the impassioned cries of the chorus feel like a tidal wave of anguish for a truly spine-tingling moment.
Waves is similarly powerful, as the heavy phaser-effected guitar chords make the listener feel like they are caught in choppy waters alongside the band members, wrestling with the currents and trying to break free. The song also highlights the most varied and animated vocal melody on the album from Chak – something that she should try and utilise more going forward with the band.
Bugs in Amber has some defining moments – such as some beautifully sweet chiming lead guitar parts in the long instrumental outro, before a Peter Hook/New Order-esque bass solo from Emily Hui highlights her melodic talents, but unfortunately the overall track is let down a little from the production, with a lot of the low and mid-frequencies muddying up the mix, and undermining the potential epicness of another big chorus.
Sunday Is Gone suffers a similar fate. At its core, the song is pretty solid, but the drums are incredibly dry compared to the reverb-soaked instrumentals making the overall balance feel separate and disjointed.
Monday Is a Bitch ramps things up a little with a punchy grunge-punk riff and driving tom-filled beat. It’s a short, angsty tune full of attitude before settling back into the murkier introspection of 3 Is a Party.
Cat Café is much lighter and summery sounding with its major seventh guitar chords shimmering through the mix, while overlapping vocals later in the track add to the breezy, easy-listening atmosphere. Although another good track, it sounds like it would be more at home on the recent Foster Studio EP (which features both Emily’s) rather than on this So It Goes album.
Considering the number of tracks here, the band have produced a pretty consistent record, save for a few production tweaks here and there. The only real track which doesn’t quite hit the same level is Stardust. With rolling snares and picking guitars at the beginning, the song shows a lot of promise. However, when the guitar parts change to strummed chords, and the bass shifts into this rigid, octave jumping part, the song feels obtuse, and like it’s being pulled in four different directions, as the vocal melody struggles to really sit with any of the clashing parts. This isn’t to say that Stardust couldn’t be a good song, but in its current form, it only feels coherent when the guitar chords are picked, and the bass part is played straight.
Overall, this is a strong first outing from the group. On their next set of songs, it would be good to see them use When I Dream of Grapes Turning Blue as a loose blueprint for how they approach their writing – simple parts that weave together perfectly, but with unconventional structures which allows for some more adventurous instrumental passages. Maybe the answer is in Chak’s refrain, “Sometimes you gotta lose your mind to find your freedom”, as that’s where the album highlights appear to stem from.
– Chris Gillett
Listen on Spotify, purchase on Bandcamp.