REVIEW: China Doll - "Pop Noir"

By Marcus Pan

Chain Border

Pop NoirI lauded and admonished over Meg Lee Chin's debut album recently and I will do the same over Pop Noir for the same reason. Both Meg and China Doll, Robin to his friends and family, provided the old crusty indie music genres with something new and refreshing. The difference is that Robin does it with more of a pop-centric and glam/indie rock flair while Meg's strength was her techno/industrial style.

China Doll has three CDs out now including this one. 93's self-titled debut and 96's Tango are both full length releases like Pop Noir. This time around Robin stayed in his bedroom, where he did the recording, graphic design, and the occasional kidnapping to get some friends to join him on the tracks. Pop Noir is a rather eccentric collection, each track telling a short story or, as he puts it, "…or maybe just snapshots of characters in their subjective, surreal, and slightly synthetic environments." The musical arrangements are very dispersed yet all (excepting the last couple tracks) adhere to a strict sense of rhythm even if the surrounding melodies and sounds tend to drag away from it for a little bit of fun.

Robin's strongest suit is his lyrics. Witty, sometimes rhetorical and always hard nosed, the lyrics that make up the songs of Pop Noir border on macabre - yet funny. The way we would all slow down on the highway to catch a glimpse of blood at the accident scene as we go by - most won't admit it, but the macabre is a source of fascination for nearly all of us. We'll return to the accident analogy in a moment, because he uses it in one of his songs. And strangely enough this song, Sony, opens with a near-disco approach - almost a parody. Sleek, melodic and almost soothing, and then the imagery brought forth by his lyrics are quite different than what the song's musical arrangement sounds like. The paradoxical cross of smooth instrumentals versus macabre lyrics is something you'll see throughout Pop Noir. Now back to that analogy, Robin captures it well within Sony, which opens to tell the story of just such an accident using such biting lyrics as "…and she didn't look so pretty with a window stuck in her," and "…see the prom queen get ugly on the seven o' clock news." Sony is a song of technology and the toys that have come out of it, which seems to have distanced us from the actual gore itself, yet brings more of it right into our own living rooms. Desensitizing. And the race of keeping up with the Joneses has turned from having a better car to instead having a bigger Sony on which to watch your gore.

Pop NoirAnother highlight track is Zen Central, which I had originally thought to be an anti-religious track due to the lyrical content. But instead Robin says it's not so much anti-religious as it is about people who think "their 'loving kindness' is better than everyone else's 'loving kindness.'" Let's turn to my favorite of favorites on this CD now. Robin bills it thusly: "Marilyn Manson did a tune that was a blatant glam-rock rip-off, so I figured that if he could get away with it, so could I." Glam is a funky, rhythmic and out-and-out near-happy sounding tune that begs you to bop like a loon. If you don't believe me, you can ask my wife, especially after I belted out, "LA DEE DAH!!!!!" out of nowhere one night to knock her out of her reverie. A total self-promotional rip-off, indeed. And I don't see a reason why China Doll can't get away with it as well as the rest. "I am all of this and more, so don't be just a fucking bore, I am Glam…"

Exciting, yet without the stomps. Fresh and new, yet without the hype. You've probably never heard of China Doll. I didn't either until he showed up in the studio of In Perpetual Motion recently and Mac got him to send me a CD too. Glammy, eccentric and with flair and aplomb, China Doll delivers music that you'll be hard pressed to find anywhere. Paradoxical and fun, with macabre lyrics set to melodic and smooth instrumentals for an overall surreal effect, China Doll delivers with Pop Noir.

Buy The Album
Buy Pop Noir

Contact Information:
Post: China Doll, P.O. Box 2747, Ann Arbor, MI, 48106
Phone: (734) 995-5864

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