Release date: September 12, 2015
Chinese Football is a perfect band name. Band names come in clusters--the parade of wolves and bears from the grizzled indie folk days of the heady, buzzy 2000s, for example--but emo kids have always clung closely to sports verbiage. There's a kind of irony in it, given that, at any given time, roughly 50% of the genre is cleaning their square frame glasses. But ever since American Football twinkled their first twinkle, the sports names have followed: Football, Etc., Modern Baseball, Little Big League, Sport--so many in fact, that you'd think it would be played by now. But what could be more perfect for a Chinese band drawing from the Midwest emo sound than taking the most recognizable name in Midwest emo and changing the country accordingly?
Chinese Football is an A+ band name and it's also completely on the nose: although the Wuhan quartet comes from the punk capital of mainland China, they mine the exact vein of crystalline, twinkling guitars and breathy vocals that American Football turned into a religion for thin-wristed Midwest kids. Post-rock is a buzzword in China that colors most indie rock: much like how "French food" is a catchall in China for Western style food, "post-rock" is a label slapped on anything with a measured build or twinkling guitars, but it's not an inaccurate tag for Chinese Football. The shortest non-interlude track on the album clocks in at 4:11; nothing else is under 5:00. Each progression and riff is given plenty of room to breathe and build. There’s nearly three minutes of instrumental in Track 3 before the vocals appear but it never feels labored--there's so many ideas packed into those minutes.
Although the band stays pretty buttoned up as a rule, it's when the tempo picks up that their variety of influences really shines through; Track 5 starts with thick Braid-inflected chords and ends with heavy chugs and palm mutes that recall Brand New. There's the tremolo outburst in Track 9, and the tempo change in Track 10 that takes a post-punk riff lifted from Faraquet's arsenal and turns it into a barking Bear vs. Shark shimmy.
There are moments when the album starts to feel "pretty" in a uniform way: there's a ton of crooned melodies, chord progressions that continually climb and build, and a bottomless supply of open-tuned twinkles. It's a template that has worked for generations of emo bands, but there are moments that might benefit from some departure from the template.
It's hard to hold the little faults against an album with this kind of focus and sweep. There's a grandeur here, a confident technicality and a tendency toward the major key build, that shucks the self-deprecating sadsackery associated with the emo scene. It's American Football reimagined as a film score. The last few songs on the album are the longest and also the most sprawling, real post-rock build and release with shining bursts of tremolo picking. It's an album that gets more confident as it goes, and if it never fully shakes it's influences, it moves through them with an effortless skill that demands attention.
It's proof positive that America doesn't have sole claim to the Midwest sound any longer. It's been a running joke that many of the best Midwest emo bands didn't even come from the Midwest. Now, the best Midwest emo bands aren't even coming from America. Twinkle on, Wuhan.
Reviewed by Keagan 1340