(Editor's Note: Solid State, meet Will Ryan. Will, Solid State. Will is a current intern at 7D as well as a local musician in the band Neon Magus. If you like what you read, you can check out more of his music musings at his blog, Psychpunk. -DB)
I Come to Shanghai's debut outgrows the stigma of self-released music, especially after using a unique visual style seen on their website and album cover. It is a modern pallet of innocence and satire; almost a sarcastic imprint of their home of San Francisco, CA. Or the self-proclaimed "Texachusetts" stamp that alludes to the duo's respective places of birth and upbringing — I'll leave that one up to you. The music covers the same type of thematic grounds, and it's very good at that.
ICTS employs a Radiohead-homage "pay what you want" sales tactic that seems balanced upon those modern elements of music and style. But more power to you if you can pull it off without a major label following and six-album discography to back you up. It would be interesting to mark the "donations" the duo has raked in to date. It's probably nowhere near the pioneers, but I'm sure it's something.
Truth be told, the concept seems harmoniously humble and pretentious all at once, and the latter only because of the way music has been treated over the past decade — which is to say as nothing but a clusterfuck of ones and zeros. Don't worry though, for $10 you can still get a hard copy of the self-titled release. And having the ability to drag your fingers across some sort of printed surface, existing to package the music and give it a smile is a bit comforting. That might be especially true when there's no label to find stamped on the case (aside from the conjoined imprint of MA and TX as copyright).
It feels right to find something this good existing outside the realm of MySpace Music, labels and ambiguous play counts. That goes tenfold because the ten tracks I Come to Shanghai have put together are very, very good. Like, this could be some of the best music I've heard in 2009, good. And I don't say that lightly — I've been having a pretty good year (Sunn O))), Mono and Grizzly Bear not to be forgotten).
The debut itself takes a form of psychedelic pop in an almost disconnected way. The music seems to discover an almost ironic voice of pop structure and aesthetic before finding its way deeper into a less earthbound dynamic. Robert Ashley's voice on the album's opening, "Pass The Time" is gravelly and right against your eardrum, before the whole song is able to take a cathartic step back and lose itself within a wash of reverberation and nostalgic synthesis. It's a theme the duo employs throughout the entire album. And that fluctuation of gravity gives the whole thing weight and consistency.
The idea of structure in sonics rather than explicit verse-chorus-verse formula is apparent within the duo's layering of sound and use of production. Each movement is paced perfectly. Those moments where the sound sheds its skin and renders atmosphere are deliberate and memorable.
I Come to Shanghai's sound seems seeped into the effects of the world. Nostalgia and a zen-like absorbance permeate the album's interior. It's very aware of the world within which it exists — allusions to Eno-eque synth treatments and vocal doo-wop harmonies included. It is dreamy and beautiful. But at times it's intentionally stark and honest. Contrasts are where the group's dynamic begins to ascend into the foreground and creates a lasting thematic and musical effect.
Darlings of the digital enforcement on music, I Come to Shanghai have taken the initiative to create a unique mystique on their own digital island of the internet. You have to give it to those who want to sit down and just write and record some good music. ICTS's debut is a self-released album. And it's one that doesn't need establishment.