Party of One’s bio sounds a bit like something out of movie. The Minnesota band enjoyed a heyday 13 years ago, led by an inscrutable man known as Eric Fifteen. They released an album, Caught the Blast, on Fat Cat Records, and received mixed reviews—some resoundingly positive, others downright mean—about the lo-fi music satirizing a range of world issues. Legend has it that the frontman spent the next seven years in the Minnesota wilderness with a battered acoustic guitar. The first of the fruits of that labor came out a couple years ago, and now we have “Madame Mao Ying” to show for the new incarnation of an old, legendary band that will culminate in Streetside Surprise out later this year.
“Madame Mao Ying” is a step in a new direction, turning a once-topical gaze to a more obscure subject: the Taiwanese martial arts actress, Angela Mao, known as Mao Ying, who starred in a bunch of martial arts movies in the ‘70s. Using a simple foundation of guitar arpeggios, dry percussion, bells, a ‘60s-style vocal chorus echo, and the same signature lo-fi production (plus Fifteen’s pleasantly nasal voice), Party of One creates a charming little ode. Lines such as “Her Taekwondo is the baddest around / Madame Mao Ying burning up this town" remind me of the schoolboy earnestness of “Ingrid Bergman,” the ballad for the actress written by Woody Guthrie but recorded by Billy Bragg and Wilco on Mermaid Avenue. “Madame Mao Ying” is similarly charming—a straightforwardly catchy new chapter in Party of One’s story.