REVIEW: Wei Zhongle - Nice Mask Over an Ugly Face

Kelly Kirwan

I’ve been coming down from a Netflix binge of the series Stranger Things, which is both a love letter to '80s pop culture and a conspiracy theory braided with multi-dimensional sci-fi. It’s revenge of the nerds, who’ve ascended from the basement to take on the Man and the mainstream—and, of course, some otherworldly elements that will bend what were once believed to be the limits of physics. It was the peculiarity of this show that first gripped me, the (appropriately) strange things afoot that left me thirsty for more genres that aren't afraid to shroud themselves in the uncanny. And, as fate would have it, Wei Zhongle has delivered, a kindred spirit in the way they create songs that are interestingly off-kilter. They’re chasing the avant-garde, the sounds they want to hear, which, ipso facto, gives them the grace of cool that you can’t fake.

They have an easy and experimental sway, teetering between elements of indie-pop, progressive rock, and a pinch of psychedelia—or as they would categorize it, nu-trance. Their music always seems to have a skewed touch, as if their melodies have been water-warbled to flow in unconventional waves. And we follow the spirals, bends, and pleasing moments of free-for-all on their songs without question, as curious explorers. Wei Zhongle has made it into the House of Hypnotic Oddities, and everyone is lining up for a ticket. 

Out via Pretty Purgatory, their latest album, Nice Mask Over an Ugly Face, is a trip (in the quirky, new-wave psych-pop sense). The second track, "Nothing New," begins with a quick succession of beats and what sounds like a flutter of staccato, high-pitched exhales. That is, before it sprints into its main melody, which is punctuated by a flurry of beeps that feel ripped straight from an '80s sci-fi set. Rob Jacobs' level voice repeats, “There is nothing to be had / There is nothing new,” which is both ironic, considering Wei Zhongle’s sound, and also a nod to exactly what their band is trying to defy: the same old thing presented in new wrapping.

Then there’s my personal favorite, "Peeping Tom," which begins with the metallic vibration of a guitar string and then blends into unwavering percussion, a beat that takes its time and comes across as both sultry and slightly eerie. Jacobs' voice adopts a lower timbre, drafting the song’s theme, “Listen to it / There’s a sound from across the street / Arriving to your world … Looking at it there’s a light inside the house.” It’s a magnetic song that'll elicit a light chill, exploring how our senses fit together to form and, at times, distort perception. It seems Wei Zhongle are pushing the boundaries of genre and the depths of meaning.

Nice Mask Over an Ugly Face is rich with rhythm and quirk, clarinet notes fluttering in and out of melodies that'll catch you off guard, swelling and subsiding in whatever shape they fancy. Wei Zhongle is onto something, embracing the weird and making it addictive. So excuse me while I start my new binge.