BAND: wellsaid (Hong Kong)
RELEASE: Setbacks (2017)
Sweaty & Cramped
REVIEWER: Arthur Urquiola
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PICK UP THE RECORD HERE: https://sweatyandcramped.bandcamp.com/album/setbacks
It’s not always easy to start a band in a city like Hong Kong and maintain any significant momentum or have any kind of longevity. There are exceptions of course, but in the case of Wellsaid which, on this recording, was made up of Lok from Emptybottles. and Sung and Dixon from PONYBOY, this project is the intersection of two bands who some would feel both had their existences cut short quite abruptly. Emptybottles. has recorded two great EPs, but upon release in both cases long breaks followed as members relocated to other cities resulting in an on-off existence over recent years. PONYBOY played some of the most exciting local shows in recent memory but went away before any real recordings surfaced. In fact, since this recording, Sung is no longer playing with Wellsaid and Latif (from Turing Apples) has joined on drums.
Perhaps these are the ‘Setbacks’ referred to in the title of this EP and partly these experiences has shaped Wellsaid’s approach to their music. In place of the shifting dynamics, pensive builds and dueling guitars found in both previous bands, the songs are driving, upbeat and the performances are concise and exuberant. The Kinsella worship has been retained, but this is less American Football and more Cap’n Jazz. There’s a sense that these songs exploded forth from the band as soon as the three all got in a room together as opposed to taking an extended period to come up with long form compositions with quick changes to nail down. After all, who knows how long this will all last or when it’ll all have to end?
But the playing’s still extremely tight and while the attack is more immediate, Sung’s drumming is fluent and locked in as one with Dixon’s bass, which more than competently keeps up while rolling all over the fretboard. There’s riffs like Lok’s trills on the beginning of ‘Stay Gold’ which shows how far all these musicians have progressed through the years living to play live. But the aforementioned song clocks in at 1:40 – something of a shock considering the trio’s pasts of meditating on ideas and cooking them up to crescendos that happened only when the time was right.
Things take an interesting turn on ‘I Guess Ian is a Hypocrite’. It’s an achingly beautiful tune and the most restrained on this collection. Lyrically it deals with the politics of punk rock and questioning the longevity of really living the ethos, while citing the noebleed-high standards set for so may by DIY stalwart Ian Mackaye. “Saints” who stay true to their ideals either die young, or they grow up and grow out of the politics, idealism and the music that shaped them in their formative years.
Wellsaid wasted no time in getting their ideas down at Group Studio with its engineer Him. Life Was All Silence’s Jay Tse’s mastering results in the songs sounding huge. The bass packs a punch, the drums sound massive and the guitar grinds into a crunch while maintaining melodic clarity.
Two versions of ‘Narrow Pass’ bookend the EP. The first is a quintessential Wellsaid tune and a live favourite. The version ending the EP is the demo recorded for a different release that was subsequently shelved. It’s an apt ending – taking you to the core idea that led to this band happening in the first place.
Some would argue that PONYBOY and Emptybottles. played an important part in the indie, emo and math-rock that’s become increasingly prolific in the entire region, particularly with Lok’s tireless efforts through his label Sweaty & Cramped which releases and distributes the music and organises many of the bands’ activities when they swing through Hong Kong and Taiwan. This meant Wellsaid had an infrastructure in place to play shows, organise their own events, make videos and recordings and be a precise and powerful live act without having to spend too long learning how. It’s fortunate that ‘Setbacks’ has been released early on and captures what they’re all about so well. But here’s hoping that Wellsaid sticks it out and has a more storied existence this time around.