Beijing duo Zaliva-D formulate their tightest and most idiosyncratic statement yet on their fourth album, piecing together a torpid narrative that drags Chinese rhythms and sonics into industrialized, slow-mo bumps elevated by cartoonish vocals. Utterly brilliant and completely bizarre - like Felix Kubin jamming with Asa-Chang & Junray and DJ Olive.
It's not too often a record comes along that actually makes us take a step back and wonder what it is we just heard. 'Misbegotten Ballads' is one of those albums - a suite of music so artistically distinct that whatever we say about it and whatever you might assume, it's still worth checking out just so you know what it sounds like. Zaliva-D have been carving out a niche for themselves for years, forming in the early 2000s but hitting on their distinctive sound in 2013 with the "Origin" EP. Since then, producer Li Chao and visual artist Aisin-Gioro Yuanjin have been refining a kind of downtempo approximation of leftfield industrial electro, and releasing records on Pest Productions, Knekelhuis and of course SVBKVLT in the process. Each record has added or removed stylistic elements, and by their fourth album they've reached a point of honed precision that's comfortable in its own skin.
The album is traditional Chinese, defiantly experimental and bizarrely electronic - with ancient percussion rattling against woozy synths to form a subtle, driving pulse while saw tones wobble like snakes. From here, Li maintains a sultry 60bpm crawl on 'Hun Shou Qiang Qiang', constructing purposed saturated woodblock rhythms and adding synthesized wails where necessary. But it's the vocals that knock us into the next dimension, and give Zaliva-D's music its sense of personality, linking it to traditional music without mimicking anything specific. The cartoonish processing makes it sound as cheeky as baile funk, but the motivation and end result is completely different - combined with Li's fuzzy lead synth melodies it's impossible to take completely seriously, a cooling breath of fresh air in the po-faced world of experimental electronic music.
Nothing on "Misbegotten Ballads" is in the wrong place, and Li never feels the need to overcomplicate his compositions. Each track sticks to a similar formula and helps build an aesthetic guide to the experience - if the first few tracks confuse the hell out of you, there's plenty more to settle the mind and spirit into the experience. Throughout the album, the rhythms maintain a pace that seems almost too slow until it begins to make sense, and each synthesized sound feels like a broken toy or crying robotic animal until your brain has fully entered Zaliva-D's domain. The percussion is both chillingly clean and hyper saturated, as hard-edged and almost dancefloor-ready as contemporary D&B, while simultaneously sounding like Felix Kubin at his most uhinged and uncanny.
One of the weirder things we've come across this year, and certainly one of SVBKVLT's most rewarding oddities.