Thursday, 15 March 2012

arguably the band of the decade (and beyond)...

My Little Airport
For those yet to experience them, My Little Airport are a somewhat lo-fi indie band from Hong Kong, consisting of core members  P. (most instruments and male vocals) and Nicole (lead vocals and occasional keyboards) who have released a fairly steady stream of records since 2004, all of which are worth seeking out. Their music transposes the delicate, somewhat ruralified sound of 80s UK indie bands like The Field Mice (well, to me at least songs like 'Let's Kiss & Make Up' and 'Coach station reunion' have a small-town kind of atmosphere; possibly I'm projecting) into an urban Hong Kong setting with extremely affecting results. In addition to this, the artwork of the band's albums has created an identity of sound and image as individual and recognisable as The Smiths.


Fragile love songs with long, humorous titles, often reflecting the HK’s unique position as a place of business for both the west (‘Victor, Fly Me To Stafford’) and east (in ‘When the Party’s Over...’ P. laments that his ‘dear porn star’ has gone “back to Beijing”) make for a unique atmosphere and piquant songs evoking the urban landscapes, shops and parks that make up modern Hong Kong. Sex is another fairly frequent theme, through characters like the aforementioned porn star, or in apparently comical (although atmospherically indistinguishable from MLA’s love songs) songs like ‘I Don’t Know How to Download Good AV (adult video) like Iris Does’.  My Little Airport’s career to date consists of five excellent albums and a handful of singles that make up a unique and vibrant oeuvre. As far as development goes, they seem to be moving away from the mainly English-language, mainly romantic approach of their early work; a shame for listeners in the UK as their sound has lost none of its heart-tugging quality, but their endearing lyrical approach has become more opaque to non-Cantonese speakers.

The Okay Thing To Do On Sunday Afternoon Is Toddle In The Zoo (2004)

The My Little Airport sound arrived fully formed on this, their first album. Opening song ‘Coka, I’m Fine’ showcases everything the band would stand for – amusingly titled, strangely fragile, lovely, hushed and catchy songs - and the album features several of the band’s best-ever tracks, including the melancholy ‘Victor, Fly Me To Stafford’ and ‘Edward, Had You Ever Thought That The End of the World Would Come On 20.9.01’ that would also be included on the Elefant  Records  compilation Zoo Is Sad, People Are Cruel in 2007. The album also features some of their loveliest Chinese-language songs, like ‘Walk In the Zoo Is A Decent Thing’ and ‘Faye Wong, Concerning Your Eyebrows’.
Lo-fi in its basic elements (bontempi organ, simple guitar  & sometimes-wobbly vocals) and owing much to the more twee end of the UK indie scene such as the Sarah records bands (notably the Field Mice, as made explicit in the lovely ‘When I Listen To The Field Mice’ on Zoo Is Sad...) The Okay Thing To Do transcends its influences by the quality of its tunes and is an altogether superlative debut.

Becoz I Was Too Nervous At That Time (2005)

Becoz... basically picks up where The Okay Thing... left off, opening two of MLA’s most perfectly realised songs; the short, perfect ‘Gigi Leung Is Dead’, a song which exemplifies the wistful/romantic/funny/sad/happy/naive atmosphere that is MLA’s trademark and ‘I Don’t Know How To Download Good AV Like Iris Does’, a funny song which again somehow manages to encapsulate the many conflicting moods and feelings that the band excels at. The album also showcases the (relatively) more rock side of the band’s repertoire with punky guitar-riff based songs like ‘Song Of Depression’ and one of the songs sung by P, titled (depending where you read it), ‘Take Me As Rucheng Zhang’ or ‘You Can Say I Am Cheung Yu Shing’. The album also features some of the band’s most affecting moments, such as the somewhat desolate atmosphere of urban, commercial Hong Kong  on ‘Pak Tin Shopping Centre’ and the heartbreaking ‘Leo, Are You Still Jumping Out Of Windows In Expensive Clothes’, without a doubt one of the band’s finest songs.

Zoo Is Sad, People Are Cruel (2007)

Although most of the material on this excellent compilation appears on the band’s first two albums, it’s worth having for the 2005 single ‘When I Listen To the Field Mice’ and the peculiar ‘Mountaintop, Doll, Lollipop’. Oddly, one of the band’s most affecting songs, ‘Tim, Do You Really Wanna Make A Film?’ isn’t included on this, or indeed any of MLA’s albums.

We Can’t Stop Smoking In The Vicious And Blue Summer (2007)

As the compilation Zoo Is Sad, People Are Cruel introduced the wider world to My Little Airport’s sound, the band released We Can’t Stop Smoking..., possibly their least accessible album. Although the melodies are as pretty as ever, the kind of pang-filled love songs that littered their first two albums are thin on the ground here, replaced by less immediate but clever tracks like ‘Japan Real Melons’ which basically does the same thing but without the endearing directness they had before. In fact, We Can’t Stop Smoking is notable as the only MLA album without any really outstanding songs, though the quality overall is high. It does feature their most rock song to date, the riff-laden ‘Let Me Take The Plane to Explode a group’ (if that’s how it is supposed to translate).

Poetics – Something Between Montparnasse and Mongkok (2009)

There is a noticeable change of atmosphere, if not sound (although the album is notable for its louder, more modern drum sounds), on Poetics... In place of the fragile love songs are equally wistful and humorous songs about politics in Hong Kong.  If that sounds less than appealing, the melodies are often better than ever, and the satirical ‘Donald Tsang, Please Die’ (sung in P’s most deadpan manner, and with guitars on the verge of being out of tune) is a superb piece of serio-comic polemic in the mould of Morrissey’s ‘Margaret On The Guillotine’. In fact, Poetics is something of a step forward for P the performer, as two of its standout tracks, ‘Donald Tsang’ and the lovely, funny ‘When The Party Is Over I Miss My Dear Porn Star’ are sung entirely by him. One of many other highlights is ‘Wet Dream’ sung by both Nicole and P, a slightly fuzzy, guitar-based song but with a retro, 60s feel and ‘Romance In Kowloon Tong’ a sweet duet which feels like a throwback to the romantic longings of The Okay Thing to Do... Overall, if not their most accessible album to foreigners (at least half of the tracks are sung entirely in Cantonese), Poetics... is easily the equal of any of their albums, the more so for pushing the boundaries of their subject matter.

Hong Kong Is One Big Shopping Mall (2011)

This album is slightly frustrating for the non-Cantonese speaker; musically, it seems to be revisiting the wistful, romantic themes of the band’s early work, but as there are few English language moments throughout the album it’s hard to say. Nevertheless, it features some of MLA’s most affecting tunes to date, such as the lovely (presumably a bad translation) ‘The Charming Scarf’. There is also a departure from the band’s usual sound in the very Cranes-esque grand piano and narration that is according to Google translate called ‘Pigs one by one disappeared in the city.’ More typically MLA is ‘Terence...’ (the rest of the title is in Chinese characters), a catchy, twee tune which soundwise could be from ‘The Okay Thing To Do...’ The one English lyric on the album is, in its entirety; ‘If you bring me once more to the party, I promise that I’ll behave like a lady. I understand I’m no longer twenty, but I still wanna try the sweetie.’ The song itself is multilayered by the band’s standards, with cheap-sounding organ, piano and guitar creating a lovely atmosphere.
But although when examined on a song for song basis, the album is the equal of any of the band’s work, it’s hard not to mourn the lack of either romantic or satirical English lyrics, which sadly makes Hong Kong... less memorable than its predecessors at least at first.

Lonely Friday (2012)

My Little Airport are one of those rare bands (like AC/DC or the BMX Bandits) where what one wants is not something innovative or different, but a new set of songs that somehow repeats the 'formula' without it feeling like a formula. Thankfully, Lonely Friday does just that. Although the album is closer to Hong Kong Is One Big Shopping Mall than their earlier works in that most of the 17(!) songs are sung in Cantonese, the strange, lyrical atmosphere of urban melancholy that made their earlier works so special is stronger than at any time since Becoz I Was Too Nervous... A case in point is the  romantic longing of the jointly sung ballad called (according to google translate) 'Romantic' which is full of the romantic but earthy yearning of many of their greatest songs. Of the English language songs, Love Is Not A Romantic Song is a fragile, half whispered lament and 'How Can You Fall in Love With a Guy Who Doesn't Know Gainsbourg?' is self-explanatory - a great single, if not one of their absolute best (title's a bit long to fit a tune very easily). The sound of the album is that of the relatively more polished Hong Kong..., that is, lo-fi but ambitious, rather than simply lo-fi. The cover, silly and somehow sad, is one of their best, and if Lonely Friday isn't exactly an advance on their work as a whole, it strengthens their discography rather than the opposite.

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