Review: Fazi ‘Folding Story’

Chinese post-punk band Fazi are an interesting prospect. Not only do they, on the surface, stick out like a sore sore thumb on the roster of Pelagic Records as an act that don’t deal in heavyweight, crushing post-metal, but their journey to this point has been one of constant evaluation, evolution and forward momentum. That time has also seen them release five albums of searching and experimental music with a soul that embraces both pop and searching progressive deconstruction.

Fazi 'Folding Story' Artwork
Fazi ‘Folding Story’ Artwork

Beginning life in 2010 in the ancient Chinese city of Xi’an as The Fuzz, a rawer version of what they would later become, they would make their debut three years later with the album Running Horse. After another five years having gone back to the drawing board and refined their sonic aesthetic, they re-emerged in 2018 as Fazi and released the follow up Dead Sea which saw them skip to the front of the queue in their alternative music scene.

However, two years later they announced the decision to take part in the hit TV show The Big Band Show, pitting them against other mainstream acts, something that, in these calm and rational days, was undoubtedly well received online by sections of their fanbase. This platform and success also allowed the band to take their unique brand of post-pop/dark wave to a wider audience.

Folding Story itself was released in 2022 on pioneering Chinese label Circle Space, but now gets its European release courtesy of Pelagic, introducing a whole new legion of fans to their quirky charms and catchy sounds.

The theme of Folding Story is a conceptual one that covers ideologies that include the cyclical nature of rebirth, the return to nature and one of origin. In this journey the protagonist is (spoiler alert) born at the beginning and dies at the end, bookended by the sounds of water, the album flows continuously with self-referential milestones as the band claim the record could be continued on a never ending loop, to listen to the story without pause, one that rises from a whisper to a roar only to subside as quickly as it arrived.

To gain inspiration for the album, vocalist Peng Liu, alongside guitarist Cheng Ma, bassist Jiaxuan Li and drummer Boyang Li decamped to the Northeast Chinese port city of Dalian, famous for its breathtaking coastline and delicious seafood, to be close to their watery source of inspiration whilst recording and to reflect on the eventful journey that led them there.

This elemental theme does indeed loom heavily over the album from the opening track Invisible Water, with Peng Liu almost pleading in a plaintive voice over the lapping of waves and light, incidental beats.

Eye In The Sky starts more urgently with vibrant pop beats and a classic guitar sting that recalls John Squires work with Stone Roses. The vocals are light over the swaying bassline and there is a sense of life affirming wholesomeness to the danceable, indie shine that radiates from the synth while colliding krautrock cool into Cabaret Voltaire performance art.

this re-issue was a breath of fresh air and will hopefully open a few more ears and minds to this unique group…

By contrast Beautiful Teeth is an airy, tender, acoustic musing. Fleeting and flavoured with traditional folk, this short track pulls at the heart strings and ends with a brief sample that concludes the message of love and life before the sombre, slow and dreamy Never Say Forever returns the listener to the underlying themes of water as among the samples there are sounds of crashing waves. Sprinkling the soft drumming with delicate keys and the sense of rising and falling. Part sigh and part spoken word poetry, here Fazi dig deep into ambient territory and create a sense of floating calm.

The short bridge of Silence is a downbeat lone voice over simple plucked strings and occasional electronic flourishes before the muted beat of Body / Mind / Soul returns to the bright frenetic beats with that experimental flavour that is part mainstream and part underground, late night club cool before the breakout drags it into rockier territory.

The nagging basslines and dramatic fills give Vigil a darker tone as the almost sinister basslines and urgent, tense vocals bring the mood down and this is the moment that Fazi veer into post-rock that would see them share common ground with other members of the Pelagic Records roster. As the pace quickens the band thickens the sound with effects and atmospherics.

Delingha continues this moodier vibe, the spoken word leads into a track with a Joy Division post-punk feel that builds from still and quiet, through to a choral, ethereal lament and then heavier passages heralded by imperial marching drums, stately guitar and unnervingly dark pulsing ‘90s style industrial.

The whining feedback of Died In Wind initially masks an emerging choppy groove which breaks the tension of the proceeding tracks. The madcap, jerking dance feels like a return to the positive life affirming themes that started the album giving credence to Folding Story being a circular journey that pauses just as the rhythm takes you but then returns with more purpose.

Way To Atman (the Hindu principle of the universe of eternal self) opens with reeds and pipes and is propelled over a positive drum beat as the synths and keys drive the final track in a positive, upbeat manner. As the sound of the lapping waves are introduced allowing the story to loop back on itself, the album comes to its crescendo to leave just the last wash of the water.

Folding City is far from my usual Shaman fare, but I’m glad it came across my desk. It is always good to step outside the box of what is considered the norm and Fazi have worked long and hard in the face of some criticism for attempting to reach a wider audience. Shimmering Chinese krautrock wasn’t on my bingo card for 2024 but this re-issue was a breath of fresh air and will hopefully open a few more ears and minds to this unique group.

Label: Pelagic Records
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Spotify | Instagram

Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden