Album Reviews

Album Review: Hiperson - Bildungsroman (Maybe Mars)

Reuben Raj
Hiperson - Our Ballad

Hiperson 海朋森 showed tremendous promise when they arrived at the indie music scene in 2015 with debut LP No Need for Another History 我不要別的曆史. The band’s sophomore album She Came Back From The Square 她從廣場回來 (2018) was raw and somewhat DIY-ish but it worked to capture the band’s visceral energy in a live setting. Some say third time’s a charm so will the new LP Bildungsroman 成长小说 elevate the 5-piece indie band from Chengdu to a higher level?

hiperson TheBeijinger

Hiperson from The Beijinger

Hiperson is made up of Chen Sijiang (vocals), Ji Yinan (lead guitar), Liu Zetong (rhythm guitar), Wang Minghui (bass) and Wang Boqiang (drums).

Life on the road is a major part of Hiperson’s DNA. In 2016, the band performed in 28 Chinese cities and 16 cities across Europe. The Chengdu band had planned another European tour in 2020 as well as a coveted spot in the famed SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. But alas, COVID-19 hit and touring plans for Europe and the States had to be shelved. Boo!!

HiPerson LivefromAmsterdam

Hiperson live on stage in Amsterdam

But downfalls and missteps only seem to strengthen the band’s resolve and they switched their focus to their third studio album, Bildungsroman. This time, Hiperson was able to record their new body of work with Nanni Johansson and Frida Claeson Johansson at Hansa Studios in Berlin, Germany (a regular spot for top artists on the Maybe Mars label) and the 10-track LP was mixed/mastered by Matthew J Barnhart at Chicago Mastering Services.

Bildungsroman sounds incredible; as if all the mud was finally washed away, allowing Hiperson’s musical potential to shine with fierce intensity. The introduction of synths moves the band confidently closer into This Mortal Coil territory. Is gothic dream punk even a genre? Who cares! Patti Smith or more accurately Patti Smith’s spirit impresses upon this album and that’s also a fuxking good thing. 

From the get-go, Chen boldly takes centre stage with a narrative that will resonate throughout the album. This is a pleasing change because Chen’s vocal output felt overwhelmed by instrumentation in earlier albums. “Spring Breeze” sets the bar way up high with notable musical arrangements and a refined style of storytelling. The mournful flute and reverent chimes couple with a rise and drop in rhythmic pace makes this one of the most evocative songs this writer has heard in 2020; triggering thoughts of Patti Smith’s explosive start in Horses (1975) with Gloria: In Excelsis Deo.

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The band’s restraint in this LP is impressive because it takes discipline and a sense of respect for each other's creative space. Hiperson have learned to hold back and explode with musical savagery when required. One also enjoys synth sounds and more vocal harmonies like in “Xindu People”, revealing a more vulnerable and serene part of the band’s musical makeup.

Guitarists Ji and Liu contribute handsome melodies and riffs, mellow in some parts and merciless in another. The psychedelic guitar styles in “I Am in a Period of Desperation” is a welcoming twist to their more punk-infused style of earlier albums. A different jangly style also emerges in the track “Found It”.

Bassist Wang Minghui shines particularly brightly in the emo post-punk track “From Birth to the Present” and “Our Ballad” while drummer Wang Boqiang employs a more marching drum style to match the spirited qualities of the songs. But, we do hear Boqiang excel with thunderous Timpani-like sounds and crashes from other percussive instruments in the last album track “Happy Times Always End Fast”.

All in all, it must be said that Chen Sijiang is pivotal to the success of this album. Her biting lyrics and vocal delivery have enhanced the band to a higher level. Our people/rub flesh against commodities/and commodities against flesh Chen’s lyrical style truly astounds and reflects her ferocious appetite for reading and listening to her surroundings and the people within.

Her parents bring her body out of emptiness
shake the black mercury off
and put her on top of a wooden plinth
Our gods and ancestors come in a procession to inspect
saying incessantly —

‘This one will become a model employee!’
‘This one will become a geologist!’
- taken from the song, "From Birth to the Present". 

Her songs touch on a patriotism, resilience, self-preservation and more. Chen showcases her versatility as a singer... She can roar ala Zack de la Rocha in “Crashing into Daylight” and stand fearlessly alone in "Our Ballad" to sing in silence, 我们的歌谣, 在大太阳下站不住脚, 自从有了借口, 我们的语文开始了... (Our ballads/can not hold water in the intense sunlight/since the emergence of excuses/our language has begun...)

Listeners who understand Mandarin Chinese will no doubt enjoy a different experience when listening to Bildungsroman. You say that I’m evil/I guess I am somehow sly/I wish someday I could be like the spring breeze/blowing through you, wanting nothing/and then you will love me no more at the start of “Spring Breeze” allows non-Chinese audiences to catch a glimpse of what drives Chen’s songwriting in Mandarin.

This writer's personal favourites from Bildungsroman include “Daily March” where bassist Wang cleverly builds up the foundation for the 8-1/2 min track note by note along with drum machine loops that refer back to the previous EP, Four Seasons. “Found It” contains a touch of new wave and biting lyrics that compare life to "the notes in a musical score with different time and weight".

HiPerson SXSWartistphoto

Each song by Hiperson will become a new anthem for the subjugated and downtrodden. Expect to hear them break the silence and give birth to a new reckoning.

Hiperson 海朋森 have exceeded all expectations with their third studio album and the band's meteoric rise to prominence has not faltered. Each song in Bildungsroman 成长小说 by Hiperson will become the new anthem for the subjugated and downtrodden. Expect to hear them break the silence and give birth to a new reckoning.

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See Hiperson perform across China in September - October 2020. 

Click here to stream or buy
Released: 24 Jul 2020

Written By: Reuben Raj Reuben is a film and digital photographer who is driven by music in his head. Often seen lurking behind a camera inside the pit of a concert or wandering the streets of China with a blond, Reuben harbours intimate feelings for vinyl records and his Hasselblad SW/C from 1965. He is also the founder of Radio 13.