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2005 marked an exciting milestone in Beijing’s cultural history. It was the year that Carsick Cars formed, heralding a musical movement that has been written about numerous times since. In short: Beijing discovered, in a fairly short period of time, a missing piece in musical history — experimental rock, in very broad terms — and has responded in earnest with fascinating and invigorating results. Carsick Cars is possibly the most shining example of this phenomenon and a true inspiration on the Beijing scene at large. 2011’s You Can Listen You Can Talk was a Sonic Youth-inspired noisepop effort, featuring the harmonic and overtone-rich jangle of frontman Zhang Shouwang’s droney guitar playing and a spare, post-punk driven rhythm section. Half of the songs featured straightforward but poetically effective lyrics sung in English that spoke to the alienation, angst, and desperation of being a young, working class artist in modern day Beijing. With 3, Carsick Cars assuredly pick up where they left off and elevate their craft to new brilliant levels, and they do so with refined taste and energetic hunger for more.

Opener “Wild Grass” is reminiscent of the Bats, driving with scratchy droning guitar chords and a buoyant and steady rhythm section. It’s fitting then that Hamish Kilgour of fellow New Zealand outfit The Clean helped produce the record. There’s definitely a welcome ‘Dunedin Sound’ vibe to the more pop-inflected tracks. The general guitar tone of 3 is a little less chimey and metallic than You Can Listen, and instead has adopted a more classic warmth not out of place on a Velvets record. “The Best VPN So Far” starts off abrasive but dazzling, instantly rolling the listener in an anticipatory perpetual motion, and suddenly it breaks apart and reassembles, settling into a direct relative of “Hallogallo.”

Carsick Cars work on the ecstactic high at the intersection of energy and texture. Often their songs have an uplifting major-ness to them that never feels contrived or cloying; it’s genuine positive energy. “15 Minutes Older” is suspended joy, the tangible waves of golden noise and galloping rhythm bring to mind the Feelies at their most euphoric. It’s a good vibes triumph that is suddenly erased with the sharp, nervous, staccato opening riff of “Reaching the Light.” And as soon as the riff pushes its limit, the song breaks into a steady groove that seems to be the additive product of the previous two tracks combined. As the record moves along, it constantly builds off of itself, adopting subtle flourishes that point both to the past and the future. The hand of Sonic Boom (Spacemen 3) becomes apparent in the production’s more heady, psychedelic tracks. (That’s two-for-two rock legends in the production credits, such is CC’s reach and knowledge of their sonic lineage.) The laid-back but assertive blissful majesty of “Wei Cheng” brings that steady gallop back and adds some dissonant guitar playing towards the end, only to conclude again in the warmth of its earnest charm.

Everything in 3 seems both more thought-out and more spontaneous compared to previous efforts. “Midnight Driver” brings us to new heights of heaviness, and it’s shocking and exhilirating when it first hits. The guitar that rips through the mix eventually bleeds into ping-ponging octave-clanging guitars that are held together with the bright, assured vocals of Shouwang. We’re brought to the apex of a mesmerizing drone jam by the end of “Shelter Song,” and yes, taking shelter within its overtone-saturated warmth that reveals itself to be anchored by a distorted droning organ. As it progresses, Shouwang’s devotion to a Glenn Branca school of guitar approach starts to shine. “Could You Be There” reaches new heights of sonic euphoria. Surely, every song could have a paragraph devoted to it, describing the nuances in structure, melody, and texture that make it both unique and collective to Carsick Cars’ mission. I’m convinced their mission on 3 is to elevate the listener on every sensational level, and for such a lofty goal they exceed admirably. “She Will Wait,” now full-bodied from its original organ-driven appearance on You Can Listen, marches triumphant and confident. Closer “White Song” is pure electric bliss, “Lesson No. 1”‘s guardian angel. Shouwang’s distorted vocals lift the song to an ecstatic plateau of noise-energy, and that addictive and INCESSANT gallop returns to drive everything home once and for all in an appropriately climactic and cathartic fashion.

The sincerity of Carsick Car’s approach holds equal weight with their absolutely masterful knowledge of their inspiration, which reaches far but always with tasteful restraint and an inclination for visceral, in-the-moment immersion. One can tell from the exuberance and focus on this record that punk rock really changed their lives, and like any important student of punk, they have elevated the form to new and thought-provoking heights. Carsick Cars have become a truly extraordinary force on 3, and a global one at that.

P.S. I am absolutely insanely excited to see them on their 2014 TOUR and honored to be sharing the stage with them when they come to Boston next week!

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