In the first few bars of “Marnie,” track one in China’s latest album And Then Nothing Happened, singer/songwriter Michael James Tapscott sings “I’m like my mother, I like to stay at home / Unlike my father, I prefer to work alone / To feel the pain, and the boredom, wash over me.” With these haunting words to lead the charge, we wander into the feisty foray of strings and rustling percussion that together will carve a path for us to enter “Crossing the Ohio” and its lighthearted lyricism. The swaggering beats set the stage for Tapscott’s weathered serenade, which arrives as equal parts a hipster folkie and an angst-ridden beat poem. The magic is only beginning as the slow dancing “Carnations” comes into focus, and listeners who try to turn back from the journey they have just embarked on will find that China have crafted their new record to be both ensnaring and charmingly evocative.
“Carnations” ebbs against the grain of a wistful bassline, but its rigid grooves are broken up once “Last Straw” fills the atmosphere with its glassy melody. Tapscott’s voice floats atop the airy rhythm that the band is turning out pendulously, but it doesn’t come across as distant or removed from the instrumentation at all. Like the string harmonies that light up “Bitter Sailor,” the relationship between the vocal track and the remainder of the band is highlighted in the master mix and amplified as to allow for us to feel every stitch of sonic intensity that the band is capable of producing in a studio environment.
“Bitter Sailor” shines with its exotic swing, but it doesn’t prepare us for the ominous psychedelia that furiously assaults all within earshot upon commencing “Satan’s Got a River,” my favorite song from And Then Nothing Happened. The band struts with a confidence that is infectious to put it mildly, and without skipping a beat, their galloping extends into the dark and sophisticated “St Jerome” and its mischievous string arrangement. The title track sees China switching gears and giving into their countrified influences for a brief exhibition in retrospective self-awareness, but in “If I Had to Move,” we return to the folk/rock minimalism that the majority of the record is faceted with. All of these songs, regardless of pace or means of execution, flow incredibly well and play together as a singular piece of music in an almost symphonic manner.
On the whim of a fragile guitar plucking that the drums don’t hesitate to pummel with thunderous beats, “Until This Then This is the End” wraps up And Then Nothing Happened on a chilling but acerbic note and leaves anyone who has been listening intently curious to hear more from China. I wasn’t very familiar with these Bay Area balladists prior to hearing their new record for the first time, but I must admit that I plan on keeping a close eye on them moving forward. Don’t let the title of this record fool you – And Then Nothing Happened is an engraved invitation to experience the kaleidoscopic tonality of an indie band that doesn’t just deserve your attention this February – they flat-out demand it.