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Meuko! Meuko! - 鬼島 Ghost Island EP Music Album Reviews

Taiwanese artist Pon blends traditional mythology and instruments with electronic beats and cacophonous samples on a release inspired by life in—and the urge to escape from—her home city of Taipei.

Life in a modern metropolis shapes the experimental music of Meuko! Meuko! The Taipei artist behind the project, Pon, cites “Taiwan’s irregular view/architectures and buildings, muggy, emissions-filled air, and hectic streetscapes” as influences on a sound constructed from an array of samples and synthesizer notes. The songs on her latest release, 鬼島 Ghost Island, frequently come off as claustrophobic, with noises tumbling over one another to form a cacophony reminiscent of daily city noise. But rather than just recreating the constricted experience of urban living, the album finds Pon incorporating traditional mythology and instruments to craft fantastical escapes—albeit with quotidian grime seeping in throughout.

This is just the latest aesthetic leap from an artist who’s fond of leaning into new styles. Pon first gained attention as a vocalist and synth player in indie-pop group the Shine & Shine & Shine & Shine (閃閃閃閃), an outfit whose melancholy jogs are a world away from the fractured beats she’s gone on to create. Although Meuko! Meuko! dates back to 2007, it really took off in 2015, when Pon arrived at a sound whose shadowy atmosphere undercut glitchy dance tracks loaded up with samples and toy noises and, at live shows, complemented by a whirlwind of images. Pon gravitated toward juke on last year’s About Time EP, approaching the genre with the same oddball flourishes as her frequent collaborator Foodman, but establishing a pervasive sense of unease that contrasted with the Japanese producer’s more joyful bounce.

On 鬼島 Ghost Island, Meuko! Meuko! shifts toward the overwhelming, evoking a constant flux that sounds closest to the work of Arca and Danse Noire founder Aïsha Devi. “都市念佛法會Metropolitan Sutra Gathering” opens the record with faint chanting, but samples and percussion jabs quickly drown out those vocals. Pon gradually consolidates this noise into one final burst, filled out by warped echoes of the original prayer. “狗戰 Dog War” uses barking to complement the drum machine rumbles that propel the song forward, resulting in the album’s most intimidating track. Pon has always constructed her compositions out of disjointed sounds, but now she’s adding even more of them to songs stuffed with ever-mutating details. The two remixes at the end of this collection heighten this maximalist sensibility, with producers GIL and Dutch E Germ retaining the restless feel of Meuko! Meuko!’s originals while introducing their own high-definition dollops to the tracks.

Pon’s approach to vocals has also changed. In the past, she often delivered short stories in speak-sing. Now, she treats her voice as another instrument to stir into the stews of noise she concocts. On closer “希卡公主 Princes Sika,” she nearly whispers, her voice lurking beneath chopped-up beats and periodically dashing out. It’s here that Pon best captures the tension simmering across 鬼島 Ghost Island, in a track that feels like hot breath on the back of your neck.

The album’s beats could populate any number of 2018’s dissected club tracks, but Pon incorporates additional touches that tie her songs to a specific place and culture. “Ghost Island” is slang used in Taiwan to describe the grim economic conditions facing the country’s young people (although Pon has said she used it as a creative springboard more than as a statement). “眾神廟 The Temple” loops Chinese horns to create a sweltering drone that reappears throughout the record, helping to unite the songs. There’s nothing particularly nostalgic about these instruments or the chanting, however. Modern constantly electronics grind up against these traditional sounds, a reminder that reality always finds a way to sneak into Pon’s escapist fantasies.

A short but focused release, 鬼島 Ghost Island showcases the broad potential of Meuko! Meuko! It’s also the latest export from a burgeoning community of musicians in East Asia—including Foodman, Sonia Calico of Taiwan, Korea’s Neon Bunny, and everyone in the orbit of China’s Do Hits label—who merge traditional sounds from their cultures with contemporary electronic music. Meuko! Meuko! brings new purpose to this juxtaposition, using the harsh sounds of modern life to give her music a distinctly 21st-century tension.

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