Sydney multi-hyphenate Rainbow Chan seems restless inside the confines of pop and folk music on her home-produced debut EP. Think of her as our anti-Julia Stone, writes CHRISTOPHER LEWIS.
She makes it look so easy. An Icelandic festival appearance and VIVID collaboration with Karen O later, Rainbow Chan finally gets around to releasing her debut EP. Such is the cult following of this young Sydneysider that ever since ‘Sweet Tooth’ and ‘Rabbit and Fox’ announced her experimental talent last year, blogs have buzzed with anticipation for a release from the Hong Kong-born, Australia-bred synth fiend.
What has arrived is a confident, stylistically mature recording that places Rainbow Chan in a new class of Australian producers, where she’ll most likely be sitting next to likeminded musical soul, Sui Zhen. It is no surprise that Sui (also half of Fox + Sui) is performing alongside Chan on the Melbourne leg of her EP tour; Long Vacation could well be the little sister to Sui’s 2012 album, Two Seas. But the all-together-now community does not stop there: the multi-talented DJ/producer Andras Fox (the other half of Fox + Sui) designed the cover art and Sui helped film the clip for the first single, ‘Skinny Dipping’.
A DIY aesthetic threads the EP together and Chan reportedly recorded most of the five tracks inside her bedroom closet. If you’re picturing her cramped inside that closet, imagine all the childhood toys she found and decided to use as instruments. It is genuinely refreshing to listen to a record that is so brazenly carefree – our chanteuse sounds liberated. From what? From the conventions of what we know to be female-voiced, folky pop music. Rainbow Chan is our anti-Julia Stone.
“The moments delicately breeze by the listener, almost as quickly as they arrive.”
Tape loops, glockenspiels, hacked-up old synthesisers and programmed beats are the basis upon which Chan builds her sweeping melodies. ‘In a Foreign Tongue’ begins with a looped vocal sample that creates a metronomic beat for her to layer orchestral flourishes on top of one another. The way the song is structured is very similar to ‘Settle Down’ by Kimbra, a comparison that will either infuriate or flatter the artist, depending on her personal music taste.
‘Skinny Dipping’ has a beautiful baroque tone, as if lifted from a holiday montage in a 1950s film, and she has taken this grandiose texture and put the beat from Space Invaders on top of it. It’s brilliant. Her constant references to full-bodied orchestral fragments perhaps show the influence of French composer Yann Tiersen, but either way she never overplays her hand. The moments delicately breeze by the listener, almost as quickly as they arrive.
The production of Long Vacation is so lush and fanciful it is reminiscent of a child’s windup music box, with ‘Fool’s Gold’ sampling a clarinet and what sounds like an oboe. Meanwhile, ‘Haircut’ playfully satirises a woman’s obligatory breakup hairstyle changes with tongue-in-cheek wit.
“She overdubs herself time and time again to create a choir of rainbows.”
Rainbow keeps her vocals prominent in the mix throughout. And rightly so – her voice is her greatest asset. It is powerful and her backing vocals, all various versions of herself, show off her range as she overdubs herself time and time again to create a choir of rainbows.
Closing with ‘Milk’, Chan adeptly dodges obvious rhymes. “You asked if me if I bathed in milk, for my skin was as smooth as
silk porcelain.” Its melody is distinctly Oriental-inspired chamber pop. You could imagine the track being similar to something Belle & Sebastian might have produced, had they been listening to a lot more K Pop and Yoko Ono.
Like Sui Zhen, Rainbow Chan seems restless inside the confines of pop music and the traditional hallmarks of folk music. Breaking them is not a wanton action; it is a mathematical conclusion from the melting pot of disparate cultural components Rainbow has obviously been exposed to and exposed herself to. Considering Long Vacation itself was named after a mid-’90s Japanese soap opera, this particular pot is even deeper than it might seem.
‘Long Vacation’ is out now through Silo Arts & Records/Inertia. Rainbow Chan is in the midst of a launch tour; remaining dates below.
Fri, Aug 16 – Civic Underground, Sydney, NSW
Thurs, Aug 22 – Boney, Melbourne, VIC
Sat, Aug 24 – The Front, Canberra, ACT