When it comes to sizing up indie bands and albums, don’t let monikers and titles fool you. San Francisco contemporary folk rockers China, who released their debut EP in 2014, has nothing to do with that country or its culture. Thankfully, it has everything to do with insightful character portraits, poignant, heartfelt narratives and lighthearted, jangly, alternately dreamy and percussive vibes. These put a cool yet edgy, raw indie rock spin on the Neil Young/Stephen Stills/Byrds aesthetic that once dominated the pop culture conversation.
Likewise, the title of their second full length collection And Then Nothing Happened is ironic considering the swirl of activity engaging our senses and intellect throughout. First, there’s the seductive lilt of frontman Michael James Tapscott. That’s complemented by the alternating soothe and crackle provided by the ensemble of Jeff Moller (bass), Jacob Aranda (guitar) and Raphi Gottesman (drums). China’s sense of grand lyrical, melodic and harmonic vocal movement often comes to life with colorful and brash instrumentation, most notably the mandolin (underscoring the lonely seafaring of “Bitter Sailor”), organ and sizzling horns (adding depth and urgent soul to “Carnations”), and steel guitar on the sadly introspective title track and the simmering, bluesy ballad “If I Had To Move.”
Many of China’s songs here have an adventurous spirit about them, but the emotional core is the batch of more reflective gems like the first single and opening track “Marnie” (an overall cynical tune wondering if an old flame is “gone for good”) and the meditative, personal apocalypse of “Last Straw.” If you sense a retro warmth and authenticity to China’s flow here, it’s for a good reason.
Working on the same vintage MCI console from Muscle Shoals that Paul Simon, Willie Nelson and Cat Stevens used, producer David Glasebrook recorded the band live in the studio to analog tape. The band’s effortless, coolly soulful chemistry seems, unlike fine china, unbreakable.