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Outside In(fluence): Dirty Fingers - "How'd I Turn So Bad?"

Welcome to the first Outside In(fluence). As mentioned in this week's news update, Outside In(fluence) is a series of international musick reviews published every other Saturday. The first album I'm covering is How'd I Turn So Bad? by Shanghai's Dirty Fingers. The album was released late last year, December 12th, on the label Maybe Mars, an indie label that started back in 2007 and releases exclusively Chinese alt-rock/punk/noise-rock/post-punk/garage stuff. I have been familiar with the label for a while thanks to the brilliant Carsick Cars, but I only recently rediscovered it. How'd I Turn So Bad? is a good way to come back.


The album cover for How'd I Turn So Bad? shows what looks like an astronaut navigating a crystalline landscape while a giant, pink chameleon stares on. I like the colors used, though I wish there was a slight border or something to keep the brightness contained a bit. I really like the blue of the sky, fading into grey as it does. It's a shocking cover, loud and weird, just like the musick therein.

Before I continue, I should mention that I can't seem to embed this album here. It won't show up when I place the code in the HTML unlike every other album. If you want to listen along, you can do so here.

How'd I Turn So Bad? starts with "School". It's a fast and angular guitar rocker with scratchy vocals. The breakdowns are cool, contrasting the extreme chaos of the rest of the track. "Trip to Cairo" comes in with a spec of ambient mysticism before flying downhill at extreme speed. There's a little reference to "Hotel California" with the line "cause I can check out, but I will never leave". "Thanks to me my mom, I'll always be selfish". That's also a great line. It's time to just go and do what we want. The third track, "Fake Rock Star", starts out with the ghost of Dave Alexander's throbbing bass and Funhouse-esque guitars. It quickly goes a little overboard and loses something, but the song catches back up with itself as it goes on. It's not a favorite of mine for sure. "Climb Another Mountain" is more melodic, as best as Dirty Fingers can be. I like the contrasting guitar parts and the weird wind sound. This is a track I really wish that I could understand the lyrics of. "It seems like so much fun, but I, I got scared," Guan Xiaotian announces on "Arkham Club". "Everybody’s having so much fun. I’m alone drinking beer," he continues. The Arkham Club is a real place in Shanghai, and social anxiety is a sure bummer for anyone going to out somewhere like that. The dark surf sounds and noir vocals make this a great one.

"I Like Your Girlfriend Too" starts the second half. It's the poppiest song on the album with slower tempos and cleaner lyrics (if you can understand Chinese unlike me). I really like the emotions in the vocals on this one and the guitar solo in the middle. The bass line and calmer vocals remind me of the Japanese band, the pillows. "Birthday Song" is a fast track that's over quickly. It does what you'd expect. I like the bass sound a lot. "Robot Song" starts with a blues-played-by-The Strokes riff. It changes gears during the chorus to the more usual Dirty Fingers speed. I enjoyed this one. "Wei Wan" is barely over 30 seconds. It's really fast with a small sample of dialogue at the beginning. "Dead Girl" has more Stooges riffs and lyrics about a nihilistic romance. "I like libertines too. Are we good?". "She's sick in the head. She's secondhand." The lyrics are cheesy but great. The penultimate track is "Undercover Cop", a grim, song under the brim of a rainy, grey fedora and a long coat, Bogart's cigarette lighting the way ahead. It reminds me of The Clash on Give 'em Enough Rope. "Pop" is the final track on the album. It starts with some studio banter before going into another dance-punk piece like a cleaner "Robot Song". I like the monologue in the middle accompanied by the enthusiastic backing vocals. I would guess this song comments on pop musick a bit, but I have no idea. It sounds good anyway.

Even without knowing Chinese, I really enjoyed How'd I Turn So Bad?. The breakneck speeds combined with a keen musical sensibility drive the sounds home. The few lyrics in English are especially well-written, concise and classic, that I really wish I could understand the rest. The bass is surprisingly strong when it gets the chance to peak through the slashing guitars. The production is good, though it is a bit loud and thin, the guitars and drums respectively. How'd I Turn So Bad? is a fine album regardless and it receives a Good.

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