Album Review: Carsick Cars’ “3”

In writing about the Beijing-based noise rock trio Carsick Cars, there is an overwhelming temptation to compare them to Sonic Youth. It’s a natural inclination; Carsick Cars supported the alt-rock pioneers for two shows in Vienna and Prague on a European tour in 2007, shortly before releasing their eponymous debut album. Since those shows, they’ve performed at three SXSW festivals, and released two more albums, the most recent of which dropped last month. Some of the songs off this album, titled 3, wouldn’t sound out of place as B-sides from Daydream Nation or Goo.

Still, Carsick Cars aren’t Sonic Youth. They don’t have the swagger; they don’t have the savvy. Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore (still drinking from whatever weird hipster Fountain of Youth that has kept him looking like a weird 20something for 30 years) cut an imposing figure of “coolness”. Hell, they did a song with Chuck D, who is mad cool. Meanwhile, Carsick Cars stand together wearing shirts that read “CSC” like sports fans too embarrassed about their bodies to bare their chests (for the record, I am one of these sports fans. Go [Sports Team]!).

After a second or third listen, Carsick Cars start to sound a lot less like Sonic Youth, and a lot more like their lower-fi contemporaries, Pavement and Guided By Voices. 3 is less Daydream Nation and more Slanted and Enchanted or Bee Thousand. This is great news for CSC, who make up for their lack of ability in smoking a lot and staring off into the distance at things with a relentless enthusiasm for their music.

3 opens with a song called “Wild Grass”. There’s a quick little bass riff at the beginning, before the guitars and drums cut in. It’s a pretty simple moment, but it’s a beautiful defining point for what Carsick Cars are. High-energy and lo-fi (it’s a testament to their commitment to distorted vocals that you sometimes can’t immediately tell which language singer Zhang Shouwang, who sings in both English and Chinese, is singing) and pretty damn good. I also have no idea what they’re saying most of the time, so I am complete qualified to say the lyrics are spectacular.

No other moment on 3 quite ever matches the opening of “Wild Grass”, and it does occasionally feel like Carsick Cars are chasing their influences a little too eagerly. The album lags a little in the middle, but more than makes up for it with the final track, “White Song”, a seven minute mini-epic that builds and builds to a satisfyingly chaotic conclusion. 3 isn’t a perfect album, by any means, but it’s certainly worth a listen.

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