“These are the seven winters frozen in smoke,” rasps Qiu Chi on the opening track of Lonely Leary’s sophomore album, Passenger on the Eve. This single line captures the pregnant haze hanging over the whole — Passenger on the Eve is a lyrically ambitious, rhythmically seductive, compellingly dissonant long-form meditation on the existential smog that smothers Beijing by night.
The landscape traveled by the titular Passenger on the Eve is littered with broken public toilets and half-destroyed storefronts. Everywhere it’s framed by the blue tin walls thrown up around construction sites in Beijing, a skin that’s never shed. Slow, wild shouts, breaking glass in the distance. The sun is scarce, the sky is grey and blue, dirty snow clogs the streets. In starkly lucid, sometimes lurid prose Qiu Chi narrates the passenger’s huddled scurrying through this dread night-scape, describing in impressionistic chapters a gray-green specter behind the facade of colorful consumer society.
Passenger on the Eve is a lyrically dense and stylistically adventurous album, an expansion on Lonely Leary’s aggressive and often abrasive punk-inflected assault. You can hear the band’s signature bite halfway through standout track “The Breakwater Announces,” when Qiu’s hoarse monologue gives way to the sudden, searing staccato of guitarist Song Ang’s signature high-frequency buzzsaw, and the trio locks into classic mode, Qiu Shi grimacing over a blunt baseline while Li Baoning punches in the groove with a tight motorik. Unexpected rhythmic flourishes — bongos, glockenspiel — embellish the band’s still-very-rough edges on tracks like “Only Ashes Left,” a post-apocalyptic vision of Beijing where hand drums lend a tribal propulsion, coolly grooving with a military lilt.
Penultimate track “Theorem” is another standout, a groovy, accessible rhythm and slow-lurching, high-register guitar lead backgrounding an unsettling minor-key choral chant. “Believe in festival music,” Qiu cynically barks. “Believe in the scene painted on the construction site fence … Believe that the theorem announced on street posters will last until the end.”
Better than virtually any other band on the scene right now, Lonely Leary taps into the background unease that pervades Beijing’s mega-urban culture. Passenger on the Eve is full of barbed notes on mass submission to the monoculture of a city crowd huddling against the brutal winter wind. Individuals melt into a disorganized chaos of noise and delay, human lives chain-smoked by forces too big to notice, young brains destroyed by wine. Lonely Leary’s strong, confident second album comes with a lyric sheet that stands alone alone as a long-form prose poem, and a rounded-out sound from a band identifying new ground to map.