Since it’s inception in 2001 as a collaboration between LinDi and bass player Su Yong , Cold Fairyland has been on an incredible journey of exploration, experimentation, and musical growth. The new CD, “Seeds on the Ground”, is the latest step on that journey. Cold Fairyland does not make ordinary CDs, they are not merely collections of songs. Lindy creates entire worlds, distilled into music. The eleven songs of “Seeds on the Ground” form this type of world. It’s countryside is cruel and beautiful, filled with legend, rivers and forests, ghost towns and battlefields.
Almost entirely acoustic, this album has a much more pastoral feel, a more organic sound, Gone are the soaring synthesizers of “Kingdom of Benevolent Strangers”, replaced with the delicate interplay of cello and pipa. It is as if the rustling of leaves and the whisper of the wind have substituted for the urban cry, Likewise, a serene inner strength has supplanted the power and fury of the live CD. One other divergence of note, unlike the prior primarily vocal albums, eight of these eleven tracks are instrumental.
What has been carried forward on this incredible journey? The same outstanding musicianship of five talented players. The same blending of East and West (a touch more East, this time around). The complex rhythms and the effortless way in which the band handles them. And of course, LinDi’s song writing genius. There is a genuine depth to her writing that goes beyond ordinary talent. The songs seem to come alive in your ear,, telling heroic tales of triumph and failure, conjuring stunning imagery of fantastic scenes, bringing messages of hope and forlorn desperation. Some songs are so poignant, they seem not to be written at all, rather shed like tears. These are the type of songs that come unbidden to mind in the checkout line or the stop light. Not only the beautiful melodies, but the entire magical atmosphere. That is truly something special.
The title track, “Seeds on the Ground” is a hopeful, relatively austere (by Cold Fairyland standards) folk song, highlighted by a charming a-cappella ending. The bittersweet lyrics are underscored by LinDi’s confident, earnestly delivered message of loneliness and the promise of a better world.
The polyrhythmic “Shadow Play” contrasts the darkness of the cello against the brightness of the pipa. The dual time signatures of six and four create a shifting platform, over which the guitar motif (later taken up by the cello) brings a sense of wavering motion. The effect is like the dappling of light and shadow seen through the leaves of trees rustling in the whisper of a summer breeze. Melodies and motifs are passed from one instrument to another in a way characteristic of almost the entire album.
The gentle and tranquil “Five Travelers” is another of the odd meter, shifting time signature songs that are a staple of the Cold Fairyland repertoire. It is a sunlit and happy journey though a magical middle kingdom. The cello sings a wistful tune under blue sky as the pipa cheerfully leads the way. Li Jia supplies tasteful percussion though the fist part of the song, switching to the drum kit at the climax. There is a true sense of joy as the Five Travelers approach the end of their journey. The have had a lovely trip, but they are happy to be within sight of home.
The odd metered jam “Puzzle” (like the title track) also appeared on the live CD. This version is more subdued and refined than it’s live counterpart. Still, this is easily the most electric track on the album. Other tracks like “Shadow Play” and “Ghost Town Nightmare” have clean-toned electric guitar, but this song sports two guitar solos by Song Jian Feng , one clean-toned and double tracked, the other distorted. “Puzzle” is another shifting meter song, three bars of five followed by a bar of four. The solos are passed from one instrument to another in a jazz jam fashion, from cello to pipa to double tracked guitar, to vocal, and then distorted electric guitar.
Zhou ShenAn’s cello is prominent throughout, but nowhere more so than the hauntingly beautiful “Solemn, Silent Circle”. The melody circles between pipa and cello, while the other remains in close orbit counterpoint, forming a magically revolving fairy ring.
“The Moon at the Fortified Pass” features lyrics by Tang dynasty poet Li Bai. One of China’s greatest poets, Li Bai lived a full eight hundred years before Shakespeare. The poem is a night before the battle scene on Guan Mountain. The song captures both the picturesque panorama described in the poem and the soldiers sense of foreboding. The music of the poem itself is clearly evident in Lindy’s voice. She sings with pathos and grace. This song has a dark and eerie beauty that is as unique as it’s subject matter.
The galloping “Reawakening” will likely become a staple of their live show. From a quiet beginning it crescendos to truly cinematic proportions. There is a deep genesis in the bass. Instruments are added as the opening unfolds, first guitar, then pipa and cello, and finally the drums. The cello swells, it’s sonorities seem to expand and ripen. The drum rolls herald a gathering storm that finally blossoms into a cross country gallop to the climax in thirteen eight time.
The wispy and delicate “Cloud Riding” takes off with gossamer guitar. The melancholy cello and seven eight time seems to add an ephemeral quality. Su Yong’s bass line provides substance and sway, while the intricate picking of the pipa puts a jewel like shimmer on the sapphire sky. The overall atmosphere is dream like and serene.
The spellbinding “Forest Dance” brings to mind a primeval woodland, populated by towering trees and mythical creatures, At twilight, the woodland fairies come out to dance. The creatively choreographed melodies of the pipa and cello intertwine with grace and allure. One thing is for certain - Fairies are fabulous dancers.
The band climbs the perilous ascent to the imposing “Ice Castle” with the ease of expert mountaineers. The guitar, bass, and drums provide the impetus for the captivating ascension. Shifting from four to seven gives a jagged edge to the lofting peaks. The pipa’s crystalline tones carve the castle itself from a mountain of ice, while the cello adds an aerial dimension that seems to define distance. “Ice Castle” is an enchanted postcard from Cold Fairyland’s highest mountain top.
A hymn for the forsaken, the singular and haunting “Ghost Town Nightmare” is the crown jewel of the CD. The melody in the cello is prayer-like. The lyrics a desolate accusation. Lindy sings them with unearthly beauty and angelic compassion. The instruments work together in an elegant yet stark counter point. This is a stand out track on an outstanding album.
Seeds on the Ground is the band’s most cohesive album to date. Complex, but never complicated, they have woven a uniquely new musical fabric. With this CD, they have explored fantastic new territory, opened new vistas into an enchanted world. Cold Fairyland has just become an even more magical place.