Currently comprised of Lawrence, KS-born, New York-based producer and multi-instrumentalist Dave Liang, who cut his teeth as a producer with Bad Boy Records, and multi-disciplinary artist Sun Yunfan, the Brooklyn-based electronic duo The Shanghai Restoration project was initially began as a solo recording project that received attention for organically meshing Chinese instrumentation and hip-hop — although with subsequent releases, Liang increasingly expanded upon his sound, drawing upon choral music, downtempo electronica and folk. Interestingly enough, in 2010, Liang met Shanghai-based jazz vocalist Zhang Le, with whom he released a series of contemporary interpretations of Chinese jazz standards that caught the attention of NPR’s All Songs Considered. The following year, Liang met Sun Yunfan and the two started collaborating on music videos and live performance visuals before eventually working on songwriting and production, including Liang’s ongoing collaboration with Zhang Le, Life Elsewhere, an album, which was well-received in China and nominated for several national awards.
The duo’s latest effort R.U.R. derives its title from a 1920’s Czech play Rossum’s Universal Robots from which the word robot originates. Self-produced and recorded in New York over the past year or so, the album, imagines a post apocalyptic world in which humans have been replaced by robots, who have been trying to understand what led to their predecessors’ extinction. Via a time capsule, the robots learn about humanity’s must noble and profound endeavors such as art, agriculture, science, philosophy and so on, as well as humanity’s worst attributes such as narcissism, materialism, greed, environmental devastation — and as they’re looking at the time capsule, they begin to wonder if the universe will ever see and experience those rather peculiar beings again.
Sonically speaking, the album is reportedly a shift in sonic direction from being whimsical towards a much more introspective approach with the duo setting to find some sort of balance within chaos, with the duo experimenting with a dissonant and polyrhythmic approach featuring atonal analog synth lines, household items being sampled, Malaysian rainforest insects, China’s omnipresent in-store marketing chants and the sounds of outer space. In fact, the album’s latest single “Spooky Party” features breezy, Tropicalia and African-inspired polyrhythm paired with arpeggio analog synths and stuttering beats — and while being decidedly retro-futuristic, it may be the most dance floor friendly track they’ve released to date.