By Alice Bi
The problem with fall is the sentimentality it drapes over campus. College Park’s treetops will soon blush, sooner still they’ll wither and droop. Walking between classes, I burn in the noon heat. Yet by nightfall, the winds cut, cold and curt, harrying me on the sidewalk home.
By home I mean this half-underground room and its lonely, rust-silled window—a short term spot in College Park, not my real home. My city and College Park share an overbearing humidity, the kind of weather that clings like the memory of someone you thought you loved. I remember a girl who liked Sunset Rollercoaster; now, I like the band, but have lost her.
Like me, Sunset Rollercoaster hails from Taipei. A five-piece indie band, it comprises lead vocalist and guitarist Kuo-Hung, saxophonist Hao-Ting, bassist Hung-Li, keyboardist Shao-Hsuan, and drummer Tsun-Lung. They’re best known for silky synth-pop harmonies awash in nostalgia. Their discography, though, is a pastiche stirring together everything from jazz and soul to psychedelic rock and funk. In other words: Sunset Rollercoaster’s technically good enough to play everything, so they do.
I’m still reeling from their brilliant live concert last Friday. Went with two best bros to Howard Theatre on a press pass.
The opening act, 9m88, was a charismatic singer who admitted to “writing a lot [of songs] about someone who won’t even listen to [her] music.” Not to worry, for in lieu of winning one person’s love, 9m88’s made a career out of winning over crowds instead. Her jazz-rap and R&B-infused tunes invited concertgoers to sway with her, carefree.
9m88 sings exquisitely. Her voice is diphthongal—gliding from one vowel to the next—often dipping from major into minor, then into a burst of improvised scat. Her set was a couple of cheerfully wry songs. Most lyrics used weather to metaphorize one’s ever changing moods while in love. Fittingly, 9m88 performed the last song spot lit in the staged fog—the acoustic melody gentle, yet unwavering. As if hoping, despite situational murkiness, for an earnest love to persist.
Sunset Rollercoaster themselves were also impressive. The band’s casually minimal boy-next-door look—cap, t-shirt, baggy jeans, etc.—contrasted their lush sound and vaporwave visuals. Their live instrumentals somehow sounded more skillful than on their album, which is refreshing compared to the hyper-produced-but-disappointing-when-live tendency of most mainstream acts.
Indeed, Sunset Rollercoaster dazzled on all instruments. Kuo-Hung’s double humbucker Tele could twang funkily one song, then shred and moan like a rockstar’s the next. Hao-Ting showed off with exaggerated dance moves and sax solos. He held long, meandering notes to yearn, but also ran up or down chromatic steps in upbeat songs. Tsun-Lung’s toms and bass drum kept the band’s pulse racing, just ahead of Hung-Li’s tastefully syncopated bassline. On the keyboards, Shao-Hsuan alternated sparkling chords and smirkingly wah-pedaled synth notes. More impressively, they sounded gorgeous as a mix—their music a familiar fusion of sounds as warm as the sunset, as thrilling as a rollercoaster ride.
“Watch the sky, you know why | It’s like the stars are shining in your eyes” crooned 9m88 during the encore with Sunset Rollercoaster. In the dark understage, the enrapt crowd waves their arms to the rhythm, their sparkling phones a tide of light. For a few songs, we’ve forgotten the world, surrendering thought to overflowing melodies, letting our feet shuffle to the beat. This was the kind of concert that smooths lines from foreheads, that dances people till they’re brave enough to face the dawn. A pocket dimension of alternative time, of hope and ease.
And maybe this is the kind of warmly cosmopolitan sound representative of Taipei. Admittedly, it’s a strange city. Taipei’s always redefining itself amid cultural liminalities, like an improvised song subverting musical theory. Yet there is a welcoming ambience to a city where shiny skyscrapers sit aside seven-story residential buildings, where banyan trees guard new asphalt roads, where the back alley balconies rust, yet bear potted orchids peering at the sun. I think of Taipei as solarpunk. As technologically mediated survival. I might even suggest that Sunset Rollercoaster’s also solarpunk—a swirl of synth effects upon natural imagery-infused lyrics (in songs like “I’m a fish” or “Vanilla”, for example).
And maybe solarpunk is my state of mind this fall, a last semester. Maybe these are the vibes for many folks: wearied by the past year, yet willing to be warmed by good music and friends, willing to let nostalgia stir hope. Maybe this tenderness will get us through.
Alice Bi is a senior English and Government double-major and a Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House alumna. Send her memes at email@example.com
Photographer: Dorvall Bedford