When American Football released their self-titled LP in 1999, they coaxed a passionate smattering of fans out of the local music scene. Similarly, Wuhan’s Chinese Football has found a following in some obscure pockets of urban China and Japan (where frontman Xu Bo goes to university). The two bands actually met up last month; the cornerstone emo act came face to face with its Chinese descendants, whose name originated as a lighthearted tribute to the Midwest natives.
Chinese Football’s latest EP Here comes a new challenger! incorporates elements of the emo conventions established by their American counterparts. But Chinese Football would prefer not to compartmentalize their sound. Rather, they dip their toes into the varied temperatures of math rock, pop punk, slowcore and jazz. With the addition of new drummer Zheng Zili, the latest EP reflects their search for a more mature sound—one that shows their growth, through experimentation beyond the calculated angst of their 2015 debut release.
Four songs round out an EP that is cohesive but never too predictable. “Electronic Girl” has a simple charm to its melody and a mellow groove in its bass line. Guitars meld into a carefree chorus that falls smoothly, while still articulating a gritty depth beneath the surface. Segments of thick guitars inundated with percussion heighten the focus on the band’s rhythmic experimentation.
Track two—aptly titled “Awaking Daydream”—drips with intricate whimsy in the guitar, relentless as it constructs a curtain of shimmering sound. Sonic fragments glimmer and swirl through the air to render the vocals a secondary echo. This ambient texture continues until the song kicks the energy up a notch, leaning into the band’s pop punk tendencies. It seems the group has embraced musical ebb and flow, rather than the gradual energy build typical of their slowcore influences. They’ve found a way to fold their delicate guitar melodies into the necessary harsh sections.
“A Bolt From The Blue” reiterates track two’s arpeggiating serenity while leaning into an atmospheric build. Diving into the ethereal—sans bass—this song crescendoes into earnest, searching shouts backed by pummeling guitar. The changes in texture are simultaneously surprising and comforting to the ear, falling into place as the distortion melds into a oneness with the simple melody and drums. The song is a gentle assailant, pulling us back and forth between fighting the tide and just floating, our heads above the surf.
In the EP’s closing track, the cheerful bop vibe of “Electronic Girl” reprises, with summery guitar riffs, a pop melody and punk energy in the drums. A saxophone solo differentiates this track from the others, and one can’t help but think back to the trumpet on American Football’s first LP. As we toss and turn among gentle guitars, the wistful song of the sax rocks us to a mournful and marvelous sleep. Chinese Football leaves us in a comfortable awe as the drums dissolve like salt into sea.