Shallow Levée: The Village Album Review

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時間 是猛烈的火車 跑得太快 記不住站名
Time is a rapid train, running too quickly, unable to remember the names of stations
人生是湖泊水面 就算清澈 還是看不見底
Life is like the surface of a lake; even if it looks clear, you still can't see the bottom of it

- "Train" (火車) by Shallow Levée (淺堤)

Life certainly does seem to pass by us quicker than we can keep up sometimes, especially for those of us who are accustomed to life in more bustling places like big cities. It's almost as if years go by in the blink of an eye, much like a train moving along at full speed. There's always something to be done, and seemingly not enough time to accomplish it all or begin to understand all the complexities that life has to offer. With the current pandemic affecting a large majority of the world, it has undoubtedly put life as many people know it, on pause - a time with potential to reflect and wind down as not much can be done beyond leaving our homes.

Shallow Levée's debut album that was released on June 18th provides a soothing and visually enticing soundtrack to the listener, with the circumstances surrounding it worldwide giving it a platform to amplify its relaxing vibes. While the world is experiencing unprecedented times, Shallow Levée welcomes you to enter The Incomplete Village (more simply referred to as The Village as its English title) as a short escape from inevitably mundane life while stuck indoors.

The Kaohsiung-based indie rock band first turned heads in 2016 when the song "Excavator" (怪手) from their first EP received a nomination for Best Rock Song at the Golden Indie Music Awards in Taiwan. Four years have passed between then and the release of their debut album, but it proves to listeners that it was worth the wait. Shallow Levée is known for their lyrics written by vocalist Elaine Tsai (蔡依玲) that are inspired by her own experiences, including ones regarding the environment and industrial development - topics that are not mentioned as often in music, but are important to consider and discuss. What is also worth noting is that their songs are performed in both Mandarin and Hokkien, and this album is no exception to that.

The tracklist is as follows:

1. The Village (樹影, lit. Shadow of a Tree)
2. Dear Friends (永和 - Yonghe, a district in New Taipei City)
3. Albatross (信天翁)
4. Train (火車)
5. Moonlight (月光) (feat. Cheng Ching-Ju of deca joins)
6. Daydreaming (陷眠, lit. Sound Asleep)
7. Wish Upon A Star (石頭, lit. Stone)
8. Colourless Youth (多崎作, a reference to Haruki Murakami's novel "Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage")
9. Dancing on the Ice Lake (薄冰上跳舞, lit. Dancing on Thin Ice)
10. Seeker (傳道的人, lit. Preacher)

The album opens with a catchy and upbeat rhythm paired with clear and peppy vocals in the first track "The Village" that reel the listener in. The lyrics also paint a vivid image of a traveller wandering on their own, and the nature that surrounds them.

我搬進一個不完整的 村莊裡面
I move closer to an incomplete village
健康的身體 寬闊的心
with a healthy body and an open heart
靜靜等待風 來來回回 樹影穿梭
quietly waiting for the wind to come and go, the shadows of the trees shuffling back and forth
看太陽升起 和愛 行走
watching the sun rise, with love, I move forward

As a listener, the lyrics can be interpreted as the traveller's journey to self-discovery, gently approaching their innermost thoughts and feelings as they move forward through their own "incomplete village". It serves as both a relatable track to a listener who has been doing some reflecting of their own, as well as a good introduction to the rest of the story that unfolds within the album. And in the next track "Dear Friends", the traveller gathers some courage to continue on with their journey:

我總是膽小懦弱 竟也有出力的時候
I've always been timid and weak, but after all, even I have times when I exert myself
會不會反覆練習 也會有成功的時候
I may not repeatedly practice but I will have times when I succeed

Albatross is a track with a memorable and captivating guitar riff, with an equally resounding message. Sometimes we can get too caught up on our own journeys, so much that we forget to enjoy the process. As it repeats with Elaine Tsai singing the verse "可別浪費了春天" over and over again, it gives off the impression as though you are flying in the open sky. It reminds the listener to not waste the present and to be grateful for those who accompany us along the way.

The harmony created by fellow Taiwanese indie rockers deca joins' vocalist Cheng Ching-Ju (鄭敬儒) and Elaine Tsai's voices in "Moonlight" makes it a must-listen, and the intro is unmistakably deca joins' trademark sound. In this track, we are reminded of the exhaustion that can catch up to us on a journey, as well as the times where doubts and worries shroud ourselves in darkness so much that it is difficult to find the light:

月光在奔波的人群裡面
The moonlight shines on the crowds rushing about
渺小的我看不見
I am so small and I can't see it

願望在山的另 一邊
I wish, on the other side of the mountain
願望它從沒實現
a wish that will never be fulfilled

The traveller finds their second wind with a powerful line at the end of the song that I'm sure many can relate their own feelings to:

醒來睜開眼 昨天不會重來一遍
I wake up and open my eyes, yesterday will not repeat itself

"Colourless Youth" is a stand-out track on this album, with its gentle guitar riffs that both compliment and help highlight the vocals and backing drums, while also entrancing the listener during the solo. On the other hand, the lyrics carry undertones of despair as they make comparisons of the passing of time to plastering bricks used to bury the deceased and dust mites piling up into crevices. At the end of it though, is a reflection of a core concept of self-discovery when examining oneself against the bigger picture:

我是沒有單位的物質
I am matter without my own entity
追究活著的價值
pursuing the value of being alive

The album closes out with "Seeker", an emotional song with lyrics to match. It opens with only Elaine Tsai singing "as far as the eye can see, there is no one around to liven things up" (放眼望去 無人助興), gradually followed by a light melody played on the organ in the background of her vocals and later joined by the rest of the band. She sings of questioning the truth, trying to understand her heart, and whether or not higher beings really do exist (and if they do, where are they?). The song ends with another repetition of the chorus, as the rhythm continues on until it gradually fades out:

事情沒有意義
There is no meaning in anything
無法判斷
unable to judge
我可不願獨自被遺忘
I'm unwilling to be alone and forgotten

The story ends with the traveller having potentially more questions than answers, as their journey has not come to an end but a standstill. It is a bittersweet but quite true-to-life depiction of what reality is really like: when we seek to discover answers, sometimes we are met with discomfort and feelings of being lost and isolated. Regardless of where a person is from or where they live, or the language they speak, our struggles as humans and our personal journeys can be more similar than we might think, and Shallow Levée does an excellent job of showcasing that.

The Village is available on a number of different platforms, including Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music. Shallow Levée themselves can be found on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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