Our conversations with Xia Lang remain enigmatic. As far as determining his intentions, the Beijing-based 21-year-old appears to puzzle even himself. Citing a desire to abandon conventions and rebuke ritual in favor of daring experimentations, he nevertheless appears bound to the traditions that precede him. The declassified works contained in Codex exemplify Xia’s stance in his art: his sound counters the rigid norms demanded by his day job producing music for commercial media, fully embodying his outlook on the global creative landscape. Yet it remains familiar, if only distantly so.
Avoiding eye contact amid the mint haze of his Juul, the television composer laments “Too many people here stick to tradition, but tradition isn’t necessarily based in reality…. keep the dross. That’s real.” In salvaging the minutiae, it becomes clear that Xia’s work stands not in opposition to the projected structures of the everyday but repositions them as mere inventions and guidelines rather than mandates.
By day Xia works toward completing his university degree while excelling in a job scoring advertisements, TV, and video games. He hopes to eventually compose for films - like Ryuichi Sakamoto - and one day carve a more distinct stylistic lane for himself where sound meets picture. For now, he concedes to being a go-to composer in his field crafting music for broad appeal - a one-man orchestra playing the same hits over and over.
Making music hasn't always been a priority for Xia. Despite casually playing in bands in high school and with friends, collaboration never quite felt like a true escape from life’s high expectations and responsibilities. Someone was always telling you what to do, what not to do…how to sound. His own private creative daydreams came and went without being actualized and life went on. In time they became conjoined with the scenery.
It was in the early days of university, he claims, that he was finally able to visualize his path forward. Stumbling upon a chance performance by Yuyu Feng (aka Fishdoll) to a crowded room of 20, he found the blinding ennui keeping him at bay dissolve; a mere dew on the leaves of infinite ideas shimmering in the dawn of the mind. The two struck up a friendship after the show. Yuyu had just returned to Beijing from New York, recently releasing music with local label Paxico Records. Ideas, song drafts, and messages of encouragement followed and were exchanged over email. Yuyu saw a special quality in Xia’s instincts - something equally delicate and devastating unique to his artistic sensibilities. Xia felt the stimulation and satisfaction of making music for himself, retreating deeper into the trenches of his abilities and imagination. After long days at work and in class, late night hours became Xia’s arena to become the architect of his own iconoclastic sonic structures. The end result of his constructions would form his genre-defying multidimensional debut collection, Codex.
Spanning 30 minutes and a myriagon of musical styles, Codex flutters through cataclysmic IDM inflections, weightless baroque colorations, and swaying samba sensibilities. At no point does it fall comfortably under one particular label, rather finding solace and identity as a shapeshifter. High flying string arrangements nod toward Xia’s work in composing for picture, pairing rich neo-classical sentiments with a tasteful sampling of otherworldly electronic delights and blue jazz piano strikes. Xia’s work carefully meets Satie with Autechre with Bill Evans, only to violently mix them into a vibrant bloody pulp to create a brand-new canvas. All moments of stylistic clarity are forced through a prism - twisted and reflected back at the music it once referenced as a deliberately vague adulteration of its former self.
Codex follows the beat of Xia’s drum in both abstract and material ways. “The Corridor”, along with the album’s title track, confidently marches at a gentle swaying pace - impressed by cooled round bubbling bass notes and open emotive piano. “That, There,” “Angles,” and “Steps” explore the hollowed cavities of Xia’s investigations in song structure, flipping traditional notions of arrangement into phantasmic mechanical tempos and ghostly implied rhythms. “Reddish,” featuring vocal contributions from Fishdoll, finds an intersection where all of Codex’s stylings converge - blending skipping Latin-jazz influences with a soaring choir of arpeggiated vocal clips, all collapsing into a somber conclusion of solo piano; or, Xia left alone with his thoughts and tools of invention.
Xia’s work, in its current form, is driven by the intention to carve his own space rather than encode a message. His determination to step outside of the lines and be purely original carries a palpable weight in his music. His goal through his art, while not explicit, is easily recognized through his unquestionable enthusiasm for seeking newness in the midst of noise:
“I find beauty in little accidents…it’s really hard to give them meaning. I want to create - chords with color, beauty, and accidents.”
released November 11, 2020
All songs are written, produced and performed by Xia Lang, except:
“Angles” is written by Peiyu Chen and Xia Lang
“Reddish” is written by Yuyu Feng and Xia Lang and features vocal contributions by Yuyu Feng