This Taiwan band is a singer-DJ combo with a penchant for animal rights and a solid range of sounds that can feel floaty and fun as froth on hot chocolate and heavy and lurching as raw wrath. In practical terms Ma-Te Lin bears similarity to Lana Del Ray and Lorde – and they claim as much – but their range of sound contains much more, including Nujabes style grooves, beats made from animal noises, chip tune rhythms that seem to come from video games, and more. At first listen it might seem that Ma-Te Lin is mostly pleasant and airy atmosphere music, but even their pared down songs pour out so many interesting sounds that the songs become so much more than just decently well composed, soft-sounding chillwave electronica that litters the internet. Ma-Te Lin is impressive in a way that many atmospheric electronic acts aren’t because they maintain laidback moods through an entire track while also constantly developing the backbeat, often in radical ways using sounds that are traditionally jarring and arrhythmic – such as dog barks, fuzzy guitars, mewing, harsh beeps, and whirring video game sounds. So many odd sounds weave into the songs that it is hard to separate out and define all of them, yet each one fits so tightly into the composition that they rarely register as an erratic noise that draws away from the beat.
The band’s ultimate chill song, “Manchi” is a great example. Though the song always feels atmospheric, light, and relaxed, there is still an impressive amount of dynamic noises layered over one another. Manchi does not just sit on one sample or sound that is aesthetically pleasant and ride it to the finish line, but it actively constructs and deconstructs rhythms of noise around the main, snappy drum rhythm. The whole thing culminates at around two and half minutes to three minutes in where the song features very low bass thrums, clapping, a smooth synth line, and a sharper, more robotic one. By the end an array of sampled sounds synthesize into an off-kilter rhythm that dies gently and smoothly into an echoing end. Despite a decent amount of layered complexity, the song still feels stripped, simple, and straightforwardly pleasant due to strong guiding vocals and very smart composition and mixing that emphasizes sounds – like the snappy drum rhythm – that keep the listener moored in a very full and sweet mood.
Ma-Te Lin excel at making mood through unorthodox noise and can maintain their unique sound selection over far more than just the happy and chill too. In “My Place” Ma-Te Lin reveals the dark and haunting end of their sonic grin. Instantly the song opens with the low thrum of a stand-up bass given a bit of dirty twang during the mixing. The singer falls into the rhythm with a smokiness that builds a dark little lounge around the light percussion and the twang of stand up bass. Gradually all sorts of dissonance in form of synthesizers that make a sort of wom-wom-wom sound and guitars that squeal and scratch out notes of half-formed solos erupt like spots of magma until the whole lounge of sound melts into itself. The singer gradually becomes more terrifying as her emotions spike and her words echo and lord dark messages over the listener (buhaoyisi is a light way to say sorry in mandarin and pounds furiously in the background as the song climaxes). Dense and rich with different sonic touches, “My Place” is Ma-Te Lin showing that they can do nasty and heavy without tearing apart their style of layer cake electronica.
Where this duo experiments they do sometimes falter as well as they lean too heard on over-saturated rhythms and downright cheesy phrases. Ma-Te Lin sometimes over-saturates their lyrics and rhythm so that some songs can feel overdone and less striking. “Pet Palace” uses a set of crooning baby animal noises that are inventive and bubby but also indistinct compared to their other more energetic and loaded tracks. The chorus similarly is invenetive and bubbly, “Have you heard of the pet palace? / Do you want to find the pet palace? / Do you know you are in the pet palace?” but it feels a little saccharine, cheesy, and less intriguing than in some other songs. “Hope Popo” similarly leans on an awkward chorus (“we need a hope popo / no more cry oh oh”) that definitely borders on cheesy, but unlike “Pet Palace” it has a snappier and more interesting composition which keeps the song alive as it enters into verses full of layered vocals and varied sounds ranging from dog barks to distorted guitars to the tings of what sound like triangles or light bells. Even in less interesting songs Ma-Te Lin stays creative with their sound and style.
The creativity in Ma-Te Lin seeps out from the music and into their image to make them a monstrously comprehensive artistic force. They have a clear vision and theme, promoting rights of humane treatment for animals and a generally gentler touch with nature; they have a beautiful, colorful and consistent aesthetic that involves a recurring cartoon character ala Gorillaz; they even collaborate with a talented Taiwanese artist (Little Oil) to make gorgeous music videos which fit perfectly to their dreamy sound. All three of these things bleed into each other so that animal noises enter as samples and beats in songs, the cartoon character is animalistic, colorful, and composed of sharp but clean angles that evoke the sound it embodies, and every collaborator aligns well with their spooky and smooth mood. All of this makes Ma-Te Lin visual material match so tremendously with their audio that it is a struggle to pick which of their music videos to showcase over the others. The calm and melancholy Nujabes vibes captured by the paints in “Circus” are as wonderful as the magical and fantastical puppet show in “The Girl in the Magic Shoes” or the serene sweetness in “Manchi.”
Ma-Te Lin may be too corny or too chill for a few people, but if you like a relaxed sound or strong, rich, and thick vocals Ma-Te Lin is worth a listen because Ma-Te Lin is never lazy; the duo does not lean on the vocals to carry everything; the duo does not rest on a nice central beat; the duo does not mistake soft for simple or complex for difficult. For some, the language and culture barrier that a Taiwanese act presents might seem to much to overcome, but when a band has strong enough a creative mindset they can fashion their own language to speak through – that’s exactly what Ma-Te Lin does. Ma-Te Lin bounces between English and Taiwanese, between audio and visual, but through all that they are always speaking and showing their own stern message and dreamy form. Through all the noise they layer around the rich and thick lead vocals, they are always. Oh, and for what it’s worth, their live show looks pretty damn good too.
~Austin R Ryan