It is a rare and wonderful thing when the pseudonym of an artist is so appropriate to their sound that it becomes a vital part of their musical package. Among the few who could deservedly pop such a unique attribute on their CV is Bing Ji Ling – Mandarin Chinese for ‘ice cream’ – whose jolly melodies shimmer so brightly they could even conjure thoughts of dribbling waffle cones and sun-cream in a traffic jam on a drab Manchester afternoon. Shadow To Shine is the fourth studio release from Bing Ji Ling, and follows 2008’s June Degrees In December perfectly.
Behind the breezy tunes is New York based sometime member of The Phenomenal Handclap Band Quinn Luke, who is so unintentionally well organised that even some lyrics could serve as an accurate representation of his style. “If you’re wondering what I’m gonna do for you,” Luke sings on laidback cocktail shaker Hypnotised, which is littered with handclaps and tooty flutes that wouldn‘t be out of place at a Gong concert, “I’m gonna melt you with sunshine and cool you with the moon”. This goal is happily reached by the close; if there was but an inch more sun leaking from this album, listeners may be complaining of crimson flaky ears.
Opening ditty Move On is an excellent indication of things to come, a boogie-inducing three-minute wonder dappled with bouncy bongos and a sprightly energy that oozes optimism. The three tracks that follow are easily the strongest on the album, each with concise measures of toe-wriggling funk and soulful, pleasingly pitched falsetto harmonies. Bye Bye, which begins with a stomping riff and ends with clattering tambourines, displays Luke’s admiration of a freer era and funk outfit Earth Wind & Fire, boasting a creative lyrical turn and intelligent awareness of structure.
His enthusiastic time-travel trip continues full-throttle during Hold Tight, when a shoulder shaking groove climaxes brilliantly with a solo so reminiscent of a decades-worn room clouded by incense that the one possible disadvantage is a danger of becoming dusty and reeking of sandalwood. In Sunshine Love, Luke shows impressive technique, blending his love of an earlier sound with modern ideas that sometimes echo the garden party love-struck dedications of Jason Mraz.
All in it’s a release that shows fine acknowledgement of musical strengths with varied insightful output. Some Things Never Change eases the listener into a gentle slumber with kindly lyrical musings, while A Little Love is another airy, hip tilting jaunt. Closing comedown Where Am I Gonna Go, which wouldn’t, oddly enough, feel out of place on an episode of Flight Of The Conchords, is so laid back it could serve as a lullaby.
There is something sweetly satisfying about Shadow To Shine; a lovely air of relaxed cheer provokes the reckless throwing around of a whole bundle of long-forgotten vocabulary. Bing Ji Ling’s sound is, let’s face it, undeniably groovy. A quick peek at this captivating collection, which shows exciting creative musical freedom, should undoubtedly be followed by a second listen and an ice-cream or two. And a curious desire to purchase a pair of orange flares.