Godless America Records, 2023

REVIEW BY: John Mulhouse


Well, here’s a band I know pretty much nothing about! Based on the PR materials I was sent (six lines on a handwritten index card!), and whatever I could glean from their Bandcamp page, GUJI hail from Shanghai, China, and, in addition to the Chinese nationals in the group (Klaire (synth/vocals), Alex (bass), and Stacy (drum machine)), the quartet also includes Chachy (aka Craig Englund), an American ex-pat who sings and plays guitar for Shangahi punk rockers Round Eye. And if you take the above instruments and try to imagine what some synth-punks far away from the epicenters of said genre in both space and time might do with them, you’d…maybe get pretty close to this weird reality!

Which is not to say that GUJI is predictable, but that this is somewhat cracked, Devo-esque, synth-heavy, new(ish) wave pop. Since I’ve been in a bit of a Devo mood lately (they were apparently the Nostradamus’s of rock and roll), I’ve been enjoying this oddball, lo-fi, cassette-only release.

The cassette contains five songs that were recorded in 2022, during Shanghai’s two-month summer lockdown. Knowing the backdrop for these tunes will certainly provide counterpoint to the ostensibly sunny, fun, ‘80s feel beneath which lurks a somewhat unsettling vibe that is hard to quantify. Then again, the label that put this out is called Godless America, so maybe I could quantify it if I worked at it.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

In any case, “Judgement Day” is a great new wave pop song that wouldn’t be out of place at an early B-52’s practice. I can’t make out many of the lyrics—and, yes, they sing in English—but I get the feeling this judgement day isn’t an entirely happy affair. There’s maybe a touch of Blondie here, too, although with Clem Burke replaced by R2D2 on drums.

“I Like to Hang Out in China” is the song most reminiscent of Devo, the title being repeated numerous times throughout the song as electronics burble and bleep. It seems to be an ode to both social control and intentional inscrutability. But I’m really just guessing.

There’s a little Kraftwerk in “My Mao Suit’s” motorik, and its martial rhythm fits this sarcastic take on the joys of having few choices. Klaire’s deadpan vocals convey something that I imagine to be enforced satisfaction. Again, strange sounds blip and beep, vocals start to sound like children, and at one point I could swear that a digital rooster crows.

Built on a stumbling rhythm, you can imagine “Build A Friend for Me” being used to sell some kind of sinister sugar-coated breakfast cereal on Saturday mornings between The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and The Great Space Coaster.

“Sorry Day” is a high point, a gem of a synth-pop song which starts with a buried, Thin Lizzy-like guitar lead, before conjuring your favorite 80s Breakfast Club scene. Klaire’s airy vocals glide over the music in a way that might’ve struck gold on the radio between Depeche Mode and the Eurythmics.

Things end on a darker note with “Cereus,” and I assume that Chachy is handling most of the vocals here. It’s a pulsing, breathy tune that could well be about Night-blooming Cereus, a species of cactus, which might just sound something like this song. 

As I mentioned, this is lo-fo, and it would be pretty interesting to hear what these songs would sound like with big production. I’m not gonna say something silly like, “It would ruin the charm!” In fact, I think they’d sound great. These are really good songs! It’s also admittedly fascinating to me that GUJI come out of China. I can’t name too many synth-wave bands from that country. In fact, this may be the only one! And an album recorded during a legendary lockdown, no less! In that regard, while there might be plenty of 80s references herein, the cognitive dissonance is all 2020s. Maybe GUJI couldn’t have existed at any other time.

If you’re into de-evolution and want to check out something that’s way off the beaten path, I’d recommend giving GUJI a listen. But if you like physical media you’d better hurry; only 100 of these tapes exist!

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2023 John Mulhouse and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Godless America Records, and is used for informational purposes only.