Here'a an album I waited years to hear. I checked out the first track a long time ago but just never got around to purchasing it. Very, very wrong of me. Ancient Chinese Secret was a side project of one of the guys in Spazz. I believe they played a handful of shows, released one full length (this one), and called it a day.
Released in the Powerviolence era on a label that no longer exists because it marginalized itself to hell and back, Caveat Emptor is a striking album, easily standing out amongst a lot of what Slap a Ham put out back in the day. It'd be interesting to know why Ancient Chinese Secret didn't do more with themselves, if it was just a joke, project, whatever. This band is easy to explain: Powerviolence drum & bass. Long before Lightning Bolt would bring it to a wider audience, these guys were pulling out weird samples, complex bass lines, fast drumming, and, well I'll get the singing later.
Caveat Emptor opens with the best track on the album and probably the best drum & bass song I've ever heard. "Waiting for Doctor Bombay" sets a standard that the rest of this release really can't sustain. It comes out with an absolutely sick bass line; the bassist's fingers warping around the fret board as he beautifully composes to the drum's hypnotic beats. For only two instrutments, it couldn't possibly sound better. The rest of the album involves the same formula, but throws in some odd tape-looping (most of which generally seems to come from cartoons) and singing. And I mean that, singing. Just singing. There are a few moments of Powerviolence yelling, but overall the vocalist, who I believe is the wife of the Spazz guy in this band, just sings. And she's not very good.
Caveat Emptor, don't get me wrong, is a very interesting release. It has some moments where you want to stop your car and toss it over while the song is playing to get everyone around you involved. The bass lines and drums are, for the most part, fucking incredible. The singing takes some getting used to, and even then you never really get over the fact that this girl doesn't have much of a voice. Man, what a way to ruin this, one of those "uhhhhhhh my girlfriend wants to be in a band with me uhhhhhhh" moments. Really? You actually let her convince you to do this? What did you get out of it? Better have been good. I think she actually had some cameos throughout Spazz's career, I seem to remember her horrible caterwauling on a song or two. In some of the tracks it's not that bad and she gets into more of a groove, but she just doesn't have that quality that would have made it work. Plus, honestly, I don't think any singing was needed in the bulk of this release. The bass and drums carry the majority of the drive, and just them alone is at times goosebump-inducing. Coupled with the awesome tape-looping it would have been enough.
It's kind of irritating this didn't go further. Ancient Chinese Secret created a rarity with Caveat Emptor. Not necessarily ahead of its time, but for the label it appeared on and the crowds it was performed in front of, definitely. Caveat Emptor isn't the greatest thing in the world, but you should at least check out the opening track. Man, what a blistering explosion of awesome. The rest is pretty cool at times, but with some more fleshing-out in the vocals department it would have been a killer act. A real shame to see such a project come and go without moving it forward.
Written by Arkus