I’ve seen Jabin Law play as early as 2015, when his band Stranded Whale did a set at Hidden Agenda 3.0, but it was not until this week that I finally spoke to him—right before the release of his new solo album But Tonight, The Boulevard Is Mine. He looks exactly the same as he did three years ago: tall, lanky with a splash of facial hair, donning a haircut that would fit him right in with the Beatles. But now he has given up patterned shirts for a brown blazer that looks like it belonged to the last century—much like his musical roots.
Jabin’s music has been described as “indie folk”, a genre that has yet to take off in Hong Kong. Although there is no lack of acoustic musicians here—just look at the buskers fighting for street space on a weekend—few have dared to tackle folk, which entered the mainstream in the 1960s with acts such as Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel, and was popularised locally by the likes of 歐瑞強. Since then, musicians bold enough to attempt folk have carefully straddled the line between staying true to the sound and keeping it from feeling abysmally ancient and boring: Laura Marling, Angel Olsen, and Elliott Smith are some successful examples.
But Jabin has always done his own thing. In 2016, he commented in an interview, to much controversy, that Hong Kong has too many “rubbish shoegaze and acoustic pop bands.” These days he has toned down on that kind of criticism, and instead focuses on perfecting his own music: But Tonight, The Boulevard Is Mine is his third solo release since he started performing in 2012. Unlike his previous album The Suns, which he said was “more philosophical” and stream-of-consciousness, this time he has gone political and emotional. “No Christmas in Aleppo” responds directly to the violence of the Syrian civil war, and other songs carry traces of what he calls the suppression and eruption of his emotions: “Are you feeling high / are you feeling low / if I’m never in your dream” he sings in “Would You Ever Love My Game?”
The album is Jabin’s exercise in catharsis—but we also hear his creative experiments. He describes “Forest of Remains” as “Smashing Pumpkins but acoustic”, while other songs show his mischievous side: “Jessica Once Was Searching” sounds like an adolescent bubblegum tune, but is really a sped-up version of one of his songs that came out of accidentally jamming the wrong buttons on his cassette. All this time, beneath his tracks there is a sense of melancholy and isolation: listen to “A Boring Midnight” and “From the Pain”, and you can hear Jabin writing songs in his bedroom in the dead of night, or strumming chords on a remote island, leaves rustling in unison.
Jabin will be performing at his album release concert on April 6 at the Kowloon Union Church. But Tonight, The Boulevard Is Mine is released by Sweaty & Cramped and can be purchased on Bandcamp. Editing by Still / Loud’s Holmes Chan.