Saturday, November 02, 2013

Vienna Teng: "Level Up" and "Landsailor"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I love Vienna Teng. I really do. I mean, I love her music. I've never met her, though she seems like a lovely person. But it's okay to say I love her, isn't it?

In any event, I've blogged about her numerous times -- at least five times (four with video -- see here, here, here, and here).

Vienna released her fifth studio album, Aims, back in September. It's gorgeous -- and actually I don't think she's capable of making anything other than gorgeous music. But it's also, for her, something of a departure from her first four albums. Those were driven largely by her voice and her piano. This is still distinctively her, and her voice and piano are still present, but the piano isn't nearly as dominant. As Michael Bialas wrote at The Huffington Post:

Relying less on the piano (on about half the tracks) and more on producer Cason Cooley's loaded computer of sound libraries that range from African drum beats to orchestral instruments, Teng was thrilled to enhance songs dealing with heady subjects (Occupy Movement, Body Identity Integrity Disorder, privacy issues) that will challenge listeners. 

The result is a more electronic sound that on some songs adds noticeable artificiality to the mix. It's not unpleasant, and Vienna remains genuine throughout, but while I applaud her for venturing out in a new direction, and for trying to be something other than a stripped-down, piano-dominant singer-songwriter, I do miss the more natural, organic sound found on what I still think is her finest album, Dreaming Through the Noise.

But Aims is still a wonderful album, and it's such a pleasure to have some new music from her, not least because it's been four years since her last album, Inland Territory. "I think overall I had this strong sense that I wanted to write joyful music," she told Bialas. "And I think that's part of why I knew it would take me a long time because I instinctively write sort of depressed, melancholy music."

That's true, but it's always very beautiful music as well. Here, from Aims, are "Level Up" (live at the Highline Ballroom in New York City, on October 4) and "Landsailor" (live at the Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry, New Hampshire, on July 14), two of the album's best songs. Enjoy!


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