Well, since I'm not really updating much the rest of the month other than BlabberPat's upcoming stuff, I figured that since I've yet to frontpage blurb about my godawful taste in music this year that this might be just about the right time. Get them hipster pitchforks ready!
Serj Tankian - Imperfect Harmonies
I got into System of a Down back in '98 when their self-titled debut came out, and I fell off shortly after the release of Toxicity
. With every release, the band seemed to just get less and less enjoyable for me. I believe their music has always been very diverse and innovative, but it sorely lacked the immediacy and rawness that their first album had. Serj Tankian has always fascinated me as a vocalist, though. His range just amazes my tiny little brain. Whether he's belting out anguished screams, soothing melodies, or squeaking like a goddamn cartoon character, I could never turn my ears off. Even when System albums were at their least enjoyable, I've always found myself drawn to what he could do with his words and incredibly varied vocal stylings.
After System went on hiatus in 2006, Serj Tankian released his debut solo outing in 2007 entitled Elect The Dead
. I had originally figured that the album would be quite an original piece of work, but for all the progressive rock and experimentation he'd promised prior to the album's release, it honestly felt like that off-brand System of a Down you'd buy at Wal Mart. It had moments ("Praise The Lord and Pass The Ammuniation", "Beethoven's Cunt", "Lie, Lie, Lie", and the album-titled track are my picks) but in no way did the album feel like it utilized his diversity as both a songwriter and vocalist to any significant degree. Late last year, in a very surprising turn, he re-cut Elect The Dead
in a live setting, with all of its material re-worked into completely orchestral renditions accompanied by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. It wasn't a perfect combination, but he was onto something here (and god damn if his excitement at performing the material this way wasn't infectious to watch
), and the parts of the performance that did work were splendid.
Realizing he was onto something interesting, Serj trotted back into the studio with orchestra in tow and and put together his sophomore solo disc Imperfect Harmonies
. What this album manages to do is perfectly squish together the modern rock elements of Elect The Dead
that were interesting and the soft, soothing, and sweet tones of the orchestral performances to create a batch of new and original material that could be considered perfect despite the album's title.
I've heard rock/orchestral albums before and it's rare that that both sides of the equation ever come together as cohesively as they do here. Imperfect Harmonies
works so well because the pieces were composed together for this album with neither side taking center stage, but rather complimenting one another at all times. If I had to describe this album as a style, it'd be something like "orchestral-steeped jazz-rock electro-pop." The styles displayed over the mere 44 minute duration of this album are that
damn varied. Like the vocalist himself, the music honestly just never calms the fuck down and settles into one specific groove longer than three minutes, yet at the same time, it never feels so chaotic or jarring that it's a bear to listen to, either. My first listen found me on the edge of my seat really wanting to know where the hell else this album was going to go next.
The album's opener, "Disowned Inc." is a pretty solid indicator of what you're in for. In just 48 seconds, the song morphs constantly, first beating you over the head like some of System's hardest jams, then eases down into a slow jazzy verse, and finally breaks into a driving electronica-laced chorus. Though not all tracks are so diverse from the outset, the soundscape is constantly changing as styles flow into one another seamlessly. There's probably a little something for everybody here with the amount of variety being thrown out of your speakers. Some tracks are true surging epic rock operas that build to a climax such as "Borders Are..." and "Reconstructive Demonstration," while others are more straightforward affairs such as "Beatus" and "Deserving?," the latter of which wouldn't sound at all out of place on a Muse album. A bone or two does get thrown to System of a Down hangers-on with the tracks "Electron," "Peace Be Revenged," and "Left of Center," but even these songs maintain a range of musical style rarely seen in their work, and never once feel they'd be better off elsewhere. With as wacky as the album seems be at times, some of the more memorable moments come when everything gets stripped down to meager piano and lighter orchestral arrangements and the singer himself sounds at his most vulnerable. "Gate 21," "Wings of Summer," and "Yes, It's Genocide", both musically and lyrically, prove Serj to be capable of so much more creativity than a lot of his fans likely want from him.
If there's one thing I can hold against the album (and it's the only thing), it's that Serj sure as hell does love his choruses. On a few tracks, he's more than happy to spend anywhere around two minutes repeating the same lyrics over and over and over and it does
get grating (especially the end of "Borders Are...") This was a similar issue I had with Elect The Dead
, and though it's not nearly as much of a nuisance here, it's still something that maybe he needs to address as a songwriter. I like a good chorus as much as anybody else, and though musically he'd seem beyond that at this point, lyrically I guess he just sputters out at times.
A lot of people are going to (and already do) hate this album because it's not miniature System of a Down Part II like Elect The Dead
was, but I say balls to that. Imperfect Harmonies
is on such a greater level than hyper-spastic screaming and metal noise sludge that it deserves merit for standing on its own and stands as the artist's strongest and most important work to date. I believe even those who dislike System of a Down could possibly find a lot to enjoy here and appreciate Serj Tankian for the gifted vocalist and songwriter that he really is. I'm not saying those talents were suppressed or squandered in System of a Down, but on his own he's clearly able to be more free and stretch further beyond a set genre, reaching higher levels of creativity and listenability (is that a word?) than his previous work.
does fall slightly shy of perfection, but I'll go ahead and give it that extra push, because I believe it's honestly that damn good.