#1- VIENNA TENG: "Aims"
Where do I begin with this album? First off, I first heard it in December of 2013. I had already come to a conclusion in my head that Gregory Alan Isakov was going to be my favorite album of 2013, but in preparation for a live performance from Vienna Teng and Co. in mid-December, I decided to actively search online to see if there was new music to be heard. What I found was this album, which, at the time, was only available on Amazon.com as a digital download. Not wanting to experience the concert unfamiliar with the new material, I downloaded the album to my computer. What came next is something I will never forget.
I had been a moderate fan of Ms .Teng's music for some time, although most of what I had heard was very somber, minor key music. Simply put, it was sad music for sad people. When I first listened to "Aims", I was not only surprised by the more upbeat sound, but the optimistic lyrics. Yes... even I noticed the lyrics.
"AIMS" is the fifth full length album by Vienna Teng (not including her collaboration with percussionist Alex Wong) and the first since "slowing down" to get her Masters Degree in Business. While pursuing her Masters Degree, she backed off from her previous touring schedule and focused mostly on her education. Upon returning to music, she also found herself relying heavily on financial pledges from fans to help the album see fruition. In this world where major record labels will only give the time of day to artists that already have a product to sell, it has become increasingly more difficult for artists to finance their own albums without the help of loyal fans. It's the price they must pay (or we, the fans, must pay) in order to have complete artistic control over their music. And, for me, the fan... it's worth it. The less music I listen to from major labels, the happier I am.
My love for this album was solidified, when we had the opportunity to see Vienna Teng live. We were doubly fortunate to have Alex Wong as part of her three piece band, who were utilized in every way possible. The sound guy even came down to lend vocals on a track which features vocals by Glen Phillips (of Toad The Wet Sprocket) who, for some reason, was not able to tour with Ms. Teng. (Yes, I was kidding.)
All in all, I was nothing short of amazed at how well Vienna Teng was able to utilize technology to create such a beautiful masterpiece. During the live performance, she was able to sample herself singing backing vocal parts, as well as percussive sounds that would be utilized in the song. There was even a moment where, during my favorite song from the album ("Copenhagen (Let Me Go)") where the musicians on stage utilized a percussive box to play a sort of "patty cake" game with each other, hitting the box betwixt hand claps. Long story short, this album is "art" in every sense of the word. The lyrics are heart felt, the music is beautifully orchestrated, and the entire package strikes a deep chord in my soul. It saddens me deeply to know that so many generic Pop stars are filling arenas and performing music that is not only impersonal, but often written by other people. Even more saddening is the fact that so many people flock to THOSE performers, while mostly ignoring the true artists.
Vienna Teng is for those that love the honest, personal lyrics of artists like Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan. That said, my feeling is that she surpasses ALL her musical peers... at least as far as the female singer/songwriters are concerned. She has managed to not only broaden her musical horizons, but has allowed herself to venture into new territory that makes her music MORE interesting, the more recent you move into her catalog.
A big thanks goes to Vienna Teng for not only creating my favorite album of 2013, but for bringing a beauty absent in so much of music. If you don't believe me, listen to the song, "The Breaking Light, and tell me it isn't a work of pure beauty. I dare you.
There isn't a lot in the way of "official videos" from Ms. Teng, so I will include the moving video from her latest album, as well as an earlier one. In addition, I will throw in an earlier live clip to give you an idea of just how marvelous she sounds.
"LEVEL UP" from "Aims" (Official Video)
"Ain't No Sunshine/Lose Yourself"- Live from Mountain Stage
"Gravity" (Official Video)
"Landsailor" feat. Glen Phillips (a non-video)
"Copenhagen" (a live performance shot from the audience... and worth it)
And for those that want to hear the studio version of this amazing song...