Occasionally an artist will veer off into a slightly different direction artistically and do something quite interesting. Sometimes the fanbase will love it, other times they’ll be going that direction on their own. “Aims” for Vienna Teng see’s a real shift in the piano based singer/songwriters style to a more synth electronic based approach. Clearly influenced by Alex Wong (A City In A Lake) and his production style, this album is markedly different yet there’s still the old Vienna very much there.
“Level Up” opens in euphoric fashion with warm synths, pulsing keyboards and rasping drones over a pacey beat that explodes into the second chorus to clattering drums and big synths and guitars. Vienna’s vocals are as serene and strong as ever. Her ability to switch between strong high register and layered beauty is pitch perfect. The middle eight then explodes into extra strings and piano as twinkles of previous form return. It’s a strong opener that is built on with the very catchy “In The 99” which features heavily on strong pop beats and lots of layered vocal arrangements where the backing and lead vocals interplay. There’s little other instrumentation until a good minute in when things get by far the poppiest that Teng has dared go near. It suits her and there’s enough originality and quirk to make it feel interesting and fresh. “Landsailor” then starts to pull things back to where we normally except Vienna to be. It’s still a delightfully bouncy tune with harp synths, open guitar chords and a galloping drum track. There’s also a male vocalist whose body really wraps around Teng’s thinner voice to make a great duet. It’s the kind of track I’d imagine Iona to make if they were not backing religious causes.
“Close To Home” is the first traditional track on the album with funky electric piano rolling off a trip beat. There is some clever production to constantly keep you constantly listening for loads of minute changes to various instruments. It’s uplifting, as most of the album is and showcases all that is great about making a strong melody and swapping a few things about to make everything fresh and new. The completely vocal only “The Hymn of Acxiom” is simply stunning. Vienna becomes a choir of herself as she sings a tender track that is ethereal and also a real throwback to the robot vocaliser tracks you’d get from the 80’s soul days because there’s an 80’s casio treatment given to a lot of the underlying tracks. It’s great because it’s a choir, but clearly digitally distorted. It makes it beautiful but also slightly off kilter too. What is purely sumptuous however is the criminally short “Oh Mama No” which is delicate acoustic guitar and vocal lead with such a simple melody but it’s heart breaking and effective. The chinks of piano in the background just adds to the tears.
Clever production pushes “Copenhagen (Let Me Go)” into a fantastic new edge. The various wooden boxes smacked for the percussive loops keep things swaying whilst the mega catchy chorus and interplay of strings and synths make things feel like a fairground of instruments jumping in and out while Vienna skips through them. Equally clever is the breezy and warm “Flyweight Love” which has some beautifully recorded tuned percussion. The song shuffles and shakes its way along as the Caribbean/Asian hybrid sounds permeate right down to the Asian bending of the string arrangement. It sounds different to anything else she’s done before and yet still is all very Teng. Light fluffy music with heavy lyrics is one of the things she does best.
Moving back to more familiar grounds “The Breaking Light” feels like it could have come from the previous album Inland Territory. Vienna sing’s solemnly over singular beams of synths that twinkle and pierce the ear. Slowly other instruments pull in for its dramatic finale big ballad style but it’s by far the darkest sounding track of the album. It’s followed by the most synth pop based track on the album. Verging almost of trance the pianos, keyboards and drums roar from the second verse onwards and never let up as catchy mini riff after riff pull in and keep you dancing, tapping, singing and wailing for more. If Vienna ended up pushing fully this way, it’d be a very interesting sixth album indeed. The album closes with a more country edge with warm guitars and electric pianos with the gentle “Goodnight New York” which acts as an afterglow lullaby for the most part into it bursts into glee in the final parts.
Five albums in and Vienna Teng has still yet to place a foot wrong. Strong melodies, clever production and enjoyable twists ensure that she is able to stay fresh, powerful, unique and utter entrancing from start to end. Again. Aims? She’s nailed the bullseye!