Vienna Teng is the kind of musical genius who can really do no wrong. I own and love all of her albums and had the privilege of witnessing two of her astounding live performances at Mountain Stage. Unfortunately, I think my opinion of her new album, Aims, suffers (only partially) from falling in the shadow of the brillance that preceded it. There are still flashes of genius, just not as many as I expected.
I love the first half of the album – especially the soaring pop opener “Level Up,” the claphappy, quasi-rap “In The 99” and the exquisite, electro-choral masterpiece “The Hymn of Acxiom.” I also like the finale “Goodnight New York.”
The rest of the album, though, is far too slick, stylized, radio-friendly, mostly computerized pop for my taste and seems a waste for such a talented singer-songwriter. The fault lies in the production and mixing, not the songs themselves. “Landsailor,” for example, was beautiful when Vienna recently performed it at Mountain Stage, but is flattened down on the recording. “The Hymn of Acxiom” is also smoothed out more than necessary (Vienna’s voice is best when unrestrained), but is a strong and interesting enough song to withstand the extra studio polish.
Other than the four tracks mentioned above, Aims just doesn’t captivate me as intensely as its predecessors did – particularly the moody Dreaming Through the Noise and the ethereal, elegant, astonishingly excellent Inland Territory. Though perhaps comparing Vienna to herself is unfair, she still outshines the rest of the music industry.