2009 Vienna Teng Album Review Cited By University of Maryland as Excellent Example of Critical Writing
Vienna Teng: Inland Territory Album Review
By: V.C. McCabe
Vienna Teng’s fourth album Inland Territory will be released on April 7th. Vienna’s new song cycle is as elegant and moving as her previous release Dreaming Through The Noise, yet the multi-instrumental help of The Paper Raincoat‘s Alex Wong adds a new dimension to her singer-pianist style. She is also joined by guests Kaki King, Noe Venable, Ari Hest, and Odessa Chen.
In another life
You & I worked West Virginia coal mines
Side by side
Collecting the black dust like sin
The day the main shaft caved in
I caught your eye
“The Last Snowfall” gently opens the album with the soft crackles of worn vinyl before the familiar warmth of Vienna’s voice and piano ease in. The angelic choir of Alex Wong, Noe Venable, Ari Hest, and Odessa Chen herald the arrival of a slow, subtle beat to propel the song to a higher plane. It’s a beautiful, understated beginning.
I’m not as fond of the peppy electro-pop arrangement “White Light,” but the sprawling piano introduction of “Antebellum” quickly pulls me in again. Just over three minutes into the song, Wong’s voice intertwines with Vienna’s over a breathtaking blend of militant beats and orchestral strings. In both “Antebellum” and the lovely horn-accented “Kansas,” Teng’s vocals alternates between a deeper, intimate tone on the verses and that seraphic, soaring soprano on the chorus.
Vienna previewed some of Inland Territory‘s songs when I saw her perform with Wong at Mountain Stage last year. The two most memorable songs of that set were “In Another Life” and “Grandmother Song,” and these are also the album’s stand out tracks. Wong’s quirky multi-instrumental arrangement promenades with Vienna’s narrative lyrics on “In Another Life,” which follows two soulmates through various lives – from working side by side in Appalachian coal mines to strolling through a sunny modern day Central Park in summer.
I’m especially happy that Vienna mimicked her bluesy a capella stage performance of “Grandmother Song.” The joyous live studio recording does feature some sparse, unobtrusive instrumentation as well as copious amounts of handclaps. Yet the spirit of the song is focused on Vienna’s fierce vocal as she dispenses advice to herself from her grandmother’s point of view until the thrilling gospel-tinged group finale.
In the emotional “Stray Italian Greyhound,” Vienna begs unexpected love not to disrupt her lonely resignation. But rather than allow the second half of the album to slip into safe territory, Teng saves some of her most ambitious experiments for the end. “No Gringo” is the heartbreaking story of illegal immigrants attempting to cross the border from Mexico, sung from a child’s perspective. “Radio” is a disturbing but hypnotic ditty of a Californian woman imagining her city under siege after a terrorist attack.
Dreaming Through The Noise was an impressive album, but Inland Territory is an even grander display of Vienna Teng’s brilliance, grace, and talent.