When I finally sat down to listen to Inland Territory, Vienna Teng’s fourth album, it had already gone through the digitalization process, been purchased online and transferred to my iPod. It was, therefore, ironic to me that the first thing to be heard on the album is the sound of crackling vinyl. But this sound is somehow comforting and is no doubt a reference to several of her influences. Just like the heroes of the 60’s folk movement, Vienna Teng has written lyrics that are poetic and intelligent. And her classical training has heightened her song-writing abilities, which together form a style that is more complex than much of what is written today.
The songstress calls it a “mixed tape album as opposed to a mood album” and in that way, Inland Territory is ambitious. Sure, it still features the same piano player/singer of the last albums but its 12 tracks (a bonus track comes with the iTunes version) span from pop to folk to “chamber pop.” Though there is sometimes the feeling that the album lacks cohesion, there are several standouts, they are all different and maybe it’s a good thing.
The album-opener, “The Last Snowfall” is a five-voiced, church-recorded musing. If that doesn’t make sense, you need to hear it for yourself. After hearing this song, I was convinced that the voices in Vienna Teng’s head (because everybody has them), are singing their thoughts in harmony. “Antebellum” is another beautiful song, rich in orchestration, growing with every verse to a polyphonic ending with the addition of the subtle vocals of Alex Wong, who also co-produced the album. “Grandmother Song” is just downright fun. A modern spin on a traditionally southern style, it is the imagining of her grandma sitting down on the porch swing and telling us how it is (while clapping her hands and stomping her feet in a rhythmic fashion).
Since moving to New York City from her native San Francisco, she has clearly been on a journey, both musical and personal; and Inland Territory is the culmination of those explorations.
Verdict: Ok, it might not be her easiest album to listen to but it might just be the best. And now that we know that Lilith Fair is returning in 2010, you would be a fool to show up armed without having heard this one.
– Reviewed (with love) by Cat
You can catch Vienna this Friday (June 19th) at Housing Works Bookstore Café before she heads west for the rest of her tour.