Feb. 17th, 2009

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Thanks to someone ripping the mp3s off a site that was streaming the album days prior to the Germany release (which it turns out was not supposed to have happened...), I've had a lot of time to really listen to Vienna's new music and formulate semi-coherent thoughts on it. I almost thought about posting a review as soon as I gave the album a full listen from the mp3s, but for some reason I felt it would be more, uh, "ethical" for lack of a better term, to wait until I received my hard copy, which happened to be today. (I also feel the need to disclaim that by the time I downloaded the mp3s, I'd already ordered the album off Amazon.de...)

Absolutely astounding. Brilliant. Completely blows away her first three albums - and those albums were good. I think this is also the first album of hers where I've actually actively liked every song on it. What I mean by that is, while I consider nearly anything Vienna puts out to be extraordinary, there were always particular songs on her previous albums that didn't connect with me as much as other songs, and they tended to be ones I skipped over in replays of the albums. (However, a couple of songs, especially from her third album Dreaming Through the Noise, were redeemed through the energy and exuberance of her live performances, and I'll talk more about musical energy later.) With Inland Territory, there was no skipping of songs - I listened closely to the whole thing completely multiple times. I certainly prefer certain songs over others, and so some songs took more listens for me to appreciate, but the musical makeup and arrangement of this album really works for me. It truly feels like a full, complete album - whatever the hell that means.

In the EPK for this album, Vienna mentions that, as a result of moving from the West Coast (where she's from) to the East Coast, and bringing in some NY-based musicians to help out with the album, there's a certain "restlessness" to the music from Inland Territory. There's definitely a lot more uptempo songs on this album, and I think that - in addition to any emotional displacement brought about by moving - having Alex Wong of The Animators as her co-producer and, in live performances, as her percussionist, really lends a lively energy to these new songs that wasn't quite as strong in her previous studio efforts. Although the material from Inland Territory is still mellow in a way (sorry, VT, I know you said you were trying to move away from that, but...!), this time 'round, you can actually hear and feel the heartbeat of the music.

Vienna's also branching out in terms of her usual musical genre for this album. We actually get, of all things, electronica on a couple of songs: it's most prominent in "White Light", but you get a bit of it in "Stray Italian Greyhound" and "The Last Snowfall" as well. She also goes blues (...I think that's the right genre) for "Grandmother Song", and I have no idea what genre you'd put "In Another Life" in (someone mentioned "honky-tonk" over at the forums, but I have no idea if that'd be correct or not). Despite these genre shifts, though, the songs are all recognizably Vienna, and I'm really happy with seeing how she's developing as a talented singer-songwriter-musician.


1. The Last Snowfall
I find it kind of amusing that this album starts off with a song that's entitled "The Last ____". This was one of the songs that I didn't really like much at first, because I found the rhythmic static effects kind of distracting. It does give the song an interesting low-fi feel, though, and the melody is simple but beautiful.

2. White Light
Holy crap! An angry song from Vienna! With electronica! This song is like if "Whatever You Want" from Dreaming Through the Noise had a daughter with "Changing Sky" by Artemis from her Undone mini-album, and then that daughter grew up and was going through her angry rebellious teenager phase. This could totally be a radio song for Vienna - much like "Whatever You Want", incidentally enough. Easily one of my favorites from this album.

3. Antebellum
Another album favorite - I loved it when I first heard it at Schuba's back last August, and the album version is just as amazing, although I miss the prominence of Vienna's piano work. Still, the strings arrangement is lovely. Musically and lyrically (have I mentioned that I really, really love the lyrics from this song?), it's similar to "Gravity" (Waking Hour). To steal a joke from the VT forums: "Your 'Gravity' is evolving! 'Gravity' evolved into 'Antebellum'! Give 'Antebellum' a nickname?"

4. Kansas
This was another song that took a while for me to get into. The overall melody progression reminds me of "Nothing Without You" (Dreaming Through the Noise), although lyrically speaking those two songs are like polar opposites. Beautiful, but sad.

5. In Another Life
Another song I heard at Schuba's. I like the clarinet work in the studio version, which was performed with melodica in the live performance. I can't describe the feeling I get from this song, but when I hear it, I think of the weight of history, of sepia-toned pictures, of vintage objects and other such things of the past. Which, I suppose, is all appropriate for this particular song.

6. Grandmother Song
The last song from this album that I heard at Schuba's. I love the witty grace of the lyrics, the subtle shift from caricaturing timeless worries of family matriarchs everywhere to fully understanding why, exactly, said matriarch has those worries in the first place. I love this distinctive departure from Vienna's usual style, and I think it's a very clear indication of how far she's progressed with her already amazing musical capabilities.

7. Stray Italian Greyhound
Album favorite. I have to admit, when I first saw the lyrics on Vienna's scrapbook, I was skeptical about what kind of melody they'd be fitted around, but hearing this blew all those worries away. The vocal crescendo at "what to do with a love that won't sit still" is epic (oh, and the imagery from the rest of the bridge lyrics is epic too).

8. Augustine
Another album favorite, almost instantly. I love the drums and the melody. In some ways it feels like a descendant of "Harbor", or maybe a relative. I'm fond of the lyrics here as well.

9. No Gringo
Yet another album favorite. I heard the proto-loop of this a while back from Vienna's scrapbook, which impressed me even back then. The key signature has shifted from B-minor to C-minor, which I think improves on the original loop immensely (as beautiful as it was). The lyrics have an element of speculative fiction to them: they tell the story of a family forced to leave Chicago (for an unspecified reason), so they try to immigrate across the southern border to Mexico, where they find that they're not welcome (hence the title of the song).

10. Watershed
This song? Is the return of "Pontchartrain", bigger and more badass. No wonder Vienna said that she'd been having trouble trying to figure out how to capture the scale of this song in a live performance. The lyrics, the bells in the background, the vocal layering...everything is just amazing. Like "Pontchartrain", this can be a difficult song to listen to all the way through because it's so slow and so dense, but it's totally worth it.

11. Radio
Another song featuring a bit of a speculative story to it, told from the POV of someone who's listening to the news on the radio about a suicide bomber attack, and then tries to imagine such a thing happening closer to home. This is a penknife song, for realz - it disguises its unsettling subject matter with an uptempo beat and a very catchy chorus. I love the musical structure shifts.

12. St. Stephen's Cross
This song takes some time to get going, but when it does, hot damn. This one must be so amazing live. A beautiful end to a beautiful album.

but if I were that kind of grateful, what would I try to say?


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Reileen van Kaile

April 2010


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