Is Paris native Mark Nguyen Tan, aka Colder, simply a Sunday morning composer, a video artist writing electro rock soundtracks to his short films and cartoons? Or is he a dedicated genius with an Ian Curtis fixation? Turns out he's neither, though Again does sound much closer to Joy Division than Interpol ever will.
First single "Crazy Love" is a five-minute encapsulation of everything Nguyen Tan does well -- retro drum machines covered by multiple ambient washes over a four-note bass line, all supporting his hushed vocal delivery, which sounds like absolute liquid. The sliding factory beats and suspended single keyboard notes of "Confusion" almost trump "Crazy Love," forming a slow and deliberate march into the minutes of white noise opening the dub bounce "One Night in Tokyo." It's the album's sleekest plastic groove, doused in reggae reverb and Tan's detached vocal presence.
After three nearly perfect tracks, the electro handclaps of "Shiny Star" sound distinctly insignificant, and the record begins to lose a bit of its focus. "Version" is a brilliantly brief instrumental melting into a late night cable TV session, but Tan's "ooh yeahs" on "Silicone Sexy" are slightly unconvincing. The artist worked in film first, and his included DVD reveals an unusual talent for subtle documentary-style briefs as well as dream-sequence anime. Take the video for "Crazy Love," where a three-dimensional runner sweats under the midday sun's glare.
"This River" is far from the album's best song, but its video is sublime, a single shot of a balcony over moving water and an observer who slowly dissipates into thin air. The "Where" video seems to be an uninteresting view of a man sorting through photographs until one focuses on the pictures themselves, which comprise a quick run through Paris at night.
The discrete minimalism of Again's loops feels fresh and uncluttered, but it also births the album's major defect: insufficient variation among musical phrases. Tan sets up successful patterns that repeat until track's end without any noticeable change in tone, and though almost every individual beat is exceptional, five bass notes lose their novelty well before the six-minute mark.
Still, Tan displays a wealth of talent in multiple media, and his affinity for graphic design would make for amazing collaborative installation pieces. He is a young artist with considerable potential and very recognizable stylistic tendencies who has produced a very good album and video accompaniment, but Again is not quite the audacious debut some have made it out to be.
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