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Colder - Again

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Artist: Colder

Album: Again

Label: Output

Review date: Apr. 20, 2004

Music, like all art, builds on what has come before. Humans have been inspired by previous forms since we crawled from the swamp. Generally, to make music without influence or even to make art without knowing art, is to make bad art.

There are rare exceptions, but music references music. To label a musical act as retro or revivalist is to state the obvious: music is inspired by music.

That brings us to Colder.

Given props throughout 2003 from Paris to London to Tokyo, Colder's stateside release comes courtesy of the newly-minted Output Recordings USA. There's no better way to start off a record label.

Again is an anomaly. While some retro-styled projects come off as tired facsimiles, Colder does not. At once it references some of the great music of our time, but through its carefully stark production and ambient cityscape interludes, the entire album is fresh and bold. Marc Nguyen Tan, the one man behind Colder (and the man in charge of its visual presentation) has crafted an album which draws from his favorite music to make new music. His job as a graphic designer has trained him for it: pieces and ideas from different schools of thought, drawn together into a new whole.

The glut of groups that have sprung up in the last five years drawing from the post-punk well has been a welcome development. Millions of listeners who never would have bought Joy Division's Closer or Gang of Four's Solid Gold are now intimately familiar with them. These new groups are also continuing the development of that sound, in part through the use of new technologies (technology being another integral component of music). That Tan follows in the tradition of Joy Division, Suicide, Brian Eno, Neu, etc. should not be held against him. Their shoulders are magnificent ones to be standing on. How well he develops the sound is the real issue, and it comes out picture-perfect.

That Nguyen is French should come as no surprise. For some time, the French have, through either distance or reverence or both, been able to rethink the sounds of the 1980s to great effect. Whether its the neu-Baambaataa thwap of Daft Punk, the mellotronique of Air or the drum-fronted pip-pop of Phoenix, the French have managed to reinvent 80s electronic production and style better than we Americans ever have. In fact, with recent editions from Octet, the Tigersushi camp, Rob and Black Strobe, we've practically fallen off the wagon.

This record is massive from its beginning, and anyone listening to it for the first time is immediately drawn into its brittle, sinewy sound. Again starts with one of the more effective opening tracks of 2003, "Crazy Love," which itself contains the best opening for a song from 2003. Warm chords chime in, bend and retreat, synth colors spring and squelch. And the chunky snare drum kicks in like falling rocks.

It sets the stage for the entire CD, too, in that the rest of the album is just as stark, just as spacious, as those first pulses. So while veering from influence to influence, the production quality is consistent. "Confusion" follows "Crazy Love" with a strutting, collapsing drum sequence that slinks around the lyric "such a confusion." And as that tangy track exits, stereophonic street sounds fade into a digi-dub excursion through "One Night In Tokyo." "Shiny Star" references Th' Faith Healers or, earlier, Neu (or, earlier, Terry Riley, or, earlier...), Tan's hushed vocals give way to a startling drum break and back again.

Tan vocals stay mellow and monotone thoughout, but their robotic delivery -- or, more likely Tan's broken English -- makes them more human. And perhaps the stylings of the album itself reflect that. Probably recording on a laptop, Tan leaves so much space in the production you feel alone in a crowd, you feel priveledged to own Again; you feel as if you're in space.

Ultimately, Again could have the kind of consistent selling power of Moon Safari and Homework. It's the kind of recording many people can enjoy and want to have in their collection. You can throw it on in most any circumstance. It has the sensuality to seduce, the edge to agitate and the style to inspire.

By David Day

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