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Via Tania - Lightning & Thunder

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Artist: Via Tania

Album: Lightning & Thunder

Label: Chocolate Industries

Review date: Apr. 25, 2003

A Different Soul

A musician must be pretty confident to cover New Order. At this point, it's pretty much beyond argument that New Order defined the kind of intelligent, danceable pop that so many musicians and producers attempted to achieve in the ’80s; music that was as emotionally and physically infectious to the listener as it was emotionally and intellectually engaging to the critic. So why attempt to match the successes of the group with its own material? Particularly, why cover "Temptation," perhaps the band's first promise of genius?

One gets the impression, from listening to Tania Bowers, who records as Via Tania, that not a lot of calculation goes into the writing of songs. There is a loose, spontaneous quality to the music of Via Tania that expresses itself most principally through Bowers' voice, a sleepy, sensuous refrain that doesn't seem to be too concerned with melodic discipline. This apparent lack of meditation also lends itself to the types of decisions that, on paper, sound as potentially-disastrous as covering New Order.

Consider first Via Tania's resemblance to the AOR end of recent female R&B stars. While her vocal tone is distinguishable enough from that of Alicia Keys or even a mature Nelly Furtado, her airy, breathy delivery brings the format of such popular singers to mind. The downtempo arrangements of Lightning & Thunder bring the songs, at times, dangerously close to easy listening territory, and the overall effect is one of acessibility and comfort. This doesn’t strike, on first listen, as difficult stuff.

The act of being (either technically or conceptually) challenging is one of the more narcissistically rewarding traits of indie rock; a distinguishing factor that sets, say, Badly Drawn Boy apart from David Gray. Technically complex music (or something from a label like K, which is conceptually difficult in its ironic insistence upon arrant amateurness) makes for a gratifying, almost self-congratulating listen, but what we lose in requiring a level of complexity is the ability to appreciate the power of music so often dismissed as uncomplicated.

Consider also that Via Tania plainly posits itself as 'indie' music. That Chocolate Industries, an increasingly interesting independent supporter of left-field hip hop, releases Bowers' records is an initial clue. That she has appeared on releases by Rob Mazurek, Joan of Arc and Archer Prewitt – not to mention having worked with Jeff Parker and John Herndon on her own recordings – is another telling indication of her underground leanings. Beneath Bowers' alluring vocals lie flourishes of drum ‘n’ bass breaks, spliced sound, and, perhaps most strikingly, the subtly-emotive qualities of the singer's tempered voice. As slightly heavy beats mingle with spare arrangements, the vocals become the central instrument on these moody, downtempo tracks. "Lightning & Thunder" is nicely representative of Via Tania's recent debut album Under a Different Sky, from which the song is taken, and the languid, sultry vocal is the album's greatest asset.

After a few spins of Lightning & Thunder, a New Order cover begins to make more sense. It doesn't completely succeed here, and steadfast New Order fans may not be willing to budge for a samba treatment of "Temptation". But the choice to cover the song reflects well on Bowers' insistence to make curious, intriguing decisions. The single is rounded out by "Drift Away," a song that appeared on last year's Dream Of EP, and is remixed here by Prefuse73. Overall, a unique take on R&B that carves a weird and interesting niche in the indie realm.

By Cory O'Malley

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