Vienna TengInland Territory
Rating: 5.0/5.0 – Perfect
Label: Rounder Records
Artist Website: viennateng.com | myspace.com/viennateng

Vienna Teng - Inland TerritoryEvery Angry Metal Guy has a soft side, right? Not necessarily. I think lots of angry metal guys sort of lack soft sides, at least when it comes to music–which is a shame, because they often miss very musically interesting records that are being put out by other bands and musicians throughout the world. Sure, I agree that the majority of what pop music has to offer is pointless, unentertaining drivel that hurts me somewhere deep down inside… Regardless of the state of pop music, though, every once in a while you stumble onto an artist that somehow manages to bridge that gap between the angry, stubborn four year-old who just wants to hate things that don’t fit into his very small view of the world and your inner connoisseur  who is willing to set aside those judgements to just enjoy excellence when confronted with it.

Vienna Teng doesn’t just bridge that gap. Her new record Inland Territory is so extraordinarily good that I feel compelled to proselytize on its behalf. So instead of hiding in stunned silence in my closet listening to her music, I’m going to be forward about this: this is the best album I have heard from 2009. I have heard a lot of music and Inland Territory is easily the best.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have, in fact, been a big fan of Ms. Teng’s music since I heard her first album Waking Hour roughly 6 or 7 years ago. At the time, she was on a small label and the record was produced to be piano rock. The songs were good, and while there were superb moments—I’m a huge fan of “Unwritten Letter #1” and “Eric’s Song”—the album was immature, even if it had a precocious grace. Still, the record is marred with skippable moments and unsophisticated arrangements. Since then I have had the honor of watching her develop, hone her craft and move from a precocious but unformed singer-songwriter to a subtly sophisticated artist, able to use instrumentation and clever lyrics to tell stories and build melodies that carry an emotional weight and depth that I have rarely encountered before. While Warm Strangers may have even been spottier than her debut, Dreaming through the Noise turned the corner and developed into an album that I still can’t stop listening to.

Vienna Teng - Inland TerritoryInland Territory moves within different territories, musically, expanding even further into the musical unknown that Dreaming through the Noise had. The opening track, “The Last Snowfall,” is almost a funeral dirge, whereas “In Another Life” is a ’20s jazz throwback. “Stray Italian Greyhound” is a pop song that is just right, while “Kansas” aches its way forward, with haunting melodies and evocative lyrics. The whole record flows smoothly between styles, themes and feel.  And yet somehow, where on other records this would feel strange or disconnected, Vienna‘s voice—figuratively and literally—are so strong that it unites songs as different as “Kansas” and the playful (but deep) “Grandmother Song” into a workable format. With her lush orchestrations, beautiful harmonies, excellent lyrics and subtle progressiveness (think Kansas), Inland Territory hits all the perfect notes.

I’ve often wondered why Vienna Teng isn’t more popular like a Tori Amos, for example, who even many metal guys admit to liking. Frankly, it blows my mind. I think that musically she is easily a match, and I think she writes better songs and lyrics (also she pronounces words correctly…). But unlike Tori, who seems to wear her heart on her proverbial sleeve, and who often seeths with angst, Vienna is a lyrical chameleon who can write dark songs, but also writes swelling themes. She deftly shifts songs, feelings and emotions in order to build the themes that paint different facets of the human experience; a full range of emotions and moments. Another reason, I think, is that she isn’t nearly as “avante garde,” which is something that I really appreciate. Inland Territory, for example, is a particularly interesting record musically, but she still writes music that is essentially pop. Damn good pop at that, but nonetheless pop.

But for you metal guys (if you’re even still reading this), I must confess that this isn’t going to be everybody’s cup o’ tea. Sure, she writes pop songs, love songs and has never written a song about evisceration or Satan (or Oden for that matter). But if you’re interested in progressive music at all, along the lines of newer Anathema, the Damnation record by Opeth or Porcupine Tree, I think there’s a lot for you on this record—and on her other ones. As a classically trained musician and as a self-proclaimed prog fan, Vienna writes deceptively progressive music, often forcing one to take time to actually sit down and count out time signatures to hear that she’s using rotating time because it works so smoothly, for example. She writes excellent songs and imagines fascinating landscapes and if you’re honestly interested in varied, progressive and ecclectic music, look no further than Inland Territory.

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  • Michael

    I was recently listening to “Inland Territory” and I started looking for reviews online, which is how I found your review here. Once I get into a cd I like to see what other people think. I was shocked to see this review on a metal music review site! To give you a quick background on myself, my listening pleasure ranges in styles, but for metal my faves currently include Dream Theater, Kamelot, and Nightwish. So though I may not find those metal bands listed on this site, I do feel sort of a connection with you and your admiration for metal and for Vienna Teng’s music which is why I just had to post. I’ve been listening to her since Warm Strangers and have enjoyed her music so much she has become one of my favorite artists. As for Inland Territory, I wasn’t sure what to expect as her last cd was just a bit different from her previous two. I found I didn’t need to worry as this could be her best one yet. The first four songs on the cd from the mellow “The Last Snowfall” to the beautifully played “Kansas” are classic Vienna Teng. The cd then takes a shift with “Another Life” and its jazzy groove to a knee slappin’ romp and stomp with “Grandmother’s Song”. The rest of the way, besides “Radio” (my least favorite on the cd), is classic Vienna. I’ve had the cd since 2009 but lately I have been hooked. Her talent just amazes me lyrically and musically. It truly does take me to another place. My highlights on the cd include: “The Last Snowfall”, “Antebellum”, “Kansas”, “Augustine”, and “No Gringo”. Lately I’ve been into “No Gringo and its story of a girl (portrayed by Vienna) and her family trying to cross the border. The song truly plays out like a story and when the upbeat clapping starts I get chills every time. It truly is just amazing work. I don’t have much else to say but I just really wanted to share my thoughts with you and let you know that you are not the only metal guy out there in this world with a soft spot for Vienna Teng.

    • Ha. Well, I’m glad to know that there are more eclectic music listeners who aren’t bothered by genre. I know that as an “angry metal guy” I’m really not supposed to be in love with this woman’s music, but she’s a smart composer and just generally awesome. I’ve seen her live a couple of times and have been listening since my friend showed me her first record years ago.

      I still think my favorite on the record is “Stray Italian Greyhound”. I believe she said of that song that “sometimes you just have to write the song that’s been written thousands of times before.” It’s not her most original piece, but it’s so sticky that I sing it for hours after I hear it and I love every second. The production is amazing, the emotional content is great and her playing and writing is awesome.

      My favorite part about her is that she’s a prog nerd. She actually likes bands like Yes and Rush and Porcupine Tree. I think that’s pretty cool.

      But for you who likes progressive metal, you should check out the Polish band Riverside. They’re one of my favorite prog rock bands. I’m curious to know what other kind of non-metal stuff you listen to, actually, it seems like we might like the same kind of things in music.

      Oh, and do you like Symphony X?

      • Michael

        First off I’m jealous that you have seen Vienna live. I’ve yet to do so and since she’s heading back to school, it looks like YouTube will be my only way to catch her live for now.

        I didn’t know about her and the prog thing. That just makes her even more awesome.

        I took your recommendation and while I was at work I busted out the GrooveShark online player and luckily found Riverside on there. I had never heard of them. I listened to their newest release, “Anno Domini High Definition” and really enjoyed it. Some parts remind me of a mix between Dream Theater and Tool. The keyboards really stand out and the vocals are strong. I think my favorite track so far is Egoist Hedonist. I listened to the album twice already and looking forward to hearing it again. I’ve recently been trying to organize my top 2009 albums that I have so this comes just in time. This one looks to be a purchase.

        I have heard of Symphony X and only had heard the 30 seconds available from Amazon. My interest was always there but I never followed through. However, I found “Paradise Lost” on GrooveShark and gave that a listen as well. The musicians are great, however for some reason I just couldn’t connect. Not sure what it is yet but I’m going to have to give it another listen as well.

        As far as non-metal listens go, the pressure is on! Ha, ha.

        I’ll try to give a breakdown.

        Rock/Pop
        Phoenix – Just recently got into them
        Killers
        Sting/The Police – “Fields of Gold” is one of my all time favorites. Vienna does a cover of it on YouTube
        K.T. Tunstall
        Alicia Keys
        Coldplay
        Dave Matthews

        Electronica
        Kaskade
        Gotan Project – Great Argentine electronica tunes
        Zero 7
        Bjork – Mostly older stuff

        New Age
        Keiko Matsui – Pianist, no vocals.

        Japanese Pop/Rock (I got a Japanese pop culture thing)
        Ayumi Hamasaki – Kind of like the Madonna of Japan but more rock/pop oriented. The song, “Decision” is a good rocker.
        Asian Kung Fu Generation – Like Green Day/Foo Fighters
        Superfly – Have a 70’/60’s sound. The girl has a great voice. The song “I spy I spy” is a good intro to them.

        Nothing really Vienna like but that’s some highlights of the non-metal I listen to. Besides the obvious mainstream artists, do you recognize any of these? What are some of the non metal artists you listen to?

  • Björn

    Stumbled upon this site by a Google search. Now I have a TON of albums to look for. (Spotify clearly doesn’t have them all). Seems we share a lot of taste in metal, and then you whip this album up! OK, it’s not on Spotify, but it got me listening to Dreaming Through the Noise. If Inland Territory is better than DTtN, I’m buying it unheard.
    Thanks for a great site, and all the new music I got to hear from reading it!

    • Jag tycker att Inland Territory är lätt hennes bästa platta. Men jag har aldrig använt Spotify. Har du nÃ¥n inbjudan som jag kunde fÃ¥? Hur som helst är jag jätteglad att du är nog öppen sinnad att faktiskt kolla in nÃ¥got som inte alls är metal. Good on you.

  • Björn

    Visst kan du få en invite. Maila mig på mitt gmail-konto så skickar jag en. Spotify Premium är så klockrent till mobiltelefonen att 99:- i månaden känns löjligt. Dessutom gör Facebook-kopplingen att man kan kolla in och prenumerera på sina Facebook-kompisars spellistor (under förutsättningen att de är publika) vilket även det är alldeles förtjusande.

    F.ö. svor jag som 18-Ã¥ring att aldrig förvägra mig själv att lyssna pÃ¥ bra musik bara för att det är “fel” (inte metal) genre. Lika mÃ¥nga Ã¥r senare är jag väldigt glad över det.

  • Björn

    Nu på Spotify.

  • Whoa. Thank you for sharing this amazing album. Never would have found it otherwise.

  • What about Sigur Rós ? Does anyone like it ?

    • It kinda puts me to sleep. I know a lot of people who do love it.

  • Eve

    I saw Vienna Teng open for Marillion in the early 00s. My husband and I bought both albums available at the time and then have kept track since. Her albums are great when you’re in the right mood, and sometimes they’re good to put you in that mood. :)

    • Wow. Open for Marillion!? That is super fucking cool! Was she awesome live?

      • Eve

        She was quite good. It was just her and a piano, and I thought she had a lot of guts doing that. I’d never heard of her, and didn’t know what to expect, so I’m not sure I can say she was awesome. But it can’t be easy to be the opening act, especially for a group like Marillion which has such a devoted following. But the audience was great for her, as I recall. This was at the Birchmere in Arlington, VA.

        • I saw her a couple of times with a band and they were fantastic. Little club shows. I then moved to Europe and have been unable to catch a show since. It’s a shame.

          • Eve

            I unfortunately have not seen her since, but we have managed to keep up on CDs. She was a good choice to open, because as i recall, this was the “Los Trios Marillios” tour, which just three of the band members (Hogarth, Trewavas and Rothery, I think). So the music was a good fit.

  • terran236

    You hear shes working on a new album out this year? Judging by her site, It seems like shes going more mainstream :-. It would really suck if she went the route of the generic boring pop stars like gaga and katy parry, just to make a quick buck. Until then I’m cautiously optimistic.