Serj Tankian

Imperfect Harmonies

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When Serj Tankian released Elect the Dead Symphony (the live orchestral version of his debut solo effort), he shifted his already nearly unclassifiable post-System of a Down musical vision to entirely new terrain. His prog rock leanings already clearly displayed, he also embraced everything from romantic and 20th century classical and opera to Armenian traditional music and even electronic music, while retaining rock’s aesthetic dynamics. On Imperfect Harmonies, he utilizes the sonic possibilities of orchestral music to integrate various forms into a wildly excessive near theatrical effort that never escapes his control. Imperfect Harmonies was recorded at his home studio in Los Angeles, and Tankian wrote, produced, arranged, sang, and performed the vast majority of the album with help from select guests. While Elect the Dead Symphony confirmed that there was more room for expansion of his musical palette, he’s taken full advantage of it here. Imperfect Harmonies is drenched in seeming contradictions, lyrically, sonically, and musically: tragedy, rage, grief, resolve, love, black humor, and political conscience are part of the topical fabric as music and sounds move with and rub against one another heatedly in the most sophisticated collection of songs he’s written to date. That said, it’s surprising how easy it is to listen through this in one sitting. The assault of its opening cut, “Disowned, Inc.,” lays out the entire tool kit in a heady sprint; everything collides, blows apart, and is brought carefully back together in an abrasive yet beautiful manner. “Beatus” is an obsessive love song, earmarked with the bombast of Jim Steinman (although far more elegant than crass -- something like this would be Steinman’s wet dream), the naked confessionalism of Marc Almond, and the projectile energy of symphonic metal -- though the music certainly isn’t. The balladic “Yes, It’s Genocide,” with its acoustic piano and backing operatic vocals by Tankian and female singers, has no actual narrative but, based on the melodic construct of the tune, one can easily guess it’s about the Armenian Genocide. Haunting strings and Tankian’s own overdubbed, syncopated call-and-response overdubbed vocals seamlessly introduce “Peace Be Revenged.” Horns, electric guitars, strings, and rumbling kit drums increase the tension and drama toward a disturbing yet understandable conclusion. The second-person narrative asserted in the closing “Wings of Summer” is illustrated by early jazz and cabaret music beautifully. As a whole, Imperfect Harmonies is its own animal. Tankian proves that he can pull off his grand ambitions in a maximalist approach that creates something new from the ruins of everything he destroyed to get here.

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