C. Spencer Yeh made his name in the international noise scene on the strength of his free improvisations and skillfully executed experimental concepts. Building up a massive discography under both his own name and the Burning Star Core moniker, Yeh's approach has been geared mostly toward difficult, wandering sounds, but a sideline flirtation with pop started peaking its head around the corner with his brightly melodic 2009 album Songs 2002. The appropriately titled Transitions completes the circuit, with ten songs of traditional indie rock containing only a few hints pointing to his noisy past. The record charges out of the gates with full-band instrumentation (all played by Yeh) and a complex pop sound drawing from both '80s new wave programming, and '90s and early-2000s indie. "Something Forever" and the gorgeously chilling album-opener "The New Guy" tap into some of Interpol's disaffected desperation, with Yeh's flat and wobbly vocals spilling surprisingly open lyrics over scrappy guitar and goth-pop basslines. Ruminations on the inevitable cycles of love between the young and self-aware are chronicled over brilliantly orchestrated synth pop on "Starts with a Look." Yeh's often-abused viola shows up near the song's center in a harmonious string arrangement, pushing the song into a moment of chamber pop stillness. There are some moments that don't necessarily embrace pop or a transition toward it, but sound of their own place from somewhere deep in Yeh's head. "Don't Make Me Chase You" is a caustic web of cold synth tones and vocals slowed to the point of demonic eeriness. The endless juxtapositions of "Laugh Track" somehow come together, as noodly alto horn solos mesh with sluggish distorted drums and Yeh's distant but brilliant lyrics "Don't get mad and start sleeping with the people painting targets on your back." Like much of the album, the different elements don't look especially great on paper, but they do become bigger than the sum of their parts in practice. It becomes clear that the title of Transitions is a multi-faceted and all-encompassing device. While the obvious interpretation would be to look at an artist moving away from one style and into another, deeper investigation shows that all the songs are mired in heavy-hearted changes and grappling with accepting these often difficult shifts in life. Turning from thorny noise to sad-hearted art pop isn't the most common way artists deal with turbulent changes, but in Yeh's case, it makes perfect sense and has resulted in some of his strongest work.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas