MUSIC REVIEW: Tankian solo effort ‘Imperfect’

September 30, 2010

by Robert Wilson

While the fate of alternative-metal favorite System of a Down remains in question, the quartet’s members have kept busy with individual projects. Guitarist Daron Malakian formed Scars on Broadway, bassist Shavo Odadjian teamed up with the RZA (Wu-Tang Clan) to create Achozen and drummer John Dolmayan has been busy bouncing between projects.

The only one to reach a sophomore effort, however, has been singer Serj Tankian, whose new album, “Imperfect Harmonies,” was released Sept. 21.

As with 2007’s “Elect the Dead,” the entire album was written, performed, orchestrated and produced by Tankian, meaning, for better or worse, the result lies completely on his shoulders.

From the start of track one, “Disowned Inc.,” it is clear this album is a shift into new ground. Though his first album’s credits list the use of synthesizers, the instruments seem to be more prominent on this effort, adding extra layers of drama or bombasity to Tankian’s energetic performing style and politically, socially and religiously charged lyrics.

One of the standout tracks is “Beatus,” a surprisingly sensitive electronic-based song, complete with dashes of background female vocals and a flute that subtly fades and reappears throughout. For a man known for screaming “Why don’t presidents fight the war; why do they always send the poor?” a musing on a lover’s lament co__mes out of left field but, aside from an oddly-heavy bridge, works well.

If there’s one thing Tankian learned over the years from Malakian, System’s main songwriter, it’s how to write a good hook. “Disowned Inc.,” “Reconstructive Demonstrations” and lead single “Left of Center” are prime examples of Tankian’s growing skill as a songwriter and multi-talented musician.

For all that is accomplished, “Imperfect Harmonies” contains its share of down moments. For example, there are a few occasions where Tankian attempts to sing in an incomprehensibly-high falsetto, which can be described as almost laughable. For songs like “Yes, It’s Genocide,” more than one listen is required to really understand what Tankian is trying to accomplish, not particularly out of intricate layers, but because his style overshadows the message.

Also, the decision to place “Left of Center” as one of the last songs stands out as strange in an industry that tends to anchor albums near the front.

As far as solo works go, “Imperfect Harmonies” is far from the best ever released, but it contains enough strong points to stand up on its own.

It is unclear how many of Tankian’s fans will embrace the changes and experiments set forth by this album, but then again, it would be foolish to expect such a progressive artist to retread old ground. If anything, “Imperfect Harmonies” can help satisfy fans’ hunger until System of a Down’s intensely-awaited return.

E-mail comments to rww015@latech.edu.