Yen-j gets personal

An invigorated Yen-j draws on jazz, electronica and pop in his latest offering.
An invigorated Yen-j draws on jazz, electronica and pop in his latest offering. PHOTO: ROCK RECORDS SINGAPORE

Less than two months after the release of his fifth album Thanks Giving, Taiwanese singer-songwriter Yen-j released his sixth, Why? Art.
 

Despite the worryingly short time between the two, the new work is no slapdash effort.

It is touted as the more experimental counterpart to the more mainstream Thanks Giving, but to fans of his first album, it is the follow-up they have been waiting for.

Los Angeles-born Yen-j burst onto the scene at 22 with the fresh sounds of Thank You For Your Greatness in 2010, pulling off the rare feat of sounding different from the rest of the Mandopop scene.

He made Mandojazzpop sound like the most natural idea in the music book and even sampled the jazz standard Take The A Train on the playful Love Is Curry.

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But, on subsequent albums, he moved towards the middle of the road with more radio-friendly offerings such as Good Things and Temporary Boyfriend.

With Why? Art, he is once again invigorated and inspired as he draws on jazz, electronica and pop.

He samples the legendary Miles Davis' recording of On Green Dolphin Street on the synthpop-rap track On Idealism Street.

Yen-j professes: "On idealism street/I don't need a gold watch/Or jewellery/I don't care for these/I only want some time to write/Music that's never been done."

It seems as close an admission as any that in the real world, he has to write music for a living as well. And he has had to put his ambitions on hold.

Finally, he gets to unleash his thoughts here.

There is anger on the scathing electro track Contemporary Art, he raps: "This is contemporary art, contemporary art/Nudity can be artistic/What about the music, man?"

His inventiveness is in full play on opener Ashtray with its use of repetition, rhymes and puns, echoing in vibe Thanks Giving's humorous opening number Coin-Eating Tiger.

The lyrics are decidedly personal.

Whirlpool finds him in a confessional mood: "I work hard to improve/Occasionally I'll backslide/Take it as a beautiful mistake."

On Warrior, he reveals what motivates him: "This city/Doesn't need to remember my name/Glory comes from accomplishing the impossible."

On the languorously beguiling Traveller, he croons: "I linger before each beautiful landscape/Many unknown dreams await there."

Over the course of a bracing and wonderfully varied album, Yen-j shows his listeners all manner of scenery and all of it is lovely.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2015, with the headline 'Yen-j gets personal'. Print Edition | Subscribe