forthcoming in prefixmag.com
Colin James Nagy
Take away press releases and other background information and you’d be hard-pressed to find a music enthusiast that would have pegged Colder’s Again as a debut record. Parisian Marc Nguygen Tan has culled influences from postpunk and other genres, updated them with a clean, modern glisten and added his own detached and often haunting vocals. Because of the mature production sound and uncluttered arrangements, it’s as if he applied his artist’s eye for clear, uncluttered visual composition to an audio context, producing a debut that doesn’t sound the part.
The album is a blend of influences, notably Cabaret Voltaire, Can, Suicide, Joy Division and New Order, with some bass lines seemingly stolen from Mani from the Stone Roses’ notebook. When pressed for further inspirations, Tan self-consciously said, “They’re numerous and would be boring to list,” suggesting that the influences on the record are more than meets the eye and not so readily identified as being overly reverent to the aforementioned bands.
Before producing Again, Tan’s musical background was decidedly informal, limited to childhood piano lessons. He spent his teenage years “listening to music rather than making it,” never playing in a band. However, he was always actively listening to a variety of bands, building points of reference to build upon.
At age 20, Tan started producing music on his own as a hobby, without any specific ambitions or goals. When asked if there was a particular catalyst that pushed him toward this, he said, “I clearly remember when I first listened to Einsturzende Neubauten's first record, Kollaps.” He called it “a great moment,” and alluded that it brought the first urge to create his own music.
This moment for Colder’s musical debut came unexpectedly. A new media artist by trade, Tan was originally supposed to spend two months working on a multimedia project commissioned by a friend. When the plans fell through, the spare time allowed him the opportunity to start recording his own material.
“That moment in my life was very special,” Tan said. “For the first time, I was getting more and more bored with my work, and music brought me all that I needed and all I was expecting. I have great memories of that period.” Using a spartan bedroom setup -- a laptop computer, guitar and a bass on loan from a friend -- Tan started putting together the album.
The entire record was recorded in a shockingly fast month and a half. Upon its completion, Tan sent a demo to Output Recordings boss and renowned graphic artist Trevor Jackson. “(Trevor) got in touch with me three weeks after with a very nice e-mail, and we met in Paris two weeks after that, deciding it would cool to work together.”
The changes from the initial recordings were minor -- two tracks on the record were shortened slightly, by eight or sixteen bars. Jackson’s biggest contribution on the record was the accompanying DVD. “He was the one who really insisted in having it done,” he said. “At the beginning, I wasn’t feeling that confident in doing it, but he really supported me along the way.”
Trevor’s lobbying resulted in a DVD of abstract visuals packaged with the record, something increasingly being used as an incentive to buy a record instead of downloading it for free before the release date. The days of gatefold cover art may be gone, but added digital mediums add extra value to a release.
“It's something that comes as a bonus,” said Tan. “The work it featured has no specific purpose ... it’s just an expansion of the music through abstract visuals. Sometimes when I listen to a record I like, I wish I could have a massive video projector and watch images that don’t intend to promote anything, but just relax my mind and allow me to immerse a bit more into what I’m listening to.” It’s an appropriate sentiment from an artist who works with visual mediums professionally and started creating music as an aside.
Again’s first single “Crazy Love” is a choppy funk rhythm with a driving bass line and Tan’s vocals floating over the track. The testament to the song’s strength comes in the form of an acoustic version courtesy of Tan’s friend, Luke Innes. It’s a cover rather than a remix and breaks everything down to a decidedly somber tone, with subtle synth whispers and acoustic guitar.
Innes’ version is a far cry from the original, but an excellent interpretation, indicative of how many permutations can be made if the original ingredients are good enough.
“Luke is the ex-boyfriend of a very close friend. We met in pub one day and started talking about music for ages,” said Tan. “I never listened to what he was doing but I felt he could do something sincere and interesting. A month after that I received a CD with its own cover and thought it was really wicked.”
The other remix on the single comes from Rework, creating something with the complete opposite effect: A 4/4 dark and sexy stomper for the dance floor.
The forthcoming single release, “Shiny Star,” is dark, synth-tinged dub, bringing to mind moonlight shimmering on a black sea. It twists and builds into a kick and snare crescendo at the end, all the while featuring Tan’s characteristic vocals, this time delivered in a slightly more staccato fashion.
Tan has some ideas regarding the remixes, but no confirmations yet. “I'd like to keep the balance I had with the “Crazy Love” single, having close friends work on it,” he said. “I've also asked for cover versions instead of traditional remixes.”
Having produced the album in such a short period of time and on minimal equipment, the transition to a live performance would predictably be a tough one. Tan asserted that this transition was helped along by the fact that the band members are close friends. That doesn’t eliminate first-gig jitters, however.
“The first time we played I couldn't sleep for two or three nights, and then spent three weird days at my apartment,” he said. “I was not depressed or hysterically happy, I was just feeling strange. Now [performing] is still scary, but the big difference is that we like it even if there are many things we have to improve.”
After a stunning performance at the Output/DFA records showcase in New York last fall, Colder has played in Europe, mainly in Spain and the U.K., but also in Tokyo and Osaka, Japan with electronic stalwarts LFO and Underworld.
Tan is anticipating U.S. gigs in the future, as Output increases its presence stateside. In the meantime, he's finishing “what could be an eventual second album for Colder,” and plans to take care of the visual side of the live performances from April to August, further adding his own interpretations to the music, and satisfying his insatiable audio/visual creative urges.