[6 April 2008]
If spring has made its presence felt in the locale where you reside, you’ll need a soundtrack to accompany opening the windows and watching as the first signs of life appear. Should you still be feeling the effects of a long winter, you may be in need of majestic sounds to wash over you until the doldrums pass and hope emerges. No matter the circumstance, Chronos/Kairos is the record to turn to: it is pure aural ecstasy, a gorgeous and blissful combination of sounds that is enough to bring about change in color and mood.
This Seattle-based band, it has been written in other reviews or promotional materials, resembles artists as distinct as Beach Boys, Belle and Sebastian, and The New Pornographers. Indeed, when listening to Yasen Damen, it becomes clear that their sound centers on marrying an indie-rock groove with a definite emphasis on the beauty that can be set free when voices come together in harmony. Then, the comparisons begin to make sense and the areas of overlap between influences and like-minded bands are more evident.
The album starts with a definite statement of what is to come; opening track “Whoa!” lives up to its name with a bright blend of alternative pop guitars, sweet harmonies (here, lead vocalist Daniel Kwak pairs with contributing performer Jane Lee; Lee and another outside force, singer Jen Wood, trade off in joining him to create some amazing harmonies) and intermittent, jubilant shouts of the song’s title. The tune is less than three minutes long but remains a satisfying experience; this is a key thread to the entire album which works through ten tunes in less than 35 minutes but manages to remain a consistent and rewarding listen throughout.
On an album full of great songs, “Whoa!“‘s successor may be the most enjoyable of all; “Monuments to Ambition” starts with a fuzzy mix of guitars/synths and a gently insistent drumbeat. By the time the chorus kicks in and backing vocalist Sammy Barrett adds shimmering harmonies, the song is an anthem that feels is if it contains all the momentum one would need to race through the nearest open door to some awaiting glory. The irony here is that lyrically, “Monuments to Ambition” is not the idyllic account it appears; the track is a very realistic look at life, ambition and great expectations. “Those who claim they’re on a mission / Stop and stare at our ambition / While they drink away their woes / ‘Cause the monuments erected / Honor those who were directed / By a power not their own,” Kwak and Barrett sing on the chorus.
In that lyrical example lies a perfect illustration of the quality that truly makes Chronos/Kairos a great record. The album’s promotional material deems it as “cursing the human condition with a smile”; Chronos/Kairos is not some delirious free-for-all without any acknowledgment of life’s realities. Instead, the album is optimistic musically and more realistic lyrically. In that sense, the album doesn’t seem to curse the human condition as much as it is serves as a mirror. Many people are grounded in the realities around them yet look to art for the inspiration and buoyancy needed to deal with life. By staying genuine and yet suggesting there is hope, the album is a sonic representation of that concept.
Other great tracks include “Osaka”, a dazzling ballad with harmony vocals from Wood, and the closing couplet of “American Riot” and “Canons of Devotion”. The former is a more standard indie-rock tune complete with Mates of State-esque keys and confident vocals; the latter is steadied by the shuffle of an acoustic guitar and features a wonderful melody, one of many on the project.
In just the first third of this year, Yesan Damen have released an album that, when all other comers have presented their works, is likely to stand as one of the better releases of 2008. Gorgeous and grounded, the album presents a slightly more colorful and interesting view of real life that should resonate with listeners.