Parisian Marc Nguyen Tan is a designer by trade, working in a highly stylized modus operandi within graphic design and video production for top-shelf fashion clients like Commes des Garcons. It is only fitting then, that his record of icy tones and echo-heavy dub pop had a huge hype buildup on par with how trends in fashion take time to reach American shores, with nearly a year passing before its proper U.S. debut. Included with the commercial release of Again is a bonus DVD of Nguyen Tan’s own video interpretations of several of the album’s songs; colorful meditations on the down-tempo beat workouts and introverted head-trips. Nguyen Tan has claimed that this record is really about himself, that the tale of the tape is essentially his own: “Confusion”, broken relationships, emotional disorientation.
For the half-Vietnamese Parisian, Nguyen Tan has a varied background along with business-related jet set travels to provide a good palette for his music. With the warmest sentiments coming from steamy dance floor lyrical allusions and the floating synthesizer lines that permeate Again, it is quite evident that this is no soul record. It is impressionistic in a way, however, if the cuts are taken as simple sketches on the author’s own experience, with tales of faraway sojourns, “One Night in Tokyo”, spotting a beautiful girl dancing, “Silicone Sexy”, or music-in-my-head from a debauched evening dissipating into the infomercials on TV, flickering like pixelated candlelight, as on “Version”.
Again is primarily based on the clean lines and attention to detail of computer design, fleshed out by Nguyen Tan’s own coolly detached vocals and deep, heavy bass lines. Though his self-proclaimed influences tend toward the period in European music of adventurous post-punk labels, to call this a rock record would be missing a lot. Thanks to the climate in dance-friendly rock circles these days, there were 12-inch singles of “Crazy Love” released in conjunction with the record, with club-styled remixes in tow. Again provides an example of a record that stands on its own as a complete album of songs, meant to be heard in unison, and as a set of singles that can be pulled out for tweaking and refurbishment.
The bass-driven rhythms Nguyen Tan uses with splashes of guitar strum often stretch out into a long echo. This effect is rooted in dub reggae, of course, as channeled through the British punks who assimilated it into their rock songs in late ’70s and early ’80s. This style stands as the strongest thread throughout Again, if only for the device of the echo and those beats that seem to fade out in a puff of smoke. Many of the songs work on this basic premise, where one act, a bass line followed by some echo and scratchy guitar is shifted and flip-flopped throughout the song, simply a mantra of these simple elements. So, while it’s obvious the listener is being coyly asked to dance, it appears to be mumbled under the breath that it’s okay not to dance, too. The easy-going Colder seems to be saying, “Feel free to chill,” through the frost-covered windows of his fashionista limo. But if you feel like being lured onto the floor, the detached beauty of “Crazy Love”, and the raunchy robotic feel of “Silicone Sexy” (with breathy vocals that border on a sexy HAL 9000 computer making a pass) are ample bait.
The lasting moments on Again happen when the listener feels somewhat transported, not just tripped-out in a club somewhere, but displaced to another scene entirely. In “Another Night in Tokyo”, the crowd sounds and spoken dialogue create an environment. Art director Nguyen Tan has redesigned it just for this use, where we can almost smell the odors of street, the pace of the song’s dubby rhythms echoing like footsteps on the pavement.