Any way you look at it, C. Spencer Yeh‘s C.V. is pretty impressive; in addition to his solo “organised sound” noise project Burning Star Core, the violinist and composer – born in Taiwan, now based in Brooklyn – has built a solid reputation as one of the most respected experimental musicians working today thanks to his collaborative and improvisational work with established legends like Damo Suzuki, Tony Conrad, Jandek and Thurston Moore, and contemporaries such as Chris Corsano, Colin Stetson, Nate Wooley, Ryan Sawyer and John Wiese. On top of all this, he’s a globally exhibited multimedia artist with music videos for Deerhoof and Xiu Xiu under his belt, and last year he added yet another string to his bow with an unexpected, unabashedly POP! single, “In The Blink Of An Eye.” New full-length offering Transitions proves that song was no fluke, utilising scratchy guitars, synths and primitive drum machines for a whole album’s worth of quirky but catchy New Wave and electro-pop that begs the question: why has Yeh kept his considerable songwriting talents hidden for so long? Recalling lo-fi mavericks like John Maus and Owen Ashworth (Casiotone For The Painfully Alone/ Advance Base) and clearly influenced by old masters such as Bowie and Robert Wyatt, songs like “Starts With A Look”, “Masculine Infinity” and the hypnotic, percussive title track juxtapose stately dream-pop with acid house bleeps and bloops and danceable beats; elsewhere, combined with Yeh’s deadpan, drawling vocals, the chugging guitars and squalling electronics on “New Guy” and “Whose Life” (below) imagine the dream-team scenario of a James Murphy-produced Lou Reed/ Bill Callahan/ Orange Juice super-session. Amazingly for an artist usually associated with more highbrow ventures, Transitions‘ defining feature is its lightness of touch. Yeh clearly had fun recording the album – you can virtually hear the mischievous twinkle in his eye – and it’s to his credit that none of the songs come across too heavily as parodic; even the woozy, off-key “Laugh Track” (“Dont get mad/ Don’t get mad/ And start sleeping with the people painting targets on your back“) is appealingly odd as opposed to just plain silly. Tellingly, the only slight mis-step here is a muffled cover of Stevie Nicks’ “Rooms On Fire”, and it speaks volumes about the quality of Yeh’s own work that such an evergreen classic can end up being the record’s weakest link. Bursting with energy and humour, Transitions is an inventive and unusually accessible transmission from the underground; hopefully, now that Yeh has found his voice, he’ll have more to say soon.
Transitions is out October 16 via De Stijl Records.