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4.6 out of 5 stars
Dreaming Through the Noise
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Most singer-songwriters didn't start out as software programmers, who then dumped the job for the sake of piano pop. In a lot of cases, it would be a stupid decision.

But Vienna Teng continues to prove that her decision was the right one, in her third album "Dreaming Through the Noise." It's not Teng's strongest album, but her delicately powerful voice and solid musicianship make this a quiet delight for anyone sick of prefab pop music.

"Blue blue caravan/winding down to the valley of lights/my true love is a man/who would hold me for ten thousand years," Teng croons in the opening song, over a bed of murky guitar and delicate piano. It's a soft, misty, slightly tense song that draws you in for the rest of the album.

That sound continues in the tripping melody of "Whatever You Want" and the sweeping balladry of songs like the quirky "I Don't Feel Well" and tries out a jazzy sound in the the rueful, meditative "City Hall." Teng trips down her ballads with rippling piano and lots of delicate sentiments, and lyrics written so that images pop right into your head.

If a few songs had been snipped out of "Dreaming Through the Noise," the album might have been perfect -- a few simply don't fit in, and don't grab you with images and musical beauty as Teng usually does. "Love Turns 40," for instance, is like a quirkless Regina Spektor song, a sound that Teng conquers successfully in the oddballish "1 BR/1 BA."

"Singer-songwriter" usually makes me think of coffeehouse singers, holding a big acoustic guitar. Vienna Teng is a different variety, with refined and complex piano pop and polished songwriting. She's like a less angsty, more meditative Sarah McLachlan, or a more romantic Regina Spektor.

Her piano is still the main instrument, whether tripping over a quirky melody, or cascading gently through a ballad. In addition, there's a bit of folky guitar creeping just under the piano. But Teng also adds some new flourishes, such as a viola, or the scrapy fiddle that pops up every now and then.

And Teng's songwriting skills are still excellent, with the lyrics knack and potent imagery of really good poetry. Even better, there's an element of human sorrow, love or thought in most of the songwriting: "For my true love is a man/Who never existed at all/Oh he was a beautiful fiction/I invented to keep out the cold..."

Though "Dreaming Through the Noise" could have been tightened up by the exclusion of a few songs, Vienna Teng's third album possesses the beauty and songcraft of her previous work.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2006
Like everyone else has said, this album is definitely different from Vienna's first two -- more polished, more "sophisticated" maybe. Other instruments beside the piano play a more prominent part. Her voice also seems smoother, a little less breathy.

My personal favorites -- "Blue Caravan" had me hooked from the first time I heard it on a televised concert from last year. "City Hall" almost made me cry the first time I listened to it, from the pure gladness that comes out of the music -- there's always a song on her albums that makes me want to cry...

"Recessional" is so beautiful it gives me the shivers.

The bottom line is, this is a great CD. New, different, but still that wonderful Vienna Teng.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2006
As a big Vienna fan, I always feel a little nervous listening to each new album, since my expectations are generally so high, I worry that they can't be met.

But after listening to Dreaming Through the Noise throughout the last two days, I can happily say that it certainly meets all my high expectations and then some.

Vienna has taken the beautiful vocals, terrific sense of rhythm, and mastery of melodies and hooks that made Waking Hour and Warm Strangers staples of my music library, and expanded them in fascinating new directions, while always sounding entirely comfortable in each new style. Like the ominous violin opening to Waking Hour, Dreaming Through the Noise prepares listeners for their journey with a striking bass line that develops into "Blue Caravan", one of Vienna's best tracks ever. It has a sultry enrapturing quality that doesn't sound like anything she has recorded previously. The slow entrancing dirge sound of Katrina-inspired "Pontchartrain" shows Vienna can create fascinating songs with a wide range of moods and vocal stylings. Its clear that Vienna wanted to leverage her vocal and songwriting talents to explore new directions, instead of just relying on their beauty to create songs that felt familiar.

Its also clear that this album has broadened its influences to include many of the most innovative modern singer-songwriters. The influences of the jaunty and tense rhythm's of Fiona Apple's Extraordinary Machine can be heard on "I Don't Feel So Well", while the jazzy vocal turns and infectious chorus of "Love Turns 40" show influences of Madeleine Peyroux. The alt-country-tinged influences of Neko Case have been beautiful integrated with Vienna's voice on the gay-marriage-themed "City Hall". Vienna even pulls off Bebel Gilberto bossa-nova on "Transcontinental, 1:30 AM", though unlike the other new styles, this song feels more like Vienna the "trying on" of a style than the absorption of that style.

There are a few tracks that feel a little too familiar ("Nothing Without You") or don't totally succeed in their new style ("1BR/1BA"), but overall this album is almost entirely gems, and should please her existing fan-base and convert any new listeners.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2006
With Dreaming Through the Noise, Vienna Teng has ventured into new territory. The darker, more atmospheric tone of this album doesn't have a predecessor -- there's only a trace of similarity in earlier songs like "Momentum" and "Passage." Upon my first listen, I wasn't sure I liked this new style that much: Vienna's voice sounded strangely muted among trumpets and strings, and I wasn't happy that the piano took a backseat to the new instruments. This sound is more orchestral and on the whole, less lyrically complex. Her trademark storytelling songs have mostly been replaced with repeated choruses, syllables, and hums. The new lyrics are also not as accessible and a little more difficult to understand (think Radiohead and early Tori Amos), but the good news is that the gorgeously detailed music is worth the extra effort. This set of songs trades narratives for lush moods, and the result is no less beautiful. The readiest example: "Now Three" is about a child like "Lullabye For A Stormy Night" and "Anna Rose" from her first two albums, but instead of sentimental lyrics, Vienna relies on a more dense, haunting sound to evoke the mindset of someone overwhelmed by love. One thing that hasn't changed is her refreshing range of topics -- she tackles emotional instability in "I Don't Feel So Well," an apprehensive individual faced with a new apartment and noisy upstairs neighbors in the rocking "1BR/1BA," and current events in "Whatever You Want," a surprisingly upbeat song about corporate scandal, "Pontchartrain," an eerie, dreamy elegy for New Orleans, and "City Hall," a country-tinged celebration of the same-sex marriage rulings in San Francisco. My favorite song on the album is "Recessional," which chronicles of the rise and fall of a relationship in reverse. For anyone who might be disappointed by the lack of storytelling songs, this one proves she can still pack a punch.

I can't really rank this album against the others because it's so different -- moody, jazzy, full of longing, packed with minor keys, stringed solos, and...an accordion? Each one shows a different side of her, and I'm glad to add this one to the mix. Turn to Waking Hour for intimate confessionals, Warm Strangers for genre-defying sounds and storytelling, and DTTN for evocative soundscapes. It took a couple of listens, but I love this album and can't wait to see which direction she goes next. Put on your headphones, close your eyes, and rest assured that with three albums to her name, Vienna isn't through surprising everyone yet.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2006
I have had the enormous privilege of hearing Vienna perform over 100 concerts, each unique and wonderful. Ten of the songs on this incredible album are already old and beloved friends that I have enjoyed many times in live performances. Those old friends have emerged from the studio, some with dramatic new arrangements, but all with their beauty intact. Legendary producer, Larry Klein's (Joni Mitchell, Madeleine Peyroux) genius shows on this album.

Starting from the lofty standards set by her first two albums, Vienna has continued to grow and expand her musical horizons. Frequently on tour with Vienna, Juilliard trained cellist, Marika Hughes, has been a noticeable influence. Even as Vienna explores new genres of music, one thing remains constant through all of Vienna's music. She has an extraordinary ability to tell stories with her lyrics that carry tremendous emotional impact. Whether it is the joyous celebration of love in the country tinged "City Hall" or the pain of a long distance relationship maintained by late night telephone calls in the sultry jazz of "Transcontinental, 1:30 A.M.", the emotion flows unhindered.

Earlier I said I had heard ten of the songs many times. There is an eleventh song that I have heard performed live only once. It is the haunting, "Pontchartrain" a post-Katrina dirge for New Orleans. Vienna's voice is multi-tracked 32 times on the CD to create a choir effect for the transitional verse. Ethereal is the only word I can think of to describe the "Vienna Teng Choir".

Because Vienna's songs are not the usual fluff of pop music, but stories with intense emotional content, the 30-second sample clip on Amazon doesn't do them justice. If you like songs with intelligent, emotion filled lyrics, don't reject this album based on the sample clips alone.

Vienna was a guest on David Letterman after the release of her first album. I am paraphrasing from memory, but the gist of his comment about that album was "I've heard the entire CD, and there's not a dud on this. You get your money's worth here, Ladies and Gentlemen." For me that quote rings just as true for this album.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 13, 2006
Vienna Teng has often expressed a desire not to get into a rut, to produce the same old stuff over and over again. This is disappointing for those of us who actually like her old music, her lovely voice with gorgeous piano accompaniment. But if she wants her music to mature along with her career, I respect that, and I'll happily go along for the ride.

Vienna has certainly succeeded in branching out; don't buy this album if you want to hear a redux of Waking Hour or Warm Strangers. Sure, some of the tracks hark back to those days, such as "Whatever You Want" (upbeat with a heck of a musical hook in the chorus) and "Nothing Without You" (a quiet, wistful melody). "City Hall" is deceptive; like "Shasta," both conceal a punch to the gut within the happy country vibe.

The rest of the album is dark, seductive, experimental. Vienna is clearly trying something different in each song, whether it's the strange tonalities in "I Don't Feel So Well" or the self-conscious syncopation in "1BR/1BA". "Pontchartrain" is elegaic and haunting, and although it's undeniably beautiful, you won't be able to listen to it too often. "Recessional" is definitely one of my favorites, demonstrating that although Vienna is trying on new musical styles, she definitely hasn't lost her brilliant touch when writing lyrics.

Vienna has also switched to using her breathy lower alto range instead of bringing in the high soprano featured in the first two albums; this gives the songs a feeling of intimacy, but definitely makes her voice take a back seat to the instrumentals. Sometimes there are so many instruments that her voice becomes hard to pick out.

This album will not sound too familiar to longtime Vienna fans. However, she rewards listeners with an amazing range of musical styles, tied together into a coherent whole. After listening to this a few times, reading the lyrics over and letting them sink in... I was very moved. This one definitely grew on me, and I intend to keep it close.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2007
It's difficult and daunting to review a work of art as exquisite as this latest album by Vienna Teng. First, the aural persona: she sounds to me like a very sensitive, cerebral person chosing her words carefully and with utmost restraint from great depths of feeling; hence, the curious cognative tension between her immaculately tender voice and the torrent of emotions held in check. Another reviewer described the result thus: "you feel like she's sitting across a little table from you and leaning in and telling you a story." This is also true.

Next, the moods: "Blue Caravan" is filled with yearning, longing, and adventure. It reminds one of the steppes of Central Asia, or Scheherazade in a moment of candor. "Whatever you want," in contrast, makes a double entendre of cheerfulness: the company man and his wife are wired to gratify, but look forward to their liberation and revenge; the arrangement and orchestration are brilliant and fun. At the extreme opposite is "Pontchartrain," a piece so moving and grave, so emotionally harrowing, that few of the greatest musicians--perhaps Nina Simone--could carry it off. (I recommend listening to that one on headphones, alone or with someone who would understand.)

It's difficult to think of how this album could be more perfect than it is. It attempts much, and accomplishes it all. It occurred to me that I was actually observing the emergence of one of the very few great performers of our lifetime.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2006
Dreaming Through the Noise is indie music sensation Vienna Teng's third album. She managed to keep her same style as Warm Strangers and Waking Hour (her first two CDs) while not becoming boring or repetitive. One of Vienna's most admirable qualities is her ability to reach out to a diverse audience from eclectic college students to their grandparents with her soft beats and capturing lyrics. I highly recommend seeing Vienna Teng in concert. She is one of the most personable artists out there. She told wonderful and funny stories inbetween her songs, which allows the audience to see and understand her inspirations. If the music doesn't reach out to your heart, no matter your stance in life, surely her sweet disposition will. Vienna stayed after her concert to sign autographs for as long as needed and didn't mind slightly star stuck fans, such as myself. Vienna takes requests for what songs to play during her shows and you can truly tell how much she loves what she does. She is not in the business for the money or fame but for simple love of music which shows during her performances and in every lyric of her song. Dreaming Through the Noise is a great album full of life, love, and heartbreak. I greatly recommend buying this CD and going to her concert.

For newcomers to Vienna, try Warm Strangers or Waking Hour first. You'll be amazed at how fast you become a fan.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 3, 2006
Vienna Teng has been on of my favorite musicians for a couple of years. This new CD is excellent. The music is emotional and fun and energetic and thought provoking all at the same time.

The wide variety of musical styles she uses means there is something for everyone.

As with her previous CDs, the more I listen to this, the more I like it.

This is just a great CD.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2007
I have been a fan of Vienna's for a very long time. I have all three of her albums, and have to say, you won't find a more haunting voice, nor will you find music that can reach your soul so deeply. The single most amazing performer currently working. If you get a chance to see her live, you will become a devotee as much as I am.
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