Review: Colder, “Heat”

Declaimed in a number of pompous and unhelpful reviews for mostly unintelligible or contradictory reasons, Marc Nguyen Tan’s second full-length as Colder is, in reality, a dark and seductive electronic record with virtues to spare. Whether updating the anthemic possibilities of new wave or cross-breeding fake jazz with dub and cold motorik, Heat exudes a cool, sophisticated, and infinitely accessible atmosphere that is entirely unique to it.

Why some bands will always be heralded for the appropriation of their influences and others forever doomed to jeers and insults is well beyond me. If there were any consistency to the praise or defamation perhaps I could discover the math necessary for choosing who should get my approval and who my censure. Such calculation and consistency constitute a phantom, however, one that unjustly haunts records according to this or that writer’s whim. In 2005, Heat was just such a victim. Some publications caught on to its dance-oriented rhythms and stark melodies, but more often than not Tan caught flack for liking New Order and Joy Division a little too much. Nevermind that Colder is probably more indebted to Gary Numan, David Bowie, and Brian Eno, Joy Division and New Order are two unanimously loved bands with plenty of lauded followers, derivative or otherwise. Mentioning either one in a review only to hold them over a band’s head like a threat isn’t just ridiculous, it’s lazy.

Besides, Heat is where Marc steps out of their shadow and into his own shoes. Dub and post-punk still figure heavily into his brew, but to them Marc adds a darker attitude (“On My Mind”), jazzy flourishes (“Your Face” and “Fade Away”), a more band-oriented sound (especially “To the Music”), and an even more distinctive sense of rhythm than is found on Again. As to the latter, it might be Colder’s most distinctive feature. Tan’s rhythmic sense is at once funky and awkward. Even when a song is thumping forward in standard time, Marc manages to make the rhythm sway and stagger like it’s ready to fall apart. In some cases, he’ll use every one of the instruments in a song to help create a kind of dizzying effect, as on “Wrong Baby” and “Losing Myself.” In both cases, the entire ensemble throbs and reverberates together, creating a mechanical effect that’s as hypnotic as it is cold and robotic. To that extent, perhaps Neu! and Kraftwerk are better points of reference than anyone else mentioned in this review. In any case, before hearing him sing, or even before one of his already distinctive and simple melodies pop up, I can tell Colder apart from almost any other band thanks to Tan’s rhythms.

But, Heat isn’t beyond criticism. Its lyrics are thin in places, though they match their songs well enough and are way more forgivable than the junk certain other media darlings pass off as lyrics. If Interpol can get away with singing about couches and… whatever the hell they’re talking about… then certainly Colder can get a pass for being a little repetitive. It’s a happy coincidence that Heat’s biggest and most obvious flaw is also one of its more endearing qualities. Marc obviously tried very hard to make Heat more diverse than Again, but in some places it shows too much. The second half of the record is mostly successful in its blending of different styles, but “Downtown” stands out like a sore thumb and the start of “Tonight” is just too bright to fit comfortably anywhere in Colder’s discography. Everything eventually falls back into place, however, and the album ends with some sinister organ-laden arrangements and a beautifully melancholic closer.

Heat deserves better than the grief it was given. Without a doubt it is a layered and complex record, but it’s also very catchy and concise. The melodies are as solid as they come and the songs are sharp and memorable. That’s his greatest virtue: Marc Tan writes excellent songs. This alone puts him head and shoulders above other bands playing the same game.

Heat is available from Output Recordings
Samples available at Brainwashed.com

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