Review Summary: Imperfect Harmonies is a little unstable, but its experimental worth and overall quirkiness will intrigue listeners until the very last second.
When comparing Serj Tankian’s solo work to his achievements with System of a Down, one can expect to make two conclusions. First, it will never match the guitar background and raw intensity brought to the table by Daron Malakian. Gone are the chaotic riffs of “B.Y.O.B.” and the borderline insane shredding techniques on tracks like “Suite-Pee.” That isn’t to say that Serj will bore the listener to death because, as we all know to be the case, he has quite the creative and entertaining mind himself. This brings us to our second assumption, and that is this: with nobody to answer to but himself, Serj will experiment. Meandering musical concepts and constant self-indulgence may be a drawback for most artists, but for someone with as much talent and vision as Serj, it turns out to be quite the successful combination. On Imperfect Harmonies
, both of these assumptions end up being true. However, the album still manages to surprise with a sense of outlandishness that only Serj Tankian could provide.
is an accurately titled record because, to be frank, the album is all over the place. It rambles on, it is highly unstable, and it flirts with a sense of insanity throughout the majority of the eleven songs. There is no hiding the madness, as “Disowned, Inc.” comes storming in with intrusive sounding drumming backed by a full orchestra that quickly gives way to Serj’s Armenian vocals. The song alternates between soft-tempered crooning, background falsetto, and instrumental bursts mimicking the introduction. This opening track, whether it was intended or not, serves as a microcosm of the entire album. Imperfect Harmonies
, like “Disowned, Inc.”, is the disjointed and beautifully chaotic clashing of several different musical ideas. The album blends elements of jazz, electronica, rock, and orchestra in a variety of ways, and the results are nothing short of stunning. Serj’s ambition and knack for complicated songwriting allow this “big bang” explosion of ideas to actually work, and he proves time and time again on Imperfect Harmonies
that this is no coincidence. “Borders Are”, “Deserving"” and “Left of Center” all further the cause, showing the advanced nature of Serj’s capabilities not only as a vocalist, but also as a composer of quality experimental rock.
The theme of Serj’s music is once again politically charged, with topics covering everything from government corruption to genocide. While these topics have been covered extensively in his own past endeavors, Tankian manages to add enough new elements and emotional flair to once again make these concepts sound urgent. The piano ballad “Yes, It’s Genocide” is a prime example, featuring vocal repetitons completely in Armenian stating, “I want to die for your terror, I want to die for your fear, I want to die for your life.” The lyrics are a heartfelt tribute to the 1.5 million victims of the Armenian genocide, one that Serj continues to push to increase awareness of. A portion of the song was even included in a video to Barack Obama, pleading for him to recognize the incident. Something about politically motivated lyrics from someone who is actually involved
in such a tragedy packs a much harder punch than say, Green Day’s comparatively adolescent motives. While these themes are prevalent throughout Imperfect Harmonies
, other lyrical/topical highlights include “Reconstructive Demonstrations”, “Peace Be Revenged”, and “Left of Center.”
Despite the surprisingly strong aspects of Imperfect Harmonies
, it still possesses a few inherent weaknesses. The album heavily lacks electric guitar work, and it is also occasionally too self-indulgent for its own good. However, the good news is that even the negative aspects have positive counterpoints. For instance, the lack of energetic guitar is atoned for by the prominence of the orchestra, which Serj keeps busy from start to finish. The energy of the orchestra gives the record the urgency and intrigue it needs in order to stay lively. Also, Serj’s tendency to indulge in his own style and lyrical inspirations actually serve as a strength this time. Without the album’s emotional attachment to a tragic genocide of monumental importance, all of the album’s artistic expression would feel misplaced, if not lost completely. Thus, the album has a combination of weaknesses and countering strengths that will succeed or fail, depending on the tastes of each individual listener.
As a whole, Imperfect Harmonies
may very well be Serj Tankian’s best achievement outside of System of a Down. He takes many of the ideas present on Elect the Dead
and perfects them, along with an infusion of new musical influences that place the album a step above its predecessor. The album is somewhat genre-defying, as it seems to cross paths with everything from electronic music and jazz to traditional Armenian ballads. It is also much less rooted in rock, which simultaneously increases its experimental nature and decreases its overall intensity. Despite the chaotic
sound created by such a whirlwind of ideas, one thing is clear: Imperfect Harmonies
will intrigue listeners until the very last second.