I know, I know. It has only been like forever since Tanya released “Aphasia”. But in my defense, better late than never, right?
Singaporean singer-songwriter Tanya Chua dropped her most recent album “Aphasia” released on November 13th. Listening to the album, I was honestly speechless.
Loss of ability to understand or express speech
Well, unlike aphasia, in a good way.
What’s special about “Aphasia”, aside from all the puns that I made and no one understood, is its drastic difference from Tanya Chua’s signature Mandopop ballads.
Instead, “Aphasia” brings focus to electronic music — not EDM that seems to dominate music from the Hallyu wave, but something more, well, unconventional.
But why “Aphasia”?
Tanya has expressed that people seem to be addicted to their smartphones nowadays, talking less and less with the people around them — an “aphasia” crisis that is taking over the modern world. Thus, Tanya plans to represent this social “aphasia” with her electronic music album. Electronic music often reflects a cold style; paired with Tanya’s warm voice, the clash embodies the musicality of “Aphasia”.
Here’s the tracklist (NOTE: The English is my own translation XD):
The album opens up with the enigmatic track “Strange Species”, also the first promotional single released prior to “Aphasia”‘s release. Though perhaps strange in comparison to most other C-pop releases, it’s definitely a welcome change. While the arrangement is far different from the soft strings and light instrumentals of her previous works, the unmistakably unique Tanya Chua still shines through.
Arranged by producers 安栋 and Michael Pfeiffer, the electronic sound effects evoke a sense of mystery, perfectly fitting Tanya Chua’s composition and 小寒’s beautifully crafted lyrics.
You and I both belong to the same species
Using skin to cover our true appearances
Your identity is unclear
Although the arrangement appears muted to give way to Tanya Chua’s other-worldly voice, it creates a thin veneer over her voice as it never reaches full strength. Perhaps interpreting such further, Tanya Chua’s team insists that the arrangement embodies the mystery of humanity (maybe I guess?)
though such sounds akin to the forced and hurried literary analysis of an all-nighter.
As enigmatic as the track itself, the music video for “Strange Species” presents a thriller. Filmed on the streets of Paris, Tanya Chua is depicted pondering a case — but is she merely trying to solve the mystery — or is she the mystery? Strange in its lighting and cuts, the music video brings to light the question of the true identities of us . . . unless you’re some otherworldly species.
If you bothered to read my tracklist, you might have noticed that I left the English translation as “Living is the Best Death” rather than “Best Way To Die”. But perhaps a combination of both the Chinese and English titles is what the song truly embodies — that “Living is the best way to die.”
Though the song title may sound slightly morbid, the song itself presents rare elegance in a more upbeat track. Since we all are going die anyway, the best way to deal with such is to live life to the fullest and be willing to take risks. Or in more [awkwardly tranlated] sophisticated lyric form:
Humans are unable to avoid the same result anyway
Might as well along with me, loving me, give in to temptation
Might as well for me, accompanying me, break the comformities
Still, despite the upbeat anthem, the music itself is not completely pure happiness. Tanya Chua’s own voice, along with the arrangement, hints at the slightest bit of melancholy. Interesting.
The music video, for lack of a better description, fits strangely into the context of this song. It reflects the vibrant beauty of nature, yes, but depicts the inherent sadness of the track itself. Although Tanya Chua does indeed improve from her state of eating pomegranates all day via a black-and-white filter, I have no idea what message people wildly running away from her is supposed to express.
It’s weird, which is why lots of people have watched it. Just remember — take risks in life, but please don’t go around YOLOing.
“Aphasia” is evidently ambient; with no persistent beat, the electronic instrumentals created a textured and layered atmosphere — or in this case, of muted sadness and despair. Addressing the inspiration for the album as a whole, the titular track addresses the dangers of aphasia, whether it be the medical disease itself or the result of our prolonged use of our smartphones (and now I sound like my mom. Congrats.)
So unlike her usual passionate singing style, Tanya Chua delivers the song devoid of much emotion. She coldly describes a relationship in which neither partner is willing to explain their differences and would rather just harshly cut things off, despite their unadmitted unspoken love for each other.
“Aphasia”‘s MV is unfortunately where you can start to tell that Tanya Chua’s team was indeed on a limited budget. In the world of C-pop, 黄中平 basically directs everyone’s MVs these days, so you could tell that it was based on that same over-used template.
Despite so, I think the director did a pretty good job representing the track via silent confrontations, with neither willing to say a thing, though it was super creepy when blood started coming out of nowhere.
In the overall scheme of “Aphasia”, “Film” feels weirdly misplaced, though still a characteristic example of ambient. Even so, it’s probably my favorite track off the album; unlike the inherent coldness of “Aphasia”, “Film” is warmly sung from what seems to be an admirer.
Even the electronic arrangement does not make the “Film” go cold, as its twinkling effects are used to create mystical wonderment. The beauty of the track and all its incorporated elements create the feeling of an ideal onscreen romance that is as delightful as our most pleasant reveries.
Compared to the warmth and beauty of the track itself, the music video for “Film” is somewhat of a disappointment. It was evident that they were trying to experiment with some sort of filming style that ended up looking super weird and archaic. There were still some pretty shots, but overall I felt that whatever effect they were trying to create didn’t come out properly.
Another complaint: Blue text on a black background? Really? (yes, I’m that stingy person who abhors Comic Sans)
“Puzzle” is where the album deviates from its original message of humanity to a rather pop-oriented and typical track about how love and falling in love is a puzzle. It’s borderline EDM — or the closest thing to such that Tanya Chua may come out with. The song is indeed a “bop”, but ehhhh.
“Game of Cat and Mouse” sounds like it comes off the soundtrack of an 80s video game — presented in full glory alongside all those weird poppy sound effects. Not particularly outstanding, but quite catchy; the layered electronic arrangement almost creates an intense build-up to the chorus.
“Can I Help You Sir?” is the most happy-happy and upbeat of them all, but also probably my least favorite. Ironic, because the track itself mocks haters on the Internet.
“Aphasia” returns to its initial sound and purpose with “Peeping Show”, which hauntingly explores how the world is a stage, and the humans its players. The lyrics are playfully penned, as Tanya Chua taunts, “If it’s not addicting yet let’s have a little more.”
Tanya Chua sings “One Karat” in what seems to be a light falsetto throughout the entire track, never revealing the depth and nuances of her true voice. Combined with the “sparkly” arrangement and glamorous lyrics, “One Karat” sounds but superficial, especially within “Aphasia”. The track seems to reflect and perhaps mock how the media downplays women as but superficial beings obsessed with only glamor and beauty.
“We are ultimately fine powder” Tanya’s voice echoes in the stunning final track. The eccentric arrangement seems to partly cover up her voice, leaving but echoes for us to listen to. Then the track gives way to the true depth of her voice as she comes with more and more conviction, yet the arrangement never dies down, incorporating beat loops to the initial synthesizers.
This is seriously a really amazing album as Tanya Chua reverts from her usual soulful ballads to electronic music. Despite such a drastic change, the original Tanya Chua — her soulful voice and style — still shines through.
Especially considering the high quality of her previous works, especially 2013’s “Angel vs Devil”, in terms of production and arrangement, “Aphasia” is amazingly spot on. Tanya’s own compositions are key as well — though more somber intonations seem to be her forte.
Although there were a few songs near the middle that fell a bit flat, the album ultimately is a must-listen (and I mean it only got nominated for six categories in the GMAs). Another great thing it did was ignite my interest in electronic arrangements — I used to think that they were all unnecessarily loud and headache-inducing, but I found that I really enjoyed the ambient stuff.
Recommended Tracks: Strange Species, Aphasia, Film, Fine Powder
OVERALL RATING: 8.9/10