arc Nguyen is a Parisian video producer and graphic artist, and Again is his first album, recorded solo at his home studio in between commissions for his day job. If I was a cruel man I’d say that I hope it’s his only album. Oh, look what I’ve gone and done.
Nguyen meanders through dub, electronica, post-punk and krautrock during these nine tracks, all sounds that are incredibly ‘hip’ right now, and what’s more he does it with a supreme sense of effortlessly tasteful Frenchness which goes even further towards stapling his fingers to the zeitgeist map. Unfortunately his music is also incredibly dull and lifeless, the utter valediction of substance as style finally takes over completely. “Crazy Love” and “Version” bounce along nicely enough on drum machines (the former), hiphop beats (the latter) and rubber-band bass (both), “Version” even rising from and then dissolving back into a shallow tide of radio-noise and found sound musique concrete. “Shiny Star” melds Germanic repetition of simple musical figures and motorik rhythms to Nguyen’s comically French accent, while “One Night In Tokyo” does a limp dub which Nguyen is once again conspicuously French over the top of. The production is clean and sharp but never outstanding, the ideas conceived and realised with the minimum of fuss, and therefore also the minimum amount of serendipitous discovery, resulting in a characterless exercise in imitation and flattery.
The most interesting thing about Again is the inclusion of a DVD in which Nguyen flexes his day job muscles and adds videos to five of the songs from the CD, but even this adds precious little depth and sense to the record. In fact “Crazy Love” is made mildly irritating as opposed to merely inconsequential once it’s allied to the imposition of Nguyen’s own peculiar synaesthetic vision of a minimalist animated running figure. “Vision” is treated better, with a highly visually affected video of a car ride that echoes the seminal Stan Brakhage and the dizzying motorway journey from the first part of Tarkovsky’s soporific Solaris, but “Where” is given an impossibly dull sequence of a man shuffling some photographs. “This River” slowly melts a man standing at the aft of a ferry into nothingness, creating a sense of ephemeral beauty which put me in mind of Chris Marker’s exquisite 1962 short film La Jetée. The video for the title track is easily the best, a beautiful and iridescent shimmer of light and texture oddly redolent of Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi. If only the music weren’t so imperiously fucking bland and Nguyen had resisted the urge to plaster the lyrics of the song over the centre of the image making it look like a Benetton advert, it might’ve been approaching the greatness it clearly aspires to.
Again is an opportunity missed by such distance as to become pointless and even irritating.
Reviewed by: Nick Southall
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01